Former music weekly scribe turned noir crime writer Cathi Unsworth ends her latest work with the declaration “I am a goth”. Not I was a goth – teenage or otherwise – but I am a goth. And her foreword to Season of the Witch: The Book of Goth suggests that she is going to put her history of goth music and culture into a personal context as much as an artistic one.
In fact, we read little of Cathi the goth across the next 400-plus pages. Arguably, we learn little of the fan movement which came out of the Soho night in the early 1980s – its epicentre a small club night on Dean Street called The Batcave.
Rather, this is a chronicle of the bands and musicians who, unwittingly or otherwise, forged the music we call goth. Unsworth colours in the socio-political background – the economic privations of the late 1970s, the Thatcher reign, miners’ strike, Battle of the Beanfield, etc – and leaves it hanging as the grim backdrop for the birth and flourishing of an alternative music culture where any colour is permitted as long as it’s black.
She begins not in the Batcave but up north among the dark satanic mills with the bleak brilliance of Joy Division and the cerebral progressive punk of Magazine whose visionary guitarist John McGeoch would ultimately gravitate to goth icons Siouxie & the Banshees.
Along the way, she takes in Bauhaus (the art wing) and Killing Joke (the anarchist tendency), the overseas division of The Cramps, The Birthday Party and The Gun Club, the Leeds leaders Sisters of Mercy, whose biggest piece of kit was their smoke machine, commercial giants The Cure and Cult and scene offshoots from psychobilly to grebo, while having great fun anointing a succession of historical figures as gothmothers and gothfathers and making extensive reading and viewing recommendations – though strangely no musical playlist.