Event Review – Sex, Death and Danger: Music and Mayhem Event with John Robb, Kate Jackson and Guy Mankowski

John Robb at Lincoln Book Festival 2021

University of Lincoln students Liberty PriceAlice Garrett, Holly Pamment and  Elizabeth Burman review Lincoln Book Festival’s Music and Mayhem Event with John Robb, Kate Jackson and Guy Mankowski, The Collection Lincoln, Lincoln Book Festival, 12/10/21.

John Robb at Lincoln Book Festival 2021

By Alice Garrett

After an exchange of names and compliments, my shiny, platform boots step into the theatre hall of The Collection, traipsing after another of my ilk: a hopeful writer. Being twenty minutes early, it’s no surprise that we’re the first ones in. The pair of us joke about grabbing the microphone left on the desk between the two speakers’ chairs, and gaze out at the empty seating. We go back and forth, asking the other where they would prefer to sit (such are the woes of asking two habitual passives to make a decision), before eventually I take a pack of tissues from my handbag, spin around a few times, and throw it, eyes closed, at the seats. We retrieve the pack near a pair of seats at the far left, and revel in our ingenuity.

We talk for some time, swapping stories and thoughts on the venue, while more and more audience members filter in. My friend points out a woman wearing a striking red beret, and a man in a plum, velvet jacket: the speakers. The 2000’s indie rock blasting out dies down as the pair take to their seats, first testing the microphone, and then discarding it.

Their discussion flows on for the next hour or so, and, admittedly, I am frequently left feeling a tad lost in their eager exploration of British indie bands. At one point, the woman in the red beret mentions ‘Arcade Fire’, and I trawl up a single song from the depths of my memory, which I had heard once or twice on the soundtrack to a video-game I played years past. I’m barely treading water. Their enthusiasm is infectious however, and by the talk’s end I can half conjure up an image of the Long Blondes in their charity-shop-chic, and a wild pack of Adam and the Ants fans slamming themselves in their faces with spiked bracelets until their foreheads bleed. Strange times, to be sure.

The first pair of speakers had a definite sense of style: modest, professional but with the right injection of colour to draw the eye. The second pair does not so much draw the eye, as they do pluck one’s eyes from their sockets with sharp, perfectly manicured nails, and juggle the eyes, with the still attached optic nerves swinging like skipping ropes. The first is an older gentleman; a black pinstripe waistcoat against black skinny jeans, and a purple, blow-dried mohawk bursting like plumage from his scalp. The second is a young lady, who beholds the image of a gothic madonna. A layered gown of black lace and frills, lace gloves, towering heels and a stunning streak of black in her long blonde hair. They are astounding.

The gothic gent takes the floor, and starts his tale some two-thousand years past: the massacre in Teutoburg Forest, where three Roman legions were slaughtered wholesale by the Visigoths; the monsters that lived in that wretched wood. Goth. The word is steeped in fear. Fear of the ‘other’. Fear of the dark forest. Were the Romans surprised, I wonder, when those monsters poured out of the forests, tearing through their idyllic, slave-owning countryside, and bore a hole through the walls of Rome itself? Were they surprised as well, when the violent beasts did not raze the city to the ground, but instead enjoyed the comforts of Roman sewers and aqueducts? For this, the plumed speaker explained, is a key feature of gothic culture: the outward contradiction. Visigoths were the ‘unwashed horde’ who loved a steaming bath and a combed head of hair. Lord Byron was the drug-loving fiend who refused to eat meat on principle, and died fighting in a war he volunteered for. And before us stood John Robb: a life-long lover of goth culture, who speaks so eloquently in his voice of burnt gravel, and invests in eco-friendly energy projects. Exterior contradiction. Internal consistency.

So where does the future of gothic culture lie? The explanation follows in charred sophistication: that goth elements are suffused into our lives and culture; that ‘goth’ does not refer to a teen with a bottle of black hair dye and a smoking habit, though he himself had once been that young lad washing his ink-stained hair in the bathroom sink. ‘Goth’ is to listen to a horror podcast while watering the pot of lavender on your windowsill. ‘Goth’ is to look at trees bursting from a ruined building, and imagine them as hair follicles of some chthonic beast. ‘Goth’ is to wear a charity-shop dress and a pair of shiny black boots to a literary talk and finally feel comfortable in your own, transient skin.

By Liberty Price

John Robb hosted a talk at The Collection in Lincoln on the darker aspects of alternative culture, including the prevalence of the post-punk and goth movements, and the music associated with them. He also got a chance to talk about his upcoming book ‘The Heart of Darkness’, which is an exploration of the history of the Goth movement, through its influences on music, due to be released in 2022. As a major player in multiple bands (Goldblade and The Membranes), lending his talents to vocals and bass playing, he is someone who knows what he’s talking about. That’s not all, though – he’s also an author, journalist and has started many festivals and events, such as his music writing festival Louder Than Words and a vegan festival in Manchester. Interestingly, he’s also the editor-in-chief of Louder Than War, which is an independent website for all musical goings-on, and promotes just about every genre you could think of. Phew!

Starting initially as an alternative movement, John spoke about how the initial martyrs of the goth style were met with violent opposition, meaning its presence today is even more indicative of the strength it holds within society. His book is more Eurocentric, and he spoke about the cathedrals, churches and spooky forests with such passion that it was impossible to not get caught up in the rich and vibrant folklore of it all – and clearly, there’s something to it, for it to have had a recent resurgence. The music of the culture: The Doors, The Smiths, even David Bowie were ultimately vital in cementing goth as both a cornerstone on its own but also forerunners for other genres. The art takes precedence over authenticity, which can’t be said about many other art forms, giving goth music and culture an edge – the likes of which cannot be undersold. The nuance and style of the culture were put best by John: “Every youth culture comes with it’s own pair or socks.” It seems that alternative got darker, and more ‘dressed-up’. He also mentioned that how every generation responds to goth will differ, and that their reasons, motivations and interpretations will also vary.

One thing stressed throughout the talk was that goth predates all – as a sort of brooding look at the darker side of life, characterised by dark clothes, an interest in the macabre and melancholy music, goth was the very first foray into a new way of seeing life. Stereotypically depressing, many people think of the goth subculture as a phase for teenagers to latch onto, or simply something to steer clear of, due to its darker themes. He mentioned how the pillars of the culture – “sex, death and danger,” – are extremely relevant to all people. Perhaps the taboo nature of these things is simply irresistible, and the goth culture is a manifestation of the deeper interest in how they influence everyday life. Again, John Robb made reference to the seemingly unstoppable insurgence of ‘devil music’ that marked the beginnings of the colossal movement, and how the excitement and thrill of the dark side of the frowned-upon bewitches people. However, it’s also important to note that the movement itself was in turn influenced by other genres, like funk, soul and punk, to name a few.

The technology of goth music was touched upon – soundscapes along with the lyric content, sombre voices and use of instruments for a more industrial sound are used in tandem with echoes and reverb to create the characteristic sound. However, when the questioning began, John was in agreement that although the music had previously been the main draw to the goth culture, nowadays, it seems to have ebbed away, leaving the aesthetic and style to take the lead of recent instances of goth. The other aspects of goth culture, the more artful, literate, dark, even humorous ones, were also debated. There was clear emphasis on the interest in the fear of the unknown and questions raised about the rarely-explored darker side – he argued that people are “fascinated by darkness, no matter how light [they] are.”

All in all, the gothic sub-culture remains a pretty well-known aspect of life to this day, better known as a self-defiant and self-created culture. Robb ended the talk with thoughts on how its rebellious nature against the norm in itself raises contradiction, which in turn fosters creativity. Perhaps the gothic staples of self-analytical disagreement could be applied in terms of development – surely, this would be present in the ways in which the developments within the culture occurred.

By Elizabeth Burman

On an unassuming Tuesday night in Lincoln two heavyweights of the Indie and Post Punk era’s met – one to discuss their new book and the other to discuss their involvement and their journey of discovery into literature.

Kate Jackson from The Long Blondes was interviewed by Guy Mankowski – a Tutor at Lincoln University and Author who had referenced the band alongside others in his book Albion’s Secret History, Snapshots of England’s Pop Rebels and Outsiders. Kate – still wearing her trademark beret related how the band came into being – informing the audience that she never saw many women on the stage. She met fellow band member Dorian Cox when she was DJ-ing and ended up chatting and talking. She continued that when the band formed she didn’t sing, Dorian didn’t play the guitar and Screech Louder didn’t know how to play the drums but that didn’t stop them from gravitating together as “Outsiders” invariably do.

Kate’s trademark look came about through the glamour of Faye Dunaway but with a sauciness from the “Carry on” Film Days. The Long Blondes wanted to be part of a lineage like Bowie was to Glam Rock where you go to a gig and the fans are dressed the same – trying to emulate their idols. It’s all part of being the tribe where there was distinct tribes in the 80’s, 90’s etc.

When asked about Tribalism now – Kate replied that she felt that identity and Tribalism seem lost today. It was fascinating how she perceived gender balance in music and the proximity of women in bands whilst she was successful in The Long Blondes but she appeared here – at least – to entirely dismiss the genre known in the 90’s as “Riot Grrl” and didn’t refer to them as comparable in any way.

On her own influences Kate lauded continuously Jarvis Cocker, Pulp and of course – Sheffield.

She said that Jarvis Cocker had a way of making the mundane look evocative where significant moments happened at informative times and ages – which then inspires you to look at things a certain way – mundane but glamorous. If you’re escaping from Bury St Edmunds and Jarvis is making Sheffield attractive – that’s how profoundly powerful lyrics can be.

Kate wrapped up her interview by reminiscing on the time it took for The Long Blondes to get signed – which in her own words was “A long time”. Even when the band won the NME Radio Award and got good airplay from NME it took 3 years from the Band’s inception in 2003 to 2006 when they were signed by Rough Trade Records where their music evolved into an Electronica/Blondie vibe. When asked about new bands coming through she mentioned Self Esteem and Billy Nomates – both strong individual women who promote individualism and creativity in their genre and look.

Kate’s favourite song? What else but Sheffield Sex City by Pulp proving you can take the girl out of Sheffield but you can’t take Sheffield out of the girl.

There was then a brief interval prior to Mr John Robb – he of The Membranes infamy entering the arena to promote and discuss his new book “The Art of Darkness”.

Smartly dressed in trademark black with his defining hairstyle – John began by citing his birthplace of Blackpool as the least Goth place to grow up in. Goth came out of Punk Rock and has Sex and Death as the two key aspects to Goth culture which is related to the book.

The Goth name goes back as far as when Rome was sacked by the Visigoths in 410 A.D but The Doors and Jim Morrison were in essence the first Goth Band created interweaving sex and death perfectly in their music, look and ultimately the death of Jim Morrison at a young age thus creating an everlasting icon.

He continued that Britain is a “Nation of Dandy’s” who like to dress up – Bowie with Glam Rock, Marc Bolan who was just beautiful, The Sweet, Slade – and then Punk Rock comes along. Goth was originally called “Alternative Music” which was a key to the culture and where the music was moving to – guys wearing make-up and gender bending – there was even a Goth ban in the Clubs.

Bella Lugosi’s Dead by Bauhaus in 1979 was a defining piece – The Guardian even defined it as Bauhaus invent Goth but in Robb’s estimation it was Siouxie Sioux who was the driver of Goth and its identity from 1976 onwards with her distinctive style – fashion is intrinsically linked to Goth but is still not a label that many want associated to them. However, as in the previous interview John agreed with Kate that it was predominately “Outsiders” who gravitated towards an identity. He mentioned Adam and the Ants as early influences for identity – Jordan Mooney who alongside Designer Vivienne Westwood and the Sex boutique in the Kings Road

Area of London who was the original British Punk icon which then influenced bands like Joy Division and The Cure.

John summed up What is Goth now as Batman Films and modern Goths like Marilyn Manson and Nick Cave – who doesn’t claim to be a Goth but brings a new kind of respectability creating art from literature and whose lyrics and obsessions with sex and death definitely fall into the category of Goth culture. The Art of Darkness was completed as he said nobody has ever taken the culture seriously and Goth is nothing and everything. So ended the sermon according to John Robb and this post punk self professed Adam and the Ants fan hung onto every word.

By Holly Pamment

Many events in this year’s Lincoln Book Festival have taken place in the city’s stunning museum, The Collection, including the fascinating Music and Mayhem event which revolved around two talks held in The Collection’s auditorium. On the night of the event, the air was frigid with a mid-October chill which brought chills to anyone unlucky enough to have ventured out without a jacket.

In the first of talks, Guy Mankowski relishes while discussing his new book, Albion’s Secret History: Snapshots of England’s Pop Rebels and Outsiders, with former lead singer of indie band The Long Blondes, Kate Jackson. The two shared great chemistry which made the event all the more enjoyable to watch and listen in on, giving the place a casual and calm atmosphere that was a welcome comfort to those in the audience. The low lighting set the stage for a relaxed evening of discussion surrounding a topic of great interest; music. Almost anyone who has ever found themselves interested in the indie/alternative scene would have found this talk captivating and been engrossed by how Kate described her experience in the music scene and how the genre has changed over the years. Quick to jump in with questions of their own, the audience sat and listened with a great intensity.

Kate soon turned to talking about how her and her bandmates naturally gravitated towards each other; she believes that people are inexplicably drawn to those like themselves even without knowing anything about them beforehand. Outsiders are drawn to other outsiders. And it is in this way that strangers can become fast friends – music can bring people together. Audiences are inspired by artists and their music; they want to show affiliation with the bands they so adore and start dressing as the artists do. Kate herself admits that she still dresses as she did when she was in The Long Blondes. On the night of the event, she sat in front of the audience in her iconic red beret atop blonde hair littered with dark highlights – a style she says is close to a wig she once wore for a band photoshoot.

Guy and Kate reflected on how curious it is that people who have nothing else in common can become so close based on music taste alone. And this opened up the floor to John Robb who presented the second talk.

His upcoming book, The Art of Darkness: A Complete History of Goth Music and Culture, provides insight into the darker side of indie music, more specifically the goth genre. And who better to have discussed this book with than a young woman who herself identifies as goth.

The pair perfectly represent two generations of the subculture; John was dressed in a dark, casual suit, a trench coat thrown over top, bringing an edge to the smart wear while she, with long, curled blonde hair that reached mid-back, wore an all black dress, reminiscent of the lolita-style but with a darker twist.

John’s passion for the gothic really brought the whole event together, with him reciting anecdotes from his own life while also bringing in the history of goth. He knows that it is safe to say that people have always been interested in the darker side of life, with the gothic genre dating back to some of the most classic literary writers in history such as Byron and Shelley. However, in music the gothic mainly focuses on the power of the individual’s own imagination, according to John who believes that the genre serves as an escape from mundane life for many people. The audience’s fascination with his talk highlights just how true this is; there wasn’t a single soul in the auditorium who was not engaged with his words which seemed to be just as mesmerizing as his look.

Despite the darkness of the genre, this talk was far from dark or disconcerting itself, in fact John’s devotion to the subject is enough to keep anyone engaged with his words. This in itself is a staple of goth. With so much importance being placed on raw emotions, John’s love for the genre, which shined through the entire evening, left the audience with a uniquely true-to-goth experience with only one question gone unanswered; what more is there to this subculture so intensely rich with history?