DONNA McLEOD and MIKE MURRAY of McGothicfox Promotions talk to Nick Awde
Alhambra Live Magazine #006
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— Alhambra Live: the-alhambra-theatre/bats-in-the-attic
ALHAMBRA LIVE is one of the biggest grassroots music venues in the North West. Based in Morecambe on the sea Promenade, its adaptable spaces (and unique Lake District views) make it a vibrant hub for all-dayers and weekend festivals (Goth, Mod, Ska, Northern Soul…). It is also a hub and home for gothic music with Corrosion club night and the CorrosionFest & Bats in the Attic festivals. For more info, contact Fiona +44 (0)7771 200 873 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Murray: It is. The operation is really just the two of us, listening to bands, choosing the ones we like and putting them on at festivals really, so there isn’t really too much to it other than that.
Donna McLeod: [laughs] As McGothicfox, we want to bring a bit of everything to that’s new music to a wider audience. We were going to festivals such as Sacrosanct and Darker Days which included bands from abroad, and that was a good way to see bands that we hadn’t seen before. We also attend our good friends’ festival, Dark Skies Over Witten in Germany, to see the bands that we would like to bring over to the UK. We didn’t think about doing our own festival until we attended the Corrosion nights in Morecambe.
Mike: Both Sacrosanct and Darker Days unfortunately don’t exist any more. Sacrosanct went first in 2018 and Darker Days ended in 2019 – hopefully they’ll be back. And then at Corrosion, Fiona and Alex Wetton said that they were thinking of putting bands on, but they wanted to go down the route of a small festival or simply putting the bands on as gigs.
Donna: The first Corrosion club night we went to was at the Winter Gardens in Morecambe, and we immediately thought it would be a great venue to put bands on. We got to know Fiona and Alex on a personal basis – it turned out I did know Fiona from the area, because she was my daughter’s scout leader as I used to live up the road in Carnforth. We were constantly talking about wouldn’t it be great if we could put this band on, wouldn’t it be great if we could do this? And we were like, can we do it? Can we? And we’re like, yeah but no, yeah but no… And we just joined forces.
Mike: We learned a lot from going to other festivals, seeing how they operate and how they’re put on. Fiona and Alex mentioned putting on a festival as well as gigs, but we go to a lot of goth gigs and we notice that the audience isn’t really there. There is a big audience, for example, at the Carpe Noctum night over in Leeds, but Howard Rickard’s been doing it for 25-30 years and he has built up a regular crowd. So we figured right, there’s no point us putting on a gig anywhere by ourself because we’ll be starting from no audience, but if you put it on at Corrosion you’ve already got the makings of an audience there, you can build on that with other people travelling in. And CorrosionFest has shown that it works.
Donna: It’s also shown that the Alhambra is a venue that people love. Morecambe is a perfect in-betweeny place, where people can come across from Leeds, down from Scotland, up from the Midlands and the South. The fact it’s by the seaside and on the Promenade makes it attractive too. We’ve never wanted to compete with any other festival, just to add to the calendar– and what Morecambe offers is a full gothic weekend that’s just about the music that we want, in a safe and friendly atmosphere.
Mike: People can compare it to Whitby, but Whitby is different. For a start, there’s a lot more fringe events there, so people go because it is Whitby, because people can go there who are not necessarily looking for just the music element. Whitby also gets bigger bands anyway.
Nick: Although it’s generally the same handful of bands on a four-year cycle, isn’t it?
Donna: Our idea is not to repeat the same bands – unless, for example, they’ve gone in a couple of years from the opening slot to headliner. But if they’re still at the same level, we’d rather be bringing in newer bands or different bands.
Nick: If you’re running a new bands gig on Monday nights in November that makes sense, but to do that for a festival, well that’s extremely foolhardy or extremely bold…
Donna: [laughs] I think it’s a bit of both really. But if you don’t test the water you’ll never know.
Mike: A good example was Long Night at CorrosionFest this year. We weren’t sure where they would fit on the bill. They’re from Norway and had been over to the UK before, and we’d seen them in Germany. We knew they were good, and Tommy Olsson and Arni Sørlie have both got previous experience in other bands, so they could easily have headlined the festival because of the feedback we’ve had about them. So that’s the sort of thing where we’d love to have them back but they would be headlining next time. And that’s also important when you’re bringing bands over from Europe, because it gives people the opportunity to see them. A lot of people listen to the music or see the videos so they know what the band sounds like, but they have never had the opportunity to see them live.
Nick: Despite what we’ve said about low audiences, live music is essential to goth. Thoughts on why?
Mike: You can get the record but obviously it’s a totally different experience if you see the band live – and you can see whether or not they do match up. But it’s not as simple as it looks. It’s interesting how there’s such a wide spectrum in goth – bands such as Sweet Ermengarde, Talk To Her, Last Dusk that are full-on guitar bands, you’ve got your NU:Ns who will use keyboards, and then there’s bands like Gothzilla where a lot of their live stuff is combined with a backing track. Some bands are really good live but not so good on record, some bands are equally good at both, and some are better on record than they are live.
Donna: And of course, it’s also about getting up and dancing and being able to physically see them!
Nick: If we could talk about Lockdown. CorrosionFest in March 2020 sums it all up in many ways – the Alhambra announced that after two years of dedicated work it was finally up and running as a top-notch venue, heralded the new dawn with the launch of CorrosionFest, and then all the country’s venues closed down the next day. Where do you take it from there?
Donna: Well, we went into people’s memories as being the last festival before Lockdown. Not necessarily a good place to be, but we’re glad we managed it.
Mike: And then with CorrosionFest 22 we weren’t far off being one of the first bigger events to come back after that. There were a few towards the end of 2021 but there was another surge with Covid and people were worried. We’d moved the date and put the festival on in March.
Donna: We were absolutely determined not to cancel it. Those last few weeks leading up to it were murder. One band has dropped out, oh god. Right contact this band. They can’t do it. Contact another band. They can’t do it. Oh no… And then a drummer goes and breaks his finger and you’re going, no you should just be down with Covid, nothing else, what’s going on? So you’re contacting more bands…. That is literally what the last few weeks were like before the festival – constantly waiting for people to reply to us and hoping that they could do it. If it was sorry we can’t do it, they gave us suggestions, everyone was helping out – and we really do appreciate that. We got there eventually but it was bloody hard work getting there. [laughs] I just dreaded looking at my phone every day thinking, oh who’s going to say they can’t do it. But we got there.
Nick: And it wasn’t just CorrosionFest – you were also playing catch-up with Bats In The Attic.
Mike: We initially had Bats In The Attic for August 2020. It was to follow the first CorrosionFest, and a lot of the bands that we had on there have moved over to CorrosionFest 22, while others are on for Bats In The Attic this year.
Donna: CorrosionFest is run by Fiona and Alex, Mike and myself, with the input of John Gothelder and Carole Bennett, who are based near Morecambe. So we all have our choices and we have used a voting system between ourselves in the past for which bands you’ll see at the festival. For Bats In The Attic, it’s down to Mike and I to choose the bands because we want to create a distinction between the two.
Mike: One of the things with CorrosionFest is Alex’s tagline: are the bands played at the Corrosion club nights the ones you want to hear? So that goes to punk, dark wave, post punk, industrial, electronic, whereas Bats In The Attic is purely gothic, post punk and dark wave.
The two-festival approach for Corrosion was there anyway – there’d be one CorrosionFest and then something later on in the year. Even without Covid, that was going to be a big challenge. Initially we were looking at September 2020 for the first CorrosionFest, but HRH Goth came out with their first in September so we moved back to March. Then for September we were going to put on Bats In The Attic but we didn’t obviously for the same reason. Then there are other festivals to take into account – Goth City in Leeds, that’s in July. You’ve got the two Whitbys which are April and October. In May, there’s the All That Is Divine festival which happened this year in Leicester. June, there’s the Shadow Of The Castle festival in Scarborough amongst many others. So you’re literally running out of months to put on a festival.
Donna: And that’s without even thinking of the big ones that are in Europe. So what with not wanting to step on anybody’s toes and infringing on another goth festival – which we’d want be attending in any case – as well as ending up splitting the audience, we needed a bit of space and we found it in the middle of August.
Nick: It is quite contradictory isn’t it that, that goth audiences in the UK aren’t huge and yet you can block out an entire year with festivals – and that’s not even taking into account the European dates. But we know there are much bigger audiences here – goths are spontaneously self reproducing and are to be found all across the isles, although I suppose it helps if you come from Leeds.
Mike: There’s a couple of elephants in the room. One is that you could have a goth club night or an alternative 80s club night and get a healthy crowd in. Yet you put a band on, you’re likely to get a fraction of that audience. There’s the age of the audience as well. It’s no secret that there aren’t many people under 30 coming along. It’s something that we’re very conscious of as well which is why West Wickhams were a good addition at CorrosionFest 22 as a new young band. There’s Auger obviously, they’re in their early twenties. We saw another band supporting Ritual Howls called Otala, and they were in their early twenties. They’re a post punk band but they brought their own audience with them. So we’re also looking at trying to build on those younger bands that have got a following themselves to bring them to CorrosionFest so that everyone can hear each other’s music.
Nick: I do believe that Gen Z hold the keys to our salvation. I’ve got two of them who’ll listen to anything so long as it’s good. They’ll listen to the Four Who Must Play Whitby with the same ease as they’ll listen to West Wickhams and Auger. But the bands that grab their hearts and spirits are going the ones where the fans see themselves reflected in those who are up on that stage. And, as we should remind ourselves, when you’re 17, even a 22 year old up there playing can look pretty crinkly.
Mike: Another big issue is that you’ve got bands such as the Mission, Fields of the Nephilim, New Model Army, Bauhaus, and then you’ve got bands such as The Faces of Sarah, Last Cry, Children on Stun, Inkubus Sukkubus, but you haven’t got those middle bands in between. There’s no bands around that are regularly filling 250-300 capacity venues. There’s a massive gap there and one reason is that we haven’t got that band that the kids are getting involved in it. You’ve either a band that’s 40 years old or the band that’s considered up-and-coming band but really they’re 30 years old now.
There are some great new bands that arrive on the gothic scene but end up going down the indie route as there are more fans. IST IST are a great crossover band and brilliant live. They’re probably the band that would fit in between, but they may end up going down the indie route, the same as Interpol and Editors did – they’ll leave their goth side behind because the audience isn’t there at the moment. We’ll still love them all the same.
Nick: It’s a familiar story for all sorts of sectors and not just music. But do you think it’s particularly chronic for goth – and if so, why?
Mike: If we look at somewhere like Germany, a similar size festival to CorrosionFest or Bats In The Attic is going to get twice the audience with the same bands that we would put on – possibly even with less bands. Mono Inc. got to No. 1 in the German charts with their last album, The Book of Fire, and they’ll be playing HRH Goth this year . We went to see them in Germany where they played to a crowd of between 2,500-3,000. When they played in the UK we saw them on all three of their gigs, where audiences ranged from 100-150. So you could view their music as a type of music that is not prevalent in the UK, whereas if you go to Europe, it is.
Donna: But then you’ve got busloads of UK goths going over to Europe, particularly in Germany. Because that’s where you’ll find the bigger festivals, the bigger bands – and more diverse festival programming. That’s why they know they’ll get 25,000 people turning up to somewhere like Wave-Gotik-Treffen. And that creates other problems back home – how many goths from here are going to want to do M’era Luna one week and then a UK festival the following week? Or to be able to afford it, the way things are with the cost of living at the moment.
Mike: The European connection has also become a problem for the bands, because of Brexit. We’re going down to London to see Then Comes Silence at Reptile. They’ve put on gigs now and again but they’re bringing over a band a month now, which is exciting. Then Comes Silence are from Sweden and were supposed to be playing at CorrosionFest originally but due to Brexit changes it all fell through.
Donna: Foreign bands are really struggling with Brexit and the rules and visa regimes that go with it. We work really hard with them to work out how they can come over without having to pay this, that and the other, and we have bands who still decide not to come over because they’re too apprehensive of what it will cost them. It really is a struggle.
Mike: Bands are only playing for their travel costs and accommodation in the UK. They’re not making anything out of it. And even with merch they’ve got to be really careful of the rules if they bring that over with them. So Brexit has made a huge difference to live music here.
Nick: From the crisscrossing that you’re doing of the nation’s venues, have you spotted any particular hotbeds of live goth music at the moment?
Donna: The Bodega in Nottingham is probably one venue where we’ve seen most of the smaller bands that we think are great. We’ve seen Ritual Howls, Desperate Journalist, IAMLONO and Otala there, along with many others. But that’s mainly post punk and part of a post-Covid resurgence where the promoters are putting those bands on. Gothwise there’s HRH Goth in Leeds coming up.
Mike: In addition to Reptile at the moment, London is always the stop-off that a band wants to make. Christian Death are playing down there as a one-off gig, Bauhaus are playing a one-off gig too. It’s always going to get the bands that will play there because it’s London – and people will go to London to watch them. Whitby have got Boot Blacks playing, and we’re not going to go to Whitby but we’ll go down to London to watch them there. So while London may not have the festivals, it can always put on the gigs for goths.
— Bats in the Attic 2022 tickets: morecambe/the-alhambra-theatre/bats-in-the-attic
— McGothicfox Promotions Facebook: @McGothicfox
— Corrosion Facebook: @morecambegoths