Part 17. Goths

Goths are shy, retiring creatures who dress predominantly in black, shun social interaction and live in underground burrows on waste ground. They are chiefly nocturnal and their wide, pale eyes are perfectly adapted to low levels of light. They are not to be confused with Emos who often appear similar but are in fact a separate species, being more vulnerable, emotionally expressive and largely flightless.

The first recorded sightings of Goths were in the third century AD, when they migrated from Scandinavia into what is now northern Germany. Originally an aggressive and warlike people, modern Goths bear little relation to their medieval ancestors, eschewing many of the old tribal rituals, spending more time in quiet introspection and hardly ever sacking Rome.

It is believed that modern Goths have their origins in the work of Dr Peter Murphy, the English polymath, theoretical physicist and painter and decorator, who, in 1915, came up with a new shade of black. Murphy had previously worked alongside Karl Schwarzschild, whose work on black holes considerably advanced our understanding of these mysterious cosmic events. Murphy was particularly fascinated by just how 'black' a black hole actually was. If no light could escape from such an object then surely this had to be the blackest black in the universe? This was something that crossed over into Murphy's decorating work, where the search was constantly on for ever darker shades of paint. Murphy had already developed 'Inky Black', but was never really happy with its slightly blue tinge. Then there was 'Raven Black', but this was too glossy. Finally he made the breakthrough: 'Goth Black', a colour so dark that light simply fell into it. Looking at Goth Black was like staring into a void, and it was Goth Black, when it was finally marketed as a hair dye in 1978, that was to characterise a whole new movement.

But Goth culture is not just a colour scheme. There is an aching, endless sense of joyless misery as well, best characterised by its dark, gloomy music and brooding lyrics. During performances there is little interaction with the audience, as typified by the early gigs of Sisters of Mercy in which singer Andrew Eldritch would perform with his back to the crowd. Siouxsie Sioux went one better and rarely appeared on stage, usually singing from the wings or behind the backcloth. For one legendary 1978 performance at Brighton Polytechnic, she delivered the first half of the set from the car park before catching the night bus back home.

This reticence to engage with their followers extends beyond the actual gigs. Whereas other artists might go to great lengths to generate publicity, Goth bands avoid promotional activity and personal appearances. Fans are unlikely to get hold of their idols' autographs, or be granted a photo opportunity. In fact there is an unsubstantiated rumour that if you look directly into Robert Smith's eyes you will turn to stone.

And the fans are equally standoffish. Most Goths revel in isolation and each thinks that he or she is unique, sharing nothing in common with anyone else and incapable of being understood by anybody. However, extensive laboratory testing involving Bunsen burners and pipettes and stuff has revealed precisely the opposite: broadly speaking, all Goths dress the same, are identically socially dysfunctional and they all think they're vampires.

Nowadays Goths have all but died out. There are a few protected breeding colonies in Somerset, but anyone planning a visit should prepare themselves for a sad and disappointing spectacle: there is nothing worse than seeing a fat, middle-aged Goth wombling down the street towards you, the grey roots showing through his receding gothblack hair. Nevertheless they remain an important part of modern culture, as evidenced by last year's craze for cuddly Robert Smiths, the biggest selling toy of Christmas 2012.

None of this is true, by the way.

Ricky Stratocaster would like to say hello to Big Sally, Geoff the Teletubby, Bob's mate Alan, Gary 'Pull the Other One' McMangel, Tim, Vicky and everyone that knows him.

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