A Secret History Of Goth by the Claytown Troupe

Claytown Troupe goth
(Image: © Claytown Troupe by Tony Mottram)

Alternative goth rockers Claytown Troupe have their long lost ‘Dungeon Demo’s’ – the recordings that got them signed to Island records in 1988 – released on Vinyl through Bristol Archive Records this week.

Here singer Christian Riou give us his guide to Goth, the movement that eventually took over the world…

The British ‘Goth’ scene actually has its roots in a wide range of influences, with inspiration from bands like The Doors, Velvet Underground, The Stranglers, The Damned and Joy Division, the electronica of Kraftwerk or The Normal (who set up Mute Records), and the immaculate fashion of David Vanian and Siouxsie Sioux.

I was obsessed with catching new bands and styles before they went mainstream (a punk hangover for those of us that wished we could have seen the Sex Pistols, The Damned and The Clash at the 100 Club), and from ’78 onwards bought as much new music as I could – coloured vinyl and cool sleeves in particular – from Tubeway Army to Motorhead.

By 1980 punk had become very violent and seemed to have lost its way, its passion being reinvented by bands like Bauhaus, Echo & The Bunnymen, The Psychedelic Furs, The Cure and Simple Minds, the Leeds Futurama festivals being a centre point of the new scene, with a fashion element that had grown out of the Bowie/Ferry Blitz club into New Romantic.

This was the foundations of what was later tagged ‘positive punk’, with splinter groups that ran parallel, but the look and styling in place by 1981, long before the Batcave opened in 1982. By then most of us saw that as the end of the scene, but it was only the beginning of what came next, and inspired me to form my band Claytown Troupe in early 1984.

This is a very limited sample of bands who arose during what is known as the original goth scene, but were my main inspirations for the Claytown Troupe. Although we might not have risen to bigger mainstream success, we were crucial in opening of doors for many people who did. The entire period of ’79 – ’85 had goth as a common denominator from music through fashion and art.

Bauhaus

In the autumn of 1979, I saw a copy of Bauhaus’s Bela Lugosi’s Dead with the DW Griffiths ‘Sorrows Of Satan’ cover and, having run a Hammer Horror Club at school (there had been a surge in vintage horror movie interest due to BBC2 running summer double bills since ’75), the title grabbed me. I bought it and heard music that seemed to pull from everywhere and nowhere but was like a soundtrack to a film I wanted to see. The band had appeared in the music press gig listings and then regularly on John Peel which was the only radio show where you could hear new music. I didn’t see them live until late 1980 and then in 1981 when they were well established.

UK Decay/Killing Joke

In early 1980 I heard UK Decay’s The Black 45, and although it was clearly inspired by Adam Ant (Dirk Wears White Sox was a pivotal album for me) it had the same energy as Bauhaus. I’d seen they’d shared bills, so like a dot-to-dot joined them together, with the lead singer Steven ‘Abbo’ Abbott often noted for describing the movement as ‘punk gothique’ (Abbo was later taken on to manage the Claytown Troupe after we signed to Island Records). They in turn linked heavily with the dark intense sound of Killing Joke’s Wardance, but KJ had the look and styling that carried through into the years that followed. These bands had their logos painted on the back of many motorcycle jackets – they were the greatest adverts for bands then, and that look & repressed anger was as much part of nascent goth as Soft Cell were.

Theatre Of Hate

In October 1980 Peel played the single Legion. I’d never heard a voice like Kirk Brandon’s and had to buy it. The sleeve was a piece of art with sexual themes and the designs of theatre masks were superb. Although musically it wasn’t close to Bauhaus, the newly forming goth scene took to the song titles like Original Sin, Love Is A Ghost etc. I first saw them in April ’81 on what was known as the Blitz tour with New Romantic bands like Classix Nouveaux. Although on one hand they wore vintage jeans, leather box jackets and had bleached quiffs, that too was a look picked up on the scene as much us makeup and crimping, connected to the new alternative rock and roll vibe that bands such as The Cramps made popular in early goth clubs.

Their gigs had the atmosphere of a club down the front, with the emergence of what was called the ‘chicken dance’. The chicken dance involved waving your elbows about, and gave you space to be noticed rather than being stood just staring at the band, another goth trait that the audience were as cool as the band themselves.

TOH morphed into Spear Of Destiny, who had greater success, sliding into the new alternative rock movement that was spreading internationally, taking the goth name with them.

Southern Death Cult/Death Cult/The Cult

The huge career of rock star, style maker and main ‘face’ on the early goth scene, Ian Astbury, began with Southern Death Cult who took over as the new band when Theatre Of Hate lost their impetus in late ’82, and their crimped hair and Ian’s Lakota-inspired stage personae opened up the tribal goth element further. I knew SDC’s Aki as a punk gig promoter in Bradford in 1980, and his energy opened up the doors very quickly, as did an appearance on the music TV show The Tube. People forget how important that show was for showcasing bands and spreading the look of the goth scene, with bands such as the excellent Play Dead, Balaam & The Angel etc being featured.

The SDC split as fast as they rose and transformed into Death Cult with TOH guitarist Billy Duffy onboard. Duffy had his own following. Death Cult were darker than SDC and I saw them in ’83 and was blown away. Again, it was a short-lived project that evolved into The Cult, the gothic rock kings by the time their Dreamtime album was released. They went the psychedelic goth route with Love, but this was one step on the path to them becoming hard rock goths, which really opened up the scene.

In 1989, Claytown Troupe were the main UK support on their massive Sonic Temple tour, playing Wembley and the NEC, amongst others.

Sisters Of Mercy/ The Mission

The penultimate goth band had all the elements in place by 1984: Eldritch’s voice, the look, drum machines and nods to the influence of the Velvets and Suicide. The goth club scene was everywhere by this period and the Sisters were the common denominator. Even those that didn’t dress in the extreme fashions could wear the t-shirt to show their allegiance to the scene.

It was still dangerous to look goth – often goth nights were situated in the upstairs room of a bigger club, with casuals wandering in to look at the girls and then starting something with a lad dressed to the nines. Not that goths were all soft victims. The part of it I was in had the punkier root, so there were ‘hard’ goths who would look after their friends but never cause a scene. I never saw fights started by goths but I saw quite a few finished by them!

I saw the Sisters a few times and they were great, very theatrical. I’ve seen them live in recent years and still enjoy them, but the goth tag doesn’t suit them per se as in the long run, they are an intense and unique rock band. The current line up puts a harder slant on their sound – guitarist Ben Christo has been in the band since 2006 and is a sometime Claytown guitarist.

The SOM fragmented in 1985 with guitarist Wayne Hussey forming The Mission, creating a softer, hippy-goth-velvet off-shoot that had the glam rock element mixed with the bigger stadium sound of U2. The alternative/goth audience was big enough to support the bands by then, with major labels realising there was money in it, Sisters/Mission t-shirts selling as well as their records. Claytown Troupe never toured with The Mission but we have played some one-offs as support.

New Model Army

Again, the music programme The Tube introduced the mainstream to New Model Army, but within the goth movement they had spiked the interest of the hard goths and a sizable but extremely intense following grew up around the band. Lyrically, their message and music was closer to punk than the dreaminess and physical nature of bands in the Batcave/Alice in Wonderland club, but the self-designed sleeve art with its Celtic-inspired mystique was popular with goths who had always had an interest in the non-mainstream religious and sexual rules.

Still very successful and independent, NMA have created a vast body of work on their own terms. Their hardcore following would accept the goth root, but not see it as derogatory as the band are seen as a lifestyle choice and a voice of rebellion rather than escape.

Fields Of The Nephilim

By 1985, the first goth wave had peaked and every town had its own band along the lines of the Sisters or The Cult. You would see kids dressed in the goth style or wearing a t-shirt everywhere, and Beggars Banquet records had become the most recognised of record labels supporting the alternative bands – if they released something, you bought it – and they used Situation Two as the street level test bed. From this came FOTN, a darker Sisters with the spaghetti western look that was the other side of The Cult coin. They were a mix of all the bands before them so created a unique sound and image that effectively revived the scene into the late 80s.

In 1986, the Claytown Troupe were starting to pick up a following, having helped to bring in bands like goth party band Alien Sex Fiend to the bigger venues, so my roadie Jon Murray (who now is a major punk promoter in the south west) was involved in booking FOTN to play the Tropic Club in Bristol so we could support. It was a successful gig and, as their audience travelled to every gig all over the country, our name quickly spread. A year later we wrote a track called Alabama based around the Nephs’ sound.

They have reformed and play one offs and the big Euro Goth festivals, having created a harder metal-influenced sound.

EPILOGUE

There were many great bands that didn’t break out after 1985: Sex Gang Children, Gene Loves Jezebel, Xmal Deutschland, for example, all great live. For those of us that enjoyed the first wave of goth, it was a very exciting time that came as a relief after punk and was inclusive to all, with disabled people drawn to its accepting nature, as well as many different cultures and sexual preferences. All in all was a lot fun because anything went as long as you didn’t get offended by someone else’s way of living.

I was at Nine Inch Nails’s first gig at the China Club in New York, October 1989, and I saw a band that would have been perfect for 1983 in London. There was about 40 people in the audience, but it shows the huge international influence of goth. It was taken on by the next generation who, on the whole, would have no knowledge of where it had come from.

The Goth scene changed my life in a way nothing else except punk could have, and it set up the heart of the Claytown Troupe.

Hey Lord by the Claytown Troupe is available to buy here in a limited edition of 300 vinyl copies.