Babadooks, drag kings and The Devil’s Arse: inside the world’s first Ghost convention

Ghost Con 2023
(Image credit: Glenn Lovell/Blackflame Photography)

It’s surprisingly chilly in The Devil’s Arse. Now officially known as plain Peak Cavern, the imposing cave system is set in a gorge beneath the ruins of Peveril Castle in Derbyshire’s dramatic High Peak district. It takes its historical name from the flatulent sounds that can sometimes be heard echoing through the surrounding environs when floodwater subsides. 

Beelzebub is not breaking wind today, but something suitably Satanic is on its way. Tonight The Devil’s Arse will host A Masquerade Ball: Ritual in a Cave, a flagship event from the fan-founded and completely unofficial Ghost Con UK.

Later in the year the organisers will be presenting a full convention in Sheffield inspired by the old KISS expos and featuring Ghost-themed costumes, cosplay contests, exhibits and memorabilia. It will also be the world’s first fan-organised Ghost convention. 

Today’s event is more about the live entertainment, but plenty of attendees have taken the chance to dress up and have some fun. There are nuns, priests, ghouls and rats. There are Ghost super-fans and – perhaps more surprisingly – a number of more casual onlookers drawn by the novelty of the event and the opportunity to watch bands in a cave.

The more committed start arriving in the afternoon for a meet-and-greet with Ghost tribute act Popestars and horror-rockers Ward XVI. 14-year-old Molly is here with her dad Peter and, for now, it’s the closest she’s got to seeing the real Ghost. 

“I love Ghost, they’re my favourite band of all time,” she enthuses. “I love the music, I think it’s really clever how Tobias [Forge] writes. The artwork and the visuals too. My TikTok is basically all Ghost at this point!” 

Ward XVI at Ghost Con 2023

(Image credit: Glenn Lovell/Blackflame Photography)

Elsewhere, Carla and Martin are here to celebrate Carla’s 50th birthday, illustrating Ghost’s multi-generational appeal. “We took my dad, who’s 75, watching Ghost and he loved it,” adds Stuart, from behind his unnervingly accurate Papa III mask.

In its long history The Devil’s Arse has been the abode of prehistoric cave-dwelling troglodytes. It’s been visited by Queen Victoria, written about by Daniel Defoe and graffitied by Lord Byron, but it’s never witnessed anything quite like Ward XVI. 

There are Babadooks and dancing dolls, blood, gore and disembowelments as vocalist Psychoberrie and deranged cheerleader Rico Rameres – sort of a cleaver-wielding metal version of the Happy Mondays’ Bez – lead the visual assault. The music packs both muscle and melody. It’s more involved, progressive and eclectic than you might expect from the stage show, but it’s still the Alice Cooper on a budget-meets-Grand Guignol theatre that stands out.

The Ritual is compered by Cardinal Copier ("I call myself that because we don’t want to be sued”), a cosplayer, drag king and one of those aforementioned Ghost super-fans. “I got into drag kinging during the lockdown and it became a beautiful amalgamation of make-up and panic,” they tell us.

“I’m a very big ghost fan and I hope that Tobias would find it a gentle parody rather than anything negative.” 

Their act brings together mime, dance and risqué comedy and you get the feeling that the Ghost mastermind probably would approve.

The evening is concluded by Popestars, a Ghost tribute band containing past and present members of the likes of Cradle Of Filth, Tigertailz and Evil Scarecrow. Tonight though, they are all just Ghouls (and a Papa of course), dressed in the steampunk-esque regalia of the Impera era. 

Over a mammoth two hour-plus set they throw out a crowd-pleasing set with all the musical deftness, occasional wisecracks and spooky anonymity you could want. They delve back to Year Zero and Ritual and fast forward to Hunter’s Moon and Spillways

Cardinal Copier makes a return for the sax solo in Miasma and there are huge singalongs on He Is and Monstrance Clock - the crowd coming together for the shared love of Ghost, if not necessarily Lucifer’s son.

And that’s what tonight is all about. A passion shared with likeminded people, expressed through some top-notch entertainment in a unique and incredible setting. Roll on the next stage of Ghost Con UK.

To find out more about Ghost Con UK, visit the official Facebook page.

Ghost con 2023

(Image credit: Julian Tanner)

Paul Travers has spent the best part of three decades writing about punk rock, heavy metal, and every associated sub-genre for the UK's biggest rock magazines, including Kerrang! and Metal Hammer