Thursday evening: I dodge the rain as it drenches a BBC film crew in Torrington Square. They’re filming an episode of Silent Witness, and there are signs around the square telling people to be aware that the people dressed as police officers are in fact actors.
In fact, I pass a real police officer on the other side of Senate House, and notice that as it’s raining, he’s wearing a proper Police Officer Anorak, in dark blue. The actor cops, meanwhile, have normal uniforms and use umbrellas between takes, as it’s not supposed to be raining in the story.
Suitably enough, I go to the Horse Hospital off Russell Square for the launch of a new crime novel: Cathi Unsworth’s ‘Weirdo’.
It’s set among goth teens in 1980s Norfolk, and the party’s soundtrack includes the likes of Echo & The Bunnymen’s ‘Killing Moon’: a moody, goth-compatible pop song from the 80s that goes on just that little bit too long.
Passages from the book remind of my own upbringing in Suffolk, and how teenagers in English villages were more likely to take to bands with strong visual looks and a sense of not quite being properly cool: Goth bands, thrash metal, prog rock, and most of all: Songs That Go On Too Long. Village teens were more like to be into Pink Floyd or The Sisters Of Mercy than The Clash or The Fall.
It might be argued that being a teenager in an English village is already doomed to a certain degree of Uncool from the start, being acutely aware that the more connected-up and hipster-type parties were always going to be London parties, or Manchester parties. Rural teens are forced to engage with acute externality, feeling as they do outside of not just children and adults but most of civilisation, so they often gravitate towards the more externally-distinctive bands. The Smiths and New Order could never have come from Diss. Cradle Of Filth and Extreme Noise Terror could never have come from Camden.
Echo & The Bunnymen were actually from Liverpool, but their fondness for long coats, long songs, big hairdos, and overwrought photoshoots in caves (oh yes!) gave them more fans in the shires than their less dressed-up urban counterparts. The Cure, meanwhile, were a group that managed to be just Goth Enough to appeal to those sort of teens, while having proper pop songs in the charts that didn’t go on too long. No DJ at a student disco in Ipswich was allowed to leave his post until he’d spun ‘Lovecats’ at least seventeen times that night. The Cure’s late 80s album Disintegration is remarkable in that it includes big, overblown Gothic tracks like ‘Plainsong’ alongside simple pop songs like ‘Lovesong’, which could even lend itself to a 21st century soul rendition, courtesy of Adele.
Cathi Unsworth was once a rock journalist. Like Simon Price she is one of those writers who dresses more like a dandyish rock star than most actual rock stars:
I do, naturally, approve of Ms Unsworth. I’ve always warmed to writers who reflect their internal creativity by cultivating a distinctive external appearance, from Oscar Wilde to Truman Capote to even Alan Bennett (who admits somewhere that he doesn’t need to wear his glasses all the time, but they suit his face). And it’s no surprise that she was once a teenager in Great Yarmouth. Somebody has to be.
Tags: cathi unsworth, goth, music, oy, the 80s!, theories about dress