My earliest recollection of The Nephilim is a savage barnyard sacrifice. A man strung up on talons. A ritual interrupted by crackling vignettes of religious ceremony. And a dusty cowboy with a serrated baritone crooning of words spilling from his mouth.
That was thirty years ago. Someone had got their hands on a bootlegged copy of The Nephilim's music video. And we played it until the tape stretched and fused with the head of the video cassette player. Then we spliced it over whiskey and weed, made a copy, and played it another thousand times.
I had almost forgotten The Nephilim until Juanita invited me to a gig. 'Are you sure you can handle a Goth concert,' she asked. I hadn't associated The Nephilim with the Goths... or any subculture for that matter. Back then we weren't Goths. I'm not even sure they existed. We were a dark, 'alternative' crowd mesmerised by the dark theatrics of bands like The Nephilim and The Sisters of Mercy. On Wednesdays and weekends, we dressed in black and chased acid highs to the edge of the night, at a place called the Playground.
Three decades later I found myself walking into a Nephilim concert at the O2 Forum in Kentish Town. A cavernous mausoleum, crawling middle-aged beer guzzling Goths – an Adams Family Christmas party.
They come in all shapes and sizes, the Goths. Long and lanky, short and stubby. But for the most part, this crowd was a couple of decades older than the band. Thirty years ago 'alternative' girls were hot. Now I couldn't tell man from woman. And when a head of purple, black hair did turn my way, a deliquescing face appeared. It was like looking at one of those Nazis who cracked open the Ark of the Covenant in Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Salvation took the stage. Wished the audience a Merry Christmas, and burst into something incomprehensible. Sweet Jesus, Merry Christmas? They were performing before the assembled hordes of the living dead. What did these people care about Christmas? But the Goths were happy and raised their jugs of larger in cheer. A woman dressed like Morticia Adams glided through the crowd with a funereal elegance. Dressed in black Victorian garb, Steampunk Goth, I presume. Making her way toward the bar, intent on a double vodka – payment tendered at the swipe of a plastic wand.
As it turns out, Goths are peaceful, romantic, open-minded people who find beauty in what others consider dark. They love mythology, the mysterious, the supernatural, culture, tradition, romanticism. Clinging on to things in society that they feel are essential, yet dying out. Something evident in their own dogged refusal to stop being Goths, despite their advancing years.
A fiery redhead came onto the stage, screeching like a banshee. Her prophecy of death falling on deaf ears. Well, at least mine. The longer Skeletal Family performed, the louder the ringing in my ears. 'This next song is, Hands on the Cock!' she screeched. Odd name for a song, I thought. It turns out it was actually 'Hands on the Clock'. An easy mistake given the previous number was Faithless Whore. The banshee calmed, wished us all a Merry Christmas and departed the stage having gifted us all migraines.
Those amongst us more advanced in age collapsed to the floor while the rest of the living dead replenished litre large mugs of lager at the bar. Yes, there was the option to super-size your lager – certainly something worth clinging onto. One old steamer, who'd exchanged his cane for a trio of pints, was clinging on so tight he tumbled down the stairs. Depositing a cup of Carlsberg on a Goth who was as round as a keg. But there was no menace. No vulgarities. No exchange of fists or feets. These were Goths. Peace loving people.
The room filled with smoke and sounds of The Nephilim; the Biblical race of destructive giants born of 'daughters of men' and 'sons of God'. Dusty cowboys appeared and the arrestingly imperfect croon of McCoy. He didn't start by wishing us a Merry Christmas – he was raised a Jehovah's Witness. Instead, in a dark and bitter voice... 'he said how lonely you are waiting at the Sunday park...'.
The Goths raised arms and iPhones. Clinging to the only useful piece of technology to land in our hands since the Dark Ages. The fellow next to me, the one covering his belly keg in a Nephilim shirt, had his eyes closed and his arms outstretched. Mumbling along... 'let it spill from my mouth sweet nectar for a thousand young...'. In the middle of the auditorium, another groupie had stripped off his shirt. Raised up by the crowd, he clung to hands, trying to find his balance, then opened his arms – reminiscent of the scene with the talons – and fell. McCoy, suitably unimpressed, turned his back on the fumbling fool.
The whole scene reminded me of one of those Christian revival affairs; religious zealots, eyes shut, arms stretched heavenward, mouths mumbling in tongues. The only thing missing was the collection plate.
At the end of the first encore, a man making for the exit commented to his Goth girl, 'Come on love, let's go, this is like Nephilim for beginners.'. I rubbed my eyes and looked around. There was hardly anyone under forty. Some of them wearing swag from the Nephilim's first concert in 1987. Sweet Jesus, the only beginner in the room was me. And some guy wearing shorts and a bright orange sweatshirt who stood out like a giant orange traffic cone.
McCoy claims, they never set out to be a goth band: 'but we were happy to be one of the bands that audience took on. Fantastic audience. Romantic, intellectual …I couldn't wish for anything better really.' Perhaps Goths weren't a thing a decade ago.
We left the auditorium and descended into the bowls of London; an army of Goths riding the Northern Line toward Morden. Or an army of orcs on their way to Mordor, if you were a passenger.
Would I ever go to another Nephilim concert? For sure – as long as the red-haired banshee isn't opening.
Thank you, Juanita!