When the Batcave opened in July 1982, it was not intended to be a "goth" night, nor were the existing "goth" bands high on the playlist. Instead, it was seen as a reinvention of Bowie-style glam, but with a darker, horror-type twist. As it happened, this fitted in very well with what some of the "goth" bands like Bauhaus were doing, members of such goth bands frequented the club and eventually it became the prototype goth club.
Essentially, it was at first envisaged as a club for people who were fed up with the commercial direction of New Romantic and wanted something new and darker. At first it played glam and electro music, but several early goth bands also played there and the playlist gradually became more goth (for a Top 10 of the year before February 1983, see here).
In an interview in The Face from February 1984 Hamish McDonald, the Batcave DJ, said "I play what I call a sweeping curve of sound, with Siouxsie and the Cramps as middle ground, taking in Sweet and the Specimen and stretching to Eddie Cochran and Death Cult".
The Batcave became a major rallying-point for the emerging London scene and also attracted a lot of media attention, which in turn spread the idea of a new subculture around the country. In the wake of the Batcave, similar clubs opened around the country, and in 1983 the Batcave itself went "on tour", giving goths outside London somewhere to gather.
Once again, Hamish McDonald from the Face in February 1984: "When we toured the Batcave last year it was obvious that kids wanted to dance, not sit around burning black candles in some "alternative" club. In small towns like Colne, Lancs, they were furious and keen for music to dance to - but only modern stuff like the Cocteau Twins. It was more difficult mixing in the older glam rock. Now there are Batcave nights at Planets in Liverpool, the Belfry in Leicester, the Hacienda in Manchester... it's the one night that kids have got their own punk disco."
Thus, whilst offering little in the way of music (apart from ASF and Specimen), the Batcave had a major impact on goth fashion and popularity. Essentially, it added a huge dose of "glam" and media attention to the emerging subculture.
The Hamish Mcdonald quotes above are from an article from The Face in February 1984 which has wider application than the Batcave - essentially it's about the alternative club scene as a whole, and is very interesting. Unfortunately the pages are huge as I haven't properly fiddled with them yet, so I've got two versions, one with b&w text only and one that's complete but huge.
Text only: Pages one and two (apologies for the poor quality).
Full article: Pages one and two (apologies for the large file sizes).
Thanks to David Matthews for bringing it to my attention and to Peter H Coffin for giving me the space for those files.
For images and a writeup from Smash Hits in 1984, go here...
And for Specimen interviews and Batcave video footage, here's a link to Snadra Perky's Specimen web page.
1. From George Gimarc's Post-Punk Diary for Wednesday July 21, 1982:
THE BATCAVE is a new London nightspot that is opening tonight at the Gargoyle, 69-70 Dean Street W1 in London. The club is an every Wednesday night affair put together by the guys in Specimen who will play there tonight, and many times in the future. The decor is leather and lace, '30s monster movies touches and "absolutely no funk". They intend to book activities other than live music such as mud wrestling, fire shows, drag cabaret and old b&w horror films.
2. Hamish McDonald, the Batcave DJ, from The Face, February 1984:
"There are big diferences between '77 punks and '83 punks, Mick Jones came to the Batcave once and stood there not knowing where he was. Old punks just want the Pistols; new punks have switched into people like Alien Sex Fiend, though a lot of Gothic bands aren't danceable, they stink of that heavy drone."
"The Batcave attracts quite a chameleon bunch - you'll see a rockabilly boy dancing with a gothic girl. It's different groups of people hanging out together, listening to each other's music. You'll find a lot of art in some of the gothic material. Sisters of Mercy couple the Iggy cult with heart and soul which reflects a certain style for today. Virgin Prunes rework pagan rites and tribal chants and put a lot of space and fear into their music."
Note the apparent crossover between the terms "new punks" and "gothic".
3. From an article entitled "The Gloom Generation,"by Suzan Colon which appeared in the July 1997 edition of Details Magazine:
MARC ALMOND: I quite liked Alien Sex Fiend and Specimen and a lot of those bands in the early days. I thought they were quite fun.
IAN ASTBURY: All these bands were coming together at the Batcave in London about '81 or early '82. It was run by Ollie Wisdom, who was in Specimen. The club was really mixed; it wasn't just this dark deathrock club. Specimen was the house band, and they were very dark, but they were as much German as they were The Addams Family. They were like a Death Bowie.
MARC ALMOND: The Batcave moved around a couple of places, but I remember it best at a place called Gossips in Soho. You had to take a lift up to the top floor, which used to be a hostess club. There was a little theater where stripteases used to take place and they used it to watch gothic movies, or bands would perform there, and you could see people like Robert Smith hanging out at the bar.
ROBERT SMITH: We used to go to the Batcave because we got in free and it was a good atmosphere and the people were really nice. But the music was awful! That whole romanticism of death! Anybody who's ever experienced death firsthand could tell you there's nothing romantic about it.
DAVID DORRELL: One of the highlights of goth was going to the Batcave when it was in Leicester Square. It was a great club; there was a U.S. Army jeep parked right up by the bar. At the same time that was happening, a guy broke into Buckingham Palace and the Queen woke up to find this slightly demented, slightly drunken Irishman on the end of her bed. A week after he was released on bail, he performed with Red Lipstick at the Batcave.
4. From Sounds, June 18 1983:
SPECIMEN have added three more dates to their Batcave tour of britain. They'll be taking over Sheffield Limit Club June 18, Colne Francs 17, Birmingham Fantasy Club 18. They'll now be supported on all dates by Flesh For Lulu, who replace Alien Sex Fiend who dropped out.
(Note the date here- this is roughly the same time as the movie The Hunger came out, which starred the ubiquitous Mr Bowie and featured a live performance from Bauhaus...)
5. From Sounds, 20 August 1983:
The usual tykes were spotted flaunting their disease-wracked bodies at the Batcave last Wednesday night. Including (yawn)... a fat Siouxsie Sioux, a dazed Nick Cave, Patti Palladin, David Cunningham (who he?), half of heavy-acid band Brilliant, a pretentious little Sex Gang Child, a Lindsay from a Sex Beat (or is that Sex Bat?), that ex-man called Jayne County, Abbo and "a titled lord" according to Olly (who was also there).
BBC's Riverside were also filming for a Halloween Night Batcave Special, and reportedly upset at the "lack of any real celebrities".
(Again, note the date here, the list of "goth celebs" and the BBC presence - within a year of opening, the Batcave had become a goth institution which was well known enough to be shown on national television)
6. From an interview with Jonny (Slut) Melton in Mick Mercer's Gothic Rock:
Was the Batcave ever a spawning place for ideas?
It was a light bulb for all the freaks and people like myself who were from the sticks and wanted a bit more from life. Freaks, weirdos, sexual deviants...
There's people around who'll always be attracted by something shiny, glittering, exciting. A t the time the Batcave wasn't a doomy, Gothy, droney grungey sort of place. I don't think it ever was, but I imagine in this day and age that's what people may imagine it was... but it was more Gotham City than Aleister Crowley.
7. From an edited discussion between myself, Merlina and Michael Johnson on uk.people.gothic:
MICHAEL JOHNSON: In any history of goth fashion, the Batcave will loom large. In any history of goth *music*, it'll rate less of a mention, the 'Batcave bands' such as ASF notwithstanding. The Batcave was (arguably; everything is 'arguably'!) the place where the 'look' first developed to any elaborate extent, but most of the goth-scene's *music* came from elsewhere....
PETE SCATHE: I think what actually happened is that they came together on a collision course. The Batcave wasn't planned as a "goth" club, but the emergent goth scene kinda took it over and adopted a lot of the imagery...
MERLINA: Well I didn't get along to the Batcave till the 2nd night so I dunno what was initially planned... For the crowd I was with it was a reaction against NR which had gone distinctly fluffy - Di was wearing frills & every schoolkid had knickerbockers - and NR music, while always more 'poppy/bouncy' had turned plain cheesy (and it takes at least a decade of nostalgia injections to appreciate that kinda cheese!). The Batcave was billed as being 'darker' 'spookier' 'dangerous' etc -and *promised* no American tourists with cameras. In the early days it certainly had an 'edge'. It *felt* 'goth'.
As for the music - well, it was still 'music as fun' rather than the more 'music as art/protest/something profound' attitude that was prevailant, I'd say. I think it's difficult to say the music came from 'elsewhere' - cos, as has been said, there were lots of influences & people who came together under the 'goth' banner. And there were plenty of arguments, then as now, about what was, or wasn't goth. Someone mentioned Joy Division. They certainly didn't get played in goth clubs (not then anyway) - they were definitely 'indie' - although by the time everything melded together into what became 'alternative' nights JD were certainly on the playlists. OTOH the music evidenced all the traditions we now see in goth- from the Sex Pistols to the NY Dolls.
Batcave itself saw people from various 'traditions' coming together too- the more 'dressy' end of punk; the art-school gang from Blitz, a few from the newly out of the closet fetish scene & a bunch of gay guys who'd heard this was a 'safe' place to be.
Michael Johnson and Merlina were regulars at the Batcave - Michael Johnson used to run Nemesis Promotions and is now a regular contributor for Starvox.
It's worth adding the obvious point that no two old goths have exactly the same views of the early 80s scene, particularly as regards what was important in "goth" terms and what wasn't. Personally, at the time I regarded the Batcave as being full of sad posers (probably because I was a sad poser myself) and it was only later on that I realised how important it had been to the early scene.
Even with the benefit of hindsight, it's hard to quantify the importance of the Batcave. In fashion terms and with regard to the London scene it was certainly important, but in musical terms and outside London its importance was far less. Outside London, there were plenty of people who were only vaguely aware of its existence and who gained their goth "look" from the likes of Bauhaus and Siouxsie. But I think it's fair to say that the goth scene would not have been the same without it.