Halloween totally gives me the fear. No, really. Not because it’s scary, it’s literally never been scary, it is due to the fact that I have performed at or promoted so many events now that I have a species of trauma about it all. You may not be aware of this, but Halloween is second only to New Year’s Eve now in terms of activity and income for many venues. It is absolutely massive. The event I put on for many years was arguably the biggest in the UK and we started working on it in June for the tickets to sell out by late August. Seriously. It was shocking to me as I am old enough to remember when Halloween didn’t exist. I’m not kidding. Like a lot of American stuff you think is normal, it is actually not a British thing at all. The Celts always had Samhain but by the 20th Century it was non-existent in England. What we did have was ‘Mischievous Night’ or variations thereof and ‘Bonfire Night’ was by far the main event by some margin. I remember quite clearly in the 1970s there being a version of ‘Knock and Run’ going on and then one day kids just started demanding sweets and a few years later costumes started to appear. It was as tragic and simple as slavishly copying the television.
'Working in the music biz during Halloween is a bit like working in a toyshop at Christmas. The same songs on a loop constantly. The fake festive bonhomie.'
It would be churlish to stop kids having fun of course and I am 100 percent all-in when it comes to free sweets. That’s ‘sweets’ not ‘candy’ and it’s ‘autumn’ never ‘fall’. It’s just strange to see the looks on the faces of a generation or two of Brits when you tell them it’s a completely modern and imported commercial invention from the USA. Arguably so is Christmas, but I’ll save that large jar of humbugs by the door for later. No, I’m not ‘against’ anything here per-se, it’s just for me the whole Halloween shitshow is critically oversubscribed, terminally overworked and unthinkingly overdone. Most of all I’m fed-up with dealing with about two decades of fully grown adults stealing it off the kids and doing it so dreadfully. And why? Let’s be frank here. It’s all about the dress-up. It doesn’t get simpler. Since when have the British ever missed an opportunity to drag, cross-dress, do-up, do-down or generally be given a legit excuse to ease the crushing repression of tepid grey Britishness for a few hours? If you can do it drunk out of your mind in a big disco with loads of others, then all the better.
‘Sexy Anything’ is my own personal bugbear. After standing on the door of venues for so long and seeing the endless snaking queue of Sexy Zombies, Sexy Cats, Sexy Frying Pans, Sexy Narwhals and Sexy Gandalfs and why WHY is there always Sexy Nurse? Does she feel duty bound to do a few extra shifts in case some of the blood is real? Are nurses not already overworked enough? It strains credulity to breaking point. Then a few years ago Margot Robbie appeared as Harley Quinn and Lo! A few months later I’d look down the queue and see and entire gang of raging pissed Quinns. They are so ubiquitous now I actually get a genuine shudder of fear when I see one. Volume, colour and piles of wacky replacing any and all personality, now at last with added inflatable truncheon. And listen! Do not ever let the boys off the hook. The only thing worse than a Halloween costume is a shit Halloween costume. Seriously lads, just stay in. Leave it. Coming out with your usual disco outfit on with a drip of borrowed fake blood in the corner of your mouth or a bit of hasty eyeliner is the singularity of the black hole of unbothered. The dense gravitational epicentre of can’t-be-arsed. Honestly. Just don’t come out. You’re letting yourself down. Think of the children. Come to think of it, think about the venue staff too. Working in the music biz during Halloween is a bit like working in a toyshop at Christmas. The same songs on a loop constantly. The fake festive bonhomie. Spare a thought for the staff all forced to dress up or sent out to find 500 cans of spray cobwebs on a wet night one hour before the doors open.
'I should also note that ‘British’ Halloween was also strictly about proper Hammer House of Horror-type outfits. No one was clever or ironic or dressed as a packet of cigarettes or late-stage syphilis.'
The rise of ‘gross’ is a bit weird too. I mean, there’s a genuine if not rare opportunity here for a touch of class. Personally, I was always about the capes. Any opportunity to wear a cape is alright by me and something to live by. Anyone or anybody in a cape is immediately top-notch in my book. My mum was a ward matron and when I was very short, her excellent and high-quality demi-cape was exactly the right length for me to flap about being a vampire. I should also note that ‘British’ Halloween was also strictly about proper Hammer House of Horror-type outfits. No one was clever or ironic or dressed as a packet of cigarettes or late-stage syphilis. You were a Mummy, Frankenstein, a ghost or Dracula. How we arrived at mincing around Cardiff city centre covered in chops and liver is beyond me other than to suggest that once again, we are watching way too much American telly. Bad, naughty telly.
Speaking of. Can we talk about Michael Jackson? If we are going to be truly scary. Seriously, I will commit murders on anyone who will play Thriller in a disco. We’ve all done it, but that time is now resolutely past. Sure, it’s not easy choosing a Halloween vibe without dipping into the cheesy fondue of bad music but there is a limit. Best to treat it as just a big party where everyone is dressed up. Don’t let the engorged spectacle of the consumerist version infect your art. It’s OK to have fun obviously, but let’s not go too far. And hey, same goes for dressing as Jimmy Saville. It’s not big, it’s not clever and it really isn’t funny. Leave it to the students. Put it down! Don’t get me started on WWII weekend re-enactors who plot around Yorkshire villages dressed as the SS either. It’s not even Halloween so honestly lads, no excuse for the total wrongness there at all. Don’t tell me it’s ‘history’, we all know you just want to dress as a Nazi.
'There was the kid with a bin on his head who said in an echo-y and metallic voice that he was Ned Kelly, only for us to discover it was the bin we used on the door for dumping drinks people arrived with in.'
Halloween had some good moments though, if entirely accidental. I’ll never forget trying to push through a packed throng only for it to part like the Red Sea to make way for a gurner sprinting through the UV lights who had clearly chewed her way through her glow stick, screaming like a banshee and puking radioactive-looking goo as she shrieked her way to the exit. There was the Londoner trying to gain access to a charity ball who told us on the door that he didn’t believe in charity, which let to me promptly not believing in him getting in. There was the kid with a bin on his head who said in an echo-y and metallic voice that he was Ned Kelly, only for us to discover it was the bin we used on the door for dumping drinks people arrived with in, one we hadn’t cleaned in, well, ever. There was the kid dressed as a clown who jumped out at one of security to go ‘boo’ and promptly got catapulted into next Halloween. The dude in full bondage gear who quite believably said he had no idea it was Halloween. The girl dressed as ‘Sexy Minion’ saying her boyfriend was ‘Gru’, but he was clearly not having it. And let us never forgot those who truly make an effort. It is almost OK when you really give a shit. Almost makes it worthwhile. And then you remember they are a grown adult and you hang your head in shame at the human race once again.
I don’t think there is anything that children enjoy that grownups will not now happily steal and completely ruin. Nothing is out of bounds for the infantilised manbabies we have become. And what a dreadful pooper you are if you pipe up with any objections. What a rotter. So that is my outfit every year now. I’ve come as an ageing grinch who wants stuff for kids to be all about kids again, who’d like to see the original pagan version get some props instead of the plastic American travesty. I’m a spooky spoiler here to ruin all the fun, and I know I’m not the only one. One of us could be sitting next to you right now. Woooo.
The Secret DJ is the author of three bestselling books about the music industry, available via all good outlets.