There’s a palpable feeling of excitement in Summerhall’s Dissection Room. This gig is something of a coup, with Claudio Simonetti’s Goblin playing four of their six 2018 UK shows (the other two are in London) during the Edinburgh Festival, and the crowd is filled with giallo aficionados and zombiephiles eager to witness this legendary soundtrack composer live. The band enter the stage one by one, the applause gradually increasing, until Simonetti himself appears to roars of approval, smiling graciously. Simonetti perhaps doesn’t look quite how you might expect a composer of cult horror soundtracks to look, a little more like your cool, eccentric uncle, in colourful suit jacket and red-framed glasses. The rest of the band more than pick up the gothic slack however, with drummer Titta Tani and guitarist Bruno Previtali both dressed smart (metal) casual in all black, and bassist Cecilia Nappo, who presents a statuesque centre stage presence throughout, looking 100% rock in black crop top, hot pants and a wide studded belt. Simonetti positions himself amongst his huge bank of synthesizers at the left of the stage, obligatory devil-horn hand signs are flashed, and we’re ready to roll.
After a brief but epic intro, we’re treated to a faultless selection of genre-defining works from across Simonetti’s soundtrack canon, as well as fan-favourite tunes from Goblin’s non-soundtrack studio albums. Where relevant, original vocal tracks and samples are played atop the band’s performance, with accompanying visuals and film clips shown on the large screen behind the stage, and it all fits together incredibly well. Any potential reservations about the ageing of some of this very time-specific material are lost in the sheer volume and exuberance of the renditions, the ’80s drum sound, stuttered samples and tongue-in-cheek Nutcracker interpolation of Demons sounding incredibly fun and fresh. In fact, the sound mix across the band’s whole performance tonight is incredible, allowing the band to fully do justice to the different demands of each song.
Although not written for film, E Suono Rock captures the tension between brighter chords and a more sinister accompanying arpeggio that characterises their classic horror soundtrack sound. Halfway through it explodes into an ecstatic double-time hard rock wig-out, ending with the first of several exuberant Hammond organ solos from Simonetti. Early tune Roller is Goblin at their most prog, with an oblique time signature and shades of Yes and ELP, as well as the band’s ever-present staccato keyboard figures. The bass guitar, unusually high up in the mix, as on the record, sounds phenomenal.
Simonetti is an amiable and likeable host, stopping between songs to credit absent vocalists and share his own passionate praise for the directors whose work his music has accompanied, in particular Dario Argento. A zombie apocalypse could well be happening outside (it’s the Fringe, so some might argue it is) and, safely ensconced in the Dissection Room, listening to numbers from Argento’s cut of Dawn Of The Dead played ultra-loud, I suspect we’d be happily oblivious, unable to hear the desperate moans of the dead over the urgent synth stabs and rapid-fire machine gun drums dissolving into funky guitar, bass and latin percussion on Zombie. There’s a lot of interaction with the crowd, with Nappo and Previtali happily exchanging frequent devil-horns (and even devil-horns fist bumps) with audience members, and flashing grins throughout. At one point, Simonetti asks if we’re familiar with the film they are about to play the score to, only for an audience member to wriggle out of their sweatshirt in order to hold it aloft, the film’s artwork emblazoned across its back. The atmosphere is a friendly one, and it feels like we’re all here celebrating the band’s legacy together.
The theme from Nonhosonno is one amongst several beautiful yet eerie tunes. It wouldn’t be the Fringe without some comedy, and Simonetti goes for it, making a joke about the track title sounding similar to an Italian word for underwear, but the meaning is lost in translation as he dies a comedian’s death on stage; unable to convey the punchline, he lifts his shirt and points insistently to the band of his pants, willing us to understand. Of course, it doesn’t matter as all of this is far funnier than the joke probably was in the first place.
Suspiria is perhaps Goblin’s best loved and most iconic theme, and certainly a jewel amongst the many gems in tonight’s setlist, Previtali switching from guitar to bouzouki, and Simonetti singing the breathy vocals in a shredded rasp. The unsettlingly-eerie bell tones of the intro give way to a propulsive heavy rock gallop from the bass and drums, with Nappo and Previtali playfully mouthing the disembodied whispers of “witch!” to each other as they perform, the hallucinatory visuals from Argento’s film swirling behind them. A lot of fun is being had. During Phenomena they make mock stabbing gestures as they play against each other, mirroring the bloody action on-screen. It’s a little daft, but very fun, and, crucially, they sound absolutely amazing.
Switching to a vocoder mike, Simonetti robotically deadpans, “Are you ready to dance?”. Delivered to an entirely seated audience, it’s a knowingly humorous moment and symptomatic of how a show that could have been quite dry and overly reverent manages to respect the source material while also presenting a warmer human side to the band. In the event, some fans in the front rows cannot resist the invitation, as the band unleash a staggeringly good rendition of electro-horror behemoth Tenebre, an amazing amalgam of gothic church organ, space rock and slasher disco which is easily a set highlight.
The more straight-ahead horror classics that pepper the setlist are offset by a number of proggier and more unusual tunes, allowing moments for each band member to shine and show their virtuosity, and for Simonetti to stretch his finger skills across classical, jazz and blues sounds, frequently playing two keyboards at once. But as proggy as things get it’s still always about the groove, the motorik sound pushing the on-screen action forward. I’ve read Goblin described as being like Can meets King Crimson, and final track Deep Shadows has me convinced. Everyone takes a turn to solo, before Simonetti wraps things up with another flight of wild and bluesy keyboards (it’s been a fantastic gig, but I’m starting to suspect that the Hammond organ may be the true devil’s instrument).
What comes across is an exceptional band having a lot of fun, and a composer channelling a diverse set of influences into music that was necessarily constrained by its function as film music, and as a result creating something ultimately unique, and subsequently highly influential. The material showcases influences from prog-rock, psychedelia, classical music, heavy rock and metal, disco, blues and jazz, which all somehow coalesce effectively – and ultimately end up simply sounding like Goblin. With the renewed popularity of soundtrack music seemingly only increasing, and peers like John Carpenter enjoying a well-deserved renaissance, it’s to be hoped that Goblin will continue to grow their cult audience and receive the same sort of wider acclaim. On the strength of tonight’s show, they certainly deserve it. It’s felt like a privilege to get to see this once marginalised music, written specifically for the screen, played live in a concert environment; and not only that, but played by a world-class band, who seemed to have just as much fun as we did.
Goblin will be performing in Union Chapel, London, on 17th and 18th August.