Today we’re marking the 3rd anniversary of our online launch on May 1st 2011, the date chosen in solidarity with the tradition of May Day. We began with writing a list of twenty or so bands on the back of envelope in 2010 and now, seventy two thousand website visits later, the archive has 150 entries and is still growing. If you can help us to expand and ensure no-one is left out, we welcome new info to help develop the project. It’s not solely about musicians and singers: we’re documenting and celebrating DJs, journalists, event organizers, photographers, sound technicians, poster and magazine producers and everyone else who created the infrastructure for the music-making and cultural-political activism of the 70s, 80s and beyond. And we like to link with our predecessors to show the continuity of feminist music-making. If you have material you think should be in the archive, or know a woman who does, do contact us!
Happy Spring to all our friends and followers! Big thanks to all who have offered to take our leaflets to distribute – let us know if you need more! The WLMA team kept busy over International Women’s Day/week, marching with Million Women Rise to end violence against women, leafleting the Women of the World Festival on London’s South Bank and we’re now enjoying planning meetings to organise a workshop about archiving women’s history at the next Feminism in London conference. We’re very pleased to be part of the newly-formed Feminist Libraries and Archives network and will keep you posted on FLA’s activities. We’ve got lots of ideas happening in the run-up to the third anniversary of the online launch of the archive, so watch this space!
A very happy new year to all friends of the Women’s Liberation Music Archive and thanks to everyone who supported us in 2013, sent us items to be archived and helped to spread the word on feminist music and political activism! A warm welcome to all our new followers.
The WLMA team has been busy over the past months. We’ve run stalls at events such as October’s Feminism in London conference, taken our presentation slideshow on the road to places like the Older Women and Friends festival in London organised by Opening Doors, Age UK’s older LGBT project, where a lively discussion took place amongst women who had been involved in Spare Rib and Drastic Measures magazines, Rock Against Sexism, Spare Tyre theatre group and various WLM groups. We distributed hundreds of our flyers to noticeboards and audiences far and wide, including those at the Musicport World Music Festival in Whitby; the Anti-capitalist Roadshow; Lewes Folk Festival; the London Feminist Film Festival; Trouble and Strife’s 30th anniversary celebration as the newly-digitised groundbreaking magazine marked its online availability; the London Jazz Festival’s Guest Stars’ reunion gig and more. Thanks to all our volunteers! If you know of a group who might be interested in hosting our presentation, or if you’d like to distribute some of our leaflets, please let us know.
During 2013 we added and expanded the entries on our website with new items including a documentary on 1990’s Chard Festival of Women in Music, new films and recordings of the band Meet Your Feet, tributes to the late great Lindsay Cooper, songs from the Pre-Madonnas, oral history interviews, and more – please see ‘What’s New in the Archive?’ for page links and more info on these and other developments made since our May Day 2011 online launch. In the coming year we have promises of more interesting newly-digitised material from various musicians including the feminist duo Ova and others.
We will be adding new donations of material to the Feminist Archive South collection at the University of Bristol, liaising with other women’s history archiving/digitising projects and expanding our geographical reach. We’re keen to hear from you – do let us have your feedback! And please get in touch with us if you know of anything that should be included in the archive – we welcome information on women musicians whose work preceded the WLMA, and are pleased to be developing links both internationally and with the current burgeoning feminist campaigns in the UK.
Best wishes for the year ahead from the WLMA team to all of you – and for everyone working for women’s liberation everywhere.
Please forward this to anyone you think may be interested in the WLMA. But if you would prefer not to receive WLMA info, or think you are on this list by mistake, please let us know!
In this tribute to Lindsay Cooper written specially for the WLMA, accompanied by a portrait kindly shared by another friend, Val Wilmer, Maggie Nicols shares her memories of the late great musician and composer.
LINDSAY COOPER – a personal recollection
I first met Lindsay in the early ‘seventies, when she was working with the radical ‘Ritual Theatre’ and I was running music workshops. The location was the pioneering community arts centre ‘The Oval House’, in South London run by Peter and Joan Oliver.
Lindsay came with some of the theatre group, to one of my workshops It was too long ago to remember details and I didn’t think at the time, these memories are going to be important one day. I do remember Lindsay as innocently flirtatious and me as a bit nervous about that. I only knew the sixties butch fem scene & Lindsay was not either and it confused me. This was before I became exposed to feminism.
Lindsay was a feminist before me but we both shared a commitment to socialist politics. I had joined the Socialist Labour League and she was in the political and radically musical rock band ‘Henry Cow.’ Our paths crossed from time to time and, as we were both active in the Musicians Union, we would see each other at branch meetings and hang out a bit. It wasn’t till I became involved in The Women’s Liberation Movement in 1976/7 that we developed the close friendship and musical and activist collaborations that lasted decades. Up to then, all my intimate musical experiences had been with men with one notable exception, my dear musical soul mate, singer Julie Tippetts. Through becoming involved in a relationship with a lesbian separatist, I found myself in this rather overwhelming and a bit scary women only world, centred round a couple of streets of women’s squats in Vauxhall.
It was around that time I attended a ‘Music For Socialism’ event in which the only female musician was singer Carol Grimes. Emboldened by my new exposure to women’s liberation, I confronted the organisers about this and they suggested I get a women’s group together!! At the next M.U meeting, I excitedly approached Lindsay Cooper. I think I wanted to show off a bit that I was now a bona fide lesbian feminist and no longer nervous of her. Together we set about gathering together women for our group. At that point, I only knew one female instrumentalist, trumpeter Corine Liensol, who I’d met at one of the squatted houses in Vauxhall. She was well up for it and had no qualms about improvisation. We decided we would be a women’s improvising group; open to all women musicians who were open to improvising musically.
Lindsay had worked with cellist and bass guitarist Georgie (Georgina) Born in ‘Henry Cow’ and also knew singer and pianist Cathy Williams from the political rock scene. I told the organisers of the next Music For Socialism event that we were ‘The Women’s Improvising Group.’ To our surprise, the publicity leaflets named us as ‘The Feminist Improvising Group’ and we sort of went, you want feminism, we’ll give you feminism. We met and workshopped ideas. Lindsay was wonderful in that first gig. Dressed in prescribed classical music attire, she brought a whole array of props, including a washing up bowl, onions and perfume spray to get rid of the smell of onions! We improvised our lives: a radical form of music theatre that embodied the feminist principle ‘the personal is political’ We both enthralled and appalled audience members and the public discussion that followed was lively to say the least.
For the next few years FIG revolutionised improvised music and made it accessible to a much wider audience. One of my abiding memories, which was filmed but by whom I cannot remember, was when Lindsay and I got so carried away, in a gig abroad, somewhere, that we occupied the gents toilets and would not let the men enter. We stayed there for the whole of the break and then did a three legged ‘race’ back on stage, using Lindsay’s sopranino sax as one of the legs.
In its prime, FIG was anarchic and musically adventurous. We shapeshifted between intricate musical passages, biting satire and unashamed slapstick humour; a social virtuosity of mixed ability. Quite a few women were involved with FIG, including pioneering improvising pianist Irene Schweizer, trumpeter Corine Liensol, vocalist and keyboard player Cathy Williams, saxophonist Angele Veltmeijer, trombonist and violinist Anne Marie Roelofs, guitarist Francoise Dupety and singer Sally Potter. Singer Frankie Armstrong also joined us for a couple of gigs.
When FIG disbanded Lindsay and I continued to play together and hang out as friends. We used to discuss our Piscean tendencies to go off into ‘lulu land’ when we became enamoured with someone. We shared many confidences. We also continued our union activism. We were instrumental in putting radical motions up at union meetings which challenged sexist attitudes and practices and were delegates at the conference where we also danced intimately together at the social just to get some of the other delegates a wee bit off balance.
We were in a lot of different music groups together. With double bassist Joelle Leandre, we made the album ‘Live At The Bastille.’ It was the anniversary of Bastille day and we played there, in Paris. We also played in Irene Schweizer’s EWIG, European Women’s Improvising Group and then as part of an initiative by Anne Marie Roelofs, ‘Canaille’, several festivals of different large ensembles of women improvisers from all over the world, playing in different combinations, mainly in venues in Germany. Out of these combinations came some ongoing groups, including ‘Al Dente’ with Lindsay, me, pianist Elvira Plenar and accordionist Michelle Buirette.
The name came from a running ‘sketch’ that Lindsay and I loved to act out about how we liked our spaghetti. On Facebook, on hearing of Lindsay’s death, violinist Susannah Ferrar remembers a long car journey abroad in which Lindsay and I kept this up for quite some time. She says it was very funny. Another recurring gag was how Lindsay would longingly say that she wished she could study with Andrew Lloyd Webber and I would say how then she would become a proper composer. I remember, one time, standing opposite The Drury Lane Theatre where ‘Cats’ was playing and both of us pretending to swoon as we spoke in gushing tones of our ‘hero.’ In fact Lindsay was one of the most inventive and original composers of our time and I was lucky to sing many of her compositions. They are truly inspiring and great to sing.
Until it was too difficult because of failing health, Lindsay would travel with us and sit in a wheelchair at the front while Phil Minton and I sang our hearts out and the band played the seamless diversity of her compositions. We also worked as a duo, once travelling to Prague and sharing some great music and experiences out and about in the city. Lindsay wrote extensively about her travels and I hope it gets compiled in a book. It’s warm, witty and excellent writing about her life as a musician on the road.
She also wrote about her MS and what it was like to live with the disease. I remember when she told me she had decided to come out about having MS. She had lived with the knowledge of her illness for a long time. When we were on the road with FIG, she knew about it. Lindsay introduced me to her yoga class and I introduced her to my therapist! We both benefited enormously from those introductions. I saw a lot of her while I was still in London. We used to do collective practice, me at the piano, singing long notes and Lindsay playing bassoon or sopranino. Then the music happened less and less and it was talking about everything; love, politics, spirit, philosophy ….
It’s strange when you see a lot of a person, you don’t notice the changes so much. It was only when I became more involved with supporting my daughter and then my mum in Wales and I saw less of Lindsay, that I noticed how her health was deteriorating. Mum moved to Wales in 2002 and my daughter and I were there most of the time. The gaps between visits to Lindsay grew longer: birthdays, Christmas and trying to see her whenever I was back In London. She moved from the place she loved, round the corner from Marchmont Street, because of the stairs and then she needed carers and then 24 hour carers and then she would be in bed watching the telly when I visited, although her carers assured me that she still sat in the garden in her wheelchair. They were brilliant. They genuinely cared about her and honoured her. Lindsay gradually lost the ability to speak and feed herself; yet always I sensed her fierce spirit, her determination to survive. Because I was seeing her less and less, I projected my guilt onto looks she gave me, thinking they were looks of anger. Luckily I let that go and our last visits together felt like peaceful meditations.
A few weeks before she died, I phoned and the carer put on the speaker so I could talk to Lindsay. I’d asked if I could write and the carer had suggested I email and they would read it out. I said I’d rather write a letter. The carer said she would ask Lindsay which she preferred. With Sally Potter, they’d developed a way by which Lindsay would blink to indicate ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Lindsay made it clear, she’d prefer a letter! Oh yes, that definitely felt like Lindsay; inspired writer that she was, an email sound bite would not suffice. For me it’s a bitter irony that I hadn’t thought to phone or write before. I thoroughly enjoyed writing to her and looked forward to writing regularly. There’d been a family crisis and everything else had been displaced. As things improved, I looked forward to visiting her when I next went back to London.
I got a phone call from Irene Schweizer who’d had an email from Sally with the news of Lindsay death, then an email from a friend of Lindsay’s arrived. She’d managed to get my address. I am so sad I didn’t get to say goodbye. I didn’t know she was dying. Apparently she contracted pneumonia and her immune system was too weak to withstand any more invasive treatment. Her close friends rallied round. Sally was with her day and night in the last days of her life, supported by other friends of Lindsay’s. Lindsay’s funeral was beautiful; her music was played and people who knew her spoke of her with great love.
Lindsay we had such laughs together and we also supported each other through heartache and encouraged each other’s growth. We had become so close and then circumstances deprived us of more time together. Thank you for those last peaceful visits and for wanting a letter from me.
I would encourage everyone to find out as much as you can about this unique woman who was such a brilliant musician, composer, activist and thinker.
(c) Maggie Nicols, October 2013
Matthew Watkins of Canterbury Sans Frontieres has compiled a four-hour tribute to Lindsay based around an interview she recorded with Val Wilmer in 1992, interspersed with a lot of different music from her remarkable career. Thanks to Matthew, who says ‘putting this together was a real labour of love for me, and some of your readers might appreciate it.’ Listen to it here: http://canterburywithoutborders.blogspot.com/2013/10/episode-8.html
Has anything changed for women musicians since the era covered by the Women’s Liberation Music Archive? Check out this Guardian Comment Is Free article by Anya Pearson and her clever experiment to visually represent the issue of gender inequality in music by editing the posters of ‘some of Britain’s best-loved festivals deleting all the acts with no female members … The results are as striking as they are shocking: blank spaces flood what would otherwise be a crowded list of artists.’ And she provides a link to the archive, as her mother is a member of the much-loved Stepney Sisters. Thank you Anya! If any women musicians, events organisers, technicians etc out there would like to discuss their experiences of life in the music business today, do contact us firstname.lastname@example.org
The 1st of May 2013 being the second anniversary of the archive’s on-line launch, it seems a good time for an update – and another huge thank you to everyone who has sent in items to be archived and for the welcome feedback many have sent. We hope you’ll be interested in the project’s progress. Since May 2011, the website has had around fifty-two thousand visits, has expanded quite a bit with the addition of new material – please see the what’s new in the archive? page – and has just had a bit of a re-launch with a move to a new domain: http://womensliberationmusicarchive.co.uk/ – (though if you use the previous address you’ll automatically be redirected.)
The archive continues to welcome new donations of material – please get in touch at email@example.com if you have anything you think would be relevant and should be in the archive, or if you were involved and would like to write about your experience of that time. Hopefully the project will continue to grow, gaps will be filled in and more entries created.
Physical items that have been donated to the WLMA will be housed by the Feminist Archive South and will be available for viewing and research purposes at the University of Bristol by arrangement with the Special Collections Archivists, who can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
Unique offer! The CD ‘Music and Liberation: A Compilation of Music from the Women’s Liberation Movement’, which was created as part of the Music and Liberation exhibition funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and curated by Dr Debi Withers, a co-founder of the WLMA, is still available. This comprises twenty tracks by some of the feminist musicians from the 1970s and 80s – Abandon Your Tutu, Bad Habits, Bright Girls, Fabulous Dirt Sisters, Feminist Improvising Group, Frankie Armstrong, Friggin Little Bits, Ginger and Spice, Hi-Jinx, Jam Today, Mistakes, No Rules OK, Ova, Proper Little Madams, Sadista Sisters, Siren, Spoilsports, Stepney Sisters, York Street Band – plus an informative booklet. Don’t miss this fantastic opportunity to revisit or discover some of these sounds – or introduce friends and family to the music and activism of the era! All proceeds from the CD will be used for the upkeep of the Women’s Liberation Music Archive, and we are grateful to Debi and all the women who made the CD possible who kindly agreed that its sales will benefit the WLMA, a not-for-profit, voluntary and otherwise unfunded project. Please contact the archive at email@example.com for more information if you’d like a copy. Following the Music and Liberation exhibition, Debi has now left the archive, while Frankie Green continues as Administrator with project support from the WLMA Steering Group. We thank Debi for her work on the archive and good wishes for her future career go with her.
Please get in touch if you have any ideas or questions about the archive. If you have a website or blog you’d like to add to the list of links on our blog posts page please let us know, and please link to us to help spread the word. Thanks! And don’t forget you can advertise your gigs, music releases and other relevant happenings on our ‘Events’ page.
Happy May Day!
Visitors to the opening night of exhibition ‘Music and Liberation’ in London (please scroll down for more information) on Friday, 30 November, enjoyed a fascinating talk by Jude Alderson of the Sadista Sisters, a stirring song session with Frankie Armstrong, a spontaneous performance of ‘History Is No Place For A Lady’ by two members of Clapperclaw and a rousing rendition from Lizzie Shirley of the suffragette anthem ‘The March of The Women,’ by composer Ethel Smyth (who, during two month’s imprisonment in Holloway, leaned from her cell window and conducted the suffragettes singing it in the exercise yard below with her toothbrush.)
A speech about the music archive given by Frankie Green is posted here by request:
‘A big thank you to everyone who has come along tonight, and to Debi for inviting me to speak and share some thoughts on the Women’s Liberation Music Archive. Coming to south London tonight, as I thought about how the archive came about, I felt accompanied by many ghosts. There is much feminist and lesbian history around us. For example, in March 1972 women who’d met through Women’s Liberation and the Gay Liberation Front women’s group gathered at the council flat of Hazel Twort, a founder of WLM and the Peckham Rye WL group, and began the first feminist band to come out of the movement (to the best of my knowledge): the London Women’s Liberation Rock Band (a catchy little title) [which was shortly followed by the Northern Women's Liberation Rock Band.] In the mid-70s I lived myself in Peckham and rehearsed in a shed with women met through a notice in the London Women’s Liberation Workshop newsletter, in a band called Jam Today, whose members continue in musical careers. And at that time, just down the road in Vauxhall two whole terraced streets were women’s squats, a dyke community with one of London’s first feminist discos in a local pub and the first South London Women’s Art Centre in one of the houses in Radnor Terrace. Nearby there is the rich history of Brixton’s squatting, anti-racist, women’s and LGBT activism. And so on …
Patching such pieces together is the kind of work we are doing in the archive, to create a bigger picture of the political context, in which to make real that which may otherwise be fragmented and lost. And some women from that era are no longer with us. I feel passionate also about honouring their memory.
I count myself very lucky to have been involved in the Women’s Liberation Movement from the late 1960s onwards, and in making feminist music with many great women back then, as groups proliferated all over the place in many musical genres. Over subsequent years when we met we said to one another: we really must collect and document our music from that time, to ensure women’s achievements are not yet again ‘hidden from history’! We began dragging out stuff we had kept in boxes, in attics and under our beds, and, around the turn of the century, sorting it out, digitising some dusty old cassette tapes and talking seriously about what to do with it all.
In 2010 I went to the Women’s Library exhibition marking the fortieth anniversary of our first national WLM conference. It was great to see film of the London Women’s Street Theatre Group on the first International Women’s Day march through London in 1971, and a Spare Rib benefit poster featuring the band Spoilsports. I remarked to my old friend radical feminist Amanda Sebestyen – who I’m delighted is here this evening – that I’d like to see more about political-cultural activism, especially music, and felt an increasing urgency to write about this aspect of our movement which could otherwise could be marginalised or unknown. Amanda put Debi Withers in touch with me, knowing she was keen to research and archive this material. She and I began the work which has born fruit in this exhibition curated by Debi, and the Women’s Liberation Music Archive on which it is based. The online archive has grown since its launch in May 2011, with over fortyone thousand hits to date, and the physical collection of artefacts will be housed by the Feminist Archive South in Bristol.
While spending many months on the computer searching out contacts and networking, tracking down women I’d lost touch with for decades, and uploading masses of stuff to the website, it was moving from the outset to find the generous responses from huge numbers of women contacted by Debi and myself. In a very real sense it’s their archive and I am very glad we were able to facilitate it. They loaned and donated music, films, photos, lyrics, tickets, posters, hand-written set lists and some wrote personal pieces specially for us – women such as Frankie Armstrong, Rix Pyke from Clapperclaw, Paddy Tanton from the Lizzy Smith Band, who it is also wonderful to see here tonight. They made this archive possible through both their support now and (often unpaid) hard work decades ago.
Now, most of what we fought against then continues to rear its ugly head. Domestic and sexual violence; pornography; prostitution; trafficking of women and children; religious fundamentalism; the racist and xenophobic legacy of imperialism; Thatcher’s legacy of privatisation by avaricious capitalism that siphons off wealth away from the common good to the super-rich elite; right-wing attacks on working class and disabled people, savaging the welfare state and NHS, cutting essential benefits and resources with the ensuing deliberate impoverishment affecting our hard-won reproductive rights, incomes, housing, employment, childcare … patriarchy and heterosexism oppressing women in myriad ways around the world, through all the systems that view women as commodities and chattels, manifesting the same misogynist and male supremacist agenda.
Believe it or not, I am actually known as someone who looks on the bright side! Which is that: always and everywhere, women resist! Our resistance to oppression takes many forms. It springs up whenever we are downtrodden, sold, beaten, exploited and denied our human rights. We organise and fight back, we campaign and create solidarity, all over the world. Progressive cultural activism is part of this struggle. Opponents of justice and freedom know this, whether instigating the destruction of arts funding and education here, the Taliban banning music, or the jailing of Pussy Riot. I have always been inspired by political culture, by people like Chilean Victor Jara or Palestinian Reem Kelani, who know the split between political activism and culture is a false one. Nor are the arts an add-on or luxury. ‘Music is the spirit, music is life,’ said jazz legends Mary Maria Parks and Albert Ayler: ‘Music is the healing force of the universe.’
That was why I got involved in music in the 1970s and why I now want to let people know what we were about in Women’s Liberation. We wanted regime change; same as now. Not simply equality within an unjust world. At our most radical we were internationalist, anarchic, wanting revolutionary change. Our music and art and books and pamphlets and films and theatre and photography and poetry and posters and magazines and dancing and events were part of that. The sounds and songs we made voiced our passions and rage, humour and joy, demands and dreams, manifestos and hopes for a transformation of the world.
The Women’s Liberation Music Archive is valued by many people as an idea whose time has come. It will continue to grow and develop and hopefully be a useful resource – a testimony to feminist creativity and autonomy.