Ginger and Spice 1984 ~ 1985
Carol, voice; Kath Moore, saxophone; Nicky, bass; Ros Davies, trombone; Yvonne, drums
Ros Davie remembers Ginger and Spice. ‘It was the brainchild of Carol and her cousin Rosa, it was based in Hammersmith in London and it was ska and reggae. Kath and I were the horn section, my trombone inspiration was reggae so I was keen to do it. It wasn’t particularly a feminist band. We were all women and that much was deliberate. We were in your face and cheeky. We played party music. We did a competition where I had to wear a gold, glitzy top and I think the aspiration was a bit more in that direction, towards recording and being more commercial, in a way. We were not part of the feminist movement apart from saying “its OK to be in a women’s band, in fact it’s a good thing, lets just do it!”’
The band performed together from 1984-1985. They played 13 gigs in 1985. Most of these were in London, but they also performed in Manchester and Edinburgh. They also appeared in Penny Florence’s film Silk Sow’s Ear.
The Guest Stars 1983 ~ 1988
This history of the origins of The Guest Stars, as recollected by saxophonist and vocalist Ruthie Smith, continues her account which begins with the entry for The Stepney Sisters ~ please see the S page for this
‘The Guest Stars’ personnel changed over time, but was most known in its all-women format comprising Alison Rayner, fretless bass, voice; Debbie Dickinson, group organization and management; Deirdre Cartwright, guitar; Josefina Cupido, drums, voice; Laka Daisical, piano, voice; Linda da Mango, congas, percussion, voice; Ruthie Smith, saxophones, voice. Other members were Anne Cooper, group management; Cliff Venner, drums; Julia Doyle, Double Bass; Sue Ellery, piano
… just so you know the family tree of musicians who eventually formed the Guest Stars, around the time of the demise of the Stepney Sisters arose the Women’s Monthly Event. This was a monthly jam in the basement in Covent Garden Community Centre where loads of women met to play, and people brought food and connected up with one another and met new people. This is where I met Laka Daisical and Linda da Mango (Malone). Out of these connections Benni, Linda, Laka and myself developed a women’s band called Mama Told Me So, which soon developed into a mixed band called Soulyard, a soul –funk band which regularly performed and also recorded original songs during the period 1977 – 80 (?) We wrote all our own songs and arrangements and all the influences we had been exposed to became part of the music. Soulyard rehearsed in a dark squat in Stoke Newington (Clissold Road) and our manager John Horsley, used to drive us around in the van and organise the PA. Linda Da Mango, on congas, had come to music through living at Hornsey Lane where there was a wonderful African music scene, which gave a particular dance influence to the music. Laka Daisical, on vocals and keyboards, had formerly been the pianist in Sandy Shaw’s band and also had her own rock band, where she had written songs with many influences, and she brought a tremendously bluesy, rocky, funky and powerfully compelling feel in her songs and playing. Benni Lees (bass player from the Stepney Sisters) also played in the band, and was and is an extraordinary songwriter – she was constantly writing what we were convinced would be hit singles, but unfortunately, we did not have the necessary ‘image’ to secure that elusive record deal! Jim Dvorak (New York Jazz trumpeter and composer, well known in the improvised music circuit) and myself made up the horn section. Jim’s horn arrangements gave us a sassy soully sound which was unique. We also had the talented Canadian John Jamieson on guitar and various drummers, including the ubiquitous Nobby Clarke.
Soulyard started out jamming at Razzos, a club we created in a squat in Fonthill Road N4 in the late 1970’s - there were loads of African drummers, and people from the local community would turn up with wonderful soul food – a great vibe, though in terms of health and safety, the floor board on the squat could easily have given way as hoards of people flocked to come and be part of this scene. We rocked the night away and people still talk now about those wonderful evenings at Razzos when things just came together naturally and spontaneously, without anyone having to have major headaches about organising – everyone did their bit and the evenings just ‘happened.’
Subsequently, Soulyard became more sophisticated and accomplished, and we developed elaborate arrangements. We eventually played at quite glamorous gigs such as at The Venue on big stages with lights and excitement, as supporting acts to larger bands – and we had a residency in Camden at Dingwalls where we regularly played on Saturday nights, which was always packed out. Soulyard recorded a tape of all our original tunes – it was an exciting band, the music was funky and also quite jazzy – almost pre-Manhatten transfer, a bit Earth Wind and Fire with loads of soully vocal and horn arrangements – everyone said we were ‘ahead of our time ‘ - it really it was fun and a terrific band to be in and a very exciting period of my life. In Soulyard, we donned our silver bomber jackets, trying to find an image that would work commercially – however we failed miserably to live up to the archetypal ‘chick musician ‘stereotype. Our music was fab, but none of the agents could ‘place us’ because we were women, not ‘chicks’ and did not fit any stereotypical mould!! I remember going to auditions with fat men with cigars ogling us, but they were clearly unimpressed by our lack of glamour! Only Linda really made the grade in terms of classical female beauty!!!! Ah well we certainly had fun!
Alongside this, there were also other musical projects – Benni wrote tunes for a famous children’s TV programme, Pigeon Street, which we recorded – it can still be heard on the re-runs today. Laka was asked to write the film music for a film by a feminist film maker, Francesca – so we were getting into some quite interesting territories – I seem to remember playing cello on these recordings and also doing some more of the avant garde type singing which I did while at York University.
Eventually, after the demise of Soulyard, I was fed up with the vicissitudes of trying to get into the commercial world of recording, and playing 3 minute single length songs with no room for ‘blowing’ so I started learning to play jazz (this was 1980). I started studying classic jazz standards, helped and largely taught by my partner Jim Dvorak, (trumpet player from Soulyard). Jim was fabulous to be with; I was learning about Charlie Parker, and bebop, John Coltrane and listening to all the Blue Note repertoire of the jazz artists of the 50s and early 60s and he taught me to relax and let go of my old concepts about music, freeing me up to try a more experimental approach – I will always be grateful to Jim for helping me to find my musical self. I would struggle through a Charlie Parker repertoire with Jim, while he helped me learn to play the tunes and understand about the jazz feel, and blow over the chord charts – and also learning about jazz singing and scat (Jim is ace at this). I was longing to have a chance to try this stuff out in a band – eventually Jim and I formed the band Toot Sweet, which currently plays today with Julia Doyle, Frances Knight and whichever drummer we can find, (though for many years we played with Cliff Venner on drums, Alastair Gavin, and Steve Lodder on keyboards.)
Regarding how The Guest Stars came to be formed, one day I bumped into Julia Doyle, (double bass) when I was working with on a music theatre production of ‘Animal Farm’ with music composed by Jim Dvorak. I asked Julia if she would like to come and play jazz standards with me. She knew a pianist, Sue Ellery, and shortly after that we were meeting weekly in my squat in Wray Crescent as a trio - we had an old fashioned standard lamp to light up the music, which is why in the early posters of the Guest Stars there was a standard lamp. We were subsequently very grateful to the artist Chris Conlon who loved the band and was able to capture the spirit of our playing in the artwork which she did for the band as it developed through its various incarnations.
As a trio, we muddled our way through various standards and in addition to swing and bop spent hours trying to learn Latin rhythms effectively, – we used a book called The Real Book which is a compilation of jazz standards, and there were some numbers which we rehearsed week after week, trying to get the syncopation to be sharp and hip and to understand the complicated chord sequences and modes! Then one day, a friend of ours asked us if we would play at some community party event – so, attired in silly dresses from the 1950s bought from jumble sales and heavy boots, we played our first gig – standards like Billy’s Bounce and Scrapple from the Apple by Charlie Parker, with a few Ella Fitzgerald songs thrown in like Whisper Not and Blue Bossa and other Latin classics! The organiser named us as The Guest Stars for want of another name! So the three of us, Sue, Julia and myself played at this party. Our second gig was at Julia’s office party! The name seemed appropriate because we decided we would in any case like to invite guests to come and play with us to expand our experience of playing jazz with other women. Subsequently The Guest Stars spent years trying to find another name, but somehow it stuck and as we became better known, it was hard to change it! Our first residency was an obscure pub in Islington and we were the resident trio with guests – in terms of being a novice woman jazz musician, there was something about inviting guests that meant one could hide one’s nerves behind promoting the guests and pretending that one was invisible! Our first guests – a different one each week - were Josefina Cupido, Deirdre Cartwright and Laka Daisical. The trio of Guest Stars gradually progressed, and someone asked us to record on a compilation album of women’s music [Making Waves, Girlfriend Records, 1981] and we (Sue, myself and Julia) did two tracks, one of which was Sue Ellery’s Sometimes the Blues is Right which was a great blues track, I thought she sang it beautifully. And then The Guest Stars trio invited Josefina to come along and play drums permanently because she loved playing jazz and was a fabulously inspiring drummer, so now we were a quartet. And we invited Annie Whitehead and Angele Veltmeyer on different occasions. As horn players we would work out a few tunes together and harmonies to give it a bit more polish. The Guest Stars first more ‘visible’ gig was at the 1982 festival of women’s music held at the Drill Hall, the festival being advertised by Val Wilmer’s lovely photo of Julia walking along with her big bass. We played this as a quartet, and then in addition, featured Annie Whitehead as our guest.
Around this time, alongside and separately from The Guest Stars trio, Julia, Deirdre and I set up a little trio busking at Covent Garden Piazza, where we attempted to play frantically fast versions of bebop, running away with ourselves and bursting out laughing if we managed to get to the end – this is where Deirdre was spotted and taken up as a key person in the BBC TV series Rock School. Following the residency at the small pub in Islington, The Guest Stars, now a quartet with Josefina, was offered a weekly residency in a pub upstairs at Hammersmith. Unfortunately Sue had a habit of turning up very late to gigs, and we would get in a panic as 5 minutes before the gig she hadn’t arrived and then we had to bring her piano upstairs and set up so we were always late! In the end, this drove us nuts, and we lived in fear of losing the gig. We had great fun trying out all sorts of jazz standards, taking risks and playing appalling versions of all sorts of tunes, but loads of people used to come along and enjoy it, and this support and encouragement from the audience was so helpful in helping us move forward in our playing.
By this time, everyone was playing with everyone in different bands – Julia, Sue and Linda were playing together in a steaming Latin band who had a residency in Holloway, the Holloway Allstars. Angele Veltmeyer played sax in it and when Sue Ellery couldn’t make the gigs other pianists would dep, such as Frances Knight. There was a flow between the bands with a lot of us playing with several different bands, and often people would have several gigs on the same day/night since the GLC was becoming rather prolific in offering gigs. Julia and myself also played in Toot Sweet and I was also playing with Jim in District Six, with Mervyn Africa, Brian Abrahams and Russel and Dill Katz on bass. So there was a lot of hopping from band to band and gig to gig. At one point, Sue Ellery went away on holiday for a few weeks and Laka Daisical was depping for her - things gelled very well, so after some angst and deliberation, we asked Laka to join us permanently – so now we had the makings of the band The Guest Stars as we know it.
By now we were beginning to write our own songs. So one day we decided to record a demo of our songs in a basement room in Holloway Road to help us get some more gigs – we recorded a couple of my original songs including The Music Flows, and Heart Beat, plus some standard such as John Coltrane’s Impressions – this was THE PINK TAPE, which we started selling at gigs. We were joined shortly afterwards by Deirdre and Linda.
Alongside various bands people were playing in, Jim Dvorak, Laka Daisical, Josefina Cupido, Caroline Gilfillan and myself started up the acapella singing group The Hipscats, with Alastair Gavin playing the occasional keyboards. Jim was particularly helpful at writing the arrangements and we sang such numbers as Blues Backstage (Lambert Hendrix and Ross), I Only Have Eyes For You and some wonderful gospel tunes. This group was influenced by Jim’s experience of acapella singing groups in Brooklyn New York where he grew up, and experiencing singing scat vocal in harmony became the precursor for the acappella singing group in Sisterhood of Spit.
In the meantime, I had paired up with tenor saxophonist Angele Veltmeyer and we used to practice together sometimes and felt it would be helpful to share our learning with other women musicians who wanted to learn sax – so we started teaching a saxophone class for beginners. We got together and worked out exercises and chord charts, sharing what we knew to make the learning easier for other women. Out of this we had the idea of establishing a big band gig with all the new saxophonists, where we would combine the core Guest Stars band with the horn section class, plus a few others such as Annie Whitehead. The idea for the name Sisterhood of Spit came indirectly from connections with South African music – Jim Dvorak used to play in the South African Band Brotherhood of Breath, so Sisterhood of Spit felt like suitable sisterly alternative and had a nice ring to communicate something of the feminist politics at the time. We decided also to add an acappella singing group and I remember spending hours listening to fiendish piece, The Four Brothers, a very snazzy jazz scat song in complex harmony, trying to write out and eventually learn our parts – Jim Dvorak helped us a great deal with this! So at the famous Drill Hall gig we donned our wedding dresses and boots to commemorate the marriage of Princess Di, and played various arrangements, many of them written and arranged by ourselves.
Finally, The Guest Stars was a stable six piece with the addition of Deirdre Cartwright on guitar. We were offered our Sunday night residency at The Kings Head in Upper Street Islington, which was a steaming gig, and gave the Guest Stars an opportunity to really develop and take off. At some point, the number of gigs between The Guest Stars and Holloway AllStars meant that there was a bit of conflict over who played and which gig, and competing time for rehearsals etc – and in the end Alison Rayner became the bass player for the Guest Stars, with Julia remaining in the Holloway AllStars and Toot Sweet.’
The band was incredibly fortunate to follow its dreams of travelling and touring abroad. Having turned down a tour in Lebanon, we were awarded a British Council tour to the Middle East where we visited and played in Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, Iraq, Palestine and Israel. This was before the region became war-torn and in Iraq we were given little gold brooches depicting Sadham Hussein! We visited some of the most amazing sites in the world, many of which are no longer accessible, including the Hanging Gardens of Babylon before it was bombed, Petra in Jordan, the Pyramids, the Holy Sepulchre and Garden of Gethsemane in East Jerusalem. Accompanying us was a journalist from BBC Radio 4′s Woman’s Hour, and she broadcast a report of our tour on our return entitled ‘From Baghdad to Berkhamsted’! With amazing management by Debbie Dickinson, we also managed to do a tour of American Jazz clubs by doing an accapella audition to Richard Branson in his garden. This resulted in him kindly offering us free flights on Virgin, in exchange for ‘singing for our supper’ on the plane. This tour included the famous Blue Note club in New York, where we were following such amazing acts as Art Blakey and McCoy Tyner, and Seventh Avenue South, which is now closed, plus many other gigs including various women-only gigs in the south.
We were also lucky to have other tours in Europe, Greece, Turkey and Germany, where we recorded our album Live in Berlin at the Quasimodo club. The ‘Eastern European tour’ was a less joyful affair, where, following Chernobyl, we were so frightened that food would be polluted that we took all our own food and cooked for ourselves throughout the tour, sprouting beans so we were sure to have some fresh vitamins amongst the beans, lentils and canned tomatoes!
All in all, the Guest Stars produced three albums. Following our reunion gig at the 1999 Cheltenham Jazz festival we made a compilation CD of some of the favourite tracks from these albums.’ ~ Ruthie Smith, February 2011 ~ accompanying photos (c) Pip Scott
‘Selected Recordings 1983 – 1987′ © Blow the Fuse Records. Photos © Val Wilmer, Jem Kathrens; Artwork Chrissie Conlon; Album design Julia Lloyd. Front cover, clockwise from back left: Josefina Cupido (drums/voice lead voc 3,9); Linda Malone aka da Mango (percussion/voice); Laka D, aka Daisical (keyboards/voice lead voc 1,2,5,7,11); Ruthie Smith (saxophones/voice lead voc 2,6,8); Alison Rayner (bass/voice); Deirdre Cartwright (guitar). Back cover, clockwise from back left: Ruthie, Linda, Laka, Alison, Deirdre, Josefina. Deborah Dickinson (group management/sound)
Tracks: 1. Weep over it 2. Heartbeat 3. La tierra y el sol 4. Tin Can Alley 5. I know I know 6. Wake it up 7. Miles Apart 8. What means love 9. The wind is getting angry 10. Birds of a feather 11. All for love
1 Weep Over It
3 Tierra Sol
4 Tin Can Alley
5 I Know I Know
6 Wake It Up
7 Miles Apart
8 What Means Love
9 The Wind Is Getting Angry
10 Birds of a Feather
11 All For Love
‘There were as far as I know four phases or episodes of the Guest Stars … after Julia was replaced by Alison, three albums followed. After a number of years, I left and the band did another tour in Germany with Cliff on drums and a fourth live album was made, and then many years later there was a more recent reunion mini tour around 1999 with me again on drums.’ ~ Josefina Cupido, Feb 2011
Josefina, who had previously been in Red Brass, Monstrous Regiment (feminist theatre group) and Jam Today, went on to play in Four On Floor in the 1990s, One Women One Drum (CD and Solo Performance), continuing her work which began in the 1980s with various bands featuring Carol Grimes, and Wild Card duo in 2005
‘We didn’t have anything to follow, there was no female tradition as such, so yes, we had to create our own genre, and at the beginning it could be difficult. But it’s probably fairer to say that our repertoire came about because of the influences we all brought to it. It was around the start of the world music scene, and we were interested in postbop jazz – Mingus and Monk; soul vocals and harmonies; and African sounds were fresh to us. To our mild surprise people quite quickly began to dance at our gigs.
We organised ourselves differently to most jazz bands, a bit more like a young rock or pop outfit. So there were regularly rehearsals, up to three a week, and we played together all the time. The group was like a support network, too. Even when someone wrote a new piece for the band individually, we’d all arrange it collectively, during rehearsals. Though there were lots of leadership issues in that band, there were no individual leaders. Some reactions to us were curious: people were even very surprised that women could get on, and not argue. That sort of expression constantly surprised us; we’d never anticipated that we couldn’t all work together.
We were sometimes criticised for forming “a band along gender lines”. But it wasn’t like that. It was originally the Guest Stars because it would be a trio with changing featured artists – guest stars, lots of whom were men. It happened that more of the guests stars began to be women, and I think that’s because women were more available – because we had less work! When we folded the band in 1987-88, we did have a feeling that the Guest Stars had done its job: it had allowed us women the opportunity to get valuable new experience in music-making. We all then went off to work with other musicians, male and female. I suppose we felt that there were by then lots of women musicians, so there wasn’t the same need for a separate project. Getting together again in 2004 to reform, we’ve noticed that actually not that much in the jazz world has changed. The lifestyle of hanging around, the ad hoc nature of things, the lack of rehearsal and band continuity, the word of mouth way you get gigs – women still really lose out in that kind of situation.
Lots of women in jazz don’t want to talk about politics – they want to get on and play, they know most of the musicians are men, they don’t want to get a reputation for being moaners or anything, and they do want to get gigs. Politics though are thrust upon women in jazz all the time. No one asks a male musician why he only plays with other men, for instance, and is that part of some social comment.’ ~ Deirdre Cartwright, interview with Professor George McKay 2004
‘Other groups I played in included Lydia D’ustebyn Ladies Orchestra; bands with Frances Knight and Angele Veltmeyer; and In Your Own Time which became Women’s Free Association or FA with Maggie Nicols and Ann Day. I’m still playing and writing and improvising with lots of lovely women, feminism is not dead!’ ~ Julia Doyle, 2011