‘I came to feminism quite late, towards the end of my twenties. Having been sacked as ‘the worst trombonist in the West End’ (I’d only been playing for six months and couldn’t reach the high notes) i joined the Sisterhood of Spit – the wonderful women’s big band that inspired so many other women to play brass and be raucous. Some time after that i went to Greenham, the start of a lengthy, formative, and unsettling process. I had spent two years after university listening to and recording folk music in Hungary and Romania, and the fireside singing at Greenham, with its direct relationship to daily life, had the same quality of intimacy, spontaneity and intrinsic meaning that i had missed and craved on return to the West.
I’d already had a career of sorts, as a musical director and composer of theatre music, and had been involved with free improvisation since i was a student. I valued experimentation, and rejected the Western Classical tradition with its divisions between audience/performer, player/played. But the Greenham experience was massive and disorientating. Even though i was only part-time, even though the only action i took part in failed before it had even started, even though it was not always harmonious and there were bitter disagreements sometimes – i felt that all the women there helped to create something quite extraordinary, unique, and uniquely important. That was why we were able to resist the endless evictions – it had its own irrepressible life and energy. It was very hard after that to find anywhere to fit in or feel at home emotionally, culturally or politically. For ten years i could not write music – giving precise instructions seemed so hierarchical, so much part of a cultural tradition that perpetuated inequality – i could not bear to do it. Instead i travelled, searched for womens’ community and connection, joined a women’s circus going to Mexico and Nicaragua, set up music and theatre workshops on an estate in Peckham where a friend of mine felt we were engaged in revolution … toured Italy as half of a feminist duo busking on tuba and ukulele … spent many solstices with dear friends from Greenham who had moved to the country in Ireland, to a place of peace and solitude.
When i finally settled into living in one place – a flat in London – for seventeen years (never thinking it would be for so long) i did begin to write music again. And i love the focus, the total concentration required – in fact, am probably at my happiest when truly absorbed in composing. But it’s not enough, i never wanted to restrict myself to that, but have always sought ways of sharing the act of making music with others, and different others – through group improvisation, teaching, singing together, improvising with musicians from different cultures (Indian, Arabic). i also rediscovered my voice, the power of political/satirical songs and the potential of music theatre and opera.
Now i live in a place where there are regular ‘folk music’ sessions in pubs, and though the music, with its mainly bland harmonies and melodies, sometimes bores me (so many tunes sound the same…) i love the informality and inclusivity of a session, even though it’s sometimes dominated by men with guitars and needs some subversion. Meanwhile i can develop my own music and song, and work on bringing music to unexpected places, and unexpected music to other places … But the call of the buzzard, the rhythm of the gossiping jackdaws, the wind in the trees or the roar of the river in flood – these sounds are worth more to me than any human music. Nothing i or anyone else can produce will ever equal those sounds – and yet, i do believe that playing and singing, being part of a musical process, even if mainly listening, brings us all together and closer to the wonder and possibility of life on Earth – if we can only open our hearts and minds. Two close friends, from different parts of my life, died this year, and both their dying and the celebrations of their lives were intertwined with music. It seemed so natural and so fitting, a way of re-affirming the continuity of life and death of which we are part, and our shared community, however brief, with all that exists.’ ~ December, 2010
‘Kneeling down, bishop’s prey, lives to starve another day. Higher purchase, lower pay, Blessed be the working day. Crusade, Crusadist, Crucify, Constitution of contrition keeps supplying ammunition. Holy wars and matrimony institute unjust hierarchy.’ ~ Blessed Be the Working Day, a round by Camilla written and sung at Greenham
Canaille late 1980s ~ 1990s
Carol Grimes and the Iguanas 1984 ~85
Angele Veltmeyer, sax; Ann Day, drums; Carol Grimes, vocals; Frances Knight, piano; Gail Ann Dorsey, bass
Carol Grimes’ prolific subsequent and current work continues apace (and, like that of other artists documented here, can be followed via her website), and includes:
“So here I am in the 21st Century. I have two children, Sam and Kasia Rose, much music still to make and listen to, and hopefully many more adventures around the corner. I wish for Peace on Earth, an end to the destruction and pollution of this Earth and an end to the mindless cruelty of Wars in the name of religion, greed and ignorant prejudice.” ~ Carol Grimes
The Caroline Gilfillan Band 198?
Cast Iron Fairies
Hilda Ellis, Jackie Freeman, Jane Ralley, Viv Acious, and various others at different times, including Babs Millington and Ruth Novaczek (also in Abandon Your Tutu) Yvette, Julz and Caroline.
Photos of Cast Iron Fairies in studio by Andy Minnion include Jane, Viv, Hilda, Yvette, Julz and Jackie
Cast Iron Fairies gigs (1981-2): Leeds Fringe Festival, Rock against Rock at the Pied Bull – Putney, London Musicians Collective – Camden, Fire Benefit at the Tunbridge Club, Star Club – Birmingham, Caxton House, Venture Centre, North Kensington (benefit for Golburne Children’s Festival), “Kitch ‘n Sync” at the I.C.A., “Women Live” at London University Union and the Starlight Club, Berlin – “Internationalen Frauen-Fest”, Palais am Funkturm, Women’s Centre benefit at Lambeth Town Hall.
The Castrators 1976 ~ ?
Angela Risner, guitar; Budgie Carroll, bass; Louise ?, keyboard; Tessa Pollitt, guitar
Ann Day; Julia Doyle; Maggie Nicols; Nony Ardill; Ruth Marshall
The group formed in the early 90s, comprising musicians who had been in many bands during the 70s and 80s ~ their CD provides a chance to hear these women
One Move Ahead © Cats Cradle
Your Rules © Cats Cradle
Chard Festival of Women in Music 1987 ~ 2003
‘The Women in Music Festival is no ghetto. It aims to bring women into the mainstream’ ~ Naseem Khan, The Independent ~ read more on http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/sisters-who-dont-play-second-fiddle-1349541.html
Girls Rock On! For a report on the Chard Foundation for Women in Music’s groundbreaking young women’s band project click here: eprints.bournemouth.ac.uk/13158/1/girls-rock-on-report-re-order-sml.pdf
‘Chard Festival of Women In Music’ – a report by Ann Kearns published in the February 1995 ILWC Journal http://www.iawm.org/articles_html/Kearns_Chard_Festival.html
The Chuffinelles 1980s
Developed from Sheffield Popular Theatre Group
Linda Smith, Margaret Barraclough, ?
Clapperclaw - London
Rix Pyke; Caroline John and Rae Levy.
Clapperclaw was mainly a 3 woman show comprised of Rix Pyke, Caroline John and Rae Levy. Their first show was a collection of songs on a socialist/feminist theme written by themselves or taken from other sources. This was highly adaptable and light weight – not politically light weight – but they could commute by bus or tube to the venues and perform an acoustic set.
‘History is no place for a lady’
Songs such as ‘Class Struggle Widow’ ‘Good Old Maggie Thatcher’ ‘The blackleg miner’ ‘Bread and Roses’ ‘The Diggers’ Song’ ‘Rosie the Riveter’ and ‘The Girl with the Spanner in the Pocket of her Pants’ would be performed.
Instruments ranged from guitar, banjo, accordion, clarinet and fiddle to washboard, teacup, hoover and electric keyboard and bass guitar in the later show ‘Ben Her’. Ben Her was a complete re-write of history from the beginning of time to the present day – but this time including women and ordinary people. It had such all time favourites as ‘History is no place for a Lady’ ‘Hammersmith Bridge’ and ‘Too many Useless Erections’ a song about architects.
‘Too Many Useless Erections’
Between 1977 and 1981 they performed up and down the country for benefits and conferences, in working men’s clubs and upstairs in pubs, festivals such as Hood fair in Devon and The Festival of Fools Tour 1978. They hardly ever earned more that £15 for a gig until they went to Sweden and Iceland in 1980 and came back rich. They dissolved in early 1981 and have become the solution and not the problem. – Rix Pyke, 2012.
‘Wanna be in my hoard?’
Women and Music Conference, Liverpool, 23-25th 1976
Weekend conference which included workshops and performances in the evening.
Workshop topics included: the problem of playing collectively, electric guitars, drums, rock singing, country and western, writing music, basic song structure for songs, composing songs, handling electric equipment, sound workshop, flute, fiddle and banjo, early and eastern/ oriental sounds.
Contraband ~ York 1984-5
Members of the York Street Band remember setting up Contraband to empower women to play music.
Contradictions 1980 – to present day
A participatory improvisational women’s workshop which grew from the Feminist Improvising Group, which included Annalisa Columbara, Camilla Cancantata, Corinne Liensol, Debi Walsh, Donna Cunningham, Helena Blaker, Irene Schweitzer, Jackie Lansley, Jax, Jilly Jarman, Joelle Leandre, Libby Gallagher, Maggie Nicols, Pam, Penny Wightwick/Pennicello, Sylvia Hallett, Sally Beautista, Shirli Hall, Val Moon, Vanessa, Zouina Benhalla
For the full programme of Contradictions’ Oval House performances click on Contradictions Oval House programme
The Crimplenes 1980
Sue Borrow, Vicky Scrivener
Musical/comedy duo, appearing in 60s wigs and dressed as their name suggests