Offbeat 17/Offbeat Women’s Big Band 1984 ~ 87
Al Rider, tenor sax; Angele Veltmeyer, sax; Ann Day, drums, percussion; Diane McLoughlin, sax; Di Davies, trumpet; Gill Baker, sax; Gwyn ?, vocals; Jessica Palin, congas; Judy Couthino, guitar; Louisa ?; Mandy Budge, trumpet; Pat Tell, piano; Renee ?, trumpet; Ros Davies, trombone; Sarha Moore, sax; Shirley McCaw, trombone; Sonia Davenport, bass; Yolanda Armstrong, trombone
Out of the Blue
Ann Day, drums, percussion; Alison Rayner, bass; Deirdre Cartwright, guitar
Jana Runnalls, vocal, 6 string guitar, clarinet, take block (bamboo ratchet), kazoo, West African drum, kplanlogo drum (Ghana); Rosemary Schonfeld, vocals, acoustic 12-string guitar, electric guitar, Juno 6 synthesizer, cabasa, Linn drum programme, kalimba, thumb piano, log drum. Additional musicians played on the following albums: Ova, Benni Lees, bass; Linda Malone, congas; Sammy, Fender Rhodes/ String Synthesizer; Out of Bounds, Josefina Cupido, drums; Alison Rayner, bass; Helen Hurden, synthesizer; additional vocals from Amazon Voices: Moira, Annie, Lizzie, Jan, Chess, Lindsay and Sybil; Possibilities, Zephyrine Barbarachild, voice, Jenny Gibbs, voice, Susy Taylor, voice, Livvy Elliot, voice and ankle bells; Who Gave Birth to the Universe, Jane Reese, keyboards; Katrina Brown, voice.
Ova were formed by Rosemary Schonfeld and Jana (previously Jane) Runnalls in 1976. Originally they were a duo called the Lupin Sisters,* named after the catchall surname for the people who lived in the gay squat. The new name was coined by Sally Beautista, a musician who played in the band. Although when the band first started there were a number of musicians who played in Ova, including Maggie Nichols, Ova were predominantly a duo for most of their performing and recording career.
Jana and Rosemary met in London towards the end of 1975. Jana had been living in Paris and was having some success as a singer-songwriter there, and Rosemary, who had grown up in Canada, had been travelling around the world before moving to London where she became involved in the squatting scene. The pair fell in love and started a romantic and creative relationship playing mainly contemporary folk songs and songs by the Beatles. In the mid-1970s homophobia was prevalent throughout society and many of their friends and family disapproved of their sexuality. Indeed, Rosemary and Jana were the direct recipients of homophobic violence when they were beaten up and forced out of their North London squat. Luckily they found a place to live with members of the Gay Liberation Front in Railton Road, Brixton, a place where radical political culture and squatting in particular, has thrived.
It was in this context the pair became fully politicised learning new words like ‘homophobia’ and ‘misogyny’, and started to use music as a vehicle to express women and lesbian positive ideas. They soon found themselves in the midst of the burgeoning lesbian and gay subculture to which they contributed.
Self Defence – Ova
Jana and Rosemary discuss the ‘dangerous’ lyrics to ‘Far Beyond the Dawn’ on radio
Ova played a wide range of instruments including hand drums, guitars, synthesizers, log drums, keyboards, flute and clarinet. Improvisation was a feature of their performances. Percussion and Jana’s adventurous vocal improvisations were a distinctive part of their sound. As a duo Ova recorded four full length albums, Ova (1979); Out of Bounds (1981); Possibilities (1984) and Who Gave Birth To the Universe (1988) on the feminist label Stroppy Cow Records who also used by Jam Today and Maria Tolley. Stroppy Cow was set up to encourage ‘women to make their own kind of music in their own time and space without the counterproductive pressures of commercialism. The music industry often restricts creativity by pre-determining images and roles that women have to conform to in order to be heard. The policy of Stroppy Cow Records is to encourage women to define their own musical output and to be involved in every stage of production.’
Ova perform as part of the Nottingham Women’s Festival in 1984 (please note that this is the whole documentary. If you want to see Ova they are 30 minutes in).
Like many feminist bands of the 70s and 80s, Ova positioned themselves outside of the dominant, capitalist music industry. They took full control over their musical output: from writing, recording, producing and distributing their own material. Following the example of Jam Today, the band also had their own PA system and sound engineer.
The band toured the UK, Europe, Scandinavia and the United States extensively. After a performance at the Melkweg women’s festival in Holland, Amsterdam, in 1978, Agnes Lewe, who ran a women’s music distribution business called Troubador, based, Germany, offered to organise a tour in Germany for the group. Ova were popular in Germany and toured there on numerous occasions, their last appearance being in 1988, and met a couple of members of the German lesbian band The Flying Lesbians.
Ova – live at the Vrouwen Festival, Amsterdam, 1979
The band toured the US three times, including one coast-to-coast tour and played at the famous Michigan Womyn’s festival in 1980. At the festival Ova were challenged by women of colour over their use of a West African drum. This was a decisive moment for Ova, who would later introduce all the instruments they used on stage, as well as on the inlay of their albums, in order to be sensitive to issues of cultural appropriation.
Ova – Madness of a Memory
Walking in Mercury – Ova
RSPostscript - Postscript by Rosemary Schonfeld
Coming out story - Rosemary Schonfeld’s Coming Out Story
*Just for the record, ‘Lupin’ was originally me and Jamie and Lizzie (Myfanwy) – we all wanted a new surname and my younger brother David had kept alive for me the sheer lunacy of the Monty Python’s Flying Circus gag about lupins, hence the choice of name (you can get some clips on YouTube and even some transcripts – just google ‘Monty Python’ and ‘lupins’). Alice Bondi.
We have loads more Ova stuff to upload, including radio interviews, more music, photographs and Jana’s personal recollections so watch this space!
Ova Tones Studio
One of the most important contributions to women’s music in the 1980s was the Ova music studio. During the 1970s and 1980s women still had to fight to be in control of their own musical output, and were generally not allowed anywhere near the technology.
In 1983 Rosemary and Jana secured funding from the GLC to set up a music resource and recording studio for women and girls, with the aim of educating and empowering women and girls through and about music making and music technology. At the studio, which was based in Highgate Newtown Community Centre in North London, Ova held voice (Jana) and rhythm (Rosemary) workshops as well as teaching women the rudiments of sound technology in their 8-track recording studio. With the use of their porta-studio, Ova held workshops at schools and festivals. They also did other workshops in the community, including tea-dances and drum workshops at old people’s homes. Radio coverage of the opening of the Ovatones studio on Capitol Radio
In 1989 Rosemary and Jana went their separate ways although the recording studio still continued with different owners.
Neither Gives In – Ova
We hope to gather more information on Ovatones and continue to document the development of the studio in its next stage under the management of Lesley Willis and Lesley Wood