Labour of Love
Barbara Stretch, vocals; Vick Ryder, bass, vocals
Vick and Barbara recording their album ‘Flowers in the Desert’ at Overtones studio. In the background are Lesley Wood who engineered the album and Maxine ? who was a trainee engineer at the time
… and taking a tea break …
Lazy Country 1987
Dee Welding; Rosemary Schonfeld, guitar, vocals
Feminist country & western
Lazy Country live at the Duke of Wellington, 1987
Lazy Country live at the Duke of Wellington, 1987 (2)
The Lizzy Smith Band/Electra ~ 1979 onwards
Celia Tordoff, congas; Gill Alexander, bass; Lizzie Scott, piano, bass, guitar, vocals; Lizzy Smith, guitar, lead vocals; Margi Stevenson, vocals, percussion; Nicolette Vine, vocals; Rachel Perry, piano, bass, guitar.
Between 1979 and 1983 this group of women musicians and singers came together in Suffolk to play together and write songs. Other women came and went within the group. They were influenced by earlier women’s consciousness raising groups, feminism and, later, Greenham Common.
By 1983 this group of women had become the band Electra. The band played numerous gigs across East Anglia including a Cambridge college (no-one can remember which!); the Women’s Studies department at UEA, where they were given free recording facilities; several appearances at Premises, the Norwich Arts Centre; Earlham Park in Norwich; the Kings Head in Bungay.
Shark ~ Electra
Lizzy Smith was the heart of the band and the most prolific song writer. She had originally always wanted to be part of the commercial music scene but feminism changed the purpose and direction of her music and song writing. Electra produced a tape of their music in 1986.
At the end of 1986 the Lizzy Smith Band was formed. The line-up was Lizzie Scott, bass, vocals; Lizzy Smith, guitar, lead vocals; Margi Stevenson, vocals; Paddy Tanton, vocals; Rachel Perry, piano, guitar. Gilly Wray provided PA support and the band was managed by Caroline Forbes. All the music played by both Electra and The Lizzy Smith Band was original, written primarily by Lizzy but with considerable contributions from other band members.
Gigs included several occasions at Premises; the Duke of Wellington pub on the Balls Pond Road in London; Norwich’s Waterfront music venue, three Gay Prides and the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival in Autumn 1991. Recordings: ‘Slipstream’ 1990, and a demo tape 1990 with some live recordings from Premises.
The Lizzy Smith Band split up in 1993, but Lizzy has continued playing and writing songs together with other local women musicians and singers – notably Jane Platts-Mills, djembe, percussion, balafon; Paddy Tanton, vocals, percussion; Rachel Perry; Sue Croft, vocals, djembe.
One World ~ Lizzy Smith Band
Room in a House ~ Lizzy Smith Band
Checkpoint Charlie ~ Lizzy Smith Band
Talk to Me ~ Lizzy Smith Band
The London Women’s Liberation Rock Band: 1972 ~ 1974
Alaine (whose surname I am sorry to have forgotten,) guitar; Angele Veltmeijer, vocals and flute; Eleanor Thorneycroft, bass guitar; Frankie Green, drums; Hazel Twort, vocals and keyboard.
These, of course, are my personal recollections, and four decades on my memory’s far from perfect – alternative perspectives welcome! I remember that at a National Women’s Liberation Conference in Manchester, March 1972, some women who had met through the Gay Liberation Front and the Women’s Liberation Workshop in London talked about getting together to make music and form a band. I’d played drums in a couple of bands in the mid-60s and was keen to combine music with politics. In January ’72 most of the women had split from GLF, formed separate lesbian organisations and become more involved in the WLM, which was flourishing; it was an exciting time.
We placed a notice in the London WL workshop weekly newsletter and lots of women responded who wanted to play, discuss and develop feminist music; they got together at Hazel’s council flat in Peckham and from that grew the London Women’s Rock Band. At the first practice our instruments were acoustic and I was drumming on saucepans with chopsticks. Later, helped by donations from other women, we acquired some instruments and a primitive PA system, and played at the next national WLM conference at Acton Town Hall in October, ’72, handing out songsheets and inviting women to join in.
The band practised in squats, pub rooms, council flats and community centres around Hackney, Kings Cross and Islington where most of us lived in squatting communities. We used to go to concerts and pub gigs and see great women singers like Carol Grimes, Marsha Hunt, Maggie Bell with Stone the Crows or Elkie Brooks, with Vinegar Joe. Our musical influences were eclectic, included the Velvet Underground, Bowie, Janis Joplin and Pink Floyd, and I remember us listening to the album ‘The Mountain Moving Day is Coming’ by The Chicago and New Haven Women’s Liberation Rock Bands, who had similar politics to ours.
It was inspiring to hear such bands which, as Naomi Weisstein of the Chicago WLM Rock Band said, were about ‘conveying celebration and resistance … performances deliberately set up a politics of strong, defiant women, absolute democracy, and an intense desire for audience participation. Through the intensity of the medium, through our bad-ass revolutionary poetry, we shouted the news: we can have a new world, a just and generous world, a world without female suffering or degradation.’
Music-making was entwined with the rest of our lives which involved communal houses, frequent political meetings, campaigns, demonstrations and marches, running women’s centres, consciousness-raising, spray-painting excursions, producing leaflets, dealing with various court cases arising from being arrested while squatting or demonstrating, being evicted and moving frequently. The band didn’t make any money and apart from that initial donation it was self-funded, most of us in low paid jobs or on the dole.
Gigs included a benefit disco for the Fakenham women strikers in September ’72; a women’s festival at Essex University in 1973; women’s discos at the Crown and Woolpack pub at Angel Islington; WLM Workshop benefits in Covent Garden Community Centre and the first National Lesbian Conference in Canterbury in April, 1974. In 1973 some of us contributed music to a film of the ‘The Amazing Equal Pay Show’ (British Film Institute: http://ftvdb.bfi.org.uk/sift/title/132334 ‘A political burlesque in seven tableaux, incorporating elements from the musical, horror film and crazy comedy. Examines the question of equal pay, women’s participation in unions, and the status of women’s work under capitalism. Made in cooperation with the Women’s Street Theatre Group who originally wrote and performed the play in 1972.’ ‘… A rather special piece of feminist social history. It was made without direction by the original London Women’s Street Theatre group and the first Women’s Film Group. The experimental approach led to it being a bit weird at times but it’s still a wonderful relic from the past! The play was much more successful & much appreciated & praised by the women’s trade union groups that we toured it with in an attempt to influence the Equal Pay Bill before it became an act of law. We had some really good discussions with the women after the show.’ ~ Cloud Taylor, WSTG)
From the outset there was an emphasis on the band being a practical expression of our politics, on not wanting only to be involved in theoretical debate – and challenging conventional splits between political theory and real life, activism and culture. Many women wanted to take hands-on action in the world, in music, housing, work – taking control of our lives, making change real, living our politics – not living, working, behaving or appearing as women were supposed to. Feminists were doing everything possible to challenge male supremacy, misogyny and heterosexism and to transform oppressive gender roles, family and work structures. Song lyrics reflected this: we wrote some original compositions (‘Body Squat,’ e.g., connected the taking over of houses with control of our physical selves for ourselves, asserting our right to bodily integrity, reproductive and sexual rights, an end to alienation from our bodies and their objectification.) We altered the lyrics of existing songs (‘Streetfighting Woman’ e.g., which got us involved in discussion about women playing ‘cock-rock.’) We wanted to demystify music-making and make it accessible to women, and it seemed one element of the movement of women taking over all practical and cultural aspects of our lives – the builders, carpenters, plumbers, electricians, car mechanics of the Women and Manual Trades groups and the musicians, sound technicians, actors, film-makers, artists, photographers, writers, magazine editors, publishers and printers, jewelry-makers, DJs, theatre and film groups, street theatre and performance artists, were all part of the same process. At that time, lesbian women musicians faced not only sexism but prejudice, ridicule and discrimination; lesbians in general were defined as mentally ill, stigmatised and liable to be placed in mental institutions. Women transgressing hetero-normative boundaries, living openly as lesbians, prioritising relationships with women and singing about them was risky – k.d. lang was a long way away.
I was struck by a collective goodwill that often enabled the band and the support that came from women like Spare Rib’s music journalist Marion Fudger (bass guitarist with mid-70s band The Derelicts – which included Barbara Gogan later of The Passions and Sue Gogan later of Pragvec – and later with The Art Attacks.) Women cheered us on, danced and sang along. I remember an occasion when a rental firm refused us a van when were to going to play at a social, I think it was for the National Lesbian conference in Canterbury. We went back to the WL Workshop in Earlham St, Covent Garden (where our gear was stored and we rehearsed) despondent. And women who were getting into the coach or had cars parked being packed with leaflets etc outside picked up bits of drum kit and amplifiers and took them with them, and so we had a successful event that night. I had the sense we were all part of something, the band was all of ours, not separate but embedded in the movement.
As bands such as this one, the Northern Women’s Rock Band and the Stepney Sisters grew, feminism created a way into music for women – with the development of an infrastructure of support, equipment sharing, practical workshops and events – and its own type of cultural/political event. The WLM’s structure was then local, regional and national, based on a network of proliferating consciousness-raising and action groups. It was agreed early on to hold a bi-annual national conference in a variety of locations as an essential forum for debate, co-ordination and policy-making. Additionally, regional WL conferences and specific focus conferences were held (the Feminist Archive North has compiled a comprehensive chronology of these.) Benefit fundraisers and women’s discos became regular features also.
These could be seen as often incorporating what Barbara Ehrenreich has described in ‘Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy’ (Metropolitan Books, 2006) as ‘collective effervescence,’ a term borrowed from sociologist Emile Durkheim to denote communal revelry, a celebratory ritual festivity which creates social bonds, with ‘group dancing – in lines or circles – the great leveller and binder of communities,’ transcending differences. Women were spontaneously breaking out of normative structures of playing and dancing – carnivalesque in the sense of reversing the established order. Ehrenreich describes how societies as disparate as those of Calvinist Europe and Wahabi Islam often subject dancing to stringent control: the importance of ‘ecstatic ritual’ to revolutionary movements is well known; dancing often producing ‘intense feelings of solidarity … the basis of effective political action from below.’ In women’s celebrations inspired by the WLM, the audience were not passive consumers of a spectacle but creative participants. ‘Hierarchy … establishes boundaries … festivity breaks them down … we step out of assigned roles and statuses and into a brief utopia of egalitarianism, creativity … collective joy.’
Ehrenreich views the growth of rock music in the west as reviving a repressed ancient tradition of festivity, owing much to the music’s roots in African-American culture. The rock rebellion was against conformity and racial segregation, the ‘rallying point of an alternative culture… estranged from dominant structures.’ But this counterculture involved its own hierarchies, and women’s place within it was delineated by sexism, with rare exceptions to the roles of fans, supporters, groupies, consumers. As Mavis Bayton, member of Oxford’s first women’s band, The Mistakes, writes in ‘Frock Rock: Women Performing Popular Music’ (Oxford University Press, 1998), not only did women musicians face enormous barriers, ideological and material, but rock music actively did ‘“gender work” in constructing hegemonic masculinity.’
Traditionally, carnival’s central themes are of mockery and inversion of existing gendered, racial and class power structures, and, as theorist Mikhail Bakhtin describes, it is ‘created and generated by people for themselves.’ Small wonder that many men were threatened and resorted to physical violence at mixed events where all-women groups were on stage and the women they were playing for enjoyed ‘choral dancing’ with one another.
I found I couldn’t write about this band without the context which created it, of a movement wanting to rip away the veil obscuring the connections between patriarchy, sexism, capitalism and racism, to understand how these forces operate in women’s lives, how the political shapes the personal, in order to change them. (For an exposition of these politics I always find moving please see the pamphlet ‘Why Miss World?’ by the protesters who disrupted that spectacle in 1970, reprinted in the anthology ‘The Body Politic: Women’s Liberation in Britain 1969 – 1972,’ ed. Michelene Wandor, published by Stage 1, ISBN 0850350131) I felt a part then of a movement in which the struggle was not to be equal within an unequal society, but toward throwing out the whole system that was based on and perpetuated oppressive power structures. Women playing music and instruments usually played by men embodied the politics of carnival – turning the world upside down, mocking and reclaiming power. Liberation meant radical transformation of the social, sexual, political, economic system – a feminist revolution.
Feminist music-making incorporated politics not only in the lyrics and style of what we played but in moving toward a different way of living, collective working, radical production values, creating political culture. This was, as anyone who has been involved in political organising and/or communal living knows, harder than it can seem at first, and our dreams of changing the world might now appear utopian, over-idealistic. It was certainly exhausting, that intense period at the beginning of the 1970s. I remember it as full of great fun as well as stormy relationships, arguments and fallings-out. We were angry about all injustice and exploitation. It was a watershed time of extraordinary energy, an upsurge of political activism that encompassed and changed many women and vast swathes of life, and I feel lucky to have been in the right place at the right time to be involved in that. ~ Frankie Green, 2010
Lottie and Ada
Dinah Jeffrey and Shauna Brown
‘A brilliant satirical lesbian music duo. Very witty.’ ~ Rosemary Schonfeld
Lottie and Ada live ~ New Year’s eve, 1982, recorded on Ovatone’s portastudio
‘The lesbian theatre group Hormone Imbalance’s satire of lesbian stereotypes extended well beyond their name (a reference to a supposed cause of lesbianism) to a chilling song by Lottie and Ada called ‘You Don’t Know What It’s Like to Be Revolting’, portraying the very worst fears of what lesbians are like: predatory, deranged …’ from http://bilgi.academia.edu/SaideElifOzkorkmaz/Books/125289/The_Culture_of_Queers
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the women writers of this era and the publications they created, without which the music-making could not have flourished. As Lucy – who co-produced Rock Against Sexism’s magazine ‘Drastic Measures,’ the feminist and anti-fascist fanzine JOLT, Rock Against Racism’s ‘Temporary Hoarding’ and was a member of the Spare Rib collective – puts it, ‘they gave women musicians a lot of encouragement, helped to multiply the energy that they were generating, and helped open up a bigger space for them to perform and grow.’
Read Cazz Blase’s interview with Lucy on the F-Word site:
Click here to read Lucy’s article Women in Popular Music, from Spare Rib 107, 1981
See also Rock Against Sexism
The Lupin Sisters ~ see Ova
Jana Runnells, Rosemary Schonfeld
Lydia D’ustebyn Ladies Swing Orchestra
Alison Rayner, electric bass; Angele Veltmeyer, tenor sax; Annie Whitehead, trombone; Barbara Snow, trumpet; Deirdre Cartwright, guitar; Josefina Cupido, drums; Julia Doyle, double bass; Laka Daisical, piano, vocals; Lesley ?, baritone sax; Linda da Mango, percussion; Ruthie Smith, alto sax; Virginia Betts, trumpet
Spare Rib 125, 1982
‘I recorded one album as part of Ivy Benson’s band, as a teenager, in 1976. I met her one day in a music shop in Chiswick. I was in there trying out guitars and she saw me and asked if I played bass. “No, but my sister does”. My sister, Bernice Cartwright, went on to play bass guitar with her for ten years. She left school and joined Ivy straight away, thrown in at the deep end like many teenage musicians with Ivy.
What Ivy did was something special. I do think about that. In classical music, there may be prejudice and discrimination against, for instance, women, but at the same time you know where you can go – there are grades, exams, orchestras, structures or lines that you can follow to get some sort of career or recognition. For young women wanting to start out in jazz that simply was not the case – except for Ivy. And she was so important for that, there was a sort of presence there, and there was an identifiable route for progression. Because she offered a professional band, with high standards – it was an opportunity, for training, for getting taken seriously. We’ve talked about this and I’m fairly confident Annie [Whitehead] feels the same, too. She was with Ivy, and left the band the year before Bernice joined, 1974, I think.
Lydia D’Ustebyn’s Swing Orchestra was in a way a tribute. Lydia was a fictional character of course, but she was vaguely based on Ivy Benson – a strict, feared and also admired bandleader. We would have running jokes at gigs, apologising to the audience for the late appearance of Lydia, she’s missed her train or something. Not that Ivy was ever late for a gig, but the whole thing, a 12- or 14-piece all-woman dance band, was modelled a bit on Ivy, and our memories of working with her.’ ~ Deirdre Cartwright, interview with Professor George McKay, 5th April 2004. http://www.deirdrecartwright.com/about/interviews Part of this interview was published in Professor McKay’s book: Circular Breathing: The Cultural Politics of Jazz in Britain
See also women in jazz (page W) – ‘The history of women in jazz in Britain’ by Parsonage, Catherine and Dyson, Kathy (2007) from Women in Jazz/Donne in Jazz, Adkins Chiti, Patricia ed. Rome: Editore Columbo, pp. 129–140) – for a discussion of the role of Ivy Benson’s band and subsequent women jazz musicians and bands, including the Guest Stars, the Feminist Improvising Group and others.