Necessary Evil 1979
Fran, lead guitar; Leslie/Trish, bass; Stef Petticoat, guitar, vocals; Zuni Steer, drums
Split up after a few months and a few gigs ‘due to political, personal and musical differences.’ Here they are live in 1980 at London’s Albany Empire, Deptford
Nine Lives 1987 ~ 1990
Ann ?, congas; Annie Vidler, guitar; Cindy Ryan, vocals; Clare ?, oboe, sax; Dee Strauss, trombone; Pam ?, bass; plus 3 others?
Hackney-based collective, whose gigs included support for the Guest Stars at Chat’s Palace, support for John Cooper Clarke, and the Rosemary Branch pub.
The Northern Women’s Liberation Rock Band 1973 -1976
Angela Cooper, singer; Angie Libman, drums; Carol Riddell, keyboards; Frances Bernstein, lead and rhythm guitars; Jane Power, occasional rhythm guitar; Jenny Clegg, bass; Luchia Fitzgerald, singer
‘We were a mixture of feminists from different class and ethnic backgrounds and political views – Maoists, libertarians, lesbians and heterosexuals and a transsexual – a motley crew reflecting our times! We sprang directly out of the Women’s Liberation Movement. People were saying we needed our own music – we were creating so much else, books, actions, and so on, but when it came to social events, discos, there was this incongruent mismatch where we were still dancing to the Stones! We wanted to change that, and had an overarching desire to provide something different for women to listen and dance to, and a musical expression of our politics.
Luchia and I were living in and running the Women’s Centre in Manchester, which was a hub of activity, dealing with domestic and sexual violence, offering pregnancy testing, rape counselling, etc, at a time before there was funding for such advice and services or official agencies existed to support women. We were ‘professional’ feminists, living on the dole; it was our lives. The police and Social Services brought women to the centre who had suffered domestic abuse; this was at the very beginning of Women’s Aid. We squatted another larger house that was empty, in south Manchester; this became the women’s refuge.
Angela Cooper talks about the Northern Women’s Liberation Rock Band at the Music & Liberation exhibition
Luchia had sung before, in Ireland; some other women had played instruments. Someone asked if I sang, and told me I could, so I came in on forming the band. My motivation was that I was a feminist and wanted to provide music for the movement, rather than having a career as a singer. We began rehearsing and thought ‘this could be a go-er!’ We couldn’t decide on a name so called ourselves the Northern Women’s Liberation Rock Band, this being exactly what it said on the tin. We practiced in the women’s centre in a grubby little room, putting in hard work, and saw that the 1974 National WLM conference was coming up in Edinburgh; playing there became our goal and was our first big gig. About two thousand women attended that. We performed in a hot room full of women (and one man in uniform at the back) and women took off their tops, partly because of the heat and partly for the sheer joie de vivre of it, so we played to a sea of breasts. The audience really enjoyed the music, many had never seen a women’s band before.
At that time there was an overlap with London band the Stepney Sisters; we had a joint weekend meeting with them, sharing music and ideas. We thought hard and talked a lot about the music we played in our sets. We thought it important to have some upbeat songs and played some well-known ones like ‘I’ll Take You There’ by The Staple Singers and some reggae and blues like Jimmy Cliff’s ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’ – as well as original composition about serious issues. We handed out our manifesto to audiences at gigs. We played at women’s events and benefits in many different places, travelling by van to Bristol, London, Nottingham for 1974’s National Lesbian Conference, a benefit for a strike at the Beehive pub in Swinton, Manchester, Lancaster, Liverpool and others. We felt it was important for women to see us doing it all – as well as playing the instruments, doing the physical work of carrying and loading equipment, operating the PA and so on – it must have been inspiring to see that.
The NWLRB lasted until 1976. After a while it gets a bit much; it can be a nightmare organising a band. It’s very hard, tiring work and we had other things in our lives, which began to take our energy. We had to buy what we could afford in the way of equipment, which is hard on the dole. We had to do other jobs, as the band didn’t earn anything, in fact it cost us to be in it. Group dynamics can be challenging and of course within women’s bands you’re often dealing with relationships. The WLM we had sprung from was shifting under our feet too, with the logistics of organising events for thousands of women, many issues arising such as class and racism. Band members lived in Manchester and Lancaster so geographical distance could be a problem. Luchia had been working at the Moss- side Community Press which she made into a women’s project, Amazon Press, and I began working there in 1976.
It was great while it lasted and, subsequently, some of us formed other bands in its wake. E.g., Luchia, Jenny and myself went on to form Mother Superior and the Bad Habits – which became The Bad Habits – who played classics like ‘Do You Wanna Dance?’ and the Staple Singers ‘I’ll Take You There.’ Our gigs were more local than the NWLRB as part of the WLM had been. After that, in the late ‘80s came the group ‘Five Famous Women,’ made of up of Janet Woollstonholme, Jenny Clegg, Luchia, Clare, Una Baines (keyboardist with The Blue Orchids) and myself, which played amongst other songs ‘Pale Blue Eyes,’ ‘Shame,’ and Sweet Honey in the Rock’s ‘Ought to Be A Woman.’ We played at the Stop Clause 28 event in Manchester in February 1988 at the Free Trades Hall social after the huge national march, which I helped to organise.
In 2003 I trained as Sound Therapist with the British Academy of Sound Therapists, and began running workshops using crystal and Himalayan bowls and the healing power of the voice. The voice is the most powerful healing tool, and getting into sound healing and voice toning was for me about empowering women. Your voice is unique. If you don’t value it, there’s part of yourself you are not feeling good about. I recorded a four-track CD, ‘Roots,’* to raise funds for the organisation After Adoption, which included – with her kind permission – Cris Williamson’s song ’Waterfall’, from 1975’s iconic feminist album ‘The Changer and the Changed.’ Having seen myself as a feminist who sang, not a singer who was a feminist, I literally discovered my voice in the women’s movement. So I say ‘thank you’ to the women’s movement. And everything we did then has fed into change for good.’ – Angela Cooper, 2012
*Available to buy from Angela firstname.lastname@example.org
Waterfall © Cris Williamson, as recorded by Angela Cooper on her album ‘Roots’ with the kind permission of Cris WIlliamson
‘Music came along with all the other aspects of change that was crucial then; it was all part of the same process … the NWLRB was like the punk women’s band of the times – punk before punk! – in that we weren’t musicians and weren’t mainly about musicianship.’ – Luchia Fitzgerald, 2012
‘I’m running community choirs in Leeds, composing and arranging music, and looking after local authority music centres where people learn instruments. Music is very important to me now. We did in the WLM bring about change, not as much or for as long as we thought – it’s necessary to be constantly vigilant to protect women’s gains.’ – Frances Bernstein, 2012
Photos of the Northern Women’s Liberation Rock Band in performance at 1974’s national WLM conference copyright Diane Hudson. Diane has deposited a full set of her photos taken at the conference with the Feminist Archive North. Photos and Spare Rib article originally kindly donated by Jenny Clegg
A Personal Account of the NWLRB – Jenny Clegg:
For me, what was important about the band was, firstly, our ‘ethos’ or politics as set out in the manifesto. People, we realised, have always used music – folk, blues, reggae – as a form of protest against oppression and, as activists ourselves, we thought the movement needed its own music. We were not only demanding equality for women in music, not only opposing the male dominance of the music business – we were against the whole commercialisation of music and its corporatist power hierarchies and we wanted to express the collectivism of the movement against the individualist ego-tripping of ‘cock rock’ superstars.
Secondly as women musicians: at the time, although there were numbers of women emulating singers like Joan Baez and Joni Mitchell who accompanied themselves on acoustic guitar, it was unheard of for women to play electric lead or bass guitar (Suzy Quatro’s 1st hit in the UK came after we were formed) and there was only one woman drummer we could think of – Honey in the ‘60s band, the Honeycombs. So I think we were amongst the first (if not the first!) women musicians in Britain who ‘went electric’.
Thirdly, the song lyrics: as well as songs written by members of the band and other women in the movement, we did quite a few covers but the words were what was important. For us, women’s oppression was linked with other forms of oppression – class, race, gay – and our song choice reflected this. We sang about capitalism – ‘Blue Blood Blues’ – and about racism – ‘I’ll Take You There’ (Staple Singers) and ‘You Can Get It If You Really Want’ (Jimmy Cliff) as well as songs like ‘Papa Don’t Lay Your Shit On Me’ (Chicago Women’s Rock Band), ‘Stand Up and Fight For Your Love Rights’ (Laura Lee) and our own ‘Equal Pay Blues’ and ‘Male Chauvinist Oink’.
Finally, the gigs that we did were all ‘for a cause’: as well as for women’s socials as part of the women’s movement in Manchester and nationally (the Edinburgh Women’s Conference; a benefit for Spare Rib in London), we also helped promote and raise funds, for example, for the Gay Liberation Front (Lancaster), strikers at Chlorides’ in Manchester, and local community groups. ~ Jenny Clegg, 2012.
‘The Northern Women’s Liberation Rock Band Manifesto
Why are there hardly any women’s rock bands? Women are held back in the sphere of music as they are in every other sphere of life. They aren’t the people who think, create and contribute to society – their place is in the home, looking after their husbands and brining up kids. Rock music is specially male dominated and prejudiced against women. Women are mostly put down as too bird-brained to get a band together, and besides, only men can handle the complex electronic equipment – women would only electrocute themselves.
Is pop music insulting to women? Pop lyrics present women as sex objects for men. Nowadays no-one would dare to insult blacks by singing songs about golliwogs, but men think nothing of singing about women as ‘baby’, ‘doll’, ‘my girl’, in other words, as their playthings, their possessions. Women are not encouraged to be strong and independent beings in their own right. Instead, commercial pop songs present for them a world in which true love is the only goal and men are the only source of sadness, joy or meaning in their lives. These songs help to keep women in their accustomed role of wives and mothers, dependent on men, because they hide the real conflicts in women’s lives and relationships with men and so prevent them understanding their oppression.
Is music important? It may seem puzzling to have such strong opinions about pop music – you may think: why get so worked up about, after all they’re only songs. But all music says something; it is an expression of feelings, a powerful means of communication, and it contains a certain view of life, supports a certain order of things. Unless we use music to express women’s fight against oppression, to encourage other women to stand with us, it will always support the established order of men as the stronger and women as the weaker, passive sex.
Is music made by superstars? Pop music comes from ordinary people, mainly young people. Anyone who could strum three chords on a guitar could paly rock ‘n’ roll, could be part of the skiffle craze. Groups like the Beatles created a simple, popular, unprofessional sound. But music is controlled by a gang of male, profit-hungry parasites, who take only what is marketable from the music and sell it back to the people. They take away the power of people to express themselves through music and turn music into a power over them. They create the superstar who is a sex idol for his audience. His performance is base don ego-tripping, his instruments are weapons of his sexual power over the audience. This music matches the social set-up where people use it: dances, parties etc – where people go to pick up someone.
How can we as women change things? Few women sing about their oppression, or if they do it is without wanting to change it. Our band comes from the Women’s liberation movement, and we are trying to create music that expresses the new values and relationships the movement is creating, of women standing up for themselves against male domination. Our songs are about women’s relationships in the home, at work and in their social life, about women fighting back, having a good time together without men, about how we want to be. We want also to make socials not places where women get picked up, but where women can feel free to enjoy themselves and be themselves, where the band is not superstars and sex idols, but using music in a collective and supporting way. It is the women’s movement, not the commercial circuit, that has made our music. We don’t want to manipulate the audience but to build the common ground between us, and the women we sing about, and the women we sing to – our unity against the oppression of all women. We hope this manifesto will be a basis for what we are trying to build, and what we are trying to put into practice each time we play.
Northern Women’s Liberation Rock Band (November 1974), c/o the Women’s Centre, 218 Upper Brook St, Manchester 13.
WOMEN’S MUSIC FOR WOMEN’S LIBERATION’
Click for the whole Northern Women’s Liberation Rock Band manifesto and lyrics booklet
No Rules OK ~ 1990
Francine Luce; Maggie Nicols, vocals; Shirley Hall; Sue Ferrar; Sylvia Hallett, violin
‘The Squatter Song’