Val Wilmer

Journalist, historian and photographer

A review by David Widgery in the New Statesman of Val Wilmer's memoir, 'Mama said There'd Be Days Like This,' published 1989 by the Women's Press, is headed 'Resolute in Crimplene', adn is accompanied by a large 1965 photo of Val with musicians Vic Dickinson and Big Joe Turner. It discusses how her journalism career began in her Streatham childhood's enthusiasm for jazz and self-taught photography, her 'fantastic determination' being clear at an early age. The anti-racist political dimension to her musical enthusiasm deepened in New York, her travels in America and Africa (chronicled in her 1977 book, 'As Serious as Your Life,' and her coming out.

book review, New Statesman, September 1989

The review concludes 'In Wilmer's quick, ingenious and piercing spirit there is an English non-conformity and aestheticism which even the present gross conforming stupidity cannot douse.'

(Val Wilmer would like to make it clear that she is not now, now has she ever been, a wearer of crimplene.)

A paragraph from a 1972 issue of Melody Maker newspaper. ' If Women's Lib commandos are about to assault the MM, we would like to point out we are honoured to present the works of the best lady photo-journalist in jazz, Miss Valerie Wilmer. Next week she unleashed a fascinating interview with Gil Scott-Heron, black poet of stature.'

Melody Maker, March 18, 1972

Headed 'Valerie Wilmer: Part of my concern with Women's Liberation has come out of the Black Liberation Movement,' and illustrated with a smiling portrait of Val, the article marks the purchase of her photos for the permanent collection at the V and A museum. Her exhibition, 'Jazz Scene: the Face of Black Music', was on a two year national tour. Val states 'every bloody note of music you hear today comes from Black America,' and how, when writing about 'music stemming from the innovators - Coltrane, Taylor, Coleman - she included a section on women, and the wives of male musicians, which some would not like to read.

Spare Rib 17, 1973, excerpts of interview with Val Wilmer by Rosie Parker

'Girls in the Band; Val Wilmer on women who make music' with a photo of Josefina Cupido playing cymbals in performance.Val Wilmer enjoyed the great musicianship and zest of the big band.

1986 Val Wilmer interview with African-American jazz poet Jayne Cortez, on the importance of Jayne in Black history and culture. Illustrated with black and white photo of Cortez, seated, looking intently at camera.

Interview with Jayne Cortez, City Limits January 1986. Copyright Val Wilmer

An obit for Jayne Cortez by Val Wilmer, Feb 2013, describes her anti-sexist, anti-racist passion, 'remembers this railblazing writer, jazz poet adn self-determined performance artist who remained a viatl force right up until the end.'

Copyright Val Wilmer Jazzwise, February 2013

Black and white photo of Fontella Bass leaning over her seated mother Martha, both smiling, accompanies interview

Copyright Val Wilmer

1985 Interview with Martha and Fontella Bass by Val Wilmer describes the cathartic and inspiring role of gospel and church in these two legends' lives and the celebration of African-American survival in  the blues.

The Wire, May 1985, copyright Val Wilmer

1985 interview with Martha and Fontella Bass by Val Wilmer describes the cathartic and inspiring role of gospel and church in these two legends' lives and the celebration of African-American survival in  the blues. Family history of piano playing and singing together. 'Beyond all the blues and the rock and disco,  I take my burdens to the Lord and leave them there.' Photos of Black gospel choir singing.

The Wire, May 1985. Copyright Val Wilmer

September 2013: a hoarding outside Ronnie Scott’s famous jazz club in Soho features an ‘iconic photograph of Scott, enjoying a cigarette outside the London club … taken by renowned writer and photographer Valerie Wilmer’ – read more on http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/music/music-news/10270303/Ronnie-Scotts-tribute-to-founder.html and http://www.jazzjournal.co.uk/jazz-latest-news/636/redecorating-ronnies

Val Wilmer stands in street in Soho, with a very large banner on the club's outside wall behind her showing founder Ronnie Scott laconically smoking, smiling.

In front of her 1965 portrait of Ronnie Scott, Val Wilmer stands outside Ronnie Scott’s club in Frith Street, London, September 2013. Photograph (c) David Corio

Summer 2017: Val Wilmer talks about her life and photography at Cafe Oto:


Listen to it here:


Writings and photographs by kind permission of Val Wilmer, not to be reproduced by any means without permission. Please see our Copyright page for more information. 


Velvet Fist

Eight women all dressed in black wearing red scarves, singing and focusing on their conductor at the front. They are performing in a smart large room decorated with paintings.

Velvet Fist in performance

A group of a cappella singers who have been making music together for over 25 years. ‘We aim to bring a fresh approach to politics, combining an exciting and creative sound with intimacy, warmth and humour. The members of Velvet Fist are feminist and socialist and have come together through political activity to find a voice in music. We sing of struggle, liberation, peace and equality.’

Velvet Fist performs regularly and previous gigs have included performances at the re-opening of London’s Royal Festival Hall, the 150th birthday of the National Portrait Gallery, Tony Benn’s 70th Birthday Party in the House of Commons, Oliver Tambo’s memorial service with the ANC choir, a performance on BBC Radio 4 of Graham Knight’s haunting arrangement of the Red Flag and supporting Holly Near at the Raise Your Banners festival of political song in Sheffield.  The group also performed at the Various Voices festival at the South Bank in 2009, at a concert in support of Palestinian women in Camden in 2010 and at the Voices Now Festival at the Camden Roundhouse in 2011. ‘Our roots stem from the international struggle for socialism, trade union representation and the peace movement.’

Four albums: Green And Purple, The Gloves Are Off, Pulling No Punches and Everything Can Be Changed.
The eleven woman line-up of the choir, dressed brightly in pinks and blues and all smiling.


Vicky and Diane 1980/81

Diane McLoughlin, piano, sax; Vicky Scrivener, vocals

Duo playing soul and jazz standards ~ gigs included the King’s Head, Islington


Vi Subversa

Vi in a black and white publicity shot, wearing a leopardskin print skirt and black vest, dark sunglasses, one leg lifted, lips pouting, hands together in a mock prayer position. The background is a graffiti-decorated wall, swirls and tags and stars.

… ‘songs that explored sexuality and gender roles, usually from an anarchist perspective’ … ‘in her forties, a mother of two, playing and singing in the mixed band Poison Girls’ (Brighton and London 1976 ~ 1989/reunited at Vi’s 60th) … Vi ‘successfully broke every rock’n’roll mould that came to hand. A middle-aged, militant feminist, peacenik, anti-fascist, anti-capitalist punk!

Vi’s impassioned exploration of female aging is unmatched in mainstream rock and the connection between personal and political, that Poison Girls dissect with razor sharp incision, has never been bettered.’

~ info from http://www.poisongirls.co.uk/ and http://killyourpetpuppy.co.uk/

There are video clips of Vi Subversa, including the classic ‘Real Woman’ available on Youtube

Lucy Whitman reviews the record 'Chappaquiddick Bridge' by Poison Girls, on Crass Records. 'Poison Girls  declare point-blank that the system that rules the world is absolutely intolerable. Their response is impassioned protest.' They sing of oppressive sex, the difficulty of love relationships and motherhood and politics with 'Brechtian simplicity,' their lyrics encouraging listeners to examine words such as 'bitch'. The band is committed to experimentation', and uses Vi's ragged, wavery voice quality.

Spare Rib 104, 1981

review of Poison Girls album. Vi is the only woman in the band but articulation of her experience means 'feminist vision is central to their collective identity.'

Vi is on stage under a canvas awning, singing and playing electric guitar, pointing out over the audience, teenagers are in the crowd in front of her.

Vi Subversa, Notting Hill carnival 1985, Spare Rib

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