Wednesday, 15 March 2017

What is indiepop? Is it a world of girls?

At an indiepop festival, a friend asked me,
 'Is that the theme? Do all indiepop bands have to have females in them?'
My answer?
'No, you don't have to have females for a band to be indiepop; it often just seems to happen like that.'

Getting to basics, indiepop has three core elements:

  1. The punk ethic that anyone can form a band and be listened to.
  2. A joy and wonder in the world reflected in tuneful, often simple songs.
  3. Small-scale media publicity via word of mouth, fanzines, blogs, podcasts and mixtapes.
The toy industry's idea of an 'indie-girl'

Being male or female has nothing to do with these; it's just that indiepop doesn't set itself up as a boy's club. Women and girls may feel more willing to have a go within this genre, feeling that their ideas are welcomed. I guess that the child-like joy and wonder thing often correlates with middle-class decency and romanticism, which is why so many indiepop bands look like a bunch of lovely young primary school teachers. It's also probably why so many Japanese people like it.

But the actual sound of indiepop is a wide spectrum; it can be grungy and garage-y; there is sexiness and politics and mad humour at times and sometimes it's wistful and sparse. In these modern times, there's less self-deprecation on stage, but it's still there on a good/bad day. There seem to be lots of bands with couples in - and having a band together with your mate is a sweet and fun thing to do.

Last year, I loved it when my band PO! played Indietracks festival and there were so many bands with female musicians playing; often as front people but also many drummers, bassists and so on. Having a gender balance makes music more civilised whilst also being super exciting. So yes, indiepop is a world of girls, but only because so many other genres are weirdly macho.

What's also great for me is the generosity and loveliness of audiences. Those floppy-haired boys who collected and followed indiepop seem just as sensitive and spirited twenty years later when they're balding and bespectacled.

Saturday, 7 January 2017

Is there a female guitar style?

This is a ridiculous question. How could there be a female guitar style? People are people. There's no female way of eating, or sleeping, or going to the toilet.... hang on a minute.

The proportion of female to male guitarists is tiny; there are very few females whose playing is considered noteworthy. I think there's two issues going on.

1. Confidence
2. Lack of ownership

I'll start with lack of ownership. Modern guitarring is usually about churning out lightning-speed blues runs. It needs a lot of practice and a strong wrist. Boys are often more dedicated to putting in the time with this kind of activity.

The hobby/collector/trainspotter mentality runs through guitarring, too. The memorising of names that could be lorries or amplifiers ACs and JCs, the discussions about the merits of digital, analogue, diesel. I find that my memory doesn't tend to hold these numbers and letters easily. BUT I DO KNOW WHAT I LIKE.

I won't even mention the guitar as penis thing because that's just ridiculous. But maybe also slightly relevant.

I am always pleased to see some girl or woman playing really great guitar in the traditional male style. I often see them on Facebook - some 14-year-old marvel doing something the Americans call 'shredding'. It's absolutely brilliant. It would be particularly brilliant if the girl has chosen this style for herself and has no musical family members. Often though, I suspect there's a proud dad in the background who has transferred all his technique to the next generation.

Here's a couple of female jazz guitarists playing at a London jazz club; look at the comments though - it's not rampant sexism, just a bit of male sneering at Deirdre Cartwright, who inspired me on the TV programme Rock School.

There probably isn't a 'female style of driving', but the fact that so many women drive, and that there are female driving instructors means that there's a broad range of driving styles. Some drivers are more cautious, more empathetic, slower. I don't race my car and I hardly ever sound my horn. That's not a female style of driving, but I bet more women drive like that.

So could there be a female guitar style? Before Hendrix, Chuck Berry and Elvis there was Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Her rhythmic gospel blues picking is a wonder; she played her own style and influenced many male musicians who went on to make playing guitar a speed race and a noise competition.

One way that women have made a guitar-playing impact is with alternative tunings -like Joni Mitchell. I respect this and think it does seem like truly female playing.

But what made me want to play were the female post-punks; the Raincoats, The Slits, The Mo-Dettes, Delta 5. They had the cack-handed technique like the punk boys but their creativity was fabulous and very female.

Lesley Woods from the Au Pairs was another role model for me and I'd often be down the front at gigs watching her playing more than her singing.

So some women have made certain styles of playing guitar their own. The other big factor is confidence. I still believe that I am a rubbish guitarist because I cannot churn out a Claptonesque party piece or play the theme to Top Gear or that snooker music.

And just as women in every area of professional life believe they are not good enough, so we leave guitarring to the boys because more of them have the self-belief as well as the wrist action. But if you can conquer the confidence gap, it doesn't matter what you're actually doing. People just want to see you play with passion. Let's have some more female guitarists.

I write this because today, for the first time ever, I went into a music shop and tried out a guitar amp. Despite playing in bands for years, I have never had the courage to play in this arena of male virtuosity and hard rock judgement. Today I felt very brave and I did not care what the five men in the shop thought of my playing.

Friday, 14 October 2016

Making 'Little Stones' PO!'s first album

My blogging history of PO! got stuck around 1989. That's when 'Little Stones' was made. I'm hoping to re-release it soon, so here's a little information about it. 

PO!'s first album, Little Stones, was recorded by Terri Lowe of The Originals on his Tascam 1/4" reel to reel 4-track machine at a cost of £20. Members of The Originals played the backing tracks, recorded at Leicester's Chatham Street basement. This was because the former members of PO! had left me with with no musicians. The vocals, extra guitars and other instruments were recorded at the Originals' house on Aylestone Road (on the corner of Rutland Avenue) over a number of weekends when there were no Leicester City home matches. (Terri Lowe went to the home games). 

I had written most of the songs over a period of a few months. Usually I composed on acoustic guitar with a pad and pen to write down chords and vocal melodies down before evolving the lyrics. I can remember living in a flat that was freezing cold, and wearing fingerless gloves for at least one of the songs. 

At the time of recording, I was suffering with throat problems and a chest infection that affected my singing. Producer Terri set high standards for the recording. On one occasion, he insisted that I go out and ride a bike as fast as I could to the top of the road 'to clear my lungs' before singing. I think at least one track was recorded in the bathroom for its natural reverb, and he tickled me to get the giggling on 'All I Really Want to Do'.

The LP record was processed by AWL of Leicester. We had to drive round to Mr Lipinski's house to pick up the boxes of sleeveless (and therefore cheap) vinyl. Mr Lipinski lived in a tidy detached house about 2 miles from where I lived. He was like a friendly great-uncle who pretended to be interested in our musical achievements, but he wasn't impressed when I told him that John Peel had played our flexidiscs. 

A friend, Boris Barker, designed the sleeve. Computer-aided publishing was in its infancy and so it was a mixture of letraset. computer printing and physical cut and paste. We had 1000 records pressed and card sleeves printed, which had to be folded and glued by hand. I numbered the first 200 on the inner sleeve. 

I think it's good to be able to sum up the purpose of a song concisely. So here is a quickfire list of the headlines. Naturally, I like the songs to work on many levels, using a range of different voices, timbres and structures. But essentially, most of these early songs were created as a challenge to a world that seemed unfair and abusive. 

Glass King
One of many 'challenging patriarchy' songs; kind of Davina and Goliath.

One of many 'I had a friend and things went wrong when we grew up' songs; also it's quite sour and jealous, too.

Anti-corruption with name-checking; No-one like me got anywhere. 

Ever Been Had
A feeling sorry for oneself song. It also has the same line that a (much later) Tracey Thorn song has: "I'm walking past your door, but you don't live there any more."

Haunt You
Challenging patriarchy and giving them the willies.

About wrecked dreams, specifically that of a rural male ballet dancer.

About luck / lack of luck.

Appleseed Alley
Patriarchy; a song with spunk.

Lying on My Side
Be what you are.

The Torturers
Bad times for young women.

Poor Old John
Drugs and rock 'n' roll and not much else.

All I Really Want To Do
A Bob Dylan Song with giggling.

I'm not sure whether to re-release it via itunes, or press another vinyl - a CD doesn't seem right. Let me know what you think I should do. 

Monday, 25 July 2016

So who are PO! and will I like them?


This post is written for anyone attending Indietracks festival this weekend 29-31st July 2016. It always seems a shame when there's so much choice of what to go and see and you might miss something good if you haven't got your schedule totally organised. But then again, there's the serendipity of discovering something worthwhile - and hopefully that will happen for me. 

Back in 1986, the must-read music paper of the day, the NME, printed a number of editions with free cassette compilations. The start of the indie-pop movement is often attributed to C86, which was one of these cassettes.  The following year, I formed the band PO! My motivations were largely feminist anger at a harsh world, but there was no Riot Grrrl then and I was probably too nice. I also did like singable tunes and wordsmithery so indie-pop was the genre that fitted best of all. If you didn't listen to the lyrics, you might be cheered by the soaring and jangly tunes, but the words are often more reflective, miserable or aggressive. The name PO! means lots of different things but originally meant Piss Off!
Over the next 15 years, PO! had various line-ups. For a while we were an all-female band. Later versions of the band got very grown up and serious until I decided to stop doing it around the millennium. Since then, the Internet has generated interest in PO! and I kept reading things online about how I had disappeared. A divorce, and a year of treatment for breast cancer have re-motivated me to communicate with the world through song. This year, I'm singing my old songs. After that I might have something different to say. 

Albert stole my heart
The PO! songs which seem best-loved live or on You Tube include Fay, which is a quiet song about how a sparky, daring and mouthy young girl full of potential becomes damaged and suicidal in adulthood.  Appleseed Alley is a wide-themed song about the spread of ideas, sex and control; it's based on the legend of Johnny Appleseed. Sunday Never Comes Around is a pure pop song; I always say it's the only love song I've ever written, but I realise that's not true because I also wrote a love song for Albert, a horse at the Redwings Horse Sanctuary.  

I'm sometimes called a veteran of the scene. These are the things I've done that I'm proud of:

  • My 100+ songs have substance; mostly they are about girl experience in a tricky world;
  • I was good in the 1980s/90s at promoting my band; locally, nationally and internationally;
  • I set up and ran Rutland Records for over 10 years;
  • John Peel rang up and offered us a Radio 1 session, which was repeated.
  • Our last 7" was Single of the Week in the NME.
  • Online people who are half my age seem to like what PO! did;
  • Despite not playing or releasing anything for 15 years, I still get offered gigs;
  • I am still alive, fairly healthy, not 'disappeared' and can make music again when I want to.

I'm playing with a scaled-down PO! band on Saturday 30th July at 5pm on the indoor stage, and as a solo performer on Sunday 31st at 8.20pm. I'll be pleased to see anyone there and hope to meet PO! fans old and new. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

PO! music - what's out there?

I'm just about to put together a website and make PO! songs available in a digital and physical way again. It might take me a few months, but I'm determined to do it.

In the days when letters came through the post and I parceled up cardboard on a daily basis, it was fun to run a record label, but I guess it can be just as fun with instant downloady technology, analytics and 'likes'. Just got to get used to it, that's all. 

In the meantime, here are links to all the tracks I can find online at present: 

A Page A Day

 Northern Wonder

Danny's Girl

Your Shout

Appleseed Alley 

I Took My Head on a Date

Sunday Never Comes Around  


Haunt You


Good Behaviour 

Jacqueline's House

Things That Might

Bus Shelter .... in the Rain 

I Won't Stay  

Two Friends (Bedroom Version) 

Your Brother (Thanks for finding this, Andy) 

She Lies in State (Bedroom Version)   

Monday, 9 May 2016

Doing a U turn on playing gigs

Before I had cancer treatment, I had retired from music. I wrote in my blog that it would be unlikely that I would ever play with  PO! again; I was too old, nobody would want it and it just seemed a crappy thing to do. 

But after having a whole body and hair reboot, the idea of making music with friends just seems like a fantastic idea, because making music IS fantastic. If nobody wants to listen then they don't have to, and it doesn't matter what anyone thinks, because I could have died and not had this opportunity. 

Strangely though, my interest seems to be coinciding with other people's interest in PO! Some are old fans whose names I know from the old mail order business; others are much younger people who have grown up with Japanese fanzines and Spanish vinyl and somehow know that PO! are part of the indie-pop furniture.

2016 got off to a good start when Mark Hibbett emailed and asked me to play a gig at Totally Acoustic in London. A few weeks later, Marianthi from Indietracks was also offering a slot for PO! at the July festival. The guitar came out, songs were considered and practised and, on April 7th, I played solo at Totally Acoustic - the King and Queen pub where Bob Dylan played his UK debut in 1962.

An amazing kind soul, Alan Hames, has also helped by plodding through all my tape reels and DATs to get the old recordings into this century's format. It means I can re-release the first album, Little Stones fairly soon and put some recordings up on the Internet. I feel like I'm a proper old woman of indie-pop and that's quite a fine thing to be!

The last step is starting rehearsals with Paul (drummer) and Gary (bass) to see if we make the right noise as a 3-piece. The requests from fans are influencing what we'll play at Indietracks (and at least one other gig as a warm-up). I will let you know soon.

Monday, 27 July 2015

Band Rehearsal Rooms I Have Known

My first experience of seeing a band rehearse was in Newark, Nottinghamshire when I was about 15. Before that, I had never considered that a group might need to play their songs over and over again with a bit of arguing, blaming and shouting in between.

At the end of the '70s, there were two significant rock bands in Newark: Paralex and Overlord. Although I was too much of a punk to admire the hard rock of these bands, the different youth cultures tended to mix together in such a small town.

Paralex were the first band I ever saw rehearsing. They went on to join New Wave of British Heavy Metal

One Sunday afternoon in the late 1970s, someone took me and a friend to see one of these bands rehearse - I tend to think it was Paralex. The rehearsal took place in a small detached bungalow. Each member of the band was in a different room, with cables running down the hallway. The noise was unbearably loud, even as we walked up the road, but worse still inside. Looking back, I guess we were taken along as 'girls'. But I didn't realise that at the time; I don't think we stayed long.

Soon after that, The Devices were formed. A bonus for any band is to have a member who has access to a space for rehearsal and John Bingham had the keys to the Palace Theatre Workshop in Newark, Nottinghamshire. This was a space where theatre flats and lighting equipment were stored. It was also tucked away at the back of a car park where no-one could hear anything. We spent some time clearing the space and then used it to rehearse our naive punk-pop. We played The House of the Rising Sun as well as songs by The Ramones, then quickly went on to write our own agit-pop songs. I think we also put on a couple of gigs in that workshop room. I revisited Newark recently and it seems that the workshop room is now a drama studio.

Palace Theatre, Newark - Where The Devices formed, rehearsed and performed in 1979

My next bands, The Chaos Biscuits/Pandas were purely bedroom bands, that never played any gigs. We played quietly at Totley Highfield Halls of Residence, and at our flat next to Dore Station, where the recordings were made.

Flats by Dore station, near Sheffield. Bottom right hand flat was where The Pandas recorded demo tapes

PO! was formed with links to Multiplex and Leicester City Council's Community Arts service. This meant that you could hire a room at Fosse Neighbourhood Centre for a fairly cheap price; the only problem was that it was very much in demand, so it was often unavailable. It was also two bus rides away, or a very long walk carrying a guitar case.

Fosse Neighbourhood Centre, Leicester

After a few months, the band started using 'Archway' studios in Leicester. This was under a railway arch alongside car repair firms and sandblasters. You paid a fee for 2 hours rehearsing, and could use the old drum kit and amplifiers on offer. I think there were parts that dripped; it was certainly dark and dingy.

Archway Studios - used for PO! early rehearsals 1987
PO! rehearsing at Archway

One of the best rehearsal/recording studios at the time was Happy House. This was in a building on the edge of Leicester's cattle market (now the Freeman's Common Morrisons site). Previously the building had been a mortuary and then a BBC Radio Leicester studio, but the band The Swinging Laurels had taken it over, changed their name and rented it out to other local bands. John Barrow writes about this era in his book How Not to Make it in the Pop WorldI have struggled to find a photo of the Happy House building, but maybe a better one will turn up once I publish this.

This is the roof of the Happy House building back when it was a mortuary!

After a while, it became hard to get rehearsal time at Archway or Happy House, because they were so well used by other bands. Another rehearsal space was then tried; this was Chatham Street - run by Ian Redhead and his brother. It was a basement under a textile factory, with an hourly paid room, a resident room and one that was not used, known as the 'wet room'. After a few uses of the hourly room, I persuaded Ian to let us clean up the 'wet room' and have it as our own residential room, maybe sharing with another band. This was agreed on, and we spent a week getting rid of rubbish, trying to dry out the floor and walls with little fan heaters and doing a bit of painting. I think that we may have put pallets on the floor and then covered them with carpets to keep our equipment out of the puddles, but it was still extremely damp.

PO! rehearsing in the newly painted 'wet room': Julian Glover, Jan Frazer, Ruth Miller

Ruth waiting outside Chatham Street rehearsal rooms; load out bay on Stamford Street

For a while there was a little scene going, with nightly rehearsals followed by drinking in the nearby pub 'The Black Boy', but when the rainy season came, the 'wet room' proved too wet to continue playing safely, so PO! moved into the resident room, sharing with The Originals and The Brand New Executives. Meanwhile, Ian Redhead was planning to open a massive rehearsal and recording complex on Conduit Street, near Leicester railway station. This was to be called 'Stayfree' - I assume after the Clash song.

The most significant feature of the Chatham Street rehearsal space was the toilet provision. Many males in bands don't seem bothered about how gross a toilet gets, and I did try to adopt that way of thinking. I got by for several months laughing at the  rock 'n' roll toilet that looked like some kind of monochrome Jackson Pollack creation and not worrying about bacteria, pubic lice and stuff like that. However, I recall hitting the point where I went out and bought toilet cleaning equipment, did the job and made a bold imperative sign for the boys. Things didn't improve greatly, but I tried. To get to this toilet, you had to climb a curved flight of stairs that had been amateurishly installed. As time went on, the stairs began to sink on their fixings; particular steps smashed through and we were told not to use them. But when you've gotta go, you've gotta go - so visiting the disgusting toilet became a feat of mountaineering, stepping lightly on the few step-edges that seemed more firmly fixed. Until someone smashed the toilet bowl, and Ian Redhead opened a new rehearsal space which we moved to straightaway.

To be continued...