The Girl in the Band

Kathy Freeman

as published in AND ALL AROUND WAS DARKNESS (Gregory Bull and Mike Dines – third in the Tales from the Punkside series)

The Accelerators. Kathy Freeman and Martin Yarker

 

Most of my adult life I’ve remained obstinately unaware of the unequal roles of men and women in the music industry and elsewhere. Denial? In hindsight, maybe it’s been a case of “don’t look down.” On a high and dangerous ledge it’s best not to think about the environment but to just get on with the task. Over the years I’ve been obliged to share bills with some wildly incompatible acts as an example of “Strong Women in Music” but never actively sought that role. All I ever wanted to do – and this hasn’t changed – is make music.

In mid-seventies Liverpool, I’d just about heard of the Runaways. The only female musicians I actually knew were the Women’s Lib posse in my neighbourhood, with their limp and tedious 12-bar strums about male chauvinism. It was SO much more fun to hang out with the boys, playing loud, loud, loud and practising aggressive downstrokes till my wrist ached. Which led me to co-found the Accelerators, playing rhythm guitar, as punk rock hit the Northwest.

Maxim's Poster

Women were getting a raw deal in those days, and I was stuck in an abusive relationship with the other guitarist, He’d slapped me across the face after a show for the unpardonable sin of losing his cable when packing up (and by the way, I don’t know to this day why I was responsible for his fucking cable) No friendly caring helplines and forums back then, dear reader. Yet It never even crossed my mind to quit the band. It was heaven, hell and dysfunctional family to me. I put another steel layer round my heart and got on with it.

The rush I got from hitting that stage as a team to play blazing rock n roll – coupled with the adventure of ceaselessly travelling the country in mechanically unsound vans and supporting the likes of XTC and the Buzzcocks – outweighed everything else. Sadly it also blinded me to what was going on in the wider music scene. Procuring and playing gigs was my life mission, and while the likes of the Slits and Siouxsie Sioux were busy rewriting female musical history I was probably shovelling coins into a payphone to talk to some dodgy pub landlord or helping load a PA into a van.

With their dogged policy of taking the opposite standpoint to everyone else whenever humanly possible, the Accelerators were deemed to be far from politically correct. We had a serious run-in with “The Feminists” who even picketed a show we were due to play*

To quote the band Magazine, I was shot by both sides.

*full account in No More Heroes, complete history of UK Punk from 1976 to1980 by Alex Ogg, extract viewable at www.kathy-freeman.de

The Birdhouse

Fast forward to the late eighties – once again I was the only girl in the band. This time it was volume eleven grunge rockers,The Birdhouse. Again my focus was on the playing – I didn’t want to think about sexual politics bla bla bla. But while they were generally respectful to me, the locker room banter of one or two of the band and male crew was anything but respectful to womankind.

Female band followers were generally referred to as “it”, not “she.” There were the crude remarks about the singer’s own unfortunate girlfriend who had “an arse the size of the moon” When, as the band was hanging out in some dingy Midlands aftershow room, the comment…”woah I’d like to give that a pearl necklace”…drifted across the room something snapped. I hurled my handbag at the floor (not the stuff of Amazon legend, but an effective conversation-stopper) and screamed at them to shut the f*** up. Lo and behold, by the next day the worst offenders had come separately to me with shamefaced apologies, each referring to the “alter-ego” mode that comes with being on the road. A kind of Jekyll and Hyde mentality which incidentally also excused them for not showering for five days on the run.

My time in The Birdhouse was up when they decided to become the next Guns and Roses (only to disappear swiftly into pre-internet oblivion) But the experience was duly processed into a song “Here Come the Boys” which I performed in my nineties punk-metal band Joyryde. This time fronted by women. “Strong Women” if you insist.

Joyryde GMB 96

Here Come the Boys

Well look who’s here, who’s just hit town

You better get some action, they won’t be hangin’ round

They’re lookin’ for love, they’re lookin’ mean

They know where they’re going - God knows where they’ve been

Here come the boys

They got social conscience, they really care

They know what’s right and wrong, and how to get their share

When it comes to women, they are the law

They don’t know what a woman wants- they know what she’s for
Here come the boys

He calls his girlfriend up – she’s not at home

Well that’s ok, he’ll never walk alone

Cause life’s for living, not self-control

And if you get diseases - that’s the way it goes

Here come the boys

Audio link: https://kathyfreeman.bandcamp.com/album/joyryde-1991-1998-london-recordings

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21st Century Troubadour

I love my second hometown, Berlin. I also love getting out of it and discovering the rest of Germany.

I'm ready

I’m ready

A gig is a great way to do that. On October 3rd, I travelled southwest to play a show in the Halunkenburg;  home to a group of charming and committed creative folk who give their all to preserving, and giving new life to historic sites and buildings in the Hof area of Germany. They rescued this medieval dwelling from misuse and deterioration, and it now functions as home, living museum, kindergarten, exhibition space, meeting place and occasional restaurant…. plus film and music venue, which is where I came in.

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The Lady on the Landing (perceived disturbingly as a real person once or twice en-route from my bedroom to the concert lounge!)

At the start of the show, there was a conversation about medieval minstrels, and how I was continuing that tradition; playing a stringed instrument and singing songs which tell a story. But – Big Important Difference  – I wouldn’t have done it happily without my trusty Boss analogue delay pedal which, while admittedly ancient, wasn’t around in the 14th century. A bizarre medieval picture comes unbidden to mind….”My liege, what is this outlandish contraption at the feet of yon Bard? Forsooth it maketh the sounds of the Devil!” …but I digress…

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My Trusty Delay Pedal

I played a very enjoyable show to a respectful – invites only, if you please! – audience, with the help of a  reassuringly modern P.A. system . It happened that artist Michael Etienne was present and he did a grand job of capturing the essence of my set on paper, sketching some surrealistic cartoon images while I played.

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Welcome to my subconscious

Resident Mouser

Resident mouser took a shine to my suitcase

Among the songs which were captured in Michael’s picture: You, me and Alcohol, In the Ninety Nine and Three A.M – all available at Bandcamp. (Drawing as you listen is optional)

More about Kathy Freeman and her songs here on the Website or here on Facebook

Hey, we LOVE your music!

Never trust people who are too effusive about your talent. They’re probably preparing to shaft you. I’d hesitantly accepted a gig offer from a man I met in a bar while doing another gig  (that’s life at the top for you. ) He was “Something-To-Do-With-Art” – big on dramatic gestures and statements, small on details. Naturally he LOVED my music. I was to play for a soiree at the obscure art gallery where he reigned supreme as creator, director, coordinator and all round bigmouth.   Eccentric patrons are par for the course in Berlin, and it should have been good fun – but this guy gave me the creeps.

Relax!…. Before I could even open my guitar case, I was ordered to ‘RELAX!” In a room with no chairs, with him leering at me.  He meant “Start drinking”. I didn’t get drunk. Only bored. Fast forward 60 minutes – I just – as ever – want to play a good show. People are there. People are interested. But he was hellbent on wrong footing me…….

There was the drawn-out “testing, testing” soundcheck routine – in  a room not much bigger than my living room -which could have been done on arrival. (see  My Thoughts About Soundchecks)  Then, the interruption of the first set, mid-song, with a blast of Hawkwind.  Artistic statement? Next, the “veggie meal part of the deal” …. While the visitors were happily tucking into to generous portions of Chile con Carne, inconvenient non-meat eater here gets a last-minute unbuttered bread roll with soggy tomato slices.

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Guten Appetit

But head and shoulders over these minor woes…..NO!  NO! NO! You DON’T have to embrace the performer and give her a sloppy kiss at five minute intervals because people are clapping. Throughout the entire evening he was drunk, overly gushing, and all over me. As a feminist I wanted to kick him in the nuts. As a performer I wanted to do my job. Couldn’t find a way to do both. Cue BURNING SHAME AND INNER CONFLICT….a real fun night out.

Adding insult to injury… Later,  preparing my exit, I get hauled into a toe-curlingly embarrassing public debate about what I should be paid and whose pocket it should come out of. The resulting underpayment was buried so deep in bullshit that I only realised on the way home. But hey – we LOVE your music…..

PS: The whole sorry experience was worth it because it inspired me to write this song, which features the amazing Chris O, queen of the Australian blues scene, playing some devilishly good slide guitar.

On air

My radio experiences generally boil down to the good, the bad and the ugly. More about the good in a minute.

The Bad was a phone interview with a one man station. He meant well but was so nervous that we were virtually swapping roles, with me trying to put him at ease. His stilted and irrelevant questions lurched me totally off-topic into a bizarre rant about Mrs Thatcher.

The Ugly: A more established internet music station had me do a live worldwide broadcast from a pub. Consisting of a lengthy interview followed by a full live set – no pressure there then….

Instead of sending someone who was interested in my music – indeed any music – I get Mr Dodgy-Sheepskin-Jacket-Sports-Reporter-Man. He must have read that I used to be in a punk band, because he was onto “punk” like a terrier with a bone for the duration, heedless of the torrent that has passed under the bridge since those days. “Why are you a PUNK?” “How do  PUNKS feel when they rehearse?” “what do PUNKS eat for breakfast?”  When I finally got to perform, the vocals were so low I couldn’t hear my own voice, despite flashy broadcast rig. Seems I was disturbing the bar staff who couldn’t take orders with background noise. As  a PUNK I should have trashed the place but I put it down to experience.

The Good

Here we go

Here we go

You probably get why I was wary before my guest spot on The Parsons Knows Local Music (Radio Verulam) But this was the Good experience – in a comfortable studio chair. With simple, to-the-point, relevant questions; no fumbling and no weird curves. Denise Parsons has been doing the show for barely a year but comes across as a seaoned pro, while genuinely loving what she does. Which made it so-o-o-o-o much easier for me .

Day Of The Triffids

Day Of The Triffids

Don't know what this is but it looks important

Don’t know what this is but it looks important

Heres a link to the the video taken by Denise’s studio assistant, Kevin.

or listen to the podcast on Soundcloud along with other regular broadcasts featuring a distinctly-higher-than-average level of talent from local acts.

Kathy Freeman’s songs are on Bandcamp. First featured song on Denise’s show: “You, me and Alcohol” Second featured song “Here it Comes” ( A new version on You Me and Alcohol will be on Kathy’s next album, due out in Autumn )

More about The Parsons Knows Local Music  on Facebook and more about Kathy Freeman on her website

They run a tight ship at Radio Verulam

They run a tight ship at Radio Verulam

Testing testing one two one two..zzzz

I’ve always hated soundchecking after the audience has arrived. My first Real Band, The Accelerators, was always late for the soundcheck.  Not my decision…as I was probably the one who’d hustled for the gig and vainly promised the promoter we’d be there at five for a show at nine. But an unmanageable cocktail of unready band members, traffic jams, overlong service stops, frequent van breakdowns and anything else under the sun invariably put paid to that.

Do we look like the kind of people who arrive on time?

Do we look like the kind of people who arrive on time?

I got that we needed to test sound levels and see if everything worked, but part of me would rather have been boiled alive than stand there in front of PEOPLE  going “one two one two” and giving limp renditions – sometimes one instrument at a time – of parts of songs. Songs we might playing for real within ten minutes. Now, decades later, I see why it distressed me, hard-nosed little punkette though I was. I couldn’t have articulated it back then, but now I know:

Actors don’t go out on stage before the curtain rises to test their lines. Playing half-arsed snatches of songs at volume 11 to the audience-to-be just didn’t cut it for me.

The others, as befitted the mood of that era, honestly didn’t care if people were listening to the soundcheck or not. But at that tender point in my development, punk or no punk, a show meant A SHOW – i.e. the ultimate reason for practicing downstrokes and Chuck Berry riffs in our garage till my hands were dropping off, or minutely perfecting my panda make-up with eyes sore from hard contact lenses.  I wanted to confront the audience with a proper surprise attack, not give half my powers away before even starting.

I wanted to confront

I wanted to confront the audience

Today the still-dreaded late soundcheck sometimes doesn’t even take place. Or I get away with two chords and a quick “Guten Abend”  But if I do have to take it further, there’ll be no half-arsed spoilers from the set and definitely no one two one two.

Check out Kathy Freeman’s songs on BANDCAMP and check out everything else at the WEBSITE

My sixty-hour weekend

The breakdown:

15 hours – watching Germany hurtle past a train window

21 hours – sleeping, trying to understand my new phone, and pottering around in the solitude of temporary bedrooms

21 hours – reuniting with old friends, making new ones, getting lost 50 metres from the first venue I was due to play at, strolling alone through spooky enchanted woodlands near the second, eating too much amazing food prepared by my generous hosts, some cursory sightseeing and soundchecks.

3 hours – the tip of this time-and-motion iceberg: One concert in Freiburg, and one in Waldstadt, Karlsruhe (about as far as you can get from Berlin without leaving the country) Both concerts were very informal and I was able to sing my own repertoire to a laid-back and receptive South German audience. Who really listened. My 1000 mile odyssey was well and truly worth it.   Big thanks to Lovis and Bella in Freiburg and to Matthias and Renate in Karlsruhe for hosting the concerts and spoiling me rotten.

Concert:  Photo by Matthias Jaehrling:

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Footnotes:

This audience member gets my songs! (photo by Mattias Jaerling)

This audience member gets my songs! (photo by Mattias Jaerling)

Finally tracked down the star of Kathy X album Life Number Nine (photo Matthias Jaehrling)

Finally tracked down the star of Kathy X album Life Number Nine (photo Matthias Jaehrling)

A gem from Matthias' vinyl vaults.

A gem from Matthias’ vinyl vaults.

you can check out LIFE NUMBER NINE and more on BANDCAMP  and read more about me on my WEBSITE

Banging on about drums

If reincarnation is true, can I come back as Viola Smith?  She seems to be having more fun with two sticks than I’ve ever had with six strings

I actually learned drumming for three years

If I was married to a guitar, drums would be my bit on the side….no – that sounds kind of weird, let’s try again.  Rehearsing with various bands during my long musical journey, there was always something highly seductive emanating from the unattended drum kit every time the drummer left the room. It would whisper “come on, hit me, you know you want to!”  But I was scared of either being torn off a strip by its owner for unauthorised use, or of sounding like a grade A non-drumming idiot. Or both.

One day in ’98 the affable and tolerant Stef X, (who drummed for a couple of years with Joyryde) offered me his drumstool during a rehearsal break and I had a proper go.  While I’d never played before, I had a thousand patterns stored from music I’d absorbed, and years of rhythm guitar-playing must have taught me something about timing. He was duly impressed by my not-too-badness on the first attempt. Soon the challenge of getting round a drumkit would become a welcome diversion from trying to be a rock’n’roll frontwoman (which then was more about hustling venues and labels than playing the goddamn songs)

By some God-must-have-planned-it coincidence, a work colleague was vacating his flat that week  and couldn’t take his drumkit (which up to that point I’d never even known he possessed) A Hayman kick drum, snare, floor tom, two toms,  a  rickety hi-hat stand and a few cracked cymbals were mine for a mere 100 quid a few days later. My miniature drumming oddysey had begun…….watch this space, more to come!

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The Red Beastie – in service today as a studio kit

Distinctive snaredrum

Distinctive snaredrum

You can check out my songs (but not my drumming!)  on BANDCAMP

More about me at KATHY-FREEMAN.DE