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

Advertisements

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.

IMG_3200 - Version 2

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.