Thursday, 29 December 2016

Do I pass the Bechdel test?

Reviewing Rogue One from a feminist perspective made me check for the Bechdel test in my own life. 

After seeing my film review of Rogue One in the F Word, I realised there was no reference to a crucial element in feminist analysis of narrative: did it pass the Bechdal test? e.g. do women have private conversations, taking the whole screen space, that don't involve men as the key point of discussion in the movie? 

I do point out women talk to each other formally, as Senators, both leading and contributing to the decision making of important affairs, but don't extend the analysis. Why didn't I? Is it the case that I still have to dance in the margins to remember who I am? Have I not got a feminist boyfriend? Feminist friends? Feminist poet daughters? A feminist tom cat?  

The TV series Happy Valley (Sally Wainwright, writer, Sarah Lancashire, central figure), easily passed the Bechdel test. When the second series came out at the beginning of 2016, it became a bench mark for representation of women in media for both for me, and my male partner, a film critic. 

For a few months after the series, when watching TV and feeling that my gender was included, realistically, I bothered to check the credits, only to find SW was involved in the writing or directing (in that episode), for example Whitechapel. And I found it easy to teach - as a contracted sessional lecturer - alongside Laura Mulvey and Bell Hooks, for first year undergraduates dipping their toes in media analysis. And therefore instantly making the future of the human race more palatable, probably. 

Wise elder hag or no, apparently it still makes a difference if media represents the world around me e.g. the 52 per cent of the population. In the absence of good telly for the second half of 2016, and being that my dancing in the margins with women of all ages and interests is nowadays infrequent, I seem to be more isolated, despite or because of comfort and joy, and have let standards slip; I sit on the sofa with Beloved, an adorable man, I get to hold the remote control, and I think this is a victory for feminism. 

At this point in my education I'm always aware of what is cultural and what is natural in behaviour and representation around me. The theory of the male gaze? I can recite that in my sleep, and so can my boyfriend. But I'm bored with finding what's missing. It takes me no further than comment, which is wonderfully self-satisfying and provokes debate (useful), but giving myself a once over with the Bechdel test, however, seems to resonate into everything. Constructively for my professional value, and sometimes in dynamic ways on a personal level. 

If you're in a heterosexual relationship, or a mamma, and especially if your men friends call you "one of the boys" would you clear the Bechdel test? 

As a writer, journalist, friend, mother, teacher, lover am I a living good example of the Bechdel test?  Am I using conversations with my women colleagues and friends to their full potential? When was the last time a girlfriend came over to share tales of a current project or ideas? 

The importance of representation in quantity, in media and in our daily lives, hit home again when I watched the series Girls Can Code on catch up. Apparently half of video gamers are women but only four per cent work in digital. 

The aim of the project, and programme, was to provide a group of diverse women access to opportunity and information, in order to become digital gurus. The eclectic choice of participants in itself was a glorious statement, e.g. it's hard to say what we want when we're all different. I felt proud it was my eighteen year old daughter who pointed this out immediately. (Earlier on in the evening I had watched her snooze through the Channel 4 News, while I sat in awe and admiration at the professionalism of Cathy Newman and Tzeen Ahmad. In fact, I timed how long it took before a male presenter appeared on screen. Twenty minutes. She was "not bovvered".) 

In the end, it was being surrounded by women in a variety of jobs, a major focus of the Girls Can Code Series, including the presenters (led by Radio 1's Alice Levine), and all the bosses... which seeped in and made the difference. Only one wanted to stay in the digital field, I recall, but all had changed their professional outlook, due to a new found personal confidence. Barely a fella was seen in the mix - the only white male patriarch being the journalist. (Pauses to chuckle knowingly.)

The New Year starts with the return of another recommended crime narrative, No Offence, for a second series (Paul Abbott, writer), featuring three principal women characters (Joanna Scanlan, Elaine Cassidy, and Alexandra Roach). Here's hoping it passes the Bechdel test. More importantly, here's to me staying mindful of the big BT, at all times, right up to the year's end. 

The review

Rogue One: Jyn Erso’s Star Wars herstory

Ngaire Ruth is thrilled about the latest Star Wars instalment, and especially about Jyn Erso, the woman at its heart
, 21 December 2016
Yes, the protagonist is female, and this time she is not a girl, as in last year’s The Force Awakens, but a grown-up woman. That particular heroine (Rey played by Daisy Ridley) was a game changer for the franchise, but Rogue One pushes the envelop further, giving top billing to the character Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, who finds purpose in joining the Resistance and leading the quest to victory in this spectacular.
Rogue One is promoted as a stand-alone movie in the series but it is, in fact, the prologue to the very first Star Wars, released in 1977: a factor which makes for a canny twist to its ending. The film serves as a bridge between the 2005 Revenge Of The Sith (Episode III) and that first groundbreaking release (Episode IV).
It’s radical and overdue for a company like Disney, with its reputation for basic female stereotypes wearing gender-specific colour-coded outfits that you can’t run in (you’d definitely lose a shoe), to produce characters such as Rey, Maz Kanata (the female Yoda in The Force Awakens) and Jyn. According to the introductory speaker at the UK media London preview I attended, Disney is on a journey and they thank us for being part of it.
In the final battle, the Resistance pilots are equal-ish proportion women to men; camaraderie and mutual goals are the glue in these relationships, never romance
But it’s good to be cautious. It’s only now the mainstream film industry has caught on to the fact that women protagonists sell, a factor that ensured fair pay for the relatively unknown Felicity Jones, for which she has publicly thanked trailblazers Jennifer Lawrence and Patricia Arquette. And look at the promotional image: the enormous face of Jyn, gazing passively into the distance, surrounded by a squad of men, with weapons, ready for action, with Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna), Jyn’s closest ally in the journey, fulfilling the role played by Han Solo, complete with non-human sidekick, the android K-2SO.
It suggests a narrative based around well-developed characters of heroic men and one stereotypical super-smart, driven woman who has been let into the sacred men’s clan, and reflecting the real life scenario of the woman who ‘made it’, and can’t hear all the other women shouting to be let in. Will it end in romance? Thankfully, no. How refreshing for Felicity Jones to be able to play a character for who romantic relations couldn’t be further from her mind.
This may be a space fantasy with a simple plot, but Rogue One has a more authentic representation of women on the screen, beyond the main characters. Their screen time is brief, unlike Jyn’s feisty squad, but mostly because it’s all about space horizons, space ships, space aliens, outfits and battles in space. In the final battle, the Resistance pilots are equal-ish proportion women to men; camaraderie and mutual goals are the glue in these relationships, never romance.
Around the counsel table of the Resistance, Sharon Duncan-Brewster as Senator Pamlo, a counsel member, opens the scene and the discussion. The leading Senator, and final decision-maker, is also a woman, Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly). Jyn gets the opportunity to make two rousing speeches to boot – in make-up free face and non-hairstyle that rings true for a displaced woman who lives so dangerously.
How can female characters relate to the historical context of the imagined saga, when previous films have habitually marginalised its women characters?
Director Gareth Edwards and his team don’t miss a thing: even down to the dirt under the nails of Jyn, as she holds her dying father’s head in her hands after a drawn out, wholesale destruction of the Imperial base, when a small group of the Resistance break orders to join her in stealing blueprints for the lethal weapon that destroys whole planets, the Death Star.
“We didn’t want to sexualize Jyn… We don’t even see Jyn’s arms!” Felicity Jonestold Glamour magazine. “She’s a survivor, and she has a mission to complete.” Jyn’s backstory, a proper herstory, is pivotal to the plot, most specifically an event in her childhood. It’s the film’s opening scene, but the adventure really begins 15 years later, making sense of all that has gone before.
It’s an interesting feminist pointer. How can female characters relate to the historical context of the imagined saga, when previous films, bar the last, have habitually marginalised its women characters? Rogue One gets closer to answering those questions. One day Lyn’s young life is shattered when the evil Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) arrives to take her father, under duress, to work as a scientist for the Imperial forces.
“Whatever I do, I do to protect you,” whispers her father as he waves her off into the deserted terrain to fend for herself as the intruders loom closer to the family dwelling. But not before she sees her own mother, Lyra, emerge from behind a sand dune to gun down the intruders, and get shot and killed in doing so.
“I love you too, Papa.”
“You know where to go don’t you? Trust The Force.”
Let’s not get too excited. There’s still the predictable subtext, that a woman can only be motivator and maker of meaning when defined by a man who bequeaths her to do so. More than once there’s reference to her being the daughter of Galen (Mads Mikkelson). He is seen as traitor to the Resistance, because he helped build the Death Star, but also as the saviour, with the script referring to him sacrificing himself for the cause.
He includes a hidden weakness in the Death Star’s design which will destroy it and convinces a disillusioned pilot (played by Riz Ahmed) to betray the Imperial forces and defect to the Resistance outpost, carrying a message in hologram form. It’s one of the many nods to the first Star Wars movie, along with the sight of droids C-3PO and R2-D2 as observers in a passing landscape, and the reappearance of Darth Vader, seen near the end for a fleeting killing spree or ten. Inevitably, circumstances lead to Jyn becoming the receiver of this message, and the pilot joins her mission to convince the Resistance to help.
Rogue One is the most thrilling chapter of the saga since The Empire Strikes Back. Never mind the mind-bending settings of starlit nights, floating planets and trashed landscapes, nor K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk (Wreck-It RalphFrozen), with a speciality in witty backchat and a social skills problem, which will endear young and old. The Christmas treat is fun and exciting thanks to the character of Jyn, the believable yet reluctant heroine.
All images © 2016 Lucasfilm Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Photo: Jonathan Olley (1 and 2) and Giles Keyte (3)
Image description:
1. A young white woman (Rogue One character Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones) is looking off camera to the left, standing in the long tunnel with black walls and neon lights on them. She’s wearing a black uniform and has a long weapon in her backpack.
2. A young white woman (Rogue One character Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones) and a black droid K-2SO are standing against a concrete wall. A woman is wearing black clothes and it seems her hands are handcuffed.
3. A young white woman (Rogue One character Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones) is standing with her legs apart, wielding a black automatic rifle, wearing a black uniform and a black coat. She’s against orange-purple background which may be the reflection of fire. Her clothes, including a hat and black goggles on her head, seem wet, and it seems to be raining.
Ngaire Ruth used to write for the music weekly Melody Maker and more recently worked as live editor at She writes reviews, opinions and essays with a feminist agenda, relating to her interests in music and film and with a view to championing women in the creative arts. She vaguely keeps ablog, as well as writes poems and short stories, which she sometimes performs, and teaches market analysis, feminist and music theory at the UCA. Find her on Twitter @NgaireRuth

Monday, 17 October 2016

Gilli Smyth | The original Riot Grrrl

Reading music press obituaries for 83 year-old Gilli Smyth earlier this month, I cried over a stranger for the first time in my life.

Gilli Smyth was a poet, performer and teacher, and the co-founder of avant-garde psychedelic assemble Gong (1968-69), with Daevid Allen, formerly of eclectic Soft Machine.

She met Allen in Paris where she was teaching at the Sorbonne. The pair, united by political motivations, performed a guerilla gig at the 1968 student riots, which led to them having to flee the city, and the setting up of the Gong community: musicians, artists, poets, writers.

How bloody exciting: teacher life suddenly turns into not having to get up first thing in the morning, politics, passion, music and word jams, with hot guys and girls.

At the time my record collector boyfriend played me Gong, in the ‘90s, I had just reviewed a Sylvia Juncosa album for the Melody Maker, a woman who received credibility due to her aggressive, heavy guitar playing. Really she couldn’t compete, for me, alongside other current bands of power, like Swans, the Young Gods, but I probably liked the album by nature that it was a woman artist, not just a front woman. (That week Transvision Vamp were the big feature, but the whole page images focused on vocalist Wendy James).

I knew full well that Allen had shouted “Just Do It!” long before punk and was cool, if whacky, but on listening to the Flying Teapot album I quickly grew impatient with his wizardly whisperings, not to mention the synthesizer sounded outdated to my post rave culture. Then Gilli Smyth’s voice melted into the mix…

Not often lonely 
As you see
I’m a cat with a flat cap
Be careful or I might scratch you
Or turn into a witch and fly away on my broomstick 

Witch's Song - I Am Your Pussy, 1973, Gong

Mother Gong, they eventually called her, a title she used to release albums of her own after leaving the group (as Allen also did eventually), after 1974. In the absence of any mother of my own (since the day of my seventh birthday), I adopted her, in my head, as my elder woman role model.

By setting out to trace her written word Nitrogen Dreams Of A Wild Girl (1966), I discovered a fanzine and art sub culture that was pre punk, and this in turn gave me an insight into the history of the underground press, such as Oz.

Gilli Smyth became my secret weapon and I would play her before stomping out on to the concrete streets, in my black DM’s with bright pink laces, baggy band tee shirt and striped tight jeans, heading to the Bull & Gate, Falcon or Sausage Machine for some slacker grunge at a DIY venue.

Sometimes it was fucking weird growing up in the old skool male dominated world of music, not least because women were described according to a typology, and I was expected to like anything by a woman, because I was a woman. I wanted a new sound and a new language that would challenge my creative writing and critical thinking skills. I wanted to avoid generic muso words, like seminal and undulating.

When Gilli Smyth sang sometimes it almost sounded like it was in a different tongue, but nonetheless it was one that I recognized in the pit of my stomach. Aside from this curiosity, there was also humour and playfulness, something that was still missing in most women’s music of the time. (Younger women artists were emerging into the ‘90s decade, and in the “I’m angry and that’s OK “ phase, but Gilli was already on to sarcasm.)

Her poetry was absurd, woven into the tapestry of a Gong mythology created by communal living and too much LSD, but in fact there was deep meaning and bite in her words and performance. Often she would play up to the generic 'type' as witch, girlfriend, whore, with irony and flair. She poked at every subliminal notion of femininity there was, and stayed friends and lovers with the hip guys (like Harry Williamson, her partner after Allen, Robert Wyatt, Robert Calvert).  If only the boy's music could have kept up with her, in terms of  being timely and forward thinking. (See "Robot Woman", below.) Sometimes she took on the character Shakti Yoni, originally created for the Gong album, Caembert Electrique (1971). I was promised I would get stoned just by listening to it.

I still want to be Gilli Smyth when I grow up e.g. live a full, emotionally adventurous life, working in the creative arts, loving learning, and the human race, to a ripe old age. I’ve cried. I’ve pined. She is omnipresent in my thoughts, and I thought she’d never die.

Yoni…Yoni… Where are you? Yoni…
She flies out of the sky with a great swoosh of wings and a flapping of feathers swirling by.
Dissolving dream destroyers who stamp like mice in jackboots on imaginative schemes.

But dreams come through like lighted train windows in the night and the wind whirling in the trees.
Reality thieves shout fear and doubt.
O it's a nightmare nightmare… Sailing in the sky with yoni on high… Yoni…

Thursday, 30 June 2016

That's What She Said | Barbara Nadel, Sophia Walker, Ngaire Ruth

That's What She Said @ The Book Club, London

Taking part in a billing of spoken word at For Book's Sake monthly event, That’s What She Said, is altogether different to reviewing a music gig. I always attach myself to other people's hopes and enthusiasm, now I was partly responsible for providing said quality emotions.

Things are so strange right now host, Paul Forster, has been instructed to remind the audience that this is a safe space.

Barbara Nadel’s  spoken word was in effect her relaxed, and probably many times told story behind the trigger for becoming a crime writer, over 25 good reads at the last count (Quercus Publishing). She was a professional working in a mental health institution, and her words tonight put many things in perspective for this already intelligent and mindful audience; both interesting and unsettling. She started and ended with this nugget, about her beginnings as a writer, in a perfect round-about way with spooky punch line, which now resonates like a good story ending: When someone hears the tale of a gruesome murder and says “They must have been mad to do it." It’s not true. They’re more likely to have been sane.  @BarbaraNadel

Take 2. Sophia Walker has the amble and image of Kate Tempest.

She’s already taking the personal into the political realm, using a dancing combo of joy and anger, something that means she can’t keep still, even though currently lame. It’s proper poet stuff: to have new material written based on current events that have both horrified and touched the world. Orlando is Sophie’s opening theme, the piece still on her phone. She apologises for being unprofessional but in this case, I think it’s honourable – spouting her mouth off about things she’s working out for herself, right there on the stage, always lyrical and looking right at us. This includes her panic about the Labour part split, increased racism, and the whole world’s predictable, yet now more terrifying, impatience with anybody different. If that isn’t enough, she seems to have a lifetime of experiences to share as well: Is she immortal? The background stories to her poetry are mind blowing, because she has worked all over the world in war torn countries. Apparently, when a revolver is pointed into your back, your first thought will be: Wow. That’s warm. @PoetWalker

I like to think I’m real, even though I'm a music critic. In the words of Lisa Simpson: It’s hard work being this fickle. I’ve worked as a lollipop lady, a cleaner, a full time classroom teacher, Lives Editor at the girls are, now teaching undergraduates. I’ve paid to get in to gigs. Helped put a psychopath in prison. Raised a confident, funny young woman. I can tell you what I wrote last week – Fire, Feminism and Fun, Morning Star, 22nd June – but anything for which I’m better known, such as seeing through the 90s at Melody Maker music paper, is a glorious blur. Am I a better writer today? Sure. What am I doing? Having an excellent time dining out on my music journalism days, flexing my performance muscles and indulging in my love of the human race.  Back in the Big Smoke.

This came from the opportunity to contribute to Rejected Unknown’s 101 Albums To Die Before You Hear, an idea and collective put together by the infamous Everett True, former Melody Maker Live Editor. I got the brief from the writer Lucy Cage: What classic albums don’t you like? Why not? No negative rants, at least without flair and facts. Delicious! I wanted to submit things that had previously been “in the trunk”, written with nowhere to go. In the end it was childhood memories of pop music and the rise of the transistor radio, triggered by my pondering over the word 'authenticity', that produced the piece I'm most proud of, and finally shared tonight, Hot Hits Vol. 2.

What I have discovered recently, when reading my writing aloud – which is thanks to 101 Albums To Die Before Your Hear and having a reason to be there - is my sense of humour, or timing, and the joy of performing. It's alot of fun kicking a dead man when he's down; and the sub-text to my complaint is not bad either (Frank Zappa, The Mothers Of Invention, 1973). I have found my voice. (Fifty-five, ladies and gentleman.) It's perfectly OK to stop and enjoy this important personal milestone, but really, I wouldn’t have expected other people to be so willing to join in. @NgaireRuth

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Performance pics @ Loud Women June 2016

Performed one of my contribution's to this newly published book last weekend 

@ Loud Women. 

Photographs courtesy of Keira Anee 2016 

What someone said

"101 Albums… is beautifully illustrated throughout with sharply witty takes on classic album covers by celebrated French artist Vincent Vanoli.
Masterminded and edited by notorious music critic Everett True, the book is a must-have for anyone interested in writing about music as well as those provoked by uncritical, uninspiring praise for the same old rock suspects. Among the victims/subjects of the chapters are Radiohead, Flaming Lips, The Doors, The Fall, Kate Bush, The Police, The Smiths and Frank Zappa. Prepare to have your sacred cows slaughtered.

Rejected Unknown is a community-based, not-for-profit company and will be ploughing any income from the sale of 101 Albums… into future projects, including the publication of Everett True’s Electrical Storm series. It operates as a consciously gender-equal space, so that non-male writers are sought out and given space to express their point of view."
-- Beautiful Freaks, May 27, 2016

When is a band not a band? | Good Sad Happy Bad Interview (formerly Micachu And the Shapes)

Good Sad Happy Bad
Photograph by James Drew Turner for the girls are

Not only has the role of the music journalist changed over the years but the typology of bands too; "being in a band" is taking on new meanings. It's contrary to and contrary about boys or girls and boys together in a gang, with one aim to climb that ladder to the top - all so phallocentric. Here's a link to my recent interview  for the girls are with Good Sad Happy Bad, formerly Micachu And The Shapes, who talk about their constantly evolving relationship, and in the end, even band name. 

Ngaire Ruth TGA Good Sad Happy Bad interview

Sunday, 19 July 2015

GIVE ME 3 | Charley Stone + Jennifer Denitto + Tegan Christmas

Three influences from three women influential in underground music 1990-current + exclusive news and a lot of whittering about Melody Maker, Linus, Frantic Spiders, Lida Husik and novelist Martin Millar. 

Charley Stone 
Jennifer Denitto
Tegan with Eli, new album and cakes

We like to hear about what influenced the cool folk. Last week for the app Electronic Sound I talked to Robin Guthrie (Cocteau Twins) about his influences, one being the landscape (August issue). I have also talked to A Guy Called Gerald and more recently ex Moloko vocalist and solo artist Roisin Murphy for the same feature. Murphy talked about the musical scenes and people that have influenced her creative life - to which I relate. It led me to think about the people and musical scenes that have influenced me and then find out what delights they recommend. 

Maker, Novelist Martin Millar, the Greek play Lysistrata by Aristophones
I was never neutral at the Melody Maker, my ears were always tuned to what was on offer, not in the sense of free beer and tee shirts but in the context of what to read, what music, art and films to try out. I wasn’t building a career I was building my personality.  It was joy, freedom and a lot of what do I think/why do I think that?

Bands, artists, boys and girls, would always wax lyrical about books, art, music in interviews or at the backstage parties. They can't help themselves. I would literally take notes and later investigate, making up my own mind and finding that I generally got something for myself from those passed on by the girls. 

That said, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine, whose silly name hides a deeply political and ground breaking band for their time, like me, had discovered Lux The Poet. The book is set during the Brixton 80's Riots and written by Martin Millar, cult writer back then, now a mainstream seller with Neil Gaiman a fan. We adopted Martin/Martin adopted us. I went to a lot of gigs with Martin. We talked about writing, alongside topics like speed freaks, greasy hair, ancient battles, Greek theatre and poetry. He had a life-sized cardboard cut out of Shakespeare in his Brixton flat. Lysistrata is still my favourite play. (Martin tells me there is a lot of Greek theatre in his latest book The Goddess of Buttercups and Daisies and the character Lux apparently, makes an appearance.) It was a fun litmus test for boyfriends, taking them to a version of Lysistrata rather than some cool sold out gig, which I suspected they wanted. The man who became the father of our daughter MAVE, sailed through a lesbian version, with strap-ons (not him, the actors); able to get how cleverly the Greek theatres liking for giant phallus' as a comedic feature had been turned upside down (especially because Greek theatre did not allow women on the stage or in the theatre). 

Linus the band have been a massive influence in many people's lives yet they're probably the most lo fi, in terms of attitude, out of all the Riot Grrrl bands. Initially it was the music that was the attraction, the first time I heard them being on the Linus 7" vinyl EP (Bone Records, 1993). But when I followed that up by seeing them live what I got was more than a great gig:

There were more girls than boys; girls running the show; girls at the door; girls doing the PR thing; girls on stage; girls giving fanzines. And they weren’t scary like the others – by which I mean I wasn’t intimated because they were ready and I was getting ready, which I often felt. Linus didn’t make me feel like that. I think they were the great levellers of that period. To get a really good idea of the scene at that time read Linusland and Andy Roberts’ run down of 1993 – makes you dizzy. They played with legends like Bratmobile and UK faves, Huggy Bear but would also step out with the new kids on the block, like UK Riot Grrrl band Skinned Teen.

Skinned Teen, like Frantic Spiders (see below), were pure, that is they didn’t come from being in another band or part of any scene but they were inspired, girls, and up for a revolution, even if they didn’t know it. The story goes that Layla Gibbon’s *mum took her to a recording of a Bikini Kill video, being filmed by Lucy Red Shoes, the artist and film maker and daughter of feminist lecturer and writer Professor Pat Thane. Kathleen Hanna said to them: are you in a band? The girls looked at each other and just replied: Yes. Then went home and wrote a song. (You can read Layla Gibbon at MaximumRockNRoll where she is now contributing editor and where she has recruited many more women writers into the citadel of macho hardcore music.) 

Jennifer Denitto was the bass player in Linus but is now also acknowledged as a great drummer. In current band, The WI, she changes instruments. Jen left Linus in 1997, and was replaced temporarily by Charley Stone - who was on the Linus 12" 1998 EP - and permanently by Deb Van Der Geugten (also now in The WI). It seems likely that Charley will work with The WI on their first recordings, in the studio and I see a new era taking shape. (Exclusive!) Cassandra Fox (vocals, bass) and Melissa (vocals/cornet) make up the rest of The WI. 

The WI 2015

I asked Jennifer Denitto what were three of her biggest influences? She came back to me with the answer in minutes.

Jennifer Denitto (Linus, The W1) Top 3: 

      Angry Women (Research, 1991) was a huge influence.

The Velvet Underground, both musically and because they had a woman drummer, Moe Tucker. 

Venus In Furs, the Velvet Underground and Nico (Mo set the pace for the track)

The Dead Kennedys. 

Holiday in Cambodia, The Dead Kennedys 

I was thrilled with JD's input and equally with the brief answers and lack of subjectivity or the gossip (goes red), which to me follows that thread of Linus being not in your face, except for the music, yet being so totally active and influential in the background.

Angry Women, Lida Husik, Melody Maker
Seek out Angry Women if you are ready. This book helped me understand what I was reading (Kathy Acker, Andrea Dworkin) and what I was watching (Bikini Kill, Babes in Toyland, L7) at the time. It was also something I hid from my daughter during the crazy years (12-17) because I suspected it would be misinterpreted and used incorrectly as a champion for behaviour/actions which were not in the same feminist spirit as the work of say, Lydia Lunch. Now she is a spoken word artist, unravelling the political from what is deeply personal, I would gladly loan her the book, but after I have finished pouring all over it again. I have never met anyone who knew this book save for Lida Husik a Shimmy Disc artist from the 90s who gave it to me when she came to stay at my place in London once (from US).

She wrote inside my book:

Her sound is anything but angry, but we needed to be angry to be artists, because that was an energy which beat all the odds, the assumptions, the teasing.
Lida Husik Whirlybird

At the Maker, Tuesday editorial, the day of distribution and its arrival in a bundle at the offices, the day you collected your records and tapes (later CDs - we threw CDs around the office a lot by the way): 

“You talk about her (Lida Husik) all the time. Are you girls…? An item?" 

It was standard if I, a woman, was excited about the talents of another woman. Ditto if I enjoyed their company, without a fella in sight. I am bored with boring you about this but it IS significant in the history of women in music and is bound up in the role of women writers in music publishing. The fact is, it was great to have a friend who didn't reply to an invite with: I'll see what my boyfriend is doing. 
Lida Husik and Ngaire Ruth on the way to Highgate Cemetry
Frantic Spiders, Toxic Shock Syndrome
One Tuesday at The Maker I got a tape in an envelope from a band called Frantic Spiders. We all got around 50 amateur tapes a week plus white labels from PR’s and record companies, in both tape and vinyl formats – no CDs at this point. We would have an editorial, then go to the pub for too long, especially if the PRs had got wind of our local and were buying, then stumble home on the underground carrying heavy vinyl in thick cardboard envelopes, and a plastic bag full of tapes rattling, clanging painfully on legs.

The Frantic Spiders tape was scrawled all over in bright colours, it had been a channel for pure joy and determination, and in the big bag of tapes it stood out, like it was exuding light.

I trumpeted loud and long about Frantic Spiders. I wrote about them in the Maker.

They released the When You're Dead EP in 1993 and everyone started to like the FS.

Ronnie and Charley were two particularly motivated young women and I was in awe of them because they were younger than me and yet they had no fear and each other, even when new members came and went and the band split mutating into equally fabulous Toxic Shock Syndrome the support and friendship among them was before their time (this includes Jo Gate Eastley). I knew that they were going to be active in the creative arts for some time, which was and is very important to me. I knew this because I had fun, fun, fun when I was with them while at the same time the world always shifted its axis just a little bit more towards a woman’s world in the process – you felt it.

As Toxic Shock Syndrome, I performed with them at some Riot Grrrl bash at the Bull & Gate. Well Ronnie said: Put this on. Hold this doll. Kill it when I give you the eye.

TSS with Ngaire Ruth Bull & Gate 

I am long overdue to ask Charley Stone what are three of her book/musical influences? She was also quick with a response and talked about influential reading in terms of the cultural press, alongside the musical influences, which again pleases me because it reflects the personality I think I know, and the reason why that tape in the bag was so impossible to resist, like a diamond in the rough. And I think it’s funny that they probably sent one to Taylor Parkes as well, who no doubt ditched it. Taylor and I are very nice to each other now at Maker gatherings, but we hated each other back then.

Charley Stone (Frantic Spiders, Spy 51, Gay Dad, Salad, Abba Strikes, Ye Nuns, Joanne Joanne, Keith Top Of The Pops) Top 3: 

      The David Sylvian double album "Gone To Earth" and a David Sylvian interview in Blitz magazine I think in approximately 1987 where the interviewer said something I like "I want to tell him that the incurable romantic is hopeless" and asked him "When will we learn to live life unhesitantly?" to which David shook his head and smiled and said "I don't know".

The Stereolab album "Transient Random Noisebursts (With Announcements)"; Taylor Parkes (I think) review of the album in Melody Maker where he began by saying "Culture's lost it" and said something like "this album will, in time, become important".

Throwing Muses, early Throwing Muses / Ablaze! fanzine number 5 (I think) where Karren wrote about the Muses and Pixies and Sonic Youth and said "The reason: Fire" and "read Ursula le Guin books" in the endnotes.
Go to

Tegan and Kris, The Ethical Debating Society Top 3: 
I was introduced to The Ethical Debating Society last year and immediately wanted to be their friend. Tegan Christmas has awesome vocals and a pure and focused attitude that will not bend to fit in. With singer/writer/guitarist Kris and hardcore punk drummer Eli they are a force for the future (see Why Do Bands Hate Labels? in this Blog). 

Then Kris from TEDs introduced me to Thee Faction, (my political band to replace Carter USM in 2015.)

Kris gave me three books recently: Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Note from Underground and The Double and The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell, two books which have been an influence, particularly the latter, on all the good men Left. (Yes, with a capital, double-barrelled meaning.) It’s also an insight into the history of unions and the working men’s political parties – and some of my family history is in there, which is an extra. The third book is a classic, Silences by Tillie Olsen, her first non-fiction work, which talks about the things that obstruct or silence woman’s creativity, and a helpful reminder at the time.

Tegan is both inspired by Riot Grrrl and slightly intimidated by the academia of it all – although she understands it and studied the French feminists at university. I’m sure Kathleen Hanna would be horrified to know people felt that they had to go get a degree to be in the gang but it would not have become a political movement and genre if the clever girls had not taken it on and got organised. Still, I relate to Tegan on that. 

Tegan calls herself Head of Yelling for TEDs 
Tegan: “Mine would have to be The Collector, by John Fowles, (if you've never read this, please do, immediately). Pussy Whipped by Bikini kill, (heard it when I was very young, and it did something to me, BIG time) and...Can I say fashion? As in, without being able to wear the clothes and things I often do, I would feel decidedly less "me"? In particular, I think, the ethos behind the punk movement, although that's not necessarily my look, most of the time, but definitely the politics behind it."

So thanks to Martin Millar for seeking out my address in Somerset some years ago and sending me a copy of his latest book at that time, Kalix Curse of the Werewolf Girl, and reminding me I had an identity beyond mum, teacher, cook, cleaner, cashpoint and therefore applying for the position of Live Editor at 

So thanks to Lucy Red Shoes mum, Professor Pat Thane, who put her money where her mouth is and gave us solitary safety in her cottage in north London during Christmas 2012, a time of mighty oppression and need of protection (but no family and forgotten). She had just published the book Sinners? Scroungers? Saints? Unmarried Motherhood in Twentieth- Century England.  I wouldn't be merrily typing now were it not for that practical intervention. 

*I am very particular about calling women by their names and not their role: see Layla Gibbon's mum, but in this instance I know the woman does not look kindly on being mentioned by name and wishes to be anonymous, except to her friends. And I would like to stay one. 

It is intentional that only the girls have a voice in this article. Kris and Martin won't mind.  

The WI be part of the We Shall Overcome weekend in October.