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. 

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