Palais de Boob and the Very Secret Garden Party

Meet our latest featured people: Palais de Boob.

(Stop giggling, it’s a fantastic name.)

Palais de Boob is launching at Secret Garden Party this year, building a 350-capacity pink amphitheatre.  This will host an array of comedians, artists and performers, throughout the 4-day festival.

They aim to:

  • re-frame preconceptions of feminism
  • showcase female talent
  • celebrate women in all their diversity

However, as well we know here at Just a Grrrl, this is not something that is easy to do unless you’ve got deep pockets or generous friends. Therefore Palais de Boob has launched a Kickstarter campaign and is asking you to be a generous friend.

What you’re supporting:

All money will go towards helping us make the most phenomenal space in which to showcase our women and reach our aims. This is the first of what we hope to be many Palais de Boob events and we want it to start with a bang!

We are a non-profit organisation.

We really need your help. Below is a list of ways in which your contribution will be used:

  • Production – Everyone in our production team is a volunteer. It would be great to be able to pay their expenses for food and travel.
  • Building Materials – Building an amphitheatre sustainable enough to tour the UK takes time, effort and crucially, money.
  • Craftsmen – To make our venue safe and secure we need to pay for the right people with the relevant skills and expertise.


Think you could lend a hand (or even a tenner or two)?  

Head over to the Palais de Boob Kickstarter page!

Illustration courtesy of Alice Skinner

You can find more information about Palais de Boob on their website, on Facebook, and on Twitter.

REVIEW: Veni Vidi Vici – ‘Cut the Tie’

The glorious Veni Vidi Vici – a Brighton-based band that we’ve featured here before – have a new single coming out on Friday (7th April; put the date in your diary).  They sent us a preview and we want to tell you all about it… Are you sitting comfortably?

Veni Vidi Vici says that Cut the Tie creates an ‘on-edge atmosphere’. That, it certainly does. The song squirms with energy – VVV’s characteristically heavy guitars churning out an enticing offbeat groove from the get-go. From the moment Heather’s smooth, cool vocals cut through the distortion to the closing thrash, Cut the Tie is a beautifully constructed song.  Veni Vidi Vici has provided a worthy second single but no doubt has much more to give us.

A word from Veni Vidi Vici:

The release show for Cut The Tie will be held at Brighton Electric on the 7th April where all proceeds will be donated to Tonic charity.  The track will also be released on Spotify, iTunes and Soundcloud.  

 

Find VVV on Facebook and on their website.

MARCH!

Hello, hello!

We’ll get back to the drudgery of ranting about the Patriarchy and music in general, very soon, but first of all – here’s another pertinent protest song from a female-fronted band.  Enjoy!

KES’ CONSCIENCE:
Official Website
Facebook
Twitter
Soundcloud
YouTube

I hate to break the news but it’s true
They’re coming for you
Their war-paint all red, white and blue
Stop running, running

They talk the all-american way
They’re coming, building
walls from Brighton to Morecambe Bay

CHORUS:
If you’re not frightened yet, you could be
If you’re not fighting yet, you should be
Come and meet me on the streets
Marching to the beat

Be wary of their cold gaslit truths
They’re coming for you
Demanding hate and fear you can prove
Stop running, running

Their bark might be louder than bite
They’re coming, don’t under-
estimate the hate they incite

CHORUS x2

So keep your tiny hands off our rights
So keep your tiny hands off our rights
So keep your tiny hands off our rights
So keep your tiny hands off our rights

CHORUS x3

 

KES’ CONSCIENCE:
Official Website
Facebook
Twitter
Soundcloud
YouTube

 

 

The Erasure of Sister Rosetta Tharpe

 

This is Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was gospel singer and guitarist, born Rosetta Nubin in 1915 in Cotton Plant, Arkansas. Over her 35-year professional career as a musician she acquired much fame and fortune, toured the world, inspired many artists and was credited with bringing gospel to the mainstream – but when she died in 1973, aged 58, her funeral was sparsely attended and she was buried in an unmarked grave.

 

Tharpe was raised in the Pentecostal Church, travelling and preaching with her mother.  She was noticed for her musical talent young and gained significant popularity as a ‘swinger of spirituals’ in her mid-20s.  By 1940, she had a record deal with Decca and in February 1941, Tharpe signed a deal with Lucius ‘Lucky’ Millinder, agreeing to play spiritual songs with the Lucky Millinder Band. Over the course of the next year this collaboration began to bring her more popularity, with the new arrangements of her old songs being particular favourites. However, the partnership was not wholly positive. Within a year Tharpe was singing songs such as ‘Tall Skinny Papa’ – the opposite of spiritual in message. The church took a dim view of such lyrics as they displayed not only sexual desire but female sexual desire; a more-than- slightly taboo subject (especially amongst those of Christian faith).

Tharpe disliked these euphemistic songs. Her friend Roxie Moore claimed that Tharpe was bound by a clause in her contract to sing whatever material she was given. Irrespective of the morality of the song, ‘Tall Skinny Papa’ became a hit. Marie Knight, a singer and musician who would work with Tharpe during the 1940s and 1950s, described the Lucky Millinder deal as one in a series in which Tharpe allowed herself to be used to profit men. Whether this pattern was a product of socialisation – Tharpe, being a black woman in a white man’s world, may have felt it was not her place to question the terms of such contracts – or a consequence of inexperience or poor representation is unknown. Tharpe had a streak of rebelliousness in her and a love for the limelight, thus she may have signed these deals in full knowledge of the potential consequences.

By the end of 1943, Rosetta had left the Lucky Millinder Band, finalised her divorce from Tommy Tharpe, remarried and had been commissioned to record ‘V-disks’ for American troops fighting in the Second World War. In 1944, she released one of the most successful tracks of her career – ‘Strange Things Happenin’ Every Day’, which made history by crossing over from gospel” to reach number two in the ‘race records’ chart. It was the first gospel record ever to do so.

The song featured a ‘boogie-woogie’ piano line, courtesy of pianist Samuel ‘Sammy’ Price, and Tharpe on electric guitar, plus bass and drums. This pared-down instrumentation was an important precursor to that of rock and roll – the combination of electric guitar and boogie-woogie piano is thought not to have been recorded before ‘Strange Things’. It is also important to note that an electric guitar was a rare thing in 1944 and Sister Rosetta Tharpe liked to play loudly, letting the sound distort; something that would become a hallmark of the rock and roll guitar sound.  Seeing Tharpe play at the time would have been a shock even to secular audiences. Despite ‘Strange Things’ being African American and spiritual in origin, the openness of the title phrase allowed listeners to interpret the song as it applied to their own lives – undoubtedly this was a factor in its popularity.

 

In 1949, one Billboard writer estimated that Sister Rosetta Tharpe was grossing $200,000 per year; keeping at least $120,000 of that as her own earnings. For context, according to the 1949 US census, (published by the Bureau of Census in 1951) “the income of the average family was $3,100 in 1949” – Tharpe was earning almost forty times that. To get there, she overcame both the institutionalised and explicit racism and sexism that pervaded society and the music industry – she had to not only be phenomenally musically talented but clever and incredibly ambitious. Indeed, during the 1940s Tharpe was one of the USA’s hardest touring artists.

Today someone who showed such prowess on the electric guitar, such mastery of complex singing techniques, and such resulting fame and fortune would be labelled a rock star. Although Tharpe has been held up in recent years as the Godmother of rock and roll and in practice may well be considered the first rock and roll star, she certainly would not have been called it. The rock and roll genre did not come into its own until the mid-1950s, when Tharpe was already beginning to fade into obscurity, and the term ‘rock star’ has since become associated almost exclusively with white young men.

In 1950, Tharpe’s good fortune began to run out.  The singer Marie Knight, with whom she had been partnered very successfully for a number of years, stopped working with Tharpe after losing her mother and her two children in a house fire.  Additionally, rumour had it that Tharpe and Knight had been romantic as well as professional partners – the resulting scandal was taking chunks out of  Tharpe’s popularity.

To top it all off, the music media had begun to pit Tharpe against fellow gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. Matters were only made worse when Decca had Tharpe record a version of ‘Move On Up a Little Higher’ in January 1949, a song with which Jackson had recently had a monumental hit. There was little difference between the two singers’ versions but Tharpe’s was seen as an attempt by fading star to piggyback on the fame of a rising one.

Jackson’s career was very much the antithesis of Tharpe’s – she had spurned the call of Broadway while Tharpe had accepted it; she sang to traditional piano or organ accompaniment whereas Tharpe accompanied herself on the electric guitar; she stuck to gospel while Tharpe ventured into blues; she was dubbed ‘Mother’ Mahalia while Tharpe remained ‘Sister’. While the music that Tharpe played in the late 1940s and early 1950s was no different – she continued to mostly play gospel songs – she was painted in the press as the more deviant of the two performers. Words like ‘flamboyant’ hinted at the rumours surrounding Tharpe’s sexuality as journalists compared her theatrical exuberance to Jackson’s modesty and propriety. It did not take long for Jackson to eclipse her and for an erasure of Tharpe and her music from popular history to begin to take place.

This media narrative is a well-known one and it has been repeated many times since in the entertainment world (in each case there are two women; a good and a bad). They were pitted against one another whether they liked it or not. This is an example of the media’s complicity in misogyny as it forces the question of what makes a good woman; in doing so it divides women by implying that some are more worthy than others – and in dividing women, it limits the momentum of women’s movements. In actual fact Tharpe and Jackson are thought to have been good friends, but their press-fabricated rivalry is the story that endures.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe was a great inspiration to the generation of performers that rose to fame in the mid-1950s. She was more than an inspiration to Little Richard, who, being a fan of hers, was given his first opportunity to perform before an audience by Tharpe at one of her concerts. The physicality of her performances was informed by the so-called ‘Holy Rollers’ of the Church of God in Christ – it was this that laid the foundations for the outrageous performances of rock and roll artists like Elvis Presley. Presley was a big fan of Tharpe’s, in part because they shared a religious and musical tradition in Pentecostalism. Little Richard also had a Pentecostal background and his singing-cum-shouting vocal style would closely mirror Tharpe’s in later years. Tharpe’s vocal phrasing was heavily influenced by that of Pentecostal preachers; she would string out the words she wanted her audience to pay attention to and speak certain sections of her lyrics, all the while with a bright smile in her voice. Other musicians she inspired include Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, to name but a few.

It was as these musicians began to gain popularity in the US that Sister Rosetta Tharpe really began to lose hers.  “[W]hen the rock revolution came it was divided on generational grounds. Rock’s troops were teenagers and the troops were looking for one of their own to lead the way—not a 47-year-old with strong ties to the church.”  Suddenly Tharpe found herself labelled too racy for the church and too old and prudish for a secular audience, as Mahalia Jackson redefined gospel and Elvis redefined guitar music.  Gayle Wald, Tharpe’s biographer, suggests that part of the reason for Tharpe’s relative obscurity is that she was too hard to categorise. In Tharpe’s defence, the rules of the game changed while she was still playing. She began in an America of big brass bands, where she could exhibit her unabashed love for performing and for her God, and ended up in one where gospel was humble and loud guitars were for young, white men. Particularly in an era filled with anxiety around the rightful place a woman and anger around the subjugation of black people, Sister Rosetta Tharpe did not fit the narrative. Wald argues that Tharpe’s very existence stood as a threat to the norms of society at the time and that this is the reason that she has been written out of the history of popular music.

During the 1950s, Tharpe entered into her third unhappy marriage – and did so as part of a musical event of unprecedented scale at Griffith Stadium in 1951 – and in the 1960s she began touring the UK and Europe where she could still sell out shows. She died in 1973 in Philadelphia, following a stroke.

 

Musically, Sister Rosetta Tharpe was phenomenally gifted and the direct influence she had on musicians of many genres – predominantly rock and roll but also soul, gospel and blues – is undeniable.

There is truth in the assertion that Tharpe was hard to categorise, but the fact that the grave of this veritable star had no headstone until 2008 remains barely fathomable. Tharpe’s story is an important one to tell because the concept of a black female guitar hero is one that Western society still struggles to understand. At the peak of her career there were a great number of barriers to any young black woman wishing to follow in Tharpe’s footsteps, whereas now, if she were remembered as Elvis Presley is remembered, young people of all genders and ethnicities might be galvanised to pick up a guitar and step into the breach, in spite of the prejudices that remain.

Unfortunately evidence of the direct cultural impact that Tharpe had is scarce due to the paucity of analytical writing around her life and music. The most tangible socio-political repercussions of her career are to be found in the impact of the musicians she inspired. Her enigmatic and exuberant performances paved the way for the culture shock that was Elvis Presley and rock’n’roll – and all the cultural change that came with them – but it is both telling and regrettable that Sister Rosetta Tharpe must be contextualised by the young white men that she inspired rather than being remembered for the black, female artist that she was.

 

So, which band is your boyfriend in?

Last weekend we settled down for a chat with Suzy Harrison.

Suzy is in the process of putting together a documentary about women in music called So, which band is your boyfriend in?’. 

Take a look at the trailer below:


 

  • How’s the documentary-making process going?

It’s almost two years now since I started the project. I started off by interviewing about 8 people, just as a test to see how willing people would be to be involved… and work out the questions I wanted to ask etc. Then in December 2014 I decided to do a crowdfunder to raise money to fund the travel costs and so on to take the project a bit further afield and interview more people. I finished interviewing in March this year. I’ve done 31 interviews altogether. So now the editing process is just starting, following transcribing all the interviews. I’m doing it old school – printed interviews, with real life cut and paste.

Then I’ll start getting the clips I need and organising them on the computer. It’s a massive job!

 

  • Sounds it! So the documentary is about women in music – are you focusing on any particular scenes or particular issues?

It’s about women in music (but there’s also one gender-fluid individual included). I’ve tried to focus on UK DIY punk/reggae/indie pop type scenes mainly. I wanted to find out what it’s like in those scenes because they are rarely included in documentaries. I didn’t want to include anyone too well-known either because I felt it would detract from the story.

I didn’t want it to be “the music documentary with [insert well-known celebrity name here]”. I want to give real people who are working hard in music scenes a voice that they don’t usually have.

In terms of issues… I asked people whether they feel there is an imbalance in the scene in terms of gender and then explored their thoughts and the possible reasons for it, and also have tried to look at what could be done to change it. Sexism came up in the conversations, but I also wanted to ask about the positives of being involved in music – that’s something I think is really important to tell people.

 

PetrolGirls-SuzyHarrison-London, August 2015

 

  • Have you discovered anything particularly surprising in that respect? Any gender imbalances/ inequalities that you didn’t expect?

There have been some interesting stories from people about situations they have experienced, for sure. Sometimes the experiences are quite small instances of sexism like just not being acknowledged as being able to be in a band… but then there are other stories of people not being able to get into shows they are working, because ‘a woman couldn’t possibly be a sound engineer’ or similar attitudes.

Prior to starting this project I knew about some of the things people might speak about, because I saw elements of it first-hand both in a band and working as a photographer. So none of it was massively shocking to me, personally, but I think that people who aren’t as familiar with those experiences in the scene might be surprised.

 

  • What inspired you to make this documentary? Was there a eureka moment of inspiration?

It’s a bit of a long story… and a combination of things.

I’ve been playing music since I was 5 years old and over the years I’ve noticed that a lot of my female friends weren’t really into music like I was. I was often in a minority at shows and in the bands I played in – I was the only girl in an 8-piece ska punk band for some time at uni.From 2009I played in a ska punk reggae band called Copasetics for five years and before we got Toop on bass, I was the only female in the band. I’ve never been angry about it though, I just wondered “why?”, because I get so much out of music and I love it so much. I don’t have many close female friends who are obsessed with music as much as I am.

I’d been thinking for several years about doing a Masters or PhD to look into the subject. But it’s really hard to get funding for social research and having met with a few academics, I didn’t think I would be able to get money or explore it in the way I wanted. I was worried about having to come up with a research proposal that would end up constraining the topic too much. I didn’t want to apply theories to it, I just wanted to document it and let the people I spoke to, lead the direction of the research.

Shortly after I’d almost given up on the idea again, I was watching ‘The Other F Word’. It’s a documentary about dads in American punk bands.. It was interesting, but aspects of the film actually started to annoy me. I started thinking “what about mums in punk?” and “why is it always about Amercian punk? or punk from 1970s?” –  So I decided that if I didn’t like the documentaries out there, I should just make my own.

And  that’s what I started to do.

 

  • You mentioned feeling like a minority in music crowds – it definitely seems like girls are less likely to get into certain genres of music. Did you come across any interesting explanations for that trend while documentary-making? Do you have any possible explanations of your own?

It’s a lot of things I think. There are so many factors all working together… like the dominance of men in the scene already I think can just result in things just continuing that way – it’s harder to fight against something that’s already so ingrained into the scene. And role models are often harder to find – you have to dig a bit deeper if you want to have someone that’s doing what you want to do and is the same gender (but whether that’s important – same gender role models – is something that was discussed in the interviews). Then the idea that the scene is geared towards men in terms of behaviours at gigs like the aggression… and how women might not feel comfortable… but then again why does it have to be like that? And who says women don’t want to be in the mosh pit or crowd surf? There’s also the idea of things happening when you’re at school or growing up too – like encouragement to learn at instrument or being pushed towards certain scenes or instruments.

It’s pretty complicated and having started editing now, it all seems to interlink a lot.

 

  • Does the experience of women differ depending on the part of the industry?

I think it does. There seem to be differences in terms of genres with some scenes leaning more towards safe spaces and inclusivity. There are also differences in the roles people do in the music industry and the types of roles that they are expected to adopt just because of their gender. This can be anything from the type of instrument they play, to whether they choose to become a venue owner, promoter or tour manager. Having edited a webzine, I always thought there was more of a balance in terms of PR agency and journalism roles for men/women in music. I could be wrong though!

 

  • That’s really interesting. Do you think that, for example, a female pop singer might get less trouble than a female sound engineer?

I think we see more female pop singers out there so it’s easier to accept that as a norm. We don’t see as many sound engineers who are female so it’s not perceived in the same way – it seems more unusual (even though it shouldn’t be). However I do wonder whether these female pop singers are actually in control of what they’re doing entirely… they have a lot of people around them working with them.

 

School of Frock, Exeter - February 2015 (Suzy Harrison)

 

  • Given everything you’ve learned whilst making the documentary, what do you think needs to change?

Even over the past two years I’ve noticed things changing very gradually, which is positive, but I think there’s still some way to go. I think it all needs to start earlier – at school for example or at home – encouraging both girls and boys to get involved with music… all types, all instruments, all roles. Workshops like School of Frock in Exeter and rock camps in the UK and America are really good initiatives and more investment into those would be good. There’s also a need for more role models for young girls and women to relate to – in all areas of music. It’s about encouragement and empowerment.

But at the same time, we need to remember that we can’t force people to do things they don’t want to do. And if you don’t want to play an instrument or be in the music scene, that’s ok too. I’ve thought a lot about the whole line-ups thing – like Leeds fest not having bands on the bill with women (or fewer) and I’m not sure where I am on that because I’m not sure about all-women stages or line ups just for the sake of it.

I can see the positives and negatives of them… which is probably the sign that I’m being objective in my documentary research!

 

  • Where can we find you?

You can find the documentary [information and trailer] on Facebook – search for “So, which band in your boyfriend in?”. The Indiegogo project is still online too and I’m posting updates when I remember to…  I don’t have a website yet for the documentary but the intention is to get one set up soon. I have loads of behind the scenes and other  photos I want to share at some point.

Oh and if anyone is interested in working with me on the edit… I’d love to hear from you! Or anyone who can fix  audio levels and stuff like that as I might need some help with it soon…

And always looking for awesome music I can include or extra general footage from gigs and festivals!

 

  • What’s your favourite thing right now?

I’ve been enjoying learning to use Ableton! I know that’s a geeky answer. I went to a talk the other night by Rob Tissera (DJ), and he was talking about remixing and making music using Ableton and it inspired me so much! I met him after the talk and he was so enthusiastic and encouraging. Last night I was working on a song using it and it was so much fun.


Suzy can usually be found taking photos of bands – of which there is evidence on her website, instagram (@suzyskaphotos) and Flickr – and making music of her own.

She is also in the process of putting together a website, which you will find HERE once it’s up.

 

 

TYCI Blog

We recently contributed a piece to TYCI (I won’t decode that acronym – my mother might be reading – just know that they’re an awesome zine/blog/podcast/collective dedicated to “exploring and celebrating all things femme”).

There’s a taster for you below. Click here to read the rest.


 

On the face of it, the music industry doesn’t look hugely male-dominated. Adele, Rihanna, Beyonce and Sia (to name but a few) all regularly top singles and album charts worldwide and make more money than most of us can fathom.


When we think about gender inequality in the entertainment industries, we tend to think of objectification first and foremost. However, while the objectification is of course a problem, gender inequality in music goes much, much deeper than that…