RAM - 23rd January 1981 - Page 19-20-21
Getting a BANSHEE, a BLONDIE, a PRETENDER, a SELECTER, a SLIT and an ex-X-RAY-SPEXer together on stage sounds unlikely; even assembling them all for some casual conversation is improbable. But JANE GARCIA almost pulled in KATE BUSH as well; here she presents samples SIOUXSIE SIOUX, DEBBIE HARRY, CHRISSIE HYNDE, PAULINE BLACK, VIV ALBERTINE, and POLY STYRENE round a bar to talk about whatever they liked...
The subject of woman's role in rock music seems to have become a favourite talking point for everyone and his mother in recent months. As far as being a printable or broadcastable commodity is concerned - substitute "viable, marketable, space/airtime filler" - then "Women in Rock" has been a high priority for quite a while. Yet it's only really come home to me how ridiculous it is that everyone's having a go at putting in their two penn'orth because of the number of times I've heard or read about the subject in the last month alone; a wretched piece in the latest Trouser Press, an hour-long, okay-ish programme on Capitol Radio and, finally, insult of insults, a three-minute (maybe less) lump of what I can only describe as shit on Radio 1's "Rock On" programme, I mean, if it's worth three minutes of everyone's time, lads, then do us a favour and don't bother with it at all. I think it's nice to see you all here.
SIOUXSIE: It shouldn't be a big deal.
It is a big deal...
SIOUXSIE: But it shouldn't be.
It is. It is, though, isn't it? I mean, why did you agree to do it then?
SIOUXSIE: Just to see everyone. I've never met some of these people... it's Sunday, or...
But if I'd said, "come and meet one of the Bodysnatchers"...
SIOUXSIE: I have met one of the Bodysnatchers.
Oh, alright - you know what I mean...
CHRISSIE: Hey - you know, like this is a really big package, man... (all present laugh).
The original idea was to get Kate Bush, Chrissie Hynde, Poly Styrene, Debbie Harry, Siouxsie Sioux, Viv Albertine and Pauline Black together in the same room at the same time and see what happened. Kate Bush and/or her management declined the invitation, which was a pity because, although the others obviously represent very different musical styles and have vastly contrasting public images, they still have a kind of similar musical background (or lack of it, I suppose - complaints on a postage stamp, please...). This may be a result of punk, new wave or whatever you want to call it. Do you know what I mean? Kate Bush isn't - she's a contemporary of the others but she operates in a completely different field. She's a result of the music world's equivalent to the old Hollywood "starlet" system. She signed to EMI when she was still at school and her talent was nurtured and cultivated. She's also arguably the most important, certainly the most original, (British) artist (not "woman") to have emerged in the past three years and she should have been there.
DEBBIE: Well, she has a different image, you know...
PAULINE: I don't know what she's into. She always seems a vicar's tea party type to me.
DEBBIE: Yeah - very legit.
POLY: Maybe she didn't want to come.
CHRISSIE: Good - let's talk about her...
But all the others did turn up - although there were a few wobblies during the setting-up as to whether they would - and the fact they did is what is important.
When I was arranging this meeting, I was at pains to point out to the middle men and women involved that I just wanted to get these people together and leave it up to them what happened.
VIV: (to me) I wish you hadn't talked about the music business.
But really, that's the only thing everyone has in common.
VIV: Christ, what are you talking about? You've got the whole of life on this earth in common.
I told the managers and press agents concerned that I didn't want to ask Debbie Harry about Blondie's touring or recording plans, I didn't want to talk to Pauline about the Selecter's split from 2-Tone, or to Chrissie about the Pretenders' success in America, to Sioux about the release of Kaleidoscope or to Viv about the Slits. Not even to Poly about what she's been doing since X-Ray Spex broke up. Or to all of them about "Women in Rock". If those
subjects arose, I wanted them to bring them up, not me. Actually it's a lie to say I didn't want them to talk about being women in the rock business. I did, but I knew it would be difficult to get at least some of them to talk about it.
DEBBIE: I think it's like this tremendous valve. It's sort of an unsaid thing that girls are doing this finally - and really doing it. It's like (sigh) if it didn't happen, I think there would've just been, like, mass suicide or something. And what's happening is that we're doing something that's a precedent, right? And regardless of how it's transposed or interpreted by people in the press, it had nothing to do with that (its misinterpretations). And this is like a tremendous pressure release for everyone, for everyone's identity and everyone's lives.
That sounds really big but just talk to any little kid. The accent now in little kids' lives is not so much music, as it was for us. They're more into sports and other things now and music is a part of their lives, but it's not the predominant thing for them to grow up with, like it was for us. It was really shoved down our throats, I think.
A lot of the people involved had come into contact with each other before, although those who'd met Debbie had mostly done so superficially, except for Pauline. Debbie had seen Poly "down King's Road" and at CBGB's in New York in 1977, and had met Sioux briefly when Blondie toured Britain earlier this year. Debbie had seen the Pretenders' show at New York's Palladium Theatre in May but I don't think she and Chrissie had met "properly" before. Poly had met Viv and Sioux (and Chrissie?) merely because they were around the scene in London at the same time, and X-Ray Spex, the Slits and the Banshees were all getting started around that time. Pauline only seemed to know Debbie. Chrissie, Viv and Sioux all turned up together and know each other. Apart from talking to Viv briefly the previous Friday, I'd met only Siouxsie before. No-one had seen Poly for ages.
DEBBIE: (to Poly) Do you ever lose your voice?
POLY: Not really, but I don't do any work (all laugh).
CHRISSIE: She never does any gigs...
POLY: No, I don't like work. I'm sorry but I don't.
CHRISSIE: She's young, she's young. Grow up while you're young, Poly, please...
POLY: I'm not that young. I look younger than I am, actually.
Tell us how old you are, Poly.
POLY: 16. (All laugh)
DEBBIE: Oh dear, how do you maintain that youthful glow?
SIOUXSIE: You had an album coming out - it didn't come out did it?
POLY: No, it's still coming out. It's just that it keeps getting delayed because I get really sort of fussy about it. I keep changing things. And I've got another one I'm going to do as well.
CHRISSIE: She's got two albums coming out.
POLY: I've got two albums coming out...
CHRISSIE: Well, according to me contract, I've got four albums coming out.
DEBBIE: Well, get 'em out, let's go. Let's hear 'em, you know, let's hear this stuff.
POLY: I don't know whether I really like them, 'cos I did them 'cos I really wanted to do them and I sort of feel really attached to one of them. I almost don't want it to come out which is why it keeps getting postponed. I just like it. It's quite personal. It isn't anything like I was doing before really. It's completely different.
DEBBIE: Is this the acoustic one?
POLY: It started off being quite acoustic, just with an acoustic guitar and my voice and a rhythm box, which isn't acoustic at all, but then we did lots of overdubs. So it isn't acoustic but it is very mellow and I think it's quite a soft album. I like it - I found it relaxing to do and I just enjoyed it. It was a contract from what I was doing before and it was just good for my head at that time to do it. And I did it. And that's all.
What's the other one?
POLY: The other one I haven't really started properly except for I've finished all the songs and written the music. But I haven't actually recorded any of them yet.
Are the lyrics similar to your X-Ray Spex stuff?
POLY: No, it's nothing like that. I suppose I've got a style of writing in a way but the lyrics are fairly visual. I write visually.
When I was setting this up I talked to Kate Bush's manager on the phone and she thought the whole thing would either be a complete success or a terrible disaster, and I agreed, but in reality it didn't really work out like that. My reason was that I'd got together six intelligent, articulate people who happened to be women. I knew there'd be a lot of egos there but, at the same time, they're all sensible people, and realistic enough to know that trying to upstage each other would be petty and stupid, not to mention childish. I also reckoned that if these six people couldn't carry on a decent, entertaining conversation between them without any prompting or help from me, I'd have a right as a fan to be pretty disappointed and pissed off with the lot of them.
DEBBIE: Does anyone ever go to Speakers' Corner?
SIOUXSIE: I do.
DEBBIE: Do you speak?
SIOUXSIE: No, not to speak. I have a laugh. I just walk around. It's great - you get so many nutters there. It's really funny.
CHRISSIE: Go to New York - they're all over the place. Every corner is Speakers' Corner. Every time you're in a cab and you get into a traffic jam there's some guy on crutches going: "Everybody's got a car but me, godammit, bunch of refugees... " Then you'll take off and on the next corner you'll get another one. I'm fascinated by animals and dogs and things, and everyone in New York has dogs as well. If you walk up to someone and say, "Excuse me, is that a Rottweiler?" people'll say, "Yes, it is. It's funny you should say that because not many people know about Rottweilers," and they'll talk to you for half an hour. Or you'll say, "Excuse me - what kind of dog is this?" and they'll say, "Oh, they're Shihtzus." "Oh, are they? They're very nice, aren't they?" "Well, I got this one - she was in a dog's home actually. She was in such a state when I picked her up, poor thing," and they'll talk like this for 40 minutes about their dogs. But if you walk down the road with a knife sticking out of your neck, forget it. No-one wants to know. It's very funny like that is New York - they're so friendly but they're all mad.
I came away from the Carlton Tower ecstatic just from the fact that this meeting had even happened and, on the face of it, had been enormously successful from my point of view. There were no embarrassing silences, little awkwardness except, perhaps, at the beginning, but as the evening wore on and the drinks took effect (we might as well be honest about this), everyone relaxed. There were lots of little pockets of conversation going on, and the tape is a shambles, but suddenly someone would mention something and it would bring everyone together and they'd all have something to say.
DEBBIE: I don't hang around much with girls in New York that are doing music.
CHRISSIE: I don't have any friends either (laughter).
DEBBIE: No, really, it's true. I mean (to Chrissie) who do you hang around with?
CHRISSIE: You don't. When you're in a band you don't really get much of a chance to see most of your old friends.
POLY: Well, if you're working all the time, yeah, it's like that. That's why I don't like working that much (all laugh).
DEBBIE: I have one friend who's a manager - Anya Phillips - she manages James White. But that's about the only girl I know that's really in the business, other than people like photographers and stuff who I've associated with.
POLY: It also gets boring as well to talk about what you do all the time. It's nice to meet people who do things, and then it becomes more interesting for you. What they do is more interesting to you than what you do.
All these people are doing the same sort of thing as you.
POLY: Yeah, all these people are, but this is just fun, on a Sunday afternoon, and it's a laugh. But in your general social life it's just nice to meet varied, different kinds of people because what you do just becomes a bit boring. It becomes all self-centred or it becomes competitive and it gets to the point where you can't talk to other people without getting competitive. Not so much now, but I remember in the early days it used to be a bit like that. I used to feel this bitchy competitive thing.
CHRISSIE: I never feel competitive at all. In fact, competition really turns me off.
POLY: No, I don't feel it myself but I found it in the early days. But you (Chrissie) were very much on the outside really. You didn't have anything together at the time I'm talking about, and also you're American and I'm talking about what was happening really early in England.
SIOUXSIE: It was a lot tighter then anyway. It was very much a London thing.
POLY: Yeah, it was. Right.
DEBBIE: Yeah, it was the same in New York.
SIOUXSIE: It was really tight. And, like, you either knew everyone who was in a band or you knew of them, you'd seen them around. Everyone who was in the audience at a Pistols' gig was in a band, and now it's just so thinly spread, so thinly spread on such a big area. It's just different.
DEBBIE: Well, I've been in groups with all girls, all guys and me, mixed and that, to me, gives a completely different point of view. It really changes everything. It changes the competitive aspects, it changes the way you write, the way you think, the way you perform. I dunno. (To Viv) How do you feel? You're in an all-girl band. Whenever I was hanging around with Joan (Jett) the atmosphere was always much different from anything in my band.
VIV: Yeah. We've got so we don't see each other that much socially.
CHRISSIE: You hate each other from what I hear (everyone laughs).
VIV: I dunno. I was just thinking maybe we start each other off quite a lot. I don't think I can analyse it. It just feels right.
CHRISSIE: I remember one night when you were going to get in the Slits, you said, "Chrissie - I mean, I don't know - an all-girl band?" I said, "Viv - there's no formula".
Even so, in retrospect and even at the time, I don't feel I can say this meeting was 100% successful, but I suppose nothing really ever is if you analyse it. You know how it is when you give a party and you're enjoying yourself but some of the guests don't look like they're having such a great time, so you feel responsible? Well, that's the sort of feeling I got - particularly from Viv - but not only from her. I thought a lot before deciding whether or not I should mention it in this article because I don't think it'll do my standing with her much good, but, on consideration, I feel it's an important, relevant point which can't be swept under the carpet. It would be unfair and misrepresentative (but very easy) to say everything was hunky-dory and everyone loved and
respected each other but I won't say it because I know that, certainly from Viv's point of view, it wasn't like that at all.
I've been thinking about why it was that way and feel that, perhaps, part of the reason is that maybe Viv thought some people there (including myself) were shirking their responsibilities by, in some ways, denying that the fact all these "important" women were together in the same room at the same time was pertinent or, dare I say, historic. In hindsight, it's easy to think: "Well I should have insisted they talk about the way the woman's role has changed and advanced not only in the world of music but in general", or something, but I can assure you that, at the time, that wouldn't have worked. I tried to introduce it several times (honest...) but it usually got trodden on, so I decided it was better to grab what I could from whatever they happened to talk about. If they happened to talk about their - women's - role in music, then - fine. If they happened to talk about the music papers and journalists - then that was fine too.
CHRIS STEIN: (for it is he - an honorary "woman for the day") The only communication you have with your fans is really through the press.
PAULINE: In America, the provincial press, when you go into a town, is really good, 'cos they were actually honest about what we were doing. Instead, over here, you get NME come down and they do a fucking public school-level arty diatribe. They're all twats, they're all
SIOUXSIE: And it's all so badly written as well.
Yeah, but could you do any better?
SIOUXSIE: I wouldn't want to do it. I can't understand how anyone could want to do it. It's such a bozo occupation.
CHRISSIE: You've got journalists who love music and are understanding and responsible, and then you've got journalists who are "I am"... A lot of people, particularly musicians, say "Oh, journalists are frustrated artists", but I think a good journalist is as valid, really, as far as an art form goes. Good journalism can be very entertaining and really constructive and really helpful and it can make a scene alive. I'm not saying that because I was involved in it but there's always this stigma that journalists have. Some journalists are real cunts, they're not discreet. A lot of them are like spies. But it's not always like that. It's like every other thing in this industry.
SIOUXSIE: I was just saying, if you think it's good to be a journalist and blahblah, I just don't understand how you do it knowing the editor can fuck up what you've written.
CHRISSIE: But you don't, you see, you don't really. Look, if you're cleaning houses and making like 15 quid a week, and you go into the pub one night, you're a bit pissed and you're talking about a record you heard and you happen to be sitting at a table with the editor of the NME or something and he said: "Hey, wow, why don't you write something for us?" and suddenly you can make 30 quid a week and actually be paid to go and see a band that you love and do something that you like... I think most people get into the journalistic side of this business or into the band side from really good intentions, but it's a huge industry and you're going to be used.
DEBBIE: Jane Suck got killed by editors.
SIOUXSIE: You just have to look at the name of the interviewer and you know what it's going to be like.
CHRISSIE: But people don't do that. You might do it 'cos you're a little bit more sensitive and intelligent than most people but we're on about anybody who just goes out and buys a paper and doesn't know. I don't remember the names of anyone that's done our interviews. The people aren't very responsible and they read something and they do believe it. They don't mind who wrote it.
There's no denying that the women who have become popular on the music scene over the past three years are a very different breed from the pre-1977 crowd except for say, the Joni Mitchells or Nina Simones (to name but two - there were more). I know this is important and I'm sure everyone in that room knows it's important too, however much some of them might not want to come out and say it.
Women who are trying to do something different from the norm, from what is traditionally expected of them, whether it be in music, in writing or in business, will be able to regale you with stories of their struggles, of the prejudices they come up against. Of course, it shouldn't be that way at all in this supposedly civilised day and age, but it is, still, and it's disgraceful. But things are obviously getting better - you can't expect miracles overnight. That advances are being made at all is encouraging and things can only go on improving.
CHRISSIE: I'm always interested to meet other people that write songs that I like, because it sort of makes you feel a bit isolated from other people. I don't mean it makes you social or anything, but if you write songs - I don't know if it's like this for everyone else - but it's like an obsession. It's something you have to do all the time and you can't be with people a lot of the time because of it. When you meet someone else who writes, I don't even necessarily have to talk about writing with them but I just like them to be there a little bit sometimes.
POLY: (to Pauline) Do you write your own material?
PAULINE: I try to. I'm trying.
SIOUXSIE: I think for anyone in a band, whether you're a girl or a boy, it's just a godsend. Really. For anyone - a girl or a bloke. It's just like you're so happy. I just think there's nothing else I'd rather be... not working at (laughter).
CHRISSIE: Well, I hear you were a terrible waitress (much more laughter).
SIOUXSIE: Barmaid. I made my own cocktails. Do you know who I served? I served the singer from Hot Chocolate once. Gin and tonic he had. He looked great - he had on a black leather hat, long black leather coat. He said, "Gin and tonic, please". Then he took off his hat.
I've got two-and-a-half hours of tape recorded conversation of what went on at the Carlton Towers - that's two-and-a-half hours of something that lasted nearly five hours.
I think, weighing up everything that happened, I'm pleased with the way things went. There was a lot of swapping of telephone numbers and addresses at the end of it and the fact that Debbie and Chris forgot about going to see the dress rehearsal for Pink Floyd's The Wall extravaganza, which was their plan for the evening, signifies to me (at least) that the meeting was worthwhile on their part.
SIOUXSIE: I only agreed to do this because I thought you'd never get it together. I said, "Yeah, yeah, big ideas. Yeah, yeah. Okay, I'll do it."
Well that's typical of you.
CHRISSIE: Siouxsie, I recall you saying something about "Well, why don't we just go up and we'll take what we can get."
SIOUXSIE: (laughs) Just get a drink. I mean, I considered bringing my Tupperware along.
DEBBIE: Hey, you know there's Designer Tupperware now? It's coming out in black.
SIOUXSIE: Yeah? See, you got it. Get that on tape.
CHRISSIE: "Women in men's clothes - that's what I call 'em".
Fashion note: Viv was the only one wearing a dress.