"Stories From The She Punks"Review
As explained in the preview in "Hot Music Live" on February 1st, yesterday there was a special screening of the acclaimed documentary "Stories From The She Punks" at the Magic Lantern. This excellent film was created by two punk musicians: Dr Helen Reddington who was in the Chefs under the name of Helen McCookerybook & Gina Birch of the Raincoats & consists of many interviews with women musicians of the original punk era, some of whom have never before been interviewed & without narration/voice overs so you only hear their voices & unique testimonies. The icing on the cake (and there was a great deal of cake about during the showing) was the presence of Helen to show the film & to talk about it afterwards.
Musicians on the film include Helen & Gina themselves, Palmolive & Viv Albertine from the Slits, Vivien Goldman, Jane Woodgate & June Miles-Kingston from the Mo-Dettes, Ana da Silva from the Raincoats, Hester Smith & Rachel Lovell from Dolly Mixture, Lesley Woods & Jane Munro from the Au Pairs, Gaye Black (the Adverts), Lucy O'Brien from the Catholic Girls, Karen Yarnell (the Gymslips),Trash (Ettes), Liz Naylor (the Gay Animals), Enid Williams from Girlschool (the one real exception to the punk definition in the film) & Shanne Bradley from the Nipple Erectors: Helen & Gina were keen not to make it a London-centric documentary so ensured musicians from a range of regions were involved. All are instrumentalists since, as Helen explained, previously the involvement of women in bands had more or less been confined to fronting them as singers with usually some form of role as object of desire: involvement as a player was a real break through culturally and caused considerable tensions.
The film is a product of Helen's book "The Lost Women of Rock Music Female musicians of the Punk Era" (do try to read it as it goes into considerable depth & indeed academic analysis of the issues raised in the film & includes all the participants from it), combined with Gina's film project about the Raincoats: an expansion of the latter enabled the former to gain a complementary visual & auditory record. The participants talk candidly about their experiences in getting into bands, coping with the pressures & dynamics, learning to play, the experiences of playing live & recording etc. Unsurprisingly given the perceived genre, their gender & the culture of society & music at the time, many of their testimonies deal with hostility from family, the community, audiences, music industry figures, producers, sound engineers & other "tribes" of the time, such as skinheads, at which point genuine violence entered stories. Obviously some of this was related to context specific situations, but it was clear that much resonated today as still being part of the experience of women musicians, regardless of genre. In fact the #MeToo revelations make this film all the more relevant in several ways: recording the historical truth & also for acting as a focal point for working together to build solutions.
There was also a lot of positivity which came out of the film & the discussion: from the very act of film making which not only gave many women a chance to tell their stories more widely but also a reason to themselves reflect on their own experiences (a point Helen emphasised as crucial) to the personal achievements of the participants to wider contributions to a movement which tended to confront issues of gender & race inequality (and in instances such as that of Vi Subversa raised by Helen, age prejudice) & sexual identity.
There were moments of anger expressed but it did seem that many if not most of those in the film felt positive about having played in punk bands, though many now live significantly evolved lives. Between interviews were contemporary photographs which themselves were of huge interest: it is striking how little bands of that era were photographed either in publicity shots or on stage.
In a lively & detailed discussion, Helen explained much about the creation of the film, the deeper contexts of the time for music & her own experiences. The nature of feminism and how it has evolved in the time since the late 1970s, the definition of punk itself and above the applicability of specific experiences to the general musical environment of today were all discussed & it is clear that many people in the room are engaged in positive activity which either explicitly or implicitly addresses issues raised: many by playing themselves, some by working on their own media content (blogs & film) and others in building training & education. What was especially uplifting was seeing people meet, compare notes & potential collaborations being discussed. Watch this space...