Monday, 17 October 2016

The Future is Female

My last spate of gigs was dominated by bands with women leading or involved: Brix and The Extricated, Flatmates, Colour Me Wednesday, Fear of Men, Poetic Pilgrimage, Belly, Honeyblood, Chorus Girl, Dream Nails. And my future live plans all look predominantly female too: Brix and The Extricated, Popguns, Honeyblood, Allo Darlin, and (with luck) The Pretenders... It's damned exciting times for music. Much of this is serendipity. A new wave of female-centric bands has arisen, and I'm grateful. It's not that I'd ever consciously shun male music (impossible), as that would make no sense - it's just that it seems like there is a new mood, new opportunities, new vision.

Things feel creative for women. Music is so disparate now, music-press-invented movements are not really an option anymore. Homegrown/DIY is where it's at - which is necessary. There feels more space, more voice for women. The internet has offered more of a platform for women's issues to be highlighted and taken seriously (Everyday Sexism, Safe Gigs For Women, both excellent, vital campaigns). Fanzines/zines are being picked up by a new generation, giving new voice and spreading the word about important issues like never before. The closure of so many small venues, the erosion of corporate music media voices has left room for lots of incredible, community-instigated projects to crop up: DIY Space For London, and gigs in similarly autonomously spirited/run places; benefit gigs are back (the Conservative government are crushing funding for women's refuges, for example and projects like Loud Women gigs are raising funds).

All of this is for celebration.

'Nobody's telling me I can't
Nobody's telling me I shan't
No one to say "you're doing it wrong"
I'm at my best
I'm Where I Belong''

The Pretenders:

Sleeper's fantastic final album

Britpop revivals don't often centre on the many women involved in that mid-90s musical movement. This seems ironic as Sleeper's frontwoman, Louise Wener, famously wore a T-shirt that read: 'Another Female Fronted Band'.

This post is for anyone who doesn't take Sleeper seriously. They wrote fantastically melodic songs that stand the test of time, Louise Wener's voice is wonderfully strong, and there was that effervescence of guitars-in-the-charts, typified by those ebullient times, that hasn't been replicated since. Sleeper also wrote some tenderly sad, slowly lovely, epic ballads that really resonate even more with me today.
I've always defended Sleeper, baffled at detractors. But I never bought that third, final album - until last month. It was with a mixture of trepidation and glad, keen eye that I picked it up in Guildford Record Collector. The cautiousness was only borne of recalling the music press savaging it in reviews in the late 90s, which I'd believed. I'd always quite liked She's a Good Girl as a single, and I have it on tape somewhere. But there was a real feeling of a shift at the time, things felt a touch darker somehow. Maybe it was the serious look of Lousie Wener in the video, and the song's overall sound and mood change. I was still in my teens and I wanted the overt fun. We'd been used to the cheeky winks and knowing grins that dominated Britpop (I cringe at all that now), so this new seriousness, this maturity of sound was perhaps something I wasn't quite old enough to appreciate. I was used to instant pop, light-hearted hooks, something that inspired a bop.

I can really appreciate the shift, now. Listening, now, to Pleased To Meet You, there are still a few of the old hallmarks, like Stephen Street's chirpy, overly parpy horns and the seesaw, two-beat guitar slicing, both of which Blur also anointed their mid-period records with; plus Louise Wener singing in her wry, sly way, and all the romantic scenarios.

There's a lot more to Pleased to Meet You, though, and that's why I felt drawn to writing this blog. It's an album I'm really (pleased!) I bought. I had forgotten just how fabulously bursting with pop splendour Romeo Me, another single, was - that song is current favourite on repeat play. There are also some obviously great, pop hits like Firecracker and You Got Me, which are both sing-along perfect.

Sleeper re-enact the slow, woozy balladry of The It Girl's closing trick (Click...Off...Gone), with a slew of awe-inspiring songs at the end of their last album: Because of You (dub heavy beats, interlaced with sweet-sad strings and a really haunting vocal sweep), then there's Nothing Is Changing, which is one of those Autumnal, late-night songs that muses in dramatic melancholy. The album actually decides to end on one of their older style, all-out pop songs, with merry synths, brilliant bass, and a cracking chorus.

I can't help but feel that Sleeper - and Louise Wener as focal, vocal point - get judged far too often, and too harshly, on their more overtly (but not that frequent) 'wink and a nod' type songs - the songs about relationships that have unabashedly 'forward' choruses (how dare a girl/woman state those sorts of things and feelings!) - when the slower ballads are really quite moving, touching; incredible.

Having heard Sleeper's final album Pleased to Meet You, I feel like I really do cherish Sleeper ever more. I feel like that album pointed towards a solo career for Louise Wener - but I can't help but feel that women got fewer chances like that than the men of that indie era (maybe this will change?). It's the same with Justine Frischmann - she could have done something really cool in a solo musical guise, I'm sure. It comes to mind that maybe it was only Sophie Ellis Bextor that kept on, solo, and her band, Theaudience, were in the strange - but good - sort of lull after Britpop.

In essence: Sleeper are to be reassessed seriously, now. Reformation and a gig would be very welcome. Not only did I not get to see Sleeper live in 1995 (or 1996, or 1997, or 1998) when I was a fan, but I reckon Louise Wener ought to be recalled and influence a new generation with it. What Do I Do Now remains one of the lyrically and melodically best songs of Britpop, so I must leave you with that!

Saturday, 15 October 2016

Chorusgirl, live @ The Finsbury, London, 12 October, 2016

One of the best new indie-pop bands to come from Fortuna Pop, and of recent times. I am hooked on the bright and melodic, chorus-pedal-laden brilliance of Chorusgirl, and glad of their being around right now.

This was a free gig, which also introduced me to Dream Nails, who were bouncy, giddy fun - the kind of female-gang, punk-pop we took for granted in the mid 90s. I've just been reading about their feministic drive and zine-making, which makes me love them even more.

Interview with Chorusgirl over at Godisinthetv.

The Chameleons, live @ The Crauford Arms, Milton Keynes, 28 July, 2016

Spellbinding gig in a small city - just a couple of photos of Mark Burgess for now, still need to write up my thoughts!