Sunday, 12 June 2016

Punk Women in London: A lengthy essay in two chapters

Chapter One:

On Sunday 5th June I got up at quarter past six on what, I would guess, would have been one of the hottest days of the year thus far in order to head out to Stockport at quarter to eight to get the 8:28 train to London Euston.

Across London throughout this year there are a whole raft of events celebrating 40 Years Of Punk, a lot of which I'm not very interested in, but Sundays event was a Punk Women panel discussion at Stoke Newington Literary Festival, thus more worthwhile attending.

I did consider going down by coach and staying overnight but London hotels are so expensive that it worked out cheaper to go down by train and come back the same day.

That said, it was about £50 for the train, about £10 for a zones 1&2 travel card and another £9.80 for a return between Highbury and Seven Sisters, to account for the inconvenient fact that Seven Sisters is in in zone 3, not zone 2. I didn't realise that until I'd got on the tube at Euston then, after umming and arring, bit the bullet and paid up at Highbury. The only other way round it would have been to go from Highbury to Stoke Newington by bus, and I could have done that more easily from Euston but chose not to because it would be harder to figure out where to get off. As it was, I was ten minutes late to the event in the end, so missed most of Jude Rogers introductions of the panel, who were:

Liz Naylor

Helen McCookerybook

Gina Birch

Pauline Murray

Shanne Bradley

I didn't make any notes or record any of the event, but it was very inspiring. Here are some highlights, from memory:

  • Liz Naylor introducing the town of Hyde by explaining it's dubious bad luck in having housed, at different times, Myra Hindley and Ian Brady, also Harold Shipman. Something that tickled me, but probably not anyone else.
  • Pauline Murray's fantastic take down of London's 40 Years of Punk by saying she didn't want to be involved in any of it, but felt as a woman and a northerner that she should do, given the Londoncentric nature of events.
  • Shanne Bradley's more concise, but equally eloquent, dismissal of 40 Years of Punk as "bollocks".
  • Liz mentioning identity politics, queer issues, Patti Smith and riot grrrl alongside reference to a clip on YouTube of Pauline Murray performing with Penetration amidst a "tsunami of gob"
  • Pauline saying she didn't think of herself as being A Woman In A Band at the time, explaining "I was spat at as much as anyone else"
  • Helen McCookerybook, when talking about the current generation, saying that "they don't understand how hard we had to fight for the things that are now being taken away from them"
  • Gina Birch's excitement at opening the door to a young person selling  newspaper called Revolution the previous week, and her excited cry to the family of "Quick, there's a revolutionary at the door!"
  • Shanne's recounting of a Nips reformation gig when Shane MacGowan failed to show and Shanne's daughter sang for them in her lycra sportswear. She was fifteen at the time.
  • Liz's dismissal of modern fanzines as fetishising the production methods of the past: "Use a computer!"
  • Pauline pondering that 'Don't Dictate' was probably written about "me parents or something"
  • Gina and Helen's frank dismissal of 1970s art schools as revolutionary training grounds, with Helen describing Brighton as "A finishing school for rich girls" complete with lairy lecturers and predatory male third years. Gina, meanwhile, acknowledged Nottingham as an interesting art school, but found Hornsey "dull".

Afterwards I was torn between making an effort to be uncharacteristically extrovert and introduce myself to people, or trying to sell some copies of Ablaze! 11 for Karren. In the end, I opted for the latter. I asked the girl at the back of the room, who was running the book stall, if she would be interested in selling them for me, she said she couldn't but that I could always use the empty table next to hers to sell them myself. So I did. I tore a page out of my notebook and fanned out the four copies of Ablaze! I'd brought with me (all eight would have been too heavy) and put my hastily scribbled explanatory note next to them.

A few people seemed interested, but either didn't have money or didn't want to spend it, so didn't buy. But I caught Helen McCookerybook's eye when she was free, and we had a nice chat, and she bought one, as did the lovely Katy Carr, who Helen introduced me to.

Outside, a gentleman connected to July's punk weekender at the Roundhouse also bought a copy, at Katy's instigation, and we had a nice chat. He was coming at punk from the point of view of having been a Jewish skinhead who liked reggae at the time. He now writes poetry, and has a sideline interest in the Vimto statue in Manchester. Which was a nice surprise. He has his picture taken with it whenever he's in Manchester. After a bit, he and his friends left for the pub, Helen left, and I walked back to Stoke Newington and got an overground train to Seven Sisters, then the Victoria line. My train wasn't until just before six, so I stayed on the train instead of getting off at Euston and switched to the Bakerloo line at Oxford Circus to go to Regent's Park, where I had my sandwiches in the sunshine.

Then I got the tube back to Oxford Circus and walked it from Oxford Circus down Tottenham Court Road and Euston Road to Euston station.

A note on trains: They are very nice looking these days, even in Standard, and you get slightly more leg room than you would on the coach, plus the air con is better (seems to work better, is less noisy) and it's a lot faster (Two and a half hours Vs Four hours forty five, minimum) but is it worth the ticket price? No. It should be a flat rate of £40, max. This is based on coaches being about £20, usually.

Chapter Two: 

I'm going to have to do Friday 10th June in stages, as it was a long day with a lot going on.

All week at work the temperature and humidity has been rising, and the rain has made very little difference: It's been thirty degrees, or higher, in large chunks of the building thanks to the air circulation conking out at least twice. Shelving conditions upstairs were unbearable so the staff doing the shelving have been heading out en masse for extra breaks. On Friday morning I watched them from our desk (which is handily located by the entrance doors, which we had left open to the outside) as they stood by the bike sheds in the rain in their jeans and vest tops. Some had brought umbrellas, but most of them hadn't and were making the most of the organic sprinkler system it represented before heading back to the sweat pits upstairs.

I finished at 2pm on Friday in order to walk to Piccadilly to get the 14:55 to Euston for the She Punks film event at the British Library. I did originally try and get Friday and Saturday off as annual leave but couldn't because we're banned from taking annual leave in the first two weeks of June this year, on account of what happened last year at that time when our entire department had a sort of collective nervous breakdown due to the unbearable and impossible workload. You can see a picture from this period if you go to one of my earlier blog posts.  Some leave did get granted, but you had to argue your case, and my line manager couldn't give me more than 3 hours on Friday because Friday was books return day, which is a sort of library armageddon day, and much needed extra staff would be coming in on Saturday to assist with the continuing fallout from it so I couldn't have that either. I don't feel bitter about this, but it did put me in the awkward position of having to inhabit two very different professional worlds in one day, in the same set of clothes, which probably didn't quite come off. Still, couldn't be helped...

It didn't feel too hot when I left work, but I felt very warm but the time I got to Piccadilly. There are so many roadworks, road closures and diversions at the moment in central Manchester and around Oxford Road that it's quicker to walk it than it is to get the bus.

Got into Euston just after 5pm and headed over to the British Library, which is about ten minutes walk away. I wandered in and had a very half hearted look at the punk exhibition, but quickly felt bored with it, having already looked it over on Sunday. So I headed next door to the 'Treasures of the British Library' exhibition, and became engrossed in original literary manuscripts and elaborate bindings. I was looking at the original of Shelley's Masque of Anarchy while still being able to hear X Ray Spex from next door: Very apt, probably.

They start clearing people out at about half five on a Friday, so I headed back out to the piazza and had a snack while waiting for the event, which was due to start at 18:30 in the conference centre. They started to clear the piazza around six ish, so I headed into the conference centre at that point, where a soiree was forming in the foyer that I felt to shy to try and penetrate.

Not long after, they let us into the auditorium, and I sat fairly near the back for optimum view of the screen. It also made a good people watching position.

There were three introductions to the She Punks film. Firstly, a gentleman from the British Library, who made some very good points about the nature of the British Library and its collections, specifically that BL have been collecting, storing and cataloguing punk right from the 1970s onwards. Hence all the fanzines, 7"'s and LP's, and why it was all in such good condition. It hadn't been borrowed, or shipped in, they'd had it all the time. And that that was the whole point of being the people's library, that you collect and reflect the people's history. I also enjoyed his comment along the lines of loud music, stroppiness etc as "Just another day at the British Library"

Next up was Zoe Howe, the chair of the Q&A, then Helen McCookerybook and Gina Birch did a more irreverent and slightly nervous seeming introduction to the film, in which they seemed a bit worried that the audience wouldn't like it. They were at great pains to stress the imperfect nature of it.

It is an unfinished piece of work, and it has a starkness to it that it wouldn't have perhaps if it had been finished, but the starkness is part of its charm. It's a quality that works really well with the content of the interviews, and the narrative structure of the film. The interviews are so powerful in themselves, and so refreshing, that it didn't really need more to be utterly absorbing. That said, I am coming at it from a point of view of someone who has been working on a women and punk project for seven years now, and who has interviewed some of the people in the film, but that didn't matter because it still felt really fresh, and very inspiring. Some of it was quite harrowing, but there were also some very funny bits, and the film overall had an energy to it that made it feel very uplifting and inspiring, but in an honest and truthful way rather than in a mawkish and contrived way.

Quite simply, it is a film that should, and must, be seen by as many people as possible. It has so much to say, about punk, about hidden histories... and much more.

Afterwards, Zoe chaired a Q&A with Gina Birch, Helen McCookerybook, Tessa Pollitt, and Jane Woodgate, which was riveting. Someone asked about what the kids thought about their careers as punk musicians, and when Gina said her daughters weren't as into it as her daughters friends, there came an indignant cry from the back of the auditorium of "THAT'S NOT TRUE!" followed by "I JUST CAN'T TELL YOU THAT I DO BECAUSE YOU'RE MY MOTHER!" Helen decided she wouldn't bring her daughters into it on the basis that they were both in the audience too. I don't remember all the Q&A, but I do remember a lengthy discussion themed around punk and feminism which took a number of twists and turns.

After the Q&A, there was a performance of 'Oh Bondage! Up Yours!', and the audience were meant to sing along, using the lyric sheets that had been left on the chairs. We weren't good or loud enough though. I think people were a bit inhibited. It was good fun though, sort of punk performance art imbued with a sort of Rocky Horror Picture Show audience participation dynamic.

Afterwards, we were gently but firmly ushered out into the adjoining room, where I started to think about how I should be introducing myself to people and that but, as usual, stood awkwardly in a corner hesitating instead. I saw Katy Carr again, and chatted to her friend Alex for a while, and Helen introduced me to a very nice pair of fanzine aficionados, who were probably in their early twenties. I tried to sell them a copy of Ablaze! 11 but they were put off by how professional it looked. We had a lovely chat though. The girl went over to talk to Jane Woodgate, and the boy and I sadly commiserated on our lack of ability to do likewise. Not long after that I left because I was feeling paranoid about missing my train home.

I got to Euston at about quarter past nine. They hadn't announced the platform for the Manchester train so I ate my cheese sandwiches while gazing fixedly at the announcements screen. There was some delay in getting the train prepared after it's previous journey in, which automatically made me think that someone must have been sick on one or more of the seats. We didn't get very long to get onto the train at all in the end, less than five minutes I reckon. And, of course, first class is always the end of the train nearest the station end of the platform, and standard is always the furthest away. Carriage B was so far away that I hopped on at E and walked through the remaining carriages in the end.

The train home was full of students, or, student aged folk. On the way down I'd been sitting across the aisle from some slightly noisy business folk, who drank wine all the way to Euston, so students on laptops and phone, or sleeping slumped across each other, was a massive improvement. Much quieter.  
That said, I had my mp3 player on both ways.

I'd decided not to get off at Stockport because the area around Stockport train station is such a building site it would be too hairy to navigate in the dark. So I got off at Piccadilly, still with my headphones in because I was just finishing off an episode of Undone (appropriately), went down the escalators to the taxi rank, walked past the taxis and a very loud couple having a proper violent row. I still had my headphones in, but I could hear them over the top of it, as well as the bloke at the bus stop, who was watching them, and quite clearly said 'Dick' (or was it 'Twat'?) in a very disgusted voice. I figured I'd see how long I had to wait for a 192 and take it from there: Thirty seconds, somewhat unusually. The bus wasn't crowded, but a group of really loud blokes, who looked vaguely Spanish but who were possibly Hungarian (it was France V Hungary in Euro 2016  that day) got on so I kept my headphones in. Someone started smoking a fag but I was too weary to react or get off the bus, so I just put up with it. It was about midnight by this point.

I got home at 00:15, rang my mum, took my makeup off, did my teeth, and went to bed. I was too excited to sleep for ages, but I eventually nodded off.

Very reluctantly got up at 7:00 again to go to work. Felt very tired and muggy headed, but somehow got through the day.

Afterword: #1

There will be second showing of the She Punks film as part of the Punk Weekender at the Roundhouse in July.  I urge you to see it if you possibly can.

Afterward: #2

Some of you may be wondering what UK cities outside of London are doing to mark 40 Years Of Punk. I haven't checked everywhere, but Manchester has an annual punk festival which happened in April, and has sod all to do with the 40 Years Of Punk thing. On 6music earlier this month, Radcliffe and Maconie, both lads whose formative years coincided with punk and who can be seen to have grown up in the loosely defined area of Greater Manchester, did a broadcast from the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester to mark the 40th Anniversary of the legendary Pistols gig there.

Because 2106 marks the 20th anniversary of the IRA bombing of Manchester City Centre, much of the cultural output this year is focused on that. Including a very innovative series of events at Manchester Histories Festival and HOME.

Monday, 6 June 2016

Carl Stanley's Kiss & Make Up

I purchased my copy of Carl Stanley's memoir, an artful blend of comedy and tragedy telling not just Carl's story but also a substantial chunk of his mums, at last years Louder Than Words festival in Manchester. I felt a bit out of my league amidst the music journalists so I mainly lurked around the publishers as I seemed to be less tongue tied and intimidated around them.

Anyway, Steve Pottinger was there as Ignite Books, and I bought both Ross Lomas' book City Baby, his tale of life in and out of the legendary punk band GBH, and also Kiss & Make Up by the previously unknown to me Carl Stanley.

Both books were excellent, and hysterically funny at times, and there was the added advantage that, once I'd finished reading them both, I knew other people who would love to read them too.

Kiss & Make Up tells the story of Carl's growing up in Birmingham, and coming of age in the post punk 1980s. A precocious young man, with a rapidly burgeoning sexuality, Carl's tentative worshipping of Toyah leads on to him dipping his toe into the new romantic scene, before falling headlong into a world of clubbing, gay pubs, increasingly elaborate dress up, and sexual encounters. The young Carl makes mistakes, of course, and his relationship with his mum becomes increasingly fraught, which leads to one of the most surprising aspects of the book: the flashbacks to, and interweaving of, his mothers story with his own.

In some respects (but by no means all as both books are structured very differently) the story inhabits similar ground to Bertie Marshall's memoir, Berlin Bromley, which begins its story just before Carl's. The two books would make good companion reads, and transcend both the memoir and gay coming of age tags.

That said, Kiss & Make Up has just been long listed for this years Polari Prize, the shortlist for which will be announced in July.

Looking at the long list, it's interesting to note how many of the titles were published by small, independent publishers, to the extent that a title published by Verso starts to look huge in comparison. The world of independent publishing is certainly alive and well but its thriving success does rather underline a lack of variety of experience, story, and interest at the largest of our publishing houses. Phrases about popes, catholic, bears, woods spring to mind...