Popular local band Thrill Collins are regular contributors to the Gloucestershire, and further afield, music scene, playing skiffle from the 80’s and 90’s. Double bass player Andrew Lansley talks about how the band have tried to influence gender discrimination.
My band is composed of three middle class, white blokes who, having experienced a tiny amount of success, have gradually come to realise that we can have power over the dynamics between promoters/venues/festivals and artists. In this crucial area we can act as allies to help affect change from a grassroots level. It’s a power that some bands might not appreciate they already have - we certainly didn’t.
How does this work? Simple. If we’re booked for Glastonbury, we’ll play where we’re told. Booked for a regional/lower tier festival then if we’re headlining it gives us much more say on where and when we play, as well as how much we get paid. What you learn in the early days about working in such a hyper-competitive industry is that many artists new to the scene are simply trying to keep their own projects afloat. This in turn creates an odd sense of protectionism around your contacts and the opportunities they present. Although this changes as you become more established, such a selfish attitude can be hard to shake off.
Last year we decided to book our own tours and wanted to see if we could get our shows to have a 50/50 gender balance for staff and performers.
“Every single promoter and venue we worked with, except one, made sure all support acts and event staff were balanced and on board.”
As the headline act it was easy for us to select our own support acts and it was brilliant to platform with some amazing female performers. As every single promoter and venue we worked with, except one, made sure all support acts and event staff were balanced and on board, it made me wonder why on earth we’d never thought of pushing for this before.
Inspired by our success I started looking at line-ups before agreeing to play events. I then found that by responding with “Thanks for asking us to play – we noticed you didn’t have any women programmed for your main stage that day. We’d be happy to give up that spot and play a different stage at your festival as we’re really keen on helping platform a variety of performers at events” began to have a positive effect. In the end we never got a negative response to this request.
Consequently, I don’t think you need to have an established relationship with promoters or be willing to cross your name off festival posters, to be an ally of women in music – the first step is simple; speak up! However, when we planned to shift everything towards an ally stance through our own projects we decided not to tell anyone. Crazy as it might sound, we were worried it might be seen as jumping on some kind of bandwagon - or people would think we had other motives for trying to promote women in music. Perhaps some kind of cynical marketing ploy? Now, I don’t remember what we were so worried about specifically, or why we even thought these things. At the time we felt it was enough to be nice and help without shouting about it. It was the wrong approach to take.
I was keen to contribute to Carla Kerslake’s excellent AWTY site because she – as for many others like her – represents the future of our music industry, which could do a lot worse than achieve some meaningful growth through this kind of conviction and compassion. I am grateful to be reminded that not speaking up is harmful, that to be an effective ally I need to offer support wherever I can, not punish myself when I can’t. Only by saying what you are doing and why, sharing experiences on blogs like this and taking action, can change be delivered.