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Heard but not seen: Women and Punk

The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned; the names of punk's best known bands trip off the tongue. Yet there are questions as to why has women's role in the punk revolution become somewhat lost?

I came across a video not so long ago, when looking for something completely different. It’s a presentation by Dr Helen Reddington talking about how she became a girl in a punk rock band called The Chefs and then went on to become an academic at the University of Westminster (now at The University of East London) teaching on their pop music degree. Her work makes you begin to wonder why women's place in punk history has not received greater recognition.

Reddington is one of many women who emerged during the punk era, not in previously typical female roles as solo artist or lead singers in predominantly male bands, but as guitarists and performers in their own right.

"The guys in my squat told me that I had to play bass guitar in their band. It was an instrument they didn't want to play because you couldn't show off with one."

In 2012 she wrote a book called 'The Lost Women of Rock Music: Female Musicians of the Punk Era'. In an interview with Box Magazine she says she was motivated to write the book because “There was nothing about women like me who had been playing in bands, and I realised we were going to be ignored … I knew of so many brilliant women in bands, and I was astonished that so little had been written about them. Some of the bands were all-female acts at least most of the time (the Mo-Dettes, Raincoats, Slits, Dolly Mixture, Mistakes, Catholic Girls), some were 50-50 gender splits (early X-Ray Spex, Delta 5, Au Pairs), and some were sole females in male bands (such as Gaye Black from the Adverts).”

Reddington herself was brought up in a village in the north east of England. Coming from a family that had little interest in music, her initial focus lay in art. But having moved to Brighton Art College, about the same time as punk emerged, she found it was a sound she was keen to participate in. Having taught herself to play guitar in 1979 she eventually formed The Chefs with Carl Evans, James McCallum and Rod Bloor.

As well as her book, Reddington has also produced, with Gina Birch, a documentary film called ‘Stories from the She-Punks: Music with a different agenda’. Released in 2016, the film focuses on woman instrumentalists from the punk-inspired bands of the 70's.

So why is it that that women's contribution to punk remains so hidden and undervalued?Some such as Charlotte Andrews attribute it to a music industry still dominated by men, others that as punk girls did not conform to female stereotypes as performers, they were somehow less marketable. Yet there are those who feel it was women in punk and the battles they fought that allowed performers like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift not only to be able to rise to the top but also to have much greater control of their musical output. Perhaps its time that some of those female stars acknowledged that legacy.



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