What I’m learning from featuring women in both local music and democracy – with some interesting questions too
In the run up to the 2015 general election I very deliberately focused my filming efforts on party activists who broke the negative stereotypes of politics. This was also my approach to interviewing the candidates. Rather than doing a series of ‘hatchet-style’ interviews I chose an approach where I challenged myself to make the interview subjects come across as presentable, interesting and the sort of person the viewing public could see themselves having a conversation with.
Hence the videos at https://adragonsbestfriend.wordpress.com/2015/05/09/encouraging-women-into-local-democracy-featured-examples/ featuring women in democracy.
The relative lack of women performers at this year’s AlexFest and also in part the Cambridge Buskers Festival was something that got me thinking further about widening participation in things generally. I’ve complained in the past about the lack of diversity in the line-ups of shows hosted by various venues in Cambridge. Take the Cambridge Comedy Festival as an example. In comedy, in music, in sport, in politics, the lack of diversity is something that I’m now much more aware of – in large part thanks to my Twitter following who have continued to discuss this over the years I’ve been on it. There is still this long-running diversity-sore in football too.
The local music scene – encouraging women who are musicians
I can’t recall having filmed an all-women band in recent times – in particular one that plays their own musical instruments live. Where I’ve seen women in a band, more often than not they are a lead vocalist supported by a team of male musicians. Other than that, it’s soloist singer/songwriters or friends/sisters performing duets.
“Why the difference between the genders?”
I don’t honestly know. It’s something I’ve invited the younger singer song-writers to ponder over when I’ve spoken to them post-performance. What is it that means we have soloist women singer-songwriters but not the all-women groups, while for the men there are both?
“We’ve tried booking more women for our venue but…”
A line I’ve heard before. Yet just as with local democracy, I’ve taken the line that if I want things to improve, I have to do something – something different that perhaps has not been done before. Ie doing more than just shouting/ranting/moaning/blogging about it. Because as I’ve found out the hard way, repeatedly complaining at ever louder and abrasive levels just ends up annoying people. Hence now being in a place where my approach evolves depending on what comes back.
Going out listening & filming…
I had a trawl back through my online video channels and can list the following:
- Emma Spray at Relevant Records https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFFqAkh7yPg – She’s just finished her GCSEs – spotted in the Cambridge Buskers Festival 2015
- Beth & Eleanor (supporting Emma Spray) -> https://vimeo.com/132491338 The two of them have just finished Year 10 and this was their first public performance.
- Ella Mathieson (supporting Emma Spray) -> https://vimeo.com/132488828 – Ella’s first public performance too.
- Jo Ash at Cornerhouse Pub https://vimeo.com/132273001
- Rachel Clark at The Architect Pub https://vimeo.com/132161404 – Rachel has just completed Year 12. First spotted at Cambridge Buskers Festival 2014.
- Sarah Bishop at The Architect Pub https://vimeo.com/132048042 – only her third public performance ever.
- Melody Causton at The Architect Pub https://vimeo.com/132044288 – Melody has just graduated
- Charlie & Molly at The Strawberry Fair https://vimeo.com/130497704 – both just completed Year 12
- Ellie Dixon & Sophie Winter at The Strawberry Fair https://vimeo.com/129990163 – both just completed Year 12, first spotted Ellie at The Junction Fiver Unplugged, supporting Grace Sarah
- Grace Sarah at The Junction https://vimeo.com/101811484 filmed just after she completed her GCSEs in 2014.
- Holly Quillen at The Portland Arms https://vimeo.com/126079566 supporting Grace Sarah. Just finished Year 12 too.
- Isobel Sugden https://vimeo.com/133667767
- Flaming June at The Strawberry Fair 2014 https://vimeo.com/97612296
- Malka Kovalenko at Hot Numbers Cafe, Gwydir St https://vimeo.com/102423933 – filmed just after finishing her GCSEs in 2014
- Rachael Johnson at Hot Numbers Cafe, Gwydir St https://vimeo.com/103476021
- Ruby Florence at Relevant Records https://vimeo.com/129942614
- Hannah Chutzpah at The Fountain https://vimeo.com/106300044
So…there is local talent out there. Those are the ones I happen to have had a camcorder with me and/or planned to film having been invited. There are others out there that I’ve heard of but not seen live.
“What difference does filming make?”
You’ll have to ask the musicians themselves. From the conversations I’ve had – in particular with the younger musicians, seeing themselves from the audience’s perspective is a big learning point. In corporate communications training it is now standard practice to film the trainee speaking/presenting, and review video footage of that presentation. I went through it myself in my civil service days. Excruciating, but essential.
With the younger teenagers too, there’s also a self-awareness they as performers are still growing into – something that will come with more public performances under their belt. It was interesting to listen to the discussion Beth & Eleanor had when I played back some of the footage I had recorded only a few minutes earlier – picking up on things like expressions & mannerisms they were not aware of on stage. It was the same with me when I first saw video footage of me singing as part of Dowsing Sound Collective in 2014 – see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cIYIZyezDtk – and again when I reviewed footage of our winter gig later that year with me spending far too much time staring at my folder & not the audience!
Having video footage of women who are experienced musicians & performers helps too.
Take Ruby Florence here.
She’s one of the most assured & confident of women that I’ve met – I sing with her in the Dowsing Sound Collective. Having footage of more experienced local musicians such as Flaming June and Jo Ash can also spark off ideas as well as help build a stronger community of musicians. In particular this can help with new young musicians getting slots as support acts for more higher profile performers. Note the number of musicians in the list above that I discovered because they were supporting someone else.
“Is building that community one of the missing links?”
Building any community is an ongoing activity by its very nature. In my case I asked what I could do that supported what people are already doing, but without taking over anything. (I don’t want to be this guy, y’see?) As it turned out, it was filming and producing reasonably good video footage of the musicians playing at live venues. The two ideas that I’ve floated with a number of local singer-songwriters are:
- A concert with a variety of women singer-songwriters supported by a band of professional session musicians
- A music-storming day for women musicians to encourage collaboration
A session-musicians-supported concert
The concept is relatively straight-forward: Invite local women singer-songwriters to arrange two-three of their favourite self-written songs for a large group of session musicians to perform live. This could work at The Junction 2.
A music-storming day
Best suited for somewhere with lots of additional musical instruments that participants can use. This could work either as an open space event or a semi-structured event. The aim is to see if women can meet and ‘jam’ with as many other musicians as possible in a single day to find out which of the other musicians they would be happy making music/collaborating with on a regular basis. From this could spring the groups of women bands that our local music scene seems to be lacking.
The thing is, I don’t have what it takes to make either of the above happen. But I’m sure someone in Cambridge does. Are you out there?