Wednesday, 19 April 2017

The Reunion: Women of Punk

Sue MacGregor with four of the interviewees.
I don’t listen to Radio 4 that often because I’m not that posh, but I was quite excited to find out about a programme called Women of Punk last week. It was part of a series called The Reunion which “reunites a group of people intimately involved in a moment of modern history”.

The problem was the punk history 101 that took up so much of the programme, genteelly outlined by Sue MacGregor (75). Yes, I remember about unemployment, inflation, bad pop music, rebellion, etc.  Yes, I know about Bill Grundy and Vivienne Westwood and Siouxsie and John Peel and X Ray Spex. I wanted to hear what the women had to say now.

The episode featured Gaye Advert, Toyah Willcox, Gina Birch from The Raincoats, Tessa Pollitt from The Slits and Vivien Goldman (Sounds writer and in The Flying Lizards). Vivien is now a Professor of Punk in New York (which is why she’s not in the photo – she was on the phone) so she’s the one who has all the theory and soundbites. And who, with Toyah, got most of the airtime.

MacGregor didn’t really ask them the right questions, because she didn’t know enough about the subject. I didn’t want to hear the same old same old, what about the nazi regalia, what about the violence, what about the clothes. I wanted to hear “how did punk change your life?”

But we did hear about how punk was “powerful and enabling” for women. And we heard what they were up against. Andy Peebles introducing Toyah on Radio 1: “delighted to have a lady with us” (he always was a prat). Tony Blackburn introducing the Adverts on Top of the Pops “with look of disgust on his face”. Colleagues at Sounds telling Viv “Women aren’t interested in music” (Viv: “What about me?”). Toyah being assaulted by men who thought “you were fair game”.

There was inspiration too: Gina talking about “this incredible wild moment”, Toyah on “recreating yourself”.  I liked what Tessa said about always having a boyfriend and adopting their friends and musical taste (we all did that in the 70s) and then moving to London and feeling “completely liberated by punk and its asexuality”.

I liked, too, what she said about punk being “much more than the music – a feeling of revolution, getting rid of the old ways, and for women the freedom to finally express themselves”. And adding “I carry the punk spirit, it doesn’t leave you.”

And then it was the end of the programme, and I wanted more. And I wished it had been me asking the questions.

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