She Bop is out now
At the end of January I received an invitation to attend the book launch of the newly revised and updated third edition of Lucy O’Brien’s She Bop: The definitive history of women in rock, pop, and soul. As a big fan of both the first and second editions of the book, I have been very excited about the prospect of a third edition. I was sixteen when the first edition came out, and its sophisticated degree of historical, cultural and musical detail coupled with its intelligent readability made me an instant fan. Not only did the book include women who I already listened to and enjoyed (Siouxsie Sioux, Janis Joplin, the Voodoo Queens) it also shed a light on areas of music I hadn’t really had much time for at that point (soul, hip hop, disco) and delved into the somewhat murky world of the music industry behind the scenes. It was an eye opener, an education, and above all, a very enjoyable and inspiring read.
I was in the midst of sitting my GCSE’s at the time the book was published in 1995, but had taken some time off from sitting them to go to London to attend Le Grandienne, an all dayer held at Kings Cross Arts Centre which was put on by the lovely folk at Piao!, who had been involved with the two day Piao! Festival in February 1994 (along with members of Linus). I travelled down to London by train from Stockport for the first and, it has to be said, only time in my life. This was before privatisation and the fare, paid for by my long suffering mum, was £30. I was met at Euston by Chris Phillips of Piao! very early in the morning on the day of the event, and sat quietly on the sidelines as the stage and festival were set up around me.
Highlights included Minxus, [For the benefit of the tiny minority of people who read my fiction blog Screaming In Public, Minxus’ singer/bassist, She Rocola, was the visual inspiration for Violet. Fliss, meanwhile, was visually inspired by the seventeen year old Lauren Laverne in Kenickie. Who, inbetween leaving Slampt Underground Organisation and signing to EMI, toured the country in a stage outfit comprised of a rubber mini skirt, converse all stars, and the top half of a childs jujitsu suit that she’d found in a charity shop in Sunderland.] Yummy Fur, Heck, Lungleg and Quickspace Supersport, amongst others.
When I returned to Hazel Grove, the copy of She Bop that my mum had requested for me at Hazel Grove library was waiting for me. It was the summer holidays, and I sat down to read it with some level of curiosity and, as a riot grrrl, a certain amount of trepidation as the back cover had mentioned riot grrrl and I wasn’t sure how I felt about riot grrrl being written about outside of the riot grrrl scene. As it was, my uncertainty and vague suspicions were very quickly displaced and, becoming increasingly engrossed in the book, I devoured it in three days.
A couple of months later, still fascinated by and very attached to the book, I read it again and decided that I wanted to write about it. Normally this would have meant a review for my fanzine, Aggamengmong Moggie, but I took the unusual step of writing to Lucy c/o her then publisher, Penguin and sending some questions for her to answer by return post. I didn’t necessarily expect an answer, but I decided to try anyway. I was pleasantly surprised when, a little while later, I received a set of long detailed answers back.
And so began a correspondence.
The second edition of She Bop was published in 2002, by which point I was at the end of my first year of my English degree at Manchester Metropolitan University and was working a market research job in Hazel Grove to keep me in funds. I reviewed She Bop II for my new fanzine, Euro Tourist, and interviewed Lucy via email for The F-Word. Friends went to Ladyfest London that year, but (with some regret) I went to Amsterdam instead, meaning I missed an authors reading of the newly updated She Bop II at Ladyfest.
Since 2002 I have had a certain modest journalistic success, writing small pieces for Record Collector, contributing to a book on Riot Grrrl, writing a series on women and punk for The F-Word website, and, more recently, taking on the role of music review editor at The F-Word, which I share with Holly Combe. Along the way I have received some very good journalism and writing advice from Lucy O’Brien, who I also interviewed by phone for the aforementioned punk women series.
That said, it was a pleasant surprise to receive the invitation to attend the book launch for She Bop III, and I was very touched to have been asked. The invitation arrived as I was taking a week’s leave, and knocked me for six somewhat. The next day (a Saturday) I logged into my work email from home and checked the shared calendar at work to see if anyone else was on leave that day, and seeing that someone was, I phoned my friend and weekend boss Nicola on the Sunday to ask about how many staff could be on leave at the same time. Nicola, in a strange twist of fate, is an old school friend of F-Word founder Catherine Redfern and, given that she has a secret life as a Philosopher outside of work, has been most understanding about my secret life as a journalist.
Leave was granted, a hotel proved to be surprisingly available, and coach tickets were booked. I did take a look on Trainline at London train tickets, but all this led to was a desire to pen a list or blog post on the theme of Things I Could Buy For the Cost Of A London Train Ticket. An Anytime Return from Stockport to London costs £308.00, whereas the same ticket in First Class costs £441.00. Things I could do for the cost of an Anytime Return include paying my rent for a month, buying my library pal Rachel’s monthly season on the train from Buxton to Manchester Oxford Road, and buying half an annual System 1 (which guarantees unlimited travel across all buses and bus companies in Greater Manchester). The coach it was.
As a veteran of National Express, I opted for the 9:30am coach from Chorlton Street Coach station to Victoria Coach station in the end. I’ve tried the 8am service before now, and last time I used it it was absolutely rammed, thus defeating the whole point of getting up at 5:30am to catch it. Interestingly the half 9 was half empty, so I felt vindicated in my lie in. Also, it was an express coach so it only stopped to swap drivers and then for 15 minutes at Milton Keynes. I got into Victoria at 2pm.
It was the bus journey into Manchester that proved to be the point of interminable go slow. The new 192’s (the green wifi hybrid buses) advertise that there are “Up to 18 buses an hour”, but it would be more accurate if they added the caveat “but not in rush hour, that would be madness”. I got to Chorlton Street with 10 minutes to spare.
I had a bit of a sartorial crisis the night before the event as I was packing. I’d sought the advice of Nicola as to what I should wear as I’d never been to a book launch before, or anything that might be comparable. Nicola has the advantage of having attended academic conferences and, besides, I had given her feedback on her choice of wedding dress so fair’s fair. But whereas I’d sorted out my skirt and top, I hadn’t been able to find a suitable jacket to wear over my short sleeved top, and it was threatening to snow again. There was also the earlier related saga of the quest for the perfect vegan cruelty free lipgloss that wasn’t pink, but I think that’s best not gone into here.
As someone who has grown up with She Bop, it felt important to attend and show my support for both author and book but I was also nervous as hell when it came to attending my first book launch and also meeting Lucy for the first time. My friend and occasional collaborator David Wilkinson emailed over some words of reassurance as I packed:
“Now don’t you worry about heading London-wards! Or working the room, or anything like that – concentrate on having a nice time, as I’m sure you will. Look forward to hearing about it”
I ran hither and thither (which is quite difficult to do in a studio flat, admittedly, but much less time consuming than in a house…) frantically trying clothes and jewellery on as the mix CD I was playing seemed to echo the ridiculous melodrama of the situation: The Supremes incredibly over the top ‘My World is empty without you’ being followed by Patrick Wolf’s plaintive wail of ‘I can’t do this alone!’ in ‘Together’. In the end I had to just pull myself together, pack and hope for the best.
My hotel was in Victoria, very close to the coach station, so it didn’t take long to check in and unpack. I looked up the venue for the launch, The Society Club, in my much battered A-Z and, having decided that it looked a bit tucked away, opted to do a dummy run before the event started at half six.
In the end, it was quite easy to find. I got the tube to Oxford Circus, then went in search of Poland Street and Ingestre Place. The Society Club looked very small, but I found it and headed back down Poland Street to Oxford Street. I had decided that I still needed something to finish my outfit off, as well as food pre-going out as there was going to be booze and I didn’t want to get drunk and embarrassing. So I wandered up and down Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road aimlessly pursuing these aims until about half 4/5 ish when I realised I needed to be back at my hotel.
Having not found any charity shops to peruse in my wanderings (wrong bits of London I suspect), and been disappointed by the pastelisation of Accessorize, I did a three scarves for £10 deal with one of the guys in one of the shops on Oxford Street. It is very touristy along Oxford Street, but the scarves were nice. He also tried to interest me in a new beret or three, but I resisted.
In the end I wore my new black and silver scarf slung around my shoulders in homage to my library pal Rachel, who has perfected the art of dishabille, and once acquired a long waited for scarf from the library lost property box after four weeks of waiting. She happily slung it around her shoulders, where it looked perfect, and went about her work. The next day, the scarf was gone. “Where’s your new scarf?” I asked, “Went out last night, got drunk, left it in a tepee in the club” and so the perfect scarf re-entered and continued its lost property cycle.
I had brought my copy of She Bop III with me, with the intention of getting it signed if possible. But in the end I didn’t because the book wouldn’t fit in my handbag and I didn’t want to risk leaving it on the tube or similar. I really regret this now. When I told Nicola this part of the story, she said: “You could have used the other two scarves to make a sort of knapsack thing for it.” And I am kicking myself now for not thinking of this.
I arrived at the Society Club just before 7pm, and it was really busy. I didn’t really know anyone so I ducked inside very quickly and found a corner to hide in with a glass of wine while watching and observing until I’d found my bearings a bit. I found myself wishing that David was there, but at the same time it was better that he wasn’t in that it meant I had to make the effort to be sociable and not rely on someone else to be sociable for me. I still missed him though. We are very good at giving each other well needed confidence boosts.
I had spotted Lucy fairly quickly as, although we haven’t met, I have seen pictures of her and seen her on TV. I didn’t want to butt in on any conversations so I continued lurking in my corner for a bit instead. Then I spotted Helen McCookerybook in intense conversation with Caroline Coon, both of whom I interviewed in London in 2009 for my punk women series for the F-Word. Once there was a lull in that conversation, I said hello. Caroline got talking to other people, but I was able to have a nice long conversation with Helen, who I have always found very easy to talk to. Because I had never met Lucy before I got Helen to introduce me to her, as this seemed the least awkward and friendliest option.
Later, Lucy made a very nice speech about the book and its continuing reinvention and re-emergance. I liked the way she spoke of the book as a creature in its own right, an untethered heroine out there in the world. Or, as Lucy has written on her blog, Her Mistresses Voice , an archive of women’s musical history. As Helen McCookerybook has written in her blog post on the launch, Skin from Skunk Anansie took to the floor to thank Lucy for her services rendered to the history of female musicians and this went down very well with those present.
The journey back to Manchester the next day was a good one, the only problem being that I was in a lot of pain with my neck and shoulder (this is a long standing issue). I tend to try and avoid doing two coach journeys two days running for this reason, as I always seize up on the coach and have to put up with a lot of stiffness, aching and – worst of all – stabbing pains. But I was lucky enough to have a two seater to myself both on the way down and on the way back, so at least I didn’t have to put up with my bad arm being squished up and tensed against a complete stranger, which has happened more times than I can count. I used my scarf to make a pillow, closed my eyes, and got through it.
It was the Glasgow coach, which I’ve never got before, and it goes to Manchester, Carlisle, Hamilton and Glasgow, with toilet breaks at Norton Canes and Manchester. I’ve been through Norton Canes so many times now I can find the toilets blindfolded. We got a fantastic Glaswegian driver doing the safety announcements, including a discreet caution against men using the coach toilet. I’ve heard a less discreet version of this before on a coach to London in 2009, and it basically comes down to ‘Don’t piss standing up unless you’re looking forward to falling over with your trousers round your ankles and nutting the cistern whenever we go round a bend’. You don’t get bon mots of this standard on Virgin trains I don’t think.
My current favourite National Express announcement is from last summer when I was coming back from visiting my F-Word colleague Holly Combe in Bristol. As we were drawing into Stoke coach station, the intercom crackled into life: “Welcome to Costa del Stoke-On-Trent. If you are leaving the coach here please remember to take any rubbish and small children with you, but please feel free to leave behind any laptops and smart phones so we can flog them on ebay”. I also once heard the following exchange between two drivers on the way to London in 2009, as we were pulling out of Stockport bus station. Driver 1 (exceedingly chipper cockney gentleman): Have you got the details of that taxi? Driver 2 (exceedingly grumpy sounding cockney gentlemen): What taxi? Driver 1: The one I hit last week. On the return journey on that occasion, the engine conked out on the coach by Bowden Roundabout, or, as my dad put it, “deepest, darkest Cheshire.” The journey took about 8 or 9 hours.