The multi-coloured freak show (Klub Kakofanney Lockdown Letter)

The multi-coloured freak show

Do you feel local music is under threat and under-appreciated? If not, where have you been for the last twelve months? Oh yes, lockdown, pandemic. Well there is that. Terri of Gets Louder has put together this really impressive video about why Oxford needs to Save The Sheaf. There's something in there that everyone can relate to:

We've been busy this week putting together our thoughts on reasons why local music scenes are more than a knees-up in a pub. We are not the subversive fringe. We are an essential part of the culture and community of this country, and in my opinion, local music does far more good for society than the high-brow arts which get public funding by the bucketload. Please don't feel you have to read this document. It is a long read, there's no jokes, just serious stuff I'm afraid, and it certainly won't be for everyone, but if anyone wants to see what we are saying about culture and community, here it is. And if you just want to look at the photos, that's totally okay too.

If it gives you food for thought, I'll be delighted, but don't worry, there won't be a test on it at the end of term. If you do read it, you'll see that I talk a lot about the inclusivity of music, how it overcomes prejudices, helps break down barriers, and attitudes which is perhaps more relevant than ever now in the midst of a national conversation about sexism in society.

Living in the past

Were you as shocked and as dismayed as I was to hear that another member of the Japanese Olympic Committee has made a crass chauvanistic comment. The committee's 66 years old Creative Director, Hiroshi Sasaki, suggested that one of the country's leading stand-up comedians, Naomi Watanabe, who happens to be both female and "plus sized", should wear pink pointy ears and be an "Olym Pig" at the opening ceremony. This is less than a month since the president of the same committee had made the sweeping generalisation that women talk too much in boardroom meetings. The Olympics is the biggest event on the planet, and this is who they put in charge? What century do these people live in?

Women in music

I've been going back through chart listings and as far as I can tell, the first woman to achieve a number one hit single was the Kentuckian, Rosemary Clooney singing "This ole house" back in 1954, and it looks like the first British-born female chart topper was Helen Shapiro, from London. Shapiro topped the charts twice in 1961, at the age of just 15, which makes her strong voice even more remarkable. The first hit was "You don't know", and the second was "Walking back to happiness". Here is a terrific old video of her singing it in the recording studio.

I could easily have overlooked even earlier female artists, so feel free to correct me, but the point is that for pretty well everyone reading this, we all grew up already knowing that women could be pop successes just as much as men could. Since before we were born, women have topped the charts. It was just the normal state of affairs, the way it should be. Compare that with the worlds of business, politics, and even sports,... they are all being dragged kicking and screaming into a world of equality. Of course, I am not saying the world of music is devoid of chauvanism and mysogyny, I am sure it is not, but I hope we are doing better than most.

Those girls can play guitar

There is a film, called "The Runaways", about Joan Jett's early years and her first band, which addresses the attitudes they encountered back then to girls with guitars. It is a gritty film, and well worth watching. Kirsten Stewart who plays Joan Jett is so true to Joan Jett that I find it impossible to tell photos of them apart, Dakota Fanning is an equally convincing replica of lead singer Cherry Currie, and the restaging of the gig performances is stunningly accurate. I've seen both the original TV footage of the Tokyo gig, and the footage from the film, and this one is, I think, the movie version,... in fact, I'm sure it is..., or am I?

Beat out that rhythm on a drum

I'm not sure what drives the rugby club mentality of some people when it comes to women doing remarkable things, but seeing bands at live gigs and women breaking the stereotypes is clearly a good thing. For sure there are some "traditionalists" who are surprised to see a woman driving a drum kit at full power, so Silke in Self Help, Nic in Full Circle Blue, and Chris in Beaver Fuel, for example, you are all doing a fine job of educating the ill-informed. Unsurprisingly, music is once again years ahead of rest of the planet. Here is a stunning piece of drumming by a woman drummer from over 80 years ago, the legendary Viola Smith, (yes, she was even named after a musical instrument), who was possibly the world's first ever female professional drummer.

A couple of years after that performance, Viola wrote an article entitled "Give female musicians a break". Sadly, Viola passed away a few months ago, just a few weeks short of her 108th birthday, but if her story interests you, there is a great fifteen minute long interview with her when she was a sprightly 101 year old.

Like pebbles in a strema

Drumming doesn't have to be thunderous, and it isn't compulsory for drummers to be hidden at the back of the stage behind a mountain of metalwork. It can also be very subtle. Here is a lovely piece from a Gappy Tooth gig, where I filmed Mark and Helen from the band "Spill The River", with Helen playing a very simple drum set-up, a subdued snare, played from a standing position at the front of the stage. It is a refreshingly different approach.

Anarchic synchronicity, CHa Cha Cha-Cha

If you like drumming, you will love anything by Aainja. As far as I can tell, they are from Bogota in Colombia, and the name means "creation" or "creative" in the Wayuunaiki language. They are a drumming band, pure and simple, a mixture of enormously talented and physically athletic men and women who create the most incredible music and movement. I can only imagine what they must sound like in real life, to be so engulfed by that relentless percussive energy. My headphones, good as they are, simply cannot do justice to the sound. This live performance video amazes me every time, and the way they ended their set is simply wonderful. What a fantastic feelgood moment that must have been.

No elitism, no barriers

For the past 15 years or so there has been an annual festival called Afropunk. It started in New York, was once held in north London, but has now relocated to South Africa. The event isn't without its critics, not least for becoming a commercial festival when it was originally free to all, but it is still a wonderful expression of African spirit. This video captures the sheer joy of the event.

You can't really see it in this video, but at the entrance gates and alongside the main stage there were gigantic banners which said:

No sexism
No racism
No ableism
No ageism
No homophobia
No fatphobia
No transphobia
No hatefulness

It is almost lyrical. Remember, this isn't in response to recent events. This is from years ago. This is the music community saying the things the rest of the world should have been listening to back then. Maybe they could send one of those banners over to Tokyo, to hang in the Olympic Organiser's office.

19th March 2021
The Lockdown Letters
Klub Kakofanney