Mid-week ramblings… and a new interactive experiment!

“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.” [Benjamin Franklin]

Happy mid-week returns!

I acknowledge that it’s been a while since my last regular weekly blog post. Rest (re)assured – or not, depending upon who you are 😊 – that this doesn’t mean I’ve run out of things to say! Fat chance of that, as the expression goes.

Indeed, I’ve continued to write, and am making steady progress on synthesising all of my previous blog entries, with a view to finally constructing the book that I’ve been keen to publish for, ooh, several lifetimes now. There are also plenty of music/spod-related developments in the proverbial pipeline, and it’s been a wonderfully busy few months, which is just the way I like it.

With all that stuff in mind, I thought that I’d try a bit of an interactive experiment here, just to get a sense of whether (and how) it might work. The basic idea is that I’d like to receive suggestions from you about music-related topics, ideas or themes that I could address and explore in a short-ish dedicated blog post of up to 1000 words. I’ll take my usual approach and endeavour to combine autobiographical experiences/anecdotes with a little theory, as well as including some brief reflections on the writing process itself and how that felt for me. I’ll aim to publish these posts here every couple of weeks, and will signpost to them via the usual social media channels.

If you’d like to propose a topic, please drop me a line here, via my Facebook/Twitter pages or at our Three Colours Dark website – http://www.threecoloursdark.com/contact.html – and we’ll see how things develop from there!

*Sharpens pencils, just in-case…*

“Will you play the song from Titanic, luv?”: five species of heckle, and their consequences.

In last week’s blog entry, I presented the second of this three-post series about how musicians (and, specifically, singers) learn to develop and practice resilience in the context of live performance, focusing on some of the challenges brought about by striving for a good live sound, and negotiating physical space onstage, or a lack thereof. Here’s item #3 in my lovely list (nerd alert), which I discuss using some illustrative examples from my autobiographical archives. Today’s read is a little lengthier than usual, because this post seemed to lend itself better to being presented as a whole piece, rather than further divided. May your cuppa be large, and your biscuits plentiful… 

#3: Interacting with the audience

In previous posts, I’ve written about having performed – with both of my former bands – for a wide range of audiences over the course of the past 25 or so years, from virtually empty pubs, to packed out medium sized venues and large scale music festivals. I’ve also described how I gradually learned to ‘do’ audience interaction as the bands’ frontwoman, and how I came to love it. One of my favourite approaches to engaging a music audience and involving them in a gig is the practice of storytelling. As a part of my confusingly eclectic musical taste, I’m a big folk music fan, and have always loved the skilful and captivating ways in which some artists manage to create a whole contextual ‘world’ for each song that they introduce as part of their live set. I have witnessed and enjoyed many wonderful examples of this from Karine Polwart, Kate Rusby, Richard Thompson and Martin Simpson (to name just a few). Much depends, of course, on the kind of lyrical topics explored in the songs themselves, and the extent to which those can be effectively ‘storied’, as it were.

I have mentioned before in this blog that, as a lyricist, I often draw deeply on very personal autobiographical material, whilst always endeavouring to make my lyrics sufficiently open to interpretation, enabling listeners – I hope! – to make the songs as individually relevant to them as they wish. I have done exactly this with Three Colours Dark on The Science of Goodbye album, for example. For the most part, the lyrics that I wrote during the Karnataka years strove to do the same thing, creating a confluence of extremely personal and yet universally recognisable emotional landscapes. There were a few exceptions on our album The Storm [1], notably Hay, in which I wrote about the town of Hay-on-Wye; a location that I used to visit frequently and which was emotionally significant for me, and, of course, the album’s title track. For the latter, inspired by the Helvetia shipwreck at Rhossili Bay on the Gower Peninsula in South Wales – http://www.eastpiltonfarmrhossili.co.uk/news/the-story-behind-the-shipreck-of-helvetia-on-rhossili-beach/ – I created a fictional historical account of the ship’s crew and their fate, told from the point of view of one of the imaginary sailors. A wonderful video to the track was subsequently created (wholly without the band’s involvement!), using footage from the movie A Very Long Engagement[2]. It’s a beautiful piece well worth a watch, is still on YouTube, and has now had over 98,000 views! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fdw-EanLja0

As part of The Reasoning, I chose to try and explore some less profoundly autobiographical and more abstract conceptual material in my lyrics. On our first three studio albums, I wrote the lyrics for all of the songs on which I sang the lead vocal, and also for other tracks, including Absolute Zero, How Far to Fall and (most of) Call Me God?. Our other main lyricist (also key songwriter and guitarist/lead vocalist) at the time was the splendidly talented Dylan Thompson, whose approach couldn’t have been more different than my own; and was one that I admired greatly. Quite by chance, we both drew on some similar inspiration for our lyrical themes during the writing of our album Dark Angel[3], on which the tracks Sharp Sea and A Musing Dream both took a fairly heady trip through the glorious territory of Greek mythology. The live show preamble for the latter was far from philosophically weighty, though 😊 In it, I cited Monty Python’s infamous Trojan Rabbit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=trnG1dg8TJM ,which proved to be both amusing to and highly confusing for our audiences.

In the band’s later years, I drew on some of the theoretical ideas with which I’d engaged as part of my academic work, and on novels that I’d read and found inspiring. This resulted in the lyrics for songs such as Script-Switch Trigger, The Thirteenth Hour, 14, Apophenia, and of course The Omega Point, all of which I analysed in detail several years ago in a previous blog post[4]. The spoken introductions to these became a key feature of our live sets, too, and facilitated plenty of lively band/audience banter, also discussed elsewhere on this blog. In the formative early and pre-Karnataka years, though, I had neither the experience nor the confidence to engage in such storytelling activities, and useful lessons were learned in terms of dealing with the phenomenon to which I shall now turn 😊.

#3a: Heckling

In terms of resilience, I think it’s less a question of becoming ‘hardened’ to the challenges of audience interaction (although one certainly needs some pretty robust psychological coping mechanisms sometimes when it comes to heckling), and more a matter of re-framing those challenges and mobilising them in a rewarding way for both artist and audience wherever and whenever possible.

Mark Duffett provides a fascinating account of such matters in his excellent 2009 paper[5]. Here, he explores the various forms and functions of heckling in the context of live music. Duffett considers how heckling – which he describes as a “counter-performance”[6] made by an audience – challenges both the boundaries of and balance of power within a live performance. He also emphasises the extent to which audiences can be “much more internally diverse and critical”[7] than is sometimes suggested in the academic study of popular music. Speaking as an academic who has studied such things herself and as a musician who has experienced the many manifestations of it in real life, I wholeheartedly agree, and that’s all part of the excitement! The process of being heckled (and the kind of heckling likely to occur) at a gig varies according to the music genre to which an artist or band belongs, of course. The volatility that’s absolutely expected and encouraged between a punk band and their audience, for instance, would be experienced and received in a far less favourable way at a Keane gig, I’d imagine. Nevertheless, the typology that Duffett provides, in which he identifies “5 species of heckle”[8] certainly resonates with me quite powerfully, and I figured that I’d have a go at reflecting on some gig memories, with this typology in mind.   

The five species in question are: 1. endorsements, 2. requests, 3. critiques, 4. attempts at replacement and 5. cries of outright opposition. I should point out that my bands were fortunate never to have been greeted with outright hostility by an audience, even in those early years, and so we can discount #5, thankfully! Instances of #3 (espoused in real time and during actual performances, anyhow) were also very rare, for which I am similarly thankful. Over the years, though, some of the remaining species were certainly encountered on various occasions, and I’ve selected a few particularly vivid recollections that I think serve to illustrate each of these quite nicely.

Duffett defines the first type of heckle as one which involves “a plain and simple endorsement of the performance as it stands. By manifesting appreciation, these heckles demonstrate the [artist’s] popularity and therefore heighten each individual fan’s pleasure”.[9]

In the Karnataka days, some of our first slightly bigger gigs were those organised and hosted by the Classic Rock Society[10], circa 2000(ish), which was where we began to experience wider appreciation of our music and a sense of (small scale) popularity for the first time. If memory serves me fairly accurately, our first appearance for the CRS was as the support act for a Genesis tribute band. Given the Progressive rock focus and orientation of the CRS, we were already a little nervous as to how we would be received by their audiences, and so that night’s opening slot was as good a road-test as we could possibly have hoped for! Pre-gig nerves notwithstanding, our set got off to a good start, and we deployed – possibly for the first time – the useful strategy of doing a segue between the first and second songs. That’s a helpful tactic for two reasons: (i) it’s nice to warm-up the show by playing uninterrupted for more than a few minutes and (ii) it postpones the inevitable moment of truth in which you wait for the audience to respond to you, a moment which (generally speaking) sets the tone for the rest of the gig. It’s not only a powerful barometer, but also a significant mood-shifter for everyone in the band, and although it is possible to improve on and recover from a wholly indifferent first response, that’s quite unusual in my experience.

During the second song that night, I noticed that several people in the audience appeared to be talking while we were playing. This was disappointing, and my inner catastrophist leapt into action, trying to prepare me for the fact that we were surely headed for a humiliating failure. As we reached the chorus of said song, though, I realised that those people weren’t talking at all. They were singing along with me. I remember feeling completely overwhelmed: this meant that not only had some of those in the audience evidently listened to the album a sufficient number of times to know the words (which surely meant that they liked it at least a bit)… they were also enthused enough to want to openly participate in our live performance of it. I had never in my wildest dreams expected to be on the receiving end of this particularly lovely species of heckle, despite having myself enthusiastically befriended it over the years at many of my favourite artists’ gigs. Notable memories of that include screaming myself hoarse at an A-ha show in 1985, and the many occasions since then where my fervent singalongs at gigs morphed rapidly into uncontrollable and mascara-dissolving tearful meltdowns (thank you, Marillion and Tom Petty 😊).

The second type of heckle described by Mark Duffett – the “request” pretty much does what it says on the tin, that is to say that it “provid[es] suggestions about how to improve the [artist’s] performance, perhaps by… including popular requests, or doing songs in a more expected style”.[11]

Over the years, I have observed a fascinating assumption that’s occasionally made about musicians, i.e. that if you can sing and/or play an instrument, ergo you are surely also a human jukebox, willing and able to perform any song, from any genre, at any time and, indeed, on demand. In a future blog post, I will discuss in greater detail the differences in terms of challenge and risk when it comes to performing original material as opposed to cover versions of others’ material. There are plenty of experiences to draw on in that respect, since the small pub gigs through which we began our journey as a live band often involved subverting audience hopes and expectations, and not always for the better! In the late 1990s, in those early Karnataka years, we had regular bookings at a number of local venues. One especially amusing anecdote was the night on which, fairly early on in the set, the rather indifferent and minimal applause was gradually substituted for a series of increasingly insistent questions from the audience. These began with enquiries such as “can you play anything we know?” (bizarre, perhaps, since we had no personal relationship to anyone in the audience that night, and therefore no clue about their  respective individual or collective music knowledges) and the old favourite “have you got any songs we can dance to?” (* checks set list. No, not really *). Later, one fellow wandered over to me, sipping his pint, and simply asked “will you play the song from Titanic[12], luv?”. We didn’t. And I very much hope that I will never have to try!

These are just two of the many, many similar stories that I could tell about those formative Karnataka years, in which we learned how to be resilient as musicians and, importantly, how to practice that resilience in ways that worked for us individually and as a band. With The Reasoning, things were less challenging in that respect right from the beginning, because we were building on already-established music reputations of sorts via our links to previous membership of Karnataka and Magenta. That meant that we were able, even from our very first live performances, to put on ticketed shows at better known music venues. Also, whilst there was some musical departure from our respective Proggier/folkier roots, The Reasoning’s first audiences had a fair idea of what to expect, so were probably less likely to be disappointed by the absence from our set of movie soundtrack classics. We were of course far more experienced as performers by that time as well, which is always helpful!

To conclude this series of posts about gig-related resilience, then, I return to the work of Brené Brown, which I have discussed more fully in a recent blog entry[13]. As a musician (and, indeed, as a human being), it’s important to be sufficiently resilient to keep yourself safe. In order to experience the full spectrum of everything that life and music have to offer, though, we’d be better served by embracing the beauty of our vulnerability, even when it hurts. Brown points out, quite rightly, that:

“when we make the choice to dare greatly [by being vulnerable], we sign up to get our asses kicked. We can choose courage or we can choose comfort, but we can’t have both. Not at the same time”.

My own ass has, indeed, been subjected to several really good kickings over the years. And I believe it to be in much better shape today as a result! 😊

“I’ll take back my life / now that I’m awake inside / heart opened wide”[14]


[1] Karnataka The Storm. Immrama Records 2000

[2] A Very Long Engagement. Jean-Pierre Jeunet, 2004

[3] The Reasoning Dark Angel. Comet Music, 2008

[4] Returning to Never(Never)land Part 2 of 3, 18/01/2015

[5] Duffett, M. (2009) “We Are Interrupted by Your Noise”: Heckling and the Symbolic Economy of Popular Music Stardom. Popular Music and Society 32(1):37-57

[6] Duffett, p40

[7] Duffett, p39

[8] Duffett, p46.

[9] Duffett, p46.

[10] See blog post dated 13-06-2020

[11] Duffett, p46.

[12] Celine Dion My Heart Will Go On. Columbia 1997.

[13] See blog post dated 04-07-2020

[14] Three Colours Dark The Science of Goodbye. Firefly Music 2020.

“We can’t hear the vocals, babes…”: the challenges of live sound mixing (and tiny stages).

Last week, in the first part of this three-post series about developing and practicing resilience in the context of live performance when you’re a musician (and, specifically, a singer), I considered the physiological challenges of being the lead vocalist of a rock band, and reflected on some of my personal experiences in that regard. Today, I move on to item #2 in my list (got to love a list) and, as usual, draw on some autobiographical examples by way of illustration. 

#2a: Technical and logistical issues: the challenges of getting a decent live sound/onstage monitor mix

Among those without first-hand experience, one of the greatest misconceptions about the live sound at gigs is, I think, the idea that everything sounds the same to the band onstage as it does to the onlooking audience. It really doesn’t 😊 In our small pub gig days with Karnataka, this basic fact led to many interesting interpersonal situations, in which (usually well-liquored and probably well meaning) audience members took it upon themselves to approach someone in the band – usually me, usually mid-song – and endeavoured to explain to us me in great detail exactly what was wrong with our sound and what we needed to change, like, immediately, in order to improve matters to their satisfaction. I discovered that it’s quite difficult to engage in and respond convincingly to those sorts of conversations whilst simultaneously delivering an uninterrupted lead vocal, and I challenge anyone to pull that off in style!

Live sound experiences were often largely a matter of trial and (plenty of) error in those days. On a separate occasion, we arrived, diligently set up our stage gear and successfully conducted our usual soundcheck. The venue was fitted with a noise limiter device, whose purpose was to cut off mains power to our equipment, should the band’s collective loudness exceed the decibel level deemed appropriate for the pub. Naturally, it did exactly that on the second chord of our set opener, and it took us a good while to reboot everything – an unforeseen power outage is one of most keyboard players’ worst nightmares, understandably – and get going again. We managed to start once more from the beginning, albeit very tentatively, and with a fearful eye on the dreaded device and its ominous big red light…

If your band is fortunate enough – as we were later down the line – to be able to employ a professional sound engineer, then you’re in safe and reliable hands when it comes to making your gigs sound as good as possible. It means that there’s someone available to manage the front of house audio situation while the band are doing their bit onstage, and who can be also be trusted to do their best to ensure that the band can hear themselves and each other via the stage monitoring system. With a detailed knowledge of the band’s sound and their set, these super-talented folk also aim for consistency as well as clarity, minimising differences in levels and mix from venue to venue, where acoustics and equipment vary significantly in terms of technical spec and quality standards. It’s an incredibly nuanced and skilled job and, when done well, it’s an impressive feat indeed. Also, unsurprisingly, as a vocalist, it’s very useful to be able to hear yourself when you sing. Unless you’re a musician and/or have performed onstage yourself, you may be unaware of how challenging it can be to make that happen!

What can be learned about resilience in this context, then? I have a few ideas although I note, as always, that these are based on my own personal experiences, and aren’t intended to be generalisable…

Perhaps most significantly, it’s crucial to know what you need (often, as in life more generally, this is not necessarily the same as what you want!) and who/how to ask for it. As a female singer, I tended to worry about being perceived pejoratively as a ‘diva’ whenever it was necessary to request a little additional attention to (vocal) detail during a soundcheck. Anyone who knows me well will fully appreciate that I’d fail spectacularly at diva-dom. May I refer you to the Inspector Clouseau reference cited in section #2b, below. Enough said.

Soundcheck time is often limited, though, and when things aren’t going smoothly, it’s very easy to feel unfairly (and unnecessarily) pressured into putting up and shutting up, so to speak. A small amount of gentle persistence can go a long way, however, and there is of course a big difference between politely and firmly standing up for oneself and, well, just being an arsehole for the sake of it. I hope with all of my heart that neither myself nor our bands ever came across as anything other than friendly and professional in that respect!

If resilience might also be defined in terms of the absence of action, i.e. not doing something, then learning to stay calm when things can (as they sometimes must) go horribly wrong during a gig is of paramount importance. To quote the inimitable Douglas Adams, “DON’T PANIC”[1]. Easier said than done on some occasions, it’s true, but done it must be, and if one can learn to laugh at oneself in the process, then that helps. A lot.  

If all else fails, then this kind of resilience simply means trying to look and behave as though you can hear yourself perfectly, even when you can’t. Weirdly, after a while, you somehow learn to “feel” whether or not you’re singing in tune with everyone else, even when you can’t hear a sausage.

#2b: (Lack of) available stage space

In addition to sorting out the sound, there’s the business of getting yourselves and all of your gear onto a venue’s stage in the first place. The amount of physical space that’s (un)available onstage has a powerful impact on just about every aspect of a band’s performance. Fairly early on, I discovered the many benefits of using a radio mic instead of a wired one. This technical shift was partly brought about as a means of damage-limiting my inherently Clouseau-esque tendencies, which have been a lifelong affliction. Indeed, had I chosen to be a telephone engineer (God help us all!) by profession, I suspect that my average day at work might’ve looked a lot like this… https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t2IXL9gYCAo

During our gigs, the number of times when I became tangled up in/tripped over/accidentally stood on and disconnected my mic lead seemed to be steadily increasing, and so the wireless option was considered sensible for safety’s sake! I was an immediate convert. I adored the freedom of movement that it gave me and loved being able to dance, jump and run around the stage – and amicably provoke my bandmates in the process – to my heart’s content. Where there were really big stages, this was particularly exciting, and I made the most of every possible opportunity to inhabit and fully own the space whilst I was borrowing it as ‘mine’ for those precious moments of time.

At the other end of that scale, though, was where things got very interesting. Each of my former bands were – for most of the time – comprised of a six-person line-up. That means plenty of stage gear, especially if you have two guitarists and a full keyboard rig included in your collective paraphernalia. If you happen to be the lead singer who doesn’t play an actual instrument (guilty as charged), then your mission is to contort yourself into whatever space is(n’t) leftover, and to not complain about it 😊 If I do say so myself, I did a pretty decent job with a range of percussion during shows with both bands, although that had its perils on some of those super small stages. Notable misdemeanours include knocking a guitar(ist) out of tune, getting my tambourine stuck in my hair/a fellow band member’s clothes, watching the head of my maraca as it came off the handle and hurtled through the air dangerously close to the drummer’s left ear, and tripping over (thereby obliterating) the shaker that I’d ever-so-carefully placed out of harm’s way next to my mic stand. Particularly hilarious memories of miniscule stage experiences include playing in a bar in The Netherlands so tiny that all of us had to crawl under the drum kit just to get to our respective performing positions, the time that I somehow fell down a gap in the stage at a London venue, grabbing hold of the keyboard rig for support, and almost taking it (and Jon) with me into the hole, and the one where I literally knocked myself unconscious on a low ceiling during the post-gig load-out. In Bath, as I recall. Elsewhere, another time, we had to set up and play in a ‘stage’ space that was basically the area of floor in the pub between the bar and the toilets, such that people in the ‘audience’ (i.e. the poor sods whose lovely Friday night down the local was being rudely interrupted by our music) had to walk through the band en-route to a bathroom break. Many couldn’t resist having a quick slap of the ride cymbal or a wiggle of my mic stand as they did so. That bit was probably more fun for them than it was for us.

Sometimes, the lack of space added to the tension in a really productive way, and made for an intense (and usually very sweaty) show. I have very, very fond recollections of The Borderline and The Peel – another two sadly RIP venues – in that respect.

To conclude for today, then… for musicians, especially singers, developing and practicing resilience means learning some good skills in the art of versatility; both physical and emotional. It’s also closely bound to an ability to make the farcical explicit, as it were, so that you can at least own it all in an appropriately self-deprecating way. There’s nothing more likely to make an already excruciating situation feel completely unbearable than attempting to soldier on and pretend that it’s not happening.

Next week’s post will be the final instalment of this three-part series. In it, I will consider how resilience comes in handy when interacting with live music audiences, and will explore the “5 species of heckle”[2] identified by Mark Duffett in his 2009 research paper; some of them less deadly than others!

We dare to love and we love to hope / seek out the new and the strange…”[3]


[1] Adams, D. (1979) The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Pan Books

[2] Duffett, M. (2009:49) “We Are Interrupted by Your Noise”: Heckling and the Symbolic Economy of Popular Music Stardom. Popular Music and Society 32(1):37-57

[3] The Reasoning ‘The Omega Point’, from the album Adventures in Neverland Cherry Red Records, 2012

Singing the body electric: the physiological implications of live performance.

Today, I continue my discussion of the ways in which resilience matters for musicians and, in these next few blog entries, I will further develop my consideration of how it can be learned and practiced in the context of live music performance. Last week, in closing, I outlined three main areas in which I think resilience is especially pertinent when it comes to performing live: 1. Physiological wear and tear, 2. Technical and logistical issues and 3. Relational challenges. I’ll address each of those points in turn, using some anecdotes from the autobiographical archives for colourful illustration and beginning at the beginning (obviously), with #1.

#1: Physiological wear and tear, i.e. the impact of a gig on your body

It goes without saying that live shows – and being on tour – are physically strenuous enterprises, and this surely contributes to the fact that they’re also some of the most exciting life experiences a person can have! As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, whilst physiological concerns apply to all performance artists, they have particular pertinence for vocalists, whose body is, to all intents and purposes, their instrument, and is therefore necessarily affected by even relatively minor fluctuations in emotional and/or physical health. When you’re a singer, you are – quite rightly – expected to deliver good quality, consistent performances, no matter where (or for whom) you’re performing. During a tour, gig schedules often include four or five consecutive days of shows, and it is your responsibility to achieve that quality and consistency, no matter how you’re actually feeling in body and/or mind.

I was unsurprised to discover that there is a notable lack of sociological/psychological research on this topic in the context of popular music artists’ experiences. In doing my preparatory reading for this post, however, I unearthed a few interesting studies about the various performance-related challenges that are experienced by classical musicians. Reported findings and conclusions from these seemed to me to be relevant to all musicians – regardless of the genre or discipline in which they work – since many of the challenges that we face are broadly similar and, I would argue, equally deserving of consideration.

Pecen et al. (2018)[1] make interesting work of studying Performers’ Experiences of Psychological Challenges in Music, exploring musicians’ coping methods in relation to their work, their (self) beliefs and their attitudes towards support. The authors note that, in order to establish and maintain a successful performative career, musicians must deal with a whole host of challenges including burnout, psychological pressure and perfectionism, as well as additional problems such as musculoskeletal and neuromuscular overuse, irregular sleep, anxiety-related disorders and music performance anxiety.

Findings from the study describe the most “salient” challenges for musicians thus: “bad teachers, the changing demands of the music industry, unsupportive environments, social comparison and competition, injury, psychological problems and personal problems”[2]. If, like me, you’re an entirely self-taught music person, then there’s no one but yourself to blame for the ‘bad teachers’ bit 😊. In relation to all of the other items, though, I could cite countless illustrative examples from my own biographical experiences. Popular music may not be constrained by the harsh formality and strict pedagogy of its classical equivalent, but that doesn’t make it any less demanding or challenging! It is also of course true that subjective preferences exist – and individual choices are to be made – about the extent of the effort and energy that are mobilised during any given performance. Personally, whether playing to a handful of people in an unassuming and tiny pub or giving it large in front of a sizeable festival audience, I’ve always made it my business to give each vocal performance everything that I’ve got, regardless of my physical energy levels, emotional state or (God forbid) physical illness on the day of the show. I’d rather do no show at all than a half-arsed one!

I recently watched the wonderful documentary film Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey[3], in which new Journey frontman Arnel Pineda tells the story about how he came to join the band in 2008. Pineda’s account of the challenges and pressures that he experienced is, by turn, poignant, exuberant and brutally (if not disarmingly) honest. I pause momentarily to point out that I am in no way attempting to draw parallels between my own bands’ professional trajectories and that of these legendary US superstars… I’m merely observing that there are some music-related experiences that transcend the boundaries of status and success.

A couple of key scenes from the film therefore resonated particularly powerfully with me. Of note was the footage filmed in various backstage vocal warm-up rooms, depicting the unique atmosphere of these most sacred of spaces for singers, which somehow manage to be simultaneously quiet, restful and simmering with unreleased nervous tension. The camera shows us tables crammed with an array of natural, homeopathic and medicinal throat remedies: a very familiar sight for me. Our dressing rooms (on those occasions when we were fortunate enough to be given one!) were similarly full of such paraphernalia, including vitamin supplements, gargles of various denominations, lozenges, syrups, lemon and ginger teabags, Propolis drops and, as I recall, on one tour we deployed some kind of Chinese herbal remedy that involved soaking a very suspicious-looking seed in a mug of hot water until it expanded to about six times its original size, and then drinking the (decidedly not in the least tasty) infusion.

Elsewhere in Don’t Stop Believin’… we share in Arnel’s anxiety about whether he’ll be able to make it through a whole live set as he struggles with a cold and, at one point, we see him using a nebuliser to try and preserve his voice ahead of that night’s show. I recall that sensation of anxious dread all too well; the uncertainty as to whether there will come a point mid-gig where you open your mouth to sing and nothing comes out. There’s also the fear of potentially causing lasting long-term physical damage by stubbornly forging ahead and hoping for the best… I have (luckily) been spared that latter dilemma, since my body seems to have its own naturally occurring vocal deactivation system whenever a sore throat takes hold, so that I simply go completely hoarse. That can in itself be frustrating, though, and can have serious logistical implications. I usually did what I could to look after my physical wellbeing on tour, but sometimes none of that made a difference, and I had to concede defeat, even if when that meant making myself highly unpopular in the process.

For us singers, once the voice has decided to go MIA, there’s no refuge to be found in blaming it on a “dodgy lead”/blown fuse/defunct amp/software gremlins/incompetent guitar tech, I’m afraid. And, should you happen to be mid-tour at the time, it’s not just that night’s show to worry about, it’s all of the imminent ones as well. It is what it is. Sometimes all the honey and lemon / Propolis / saltwater gargles / steam inhalations / Vocalzone™ lozenges / emergency port and brandy toddies make no difference whatsoever. Stress, panic and/or self-flagellation about the situation only serves to make things worse (trust me: I’ve done the legwork there), and so you just roll with the punches and try to remain optimistic! I’m very fortunate to thus far have avoided any serious problems in the throat department in terms of my singing pursuits and can barely dare to imagine the distress and havoc that such things must cause.

For me, the physical wear and tear of fronting my bands during live performances also incorporated a few non-voice related issues including (but not limited to), tambourine-induced blisters on the undersides of both thumbs and various minor musculoskeletal injuries incurred by over-enthusiastic cavorting onstage and the wearing of hefty New Rock boots. In later Karnataka years, I also spent a few years in the miserable grip of an eating disorder, and discovered that those energetic stage routines were difficult to sustain when fuelled only by the occasional cereal bar and (why?!?) jars of green olives. Pre-show adrenaline and Red Bull will take you so far on a tour, but they’re definitely not useful endurance strategies, as it turns out. Neither are multiple shots of Vanilla flavoured Absolut Vodka, or quarter bottles of Jose Cuervo tequila (don’t ask). Also, all of those items rather make mockery of the ‘getting decent sleep’ rule…

Resilience as it pertains to the physiological demands of being the lead vocalist of a rock band is far more than something physical, then. It’s also psychological and emotional and needs to be mobilised (and managed) in all of those experiential realms most of the time. Self-compassion was never one of my better skills[4], but it’s a lesson that I’ve learned the hard way over the past five years; one that will serve me well for the rest of my life. As Brené Brown would no doubt agree, making self-care, self-compassion and self-respect a non-negotiable item in one’s existential toolbox (and owning it) isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a great strength.

“Nothing to die for, there’s nothing to fear / learn to be stronger, learn to be brave…”[5]


[1] Pecen, E., Collins, D.J. and MacNamara, A. (2018) “It’s Your Problem – Deal With It”: Performers’ Experiences of Psychological Challenges in Music. Frontiers in Psychology. Vol 8.

[2] Pecen et al. p5.

[3] Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey. Ramona S. Diaz, 2013

[4] In my blog post dated 11.07.2020, I write briefly about my biographical experiences with vulnerability and chronic shame

[5] Karnataka ‘The Journey’, from the album The Storm. Immrama Records, 2000

Break a leg: practicing and performing resilience

In last week’s post, I discussed the complex ways in which vulnerability and resilience are perhaps intertwined for musicians. I suggested that the process of becoming a musician-self requires an ongoing negotiation of the tensions between those two things. Reflecting on my own early life, I also considered how my own understandings of and attitude towards vulnerability have shaped my identity more generally. I have written previously about the wider activities that comprise the ‘gig experience’ as a whole and so, focusing on the actual live performance part of that, I’ll begin to explore how resilience can be learned and practiced in the context of live music performance[1]. Some of the anecdotes that follow may sound far-fetched, but I can assure you that none are fictional, and that I have not exaggerated the details! They’re as accurate as memory ever can be and I will happily be challenged if any of the ‘facts’ are disputed. I reiterate as always that this is my personal autobiographical narrative, and I do not seek to tell other people’s stories for them.

As I’ve willingly confessed before, the art of stage performance was never something that came naturally to me: I’ve had to work at it very hard! In the very early band years (circa 1988) pre-Karnataka, I found the singing part of a gig far easier than talking to the audience between songs. Indeed, so scary to me was that prospect that I chickened out of doing it altogether whenever I could get away with it and delegated said duties to a fellow band member. In hindsight, that must have looked distinctly odd (not in a cool way, I might add) from an audience perspective, so it’s probably just as well that there was rarely much of an audience in those days anyway 😊 By the time of my final gig with The Reasoning in 2014, though, those interactions with the audience had become one of the things that I loved most about performing live. It’s also worth noting that my personal life and my entire sense of self had altered significantly throughout the intermediate 25 years, all of which informed those gradual enhancements of courage and assertiveness. Today, I would barely recognise the timid eighteen-year-old version of me if I met her at the pub! 

For newcomers to the world of gigging, pre-show nerves are among the first issues that need to be confronted and managed. The phenomenon sometimes referred to as ‘stage fright’ or ‘performance anxiety’ as this pertains to the music realm[2] has been addressed from a range of theoretical perspectives; psychological[3], phenomenological[4] and cognitive-behavioural[5], for example. Interestingly, though, most qualitative research studies on the subject seem to focus on classical musicians, whilst the experiences of their popular music peers are generally documented in more informal and/or anecdotal terms. Some famous names in popular music are renowned for their difficulties with stage fright – Kate Bush and Barbra Streisand, for instance – and a few individuals have talked openly about the extent to which this contributed to their reluctance to perform live[6].

I acknowledge of course that I have only experienced performing live on a relatively small scale, and I make no attempt to compare this to the stratospheric performative achievements of other artists and musicians, or to claim true knowledge of the levels of pre-performance anxiety that those must surely bring. Still, as described in a previous post[7], I have been lucky enough to tread the boards of stages in some legendary venues, and I will openly admit that I have fantasised long and hard about how it might feel to put on a show at the O2 Arena in London, or the Budokan in Tokyo. I’m fairly sure that I’d find the experience utterly exhilarating. With the exception of that first Coach House gig[8], perhaps, I have encountered many varieties of pre-show nerves over the years, but never anything that I would describe as ‘fear’. I was often asked the age-old question “do you still get nervous before a show?”, implying that it is necessary or desirable to eradicate such nerves. My answer was always “yes, of course”. Indeed, I’ve always maintained that nervousness-induced adrenaline of such a kind is really important, and my feelings were that, should it evaporate, that would probably be the time to retire on the grounds of waning enthusiasm for or declining emotional investment in the whole thing. You learn to tame the nervousness and manage it, but it’s not a beast to be fought… any good psychotherapist will tell you that such psychological battles in relation to anxiety are usually losing ones!

The things that make live performances scary are precisely the same things as those that make them beautiful: their sheer unpredictability and the fact that no two gigs anywhere, ever, are the same, no matter how well prepared you (think) you are. I’ve been blindsided and momentarily overwhelmed on several occasions during my gig performances by how extraordinary it is for a group of individuals with different histories, lives, personalities and skills to be present together on a stage, all engaged in completely separate performative activities that somehow magically come together to create the shared ‘whole’ of a song, and a set of songs that create an entire show. It’s alchemy of the highest order; gestalt at its very best, perhaps, and the exquisite and indefinable fragility of that never fails to amaze me. Also, the band themselves only partly contribute to the unpredictability of a gig. There are also many other factors to take into account, not least of all the audience (or lack of one!) present at the time.

Developing, maintaining and ‘doing’ resilience, then, is an exercise in which musicians are obliged to participate to some degree. It’s an exercise that demands to be engaged with in emotional, psychological and physiological terms, too. The way I see it, some of the main things that we musicians contend with in terms of resilience – as this pertains to performing live, anyway – are the following (ooh: a list!):

  1. Physiological wear and tear, i.e. the impact of a gig on your body. This is perhaps especially the case when you’re a vocalist and (as I’ve noted before) your body is your instrument
  2. Technical and logistical issues, e.g. equipment FUBARs, the availability of stage space at any given venue (or serious lack thereof) and the tribulations of creating a decent live sound, including the all-important onstage monitoring
  3. Relational challenges, particularly the handling of audience (or serious lack of one) interactions, and hecklers

In a series of posts beginning next week, I will explore each of these areas further by reflecting on some of my own performance-specific experiences, using anecdotes from my autobiographical gig archives by way of illustration. 

“I think we’ve made it, the walls are coming down this time / there must be a reason”[9]


[1] A forthcoming post will explore the ways in which resilience and vulnerability feature in other music (but non-gig) contexts

[2] I am referring specifically to music-related performative contexts here.

[3] E.g. Wilson, G.D. (2002) Psychology for Performing Artists (2nd. Ed.) London: Whurr

[4] E.g. Kenny, D.T. (2006) Music Performance Anxiety: Origins, Phenomenology, Assessment and Treatment. [Online]. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237651501_Music_performance_anxiety_Origins_phenomenology_assessment_and_treatment

[5] E.g. Osborne, M.S. and Franklin, J. (2002) Cognitive Processes in Music Performance Anxiety. Australian Journal of Psychology 54: 86-93

[6]See, for example https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/music/stage-fright-the-monster-that-scuppers-the-tour-1.1748901

[7] See blog post 23/05/2020 – Getting yer gig on. And off.

[8] See blog post 23/05/2020 – Getting yer gig on. And off.

[9] Karnataka ‘The Right Time’, from the album Delicate Flame of Desire Immrama Records, 2003

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”[1] (hopefully): doing vulnerability

In a previous post [2], I mentioned in passing the importance of developing resilience; as a crucial part of becoming a musician-self and also in relation to gaining valuable experience as a live performer. In a series of posts beginning next week, I’ll explore this in closer detail. Today, though, I’ll focus mostly on its assumed antithesis: vulnerability.

As regular visitors to this blog will know, I complain frequently about my dislike of theoretical and conceptual dualisms! To quote the wisdom of the legendary Ferris Bueller; “ -isms in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself”[3]. Amen to that 😊. There’s little escape from such issues today, though, since I’ll be discussing the problematic dichotomy that is resilience/vulnerability, and the ways in which this is both essential to and an inescapable part of being a musician. Mapped onto it is another persistent and particularly annoying binary opposition – active vs. passive – which, I shall argue, properly interferes with how we come to understand the processes of becoming and then being a musician in terms of self and identity.

Before I get stuck into all that stuff, I wish to rant briefly about the notion of ‘being discovered’, the concept of which seems to me to be highly bothersome for several reasons, despite its prevalence in contemporary media discourse. Without falling irretrievably into a vertiginous poststructuralist hole (f**k you, Foucault!), it’s worth taking a moment to consider what it even means to say that a musician[4] has been ‘discovered’. Short of being excavated during an archaeological dig, the process surely involves having (presumably deliberately) made concerted efforts to make oneself sufficiently visible to others in the first place? Even the notorious fast-tracked bedroom-performers-to-superstars came about largely as a consequence of the artists in question having shared their creative pursuits in a (virtual) public space, be that busking outside WHSmith, or via social media/ the internet? It’s a term that implies passivity, but is only made possible through active, agentic behaviour. And don’t even get me started on questions of institutional power. Annoying, like I said!

I digress. As usual 😊

My argument is that being a musician or, indeed, a creative artist more generally, demands taking up a rather peculiar subject position in relation to the active/passive binary, not oscillating between the two in any organised or consistent way, but perpetually negotiating the ‘essential tensions’[5] between them. I also observe that dominant discourses around popular music and musicians typically frame the vulnerability/resilience conundrum as an unwelcome struggle that must be mastered and overcome in order to achieve and maintain success. What’s less well documented and, I think, under explored, is the magical process of transformation that takes place within the – ongoing and ever-present – struggle itself. I think that’s worth contemplating in greater detail.

The concepts of resilience and vulnerability are often paired with one another and understood in the context of how we respond to risk. According to Rutter[6], the qualities of resilience can usefully be described as: “having a sense of purpose, future, aspiration, self-esteem, self-efficacy, mastery of beliefs, sense of autonomy, positive outlook, optimism and a sense that one can accept challenges”. Makes sense to me. I can resonate with much of that, and the next couple of weeks’ blog posts will be dedicated to a closer exploration of resilience, using a few carefully selected lived experience examples from my own gigging history.

Firstly, though, what about vulnerability? Thanks to Brené Brown’s excellent work and the publication of her 2015 book Daring Greatly: how the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead [7], conventional conceptualisations of vulnerability are beginning to be challenged and opened up to reinterpretation. Eschewing our tendency to equate being vulnerable with being weak, Brown encourages us to embrace it as a form of courage and strength and, more importantly, as a fundamental part of our everyday lives:

“Vulnerability is not weakness, and the uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure we face every day are not optional. Our only choice is a question of engagement. Our willingness to own and engage with our vulnerability determines the depth of our courage and the clarity of our purpose; the level to which we protect ourselves from being vulnerable is a measure of our fear and disconnection.”[8]

This has proved to be a helpful book for me. I was brought up (as I suspect were many Generation X-ers) to associate vulnerability not merely with weakness, but with abject failure. Whilst that equipped me with many valuable life skills – determination, psychological and physical endurance and a hardcore work ethic, for instance – it has also meant that I have struggled for most of my life with chronic shame[9]. Only in the last four or five years and after a great deal of reading, learning, and some truly excellent psychotherapy have I come to understand the impact of that on my sense of self and on my intimate relationships. Lessons now gratefully and gracefully learned, I might add. I think that the very concept of vulnerability has unique implications for creative artists. This is perhaps especially so when you’re a singer, not least because our bodies are our instrument, and so we tread an interesting path along the vulnerability/resilience continuum, as it were.

In her 2011 paper[10], Jackie Wiggins argues that, for musicians, vulnerability has both positive and negative connotations. We music people need to be open and sensitive to the music that we create and perform, of course, but we must also be open and sensitive to the ideas and perspectives of the other musicians and professionals with whom we write and create. On top of this, the sonic nature of music as an art form means sharing it with others (co-writers/producers) even when you don’t feel ready, because if no one hears it, then it ain’t going anywhere, quite frankly! Wiggins observes that there is “no private doodling”[11] in music, which is a rather lovely way of putting it. Part of music-making therefore involves: “baring one’s musicianship, one’s musical identity to others, often in the context of seeking validation from those one respects”[12]. The process of ‘seeking validation’ for professional purposes is a necessary part of being a musician when it comes to writing and recording activities and, obviously, subsequent engagements with audiences, be this via live performances or virtually mediated interactions. This sits in continual and sometimes uneasy tension with the innate human tendency to seek validation on a more personal level and, if you’re not careful, that can be an emotional minefield. Like Brown, I have learned the hard way to look after myself in that respect. These days, I too: 

“…only share when I have no unmet needs that I’m trying to fill. I firmly believe that being vulnerable with a larger audience is only a good idea if the healing is tied to the sharing, not to the expectations I might have for the response I get.”[13]

Sound advice indeed.

Nevertheless, my personal and private stuff is deeply intertwined with the professional and ‘public’ aspects of the musician-self that I share with others. That’s entirely a matter of choice, of course. As a lyricist, I often draw on autobiographical material, and it’s fair to say that many of our songs (sometimes our entire albums) have served as important cathartic vehicles for me that way, notably Karnataka’s Delicate Flame of Desire[14] and my new album with Three Colours Dark, The Science of Goodbye[15]. As a consequence, vulnerability and resilience always dance closely with one another when new material crosses the threshold and makes its way out into the world. My heart and soul are deeply invested in the music that I co-create, and a great deal of love is embedded in it, which is why I always hope that it will be embraced with love and kindness in return. I continue to be overwhelmed with the warm welcome that The Science of Goodbye is receiving this year so far, but I am of course well aware that it’s a tough old sea out there, and there’s little point setting sail at all unless you’re prepared to weather the potential storms, such as they are.

This is where the resilience part comes in, I guess! Holding all of the above complexities in mind, it’s interesting to reflect on some of the many, many moments that have contributed to the development of my tough-yet-tender musician self. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts (and in keeping with Brené Brown’s philosophy), I think that greater transparency around these formative experiences would be beneficial for anyone contemplating the journey themselves. The realm of live performance is probably where the richest material is to be found in terms of illustrating resilience-in-practice, and in the next few weeks’ posts I will select and explore a few key experiences that (I think) serve as interesting and useful anecdotal examples.

“Altered oceans, the sun sets on the other side / sure as I am, as I’ve ever been, and more alive…”


[1] Kelly Clarkson. Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You) RCA, 2011

[2] Getting yer gig on. And off [23.05.2020]

[3] Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. John Hughes, 1986

[4] I note that this process may well (and probably does) operate and apply differently in non-music related contexts

[5] See my blog post dated 16/05/2020: Wake up time: on becoming ‘good enough’.

[6] Rutter, M. (1990). ‘Psychosocial resilience and protective mechanisms’. In Rolf, J., Masten, A, Cicchetti, D,and Weintraub, S. Risk and Protective Factors in the Development of Psychopathology pp181 -214. New York: Cambridge University Press.

[7] Brown, B. (2015) Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. Penguin.

[8] Brown, p44.

[9] See, for example, DeYoung, P.A. (2015) Understanding and Treating Chronic Shame: A Relational/Neurobiological Approach. Routledge.

[10] Wiggins, J. (2011) Vulnerability and agency in being and becoming a musician. Music Education Research 13(4): 355-367

[11] Wiggins, p358

[12] Wiggins, p358

[13] Brown, p185.

[14] Karnataka. Delicate Flame of Desire Immrama Records, 2003

[15] Three Colours Dark. The Science of Goodbye Firefly Records, 2020

Girls just wanna have fun: being ‘one of the boys’.

In the past couple of weeks’ posts, I have considered the extent to which being the frontwoman of a (mostly) all-male band was meaningful for me in terms of my gender and sexuality. I discussed how –  and to what extent – I think that I was complicit in my own “to-be-looked-at-ness” in the ways that I chose to mobilise my femininity onstage, and explained that I experienced this not as a form of resistance or acquiescence to patriarchal ideology, but as an actively enjoyable process. I concluded by noting that – paradoxically – I also wanted to be ‘one of the boys’ during my time in both bands; a desire that conflicted with my frontwoman identity in some interesting ways.

Being one of the boys is perhaps another curious identity (or subject position) for a girl[1] and, in my case, I guess that applied to all aspects of being in a rock band except for the onstage part, where it was my professional duty – and my absolute pleasure – to construct and playfully (re)produce a version of something more akin to a contemporary ‘ideal’ femininity. In her recent paper, Shelley Budgeon argues that today’s transformations of gender ideals have “materialised in the figure of the ‘empowered’ and autonomous yet reassuringly feminine woman”[2], which would indicate that holding onto seemingly contradictory gender identities of the kind I’m describing (frontwoman vs. ‘one of the boys’) is, in principle at least, acknowledged as a possibility. As with all things in life, however, possibility does not equal probability, or even actual potential. Rather, as Budgeon observes, an imagined feminine subject position of this kind inevitably circulates within a discursive field that continues to be “constituted by oppositional forces which position an imagined ‘new girl’ who is assertive, dynamic and free from the confines of passive femininity against the image of the vulnerable, voiceless and fragile girl who is too concerned with pleasing others to realise her own self-esteem”[3]. Ouch.

All of this could nicely be understood as another example of the Winnicottian “essential tensions”[4] that I have discussed in previous posts. Indeed, I never struggled with those apparent contradictions of gender myself; quite the opposite. I enjoyed the complexity of it all. It’s also worth noting that ‘being one of the boys’ means something quite different in a rock music context than it does in other spaces conventionally coded as male. I’m sure that (for example) female athletes, lawyers or business entrepreneurs would have their own stories to tell in that respect. The whole notion of masculinity in relation to rock music is also a worthy discussion topic in and of itself, of course! Any willing collaborators for a future blog post please step forward…

Peculiarly, the entire notion of how and, indeed, where my frontwoman/one of the boys dual identity was considered acceptable or comprehensible was far more often a topic of fascination and/or discomfiture for those outside the band(s) than it was for any of us on the inside, so to speak. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I acknowledge that my (known) status as ‘wife-of-a-fellow-band-member’ necessarily altered the ways in which I was perceived in terms of my female gender and my sexuality. Nevertheless, questions that I have actually been asked by audience members and music media people alike – and, no, I haven’t fabricated these! – include “what are the band’s sleeping arrangements when you’re on tour, then?” and “who does the hoovering at home when you and your husband are both on tour at the same time”?

It’s probably just as well that I’m not a feminist activist.

So what exactly do I mean when I refer to ‘the boys’, and to my experiences of being one of them as part of my bands? This is potentially inflammatory subject matter, I know, so I reiterate that I aim to share only my personal memories, thoughts, feelings and experiences in this blog, and nothing more.

Over the years, I have observed some interesting perceptions, assumptions and beliefs about the role of the girl in a band (beyond her onstage duties), and I think this is especially the case when she’s the lead vocalist. Such assumptions extend to said girl’s contribution to the music-writing process, as well as to the extent of her involvement in logistical, organisational and marketing activities, and the (literal) heavy lifting, all of which form significant parts of the gigging and touring experience[5]. As I’ve said before, every band and every individual artist is different, and there’s no ‘norm’ when it comes to this stuff. I was happy to contribute to it all.

This relates once more to questions of personal agency (the extent to which we feel we are able to exercise control over our own selves, our actions and our behaviours); a topic close to my heart, as regular visitors to this blog will know, and one that I explore often in these posts. I shall tiptoe around the quagmire of feminist theory today (too deep and sticky to invoke for now), but it seems to me that agency is attributed very differently to female singer/songwriters and to women whose band names are eponymous, than it is to women who front mostly male bands, regardless of their actual role and contribution to the creation of the music. Perceptions about this are also invariably shaped – sad, perhaps, but nevertheless sometimes true – by the physical appearance and the public ‘image’ of the female in question, all of which is of course often carefully constructed as part of the ‘package’, as it were. An unfortunate term but, without cynicism, let’s be realistic here about the business aspect of the music industry which surely applies just as much to small-level bands – as we were – as it does to some of the biggest household names. Now wouldn’t that be a lively discussion to have over a few bottles of wine?!? As a female who is reasonably petite in terms of bodily stature, and in possession of a relatively soft vocal style and sound, my chosen role and corresponding behaviour as ‘one of the boys’ probably created a bit of cognitive dissonance for our critics and for some of our lovely and dedicated audiences and followers. Hence the aforementioned bedroom and hoovering questions, I suppose.

Some of the characteristics that might stereotypically be associated with boys in a rock band include, but are not limited to, boisterous behaviour, excessive alcohol consumption, interesting personal hygiene habits, aggression, frequent and creative use of swearing and, in some cases, Other Naughty Behaviours. People, however, are not stereotypes, and I wouldn’t for a moment suggest otherwise in relation to the men with whom I was lucky enough to share a band. As I write this, I recall a key scene from the movie Labyrinth (one of my all-time favourite films)… “Did she say it?!?….”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zv8uCYr1L3A. Not to worry. I rarely kiss and tell. 😊      

I will however happily say that I was fully involved in the boisterousness, and in the drinking and swearing parts. Also, on some occasions, there was little choice on the matter of personal hygiene, such as the one where we spent the night in the band bus in a Dutch road lay-by (not a euphemism), following an epic navigational fail the previous evening.

It’s not so much participating in certain actions and behaviours that constitutes being one of the boys in this music-related context, though; it’s the general sense of ‘being in the world’[6] and the shared energy of the entire experience. As I remember it, I was on the whole warmly accepted into this ‘boys’ realm’, and treated accordingly by my bandmates, which I loved. I pulled my weight – literally – and helped with the actual heavy lifting, loading and unloading the gear and equipment before and after every gig, along with everyone else. Despite being on the petite side, I’m actually quite physically strong, and can now deadlift 75k and squat 30k, later-life achievements of which I am very proud. In the immortal words of Shakespeare “…and though she may be but little, she is fierce”[7]. Indeed. My awesomely cool thirteen-year-old niece bought me a pin badge bearing that exact quote as a gift for my last birthday, in fact.

I’ve never been what some might describe as a girls’ girl, either. Despite, or maybe precisely as a consequence of, being the eldest of three sisters myself (which has thus far been a decidedly un-Shakespearean experience, thankfully!), for much of my life, outside of my family and with few exceptions, I was more comfortable with and more relaxed in male company than I was among women. Large all-female groups still make me want to run for the hills. And stay there. Quite simply, I felt that I belonged among the boys, and wouldn’t have had it any other way.

The elements of my identity that I’ve described above are comfortably assimilated into the (female) musician-self that I am today, and they continue to signify her existence, even when she’s off duty, as it were. This is the case not least via my just-for-fun nom de plume Dr.Doris, who sometimes expresses herself symbolically via my avid enthusiasm for and comprehensive knowledge of beer – especially the deadly Belgian varieties – and my often distinctly unladylike use of expletives, both of which, I have discovered, are generally better appreciated when in male company. I’m very fortunate to have developed a few wonderful new female friendships in this later life period, too; with strong, independent, beautiful, funny, clever women, who inspire me greatly. Some are as passionate about music as I am. Some of them know and enjoy their beer. A few of them comfortably embrace the use of swear words, and most have curious, incisive minds and seriously impressive intellects. I’m still the odd one out, though. I’ll always be one of the boys at heart, I guess. And that suits me just fine 😊

“Me myself I / quid pro quo”[8]


[1] Again, I acknowledge today’s much greater fluidity of sex and gender categories, and reiterate that I am writing from and about my own personal experiences in this respect

[2] Budgeon, S. (2014) The Dynamics of Gender Hegemony: Femininities, Masculinities and Social Change. Sociology 48(2): 317-334, p317

[3] Budgeon, p330

[4] Winnicott, D.W. (1971) Playing and Reality. London: Tavistock Publications

[5] See my post dated 30.05.2020: Beyond the lighted stage: what’s in a gig?

[6] See my post dated 19.04.2020: “You had me from hello”… maybe, in which I discuss the phenomenological work of Heidegger and Merleau-Ponty on the subject of ‘being-in-the-world’.

[7] Shakespeare, W. (1595) A Midsummer Night’s Dream

[8] The Reasoning. ‘No Friend of Mine’, from the album Adventures in Neverland. Cherry Red Records, 2012

For your eyes only?: on being looked-at

In last week’s post, I raised some questions about when, where and to what extent it’s considered acceptable to incorporate humour and mischievousness into a live show, especially when your band is affiliated with and (in some ways) belongs to the Progressive rock genre. I also reflected fondly on the two-girl stage shenanigans that were a part of our performances during my years in Karnataka, and described how I think these worked to complement the music, as well as gradually becoming woven into the band’s image.

Recent posts have explored how being the frontwoman of a (mostly) male band was meaningful for me in terms of gender identity and sexuality, and have grappled with some of the well-established relevant theory, including poststructuralism, psychoanalysis and feminist theory. Today, I’m going to write about the concept of scopophilia – erotic pleasure in looking – and will discuss its relevance to my own music-related experiences and activities.

By its very nature, being onstage as part of a band brings with it a powerful element of “to-be-looked-at-ness”: a term coined by feminist film theorist Laura Mulvey in her polemical 1975 essay Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema[1]. Mulvey argued that the very apparatus of cinema facilitates a voyeuristic process of objectifying its female characters. I acknowledge that these ideas have since been widely challenged although, interestingly, some scholars maintain that today’s social media saturated culture renders them “more relevant, and more dangerous, than ever”[2]. Such disputes aside, Mulvey’s highly charged notion of the ‘male gaze’ has proved persistent and has certainly made its way beyond the academic curriculum and into contemporary discourses of popular culture.

To summarise, the ‘gaze’ in this context refers to the engagement of viewers with visual media. The ‘male gaze’, then, invokes the sexual politics of said process, and implies a sexualised way of looking that empowers men and objectifies women. Popular music studies literature has mobilised these concepts as a way of exploring music video, and I made good use of that (the literature, not the gazing 😊) during my lecturing days at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture (JOMEC). When it comes to live (music) performance, the whole concept is a little trickier, given that being onstage and performing music you’ve co-written implies a fairly significant level of personal agency. Passive subjects we musicians certainly are not, regardless of our sex or gender! Nevertheless, to perform a gig means, obviously, being fully aware of the extent to which you’re being looked-at as well as being listened-to. That’s precisely why I’ve always enjoyed putting plenty of thought, time and effort into my stage image, as described in my post dated 06.06.20.  

Was I aware, then, that – as a frontwoman – I was performing partly for the visual pleasure(s) of the audience? Of course. Last week, I noted that both of my former bands Karnataka and The Reasoning were warmly embraced by the Prog rock community, as is also proving to be the case for Three Colours Dark. As a music genre, Prog has traditionally been thought of as rather male-centric in nature[3], and it’s certainly true to say that the audiences attending gigs by Karnataka and The Reasoning were usually predominantly male. Does that mean that, as a frontwoman, I have always been somehow complicit in crafting my own potential “to-be-looked-at-ness”, in full awareness of its scopophilic connotations? Probably, yes. Am I in any way uncomfortable with that at a personal level? Definitely not. Careful and contextually appropriate handling of it all is, I would argue, precisely what makes for a really good gig.

As regular visitors to this blog will by now know, some of my main areas of interest as an academic are identity and ‘selfhood’. I’ve written here quite frequently about subject positions; a more fluid and dynamic way of conceptualising identity ‘roles’, in which selves are understood to be located (positioned) in various discursive and ideological contexts. It occurs to me that ‘rock band front-woman’ might well constitute its own unique category. As do we all, I take up, or “invest in”[4] a variety of subject positions as I go about my everyday life: woman, musician and nerd, to name just a few. Daughter and sister, of course. If you wish to include ‘ex-wife’ as well, then you may do so 😊.  

For me, to be the frontwoman of a rock band was to invest in an ever-changing kind of professional identity, in which many of those positions jostled for attention, all of them gendered (and sexualised) in complex ways. Judith Butler, whose work I mentioned recently[5], argues that categories of gender identity are necessary fictions; part of the ritualised and socially constructed ‘norms’ to which we ascribe meanings[6]; performances that are constantly remade. I’m interested in exploring the specific ‘norms’ that characterise what is known and understood about being a female rock musician, especially as part of an otherwise mostly-male band. As it turns out, there’s a notable lack of any academic literature that takes an autoethnographic approach to this topic. There are several great autobiographies available, published by women who have contributed to and informed the largely masculine landscape of rock music over the years, but precious few attempts to theorise such experiences in any detailed way. Note to self… potential nerd-gap to be filled…

As a frontwoman, then, I have always been very happy to invest in a subject position from which I felt able to express and enjoy my female gender and my feminine sexuality and I enjoyed mobilising both in a playful way as part of our live music performances. In some ways, as I mentioned in my post dated 06.06.2020, this could be interpreted as a form of ‘resistance’ to the ‘male-coded’ space of the bands, or as a refusal on my part to take up a masculine identity position, although it never felt like either to me. On the other hand, it could be understood as an acquiescence to the inevitably patriarchal and heteronormative ideological structures of the music ‘business’, which serve to marginalise and objectify women.

For me, investing in that ‘frontwoman’ identity position has always felt like a fully agentic and purposeful experience. I could attempt to theorise all of this in a psychoanalytically-oriented reflexive way (and contemplate my own unconscious motivations for taking up some subject positions and not others), but I suspect that’s a theoretical wormhole best addressed another time, when we’ve all had more coffee!  

In next week’s post, I share some of the trials and tribulations of wanting to be ‘one of the boys’ during my time in both bands, and consider how that desire conflicted with the ‘frontwoman’ identity that I’ve described here today.

“But I think you know / with just one look, you’re breaking the fourth wall…”[7]


[1] Mulvey, L. (1975). “Visual pleasure and narrative cinema”. Screen 16 (3): 6–18.

[2] Oliver, K. (2017) The male gaze is more relevant, and more dangerous, then ever. New Review of Film and Television Studies 15(4): 451-455

[3] I note with great happiness that female-fronted Prog bands have begun to increase in number and popularity over the last 20 years or so

[4] Hollway, W. and Jefferson, T. (2000) Doing Qualitative Research Differently: Free Association, Narrative and the Interview Method. London: Sage.

[5] See blog post dated 06.06.2020, Dressed to impress, but for whom?…

[6] Butler, J. (2011) Bodies That Matter. Routledge

[7] The Reasoning, ‘Breaking the 4th Wall’, from the album Dark Angel. Comet Music, 2008

To laugh, or not to laugh, that is (probably not) the question…

In last week’s post, I discussed some of my experiences of being the frontwoman of a (mostly) all-male rock band, shared a few of my outfit-related SNAFUs, and explored the various pleasures and tribulations of creating a stage image, especially as this related to my gender and sexuality. The recollection of some of the accompanying behind-the-scenes anecdotes led me to think about how, when, and to what extent musicians might reasonably incorporate an element of mischievousness into their live shows. It seems to me that the notion of ‘professional’ is often conflated with seriousness, whilst open displays of fun and humour during a band’s live show are sometimes perceived rather more critically and/or linked to evaluations of their proficiency. But why?!? I’ll interrogate that in today’s post.

Where to begin? I think that all of this can usefully be explored in relation to questions of music genre, for starters.

As some readers of this blog are probably already well aware, both of my former bands, Karnataka and The Reasoning were – and their music continues to be – warmly embraced by the Progressive rock community. It was in fact the Classic Rock Society: a dedicated and passionate UK organisation with a love of all things Prog, who were instrumental (pardon the dreadful pun!) in helping to introduce Karnataka to a brand new audience, thereby broadening our profile. Much support has also been provided by Prog magazine[1] over the years, who are helping immeasurably with the promotion of our new Three Colours Dark project, too  https://www.loudersound.com/news/three-colours-dark-release-trailer-for-debut-album-the-science-of-goodbye. I am of course very happy with the Prog association and appreciative of said community’s warm embrace, although I wouldn’t necessarily situate either of my bands’ music strictly within the parameters of the genre’s conventions. The topic of what should and shouldn’t be considered ‘Prog’ is another lively debate, far too vast and contentious for this blog space, and best addressed elsewhere. I think it’s safe to say, however, that there are certain expectations that come with it in terms of performance style, stagecraft and modes of audience address. I don’t think we adhered to many of those, either, probably particularly so with The Reasoning, and that definitely led to a few interesting gig experiences, during which we evidently subverted audience expectations about the kind of music we might play. A notable example was The Reasoning’s slot at the Rites of Spring Festival (RoSFest) at the Majestic Theater in Gettysburg, back in 2011, and the promo photo we chose to use at the time illustrates everything that I’m about to say perfectly! https://rosfest.com/previous-years/the-reasoning/

That experience and the whole trip to the USA within which it took place was fantastic, and I will be forever grateful for the gift of such a brilliant opportunity. As I’ll discuss in future posts, interacting with an audience gradually became one of my favourite parts of performing live. I wonder, however, whether audience members sometimes forget – or are perhaps unaware – of how visible they themselves are to the artist(s) they’re watching. That holds potential rewards for both parties, but it has its pitfalls as well. From the first couple of chords of our punchy set-opener at RoSFest that afternoon (Hyperdrive[2], I believe, but will happily stand corrected if needs be!), there were many bemused, if not downright dismayed, facial expressions in the first few rows of the packed and all-seated theatre. The stand-out moment for me was when one chap sitting directly in front of me yawned, put his actual Stetson hat over his face, leaned back in his seat and, I assume, went to sleep. The memory still amuses me greatly: it’s important to be able to take such things with the proverbial pinch of salt, in the name of self-compassion! On a personal level, I find it virtually impossible to take myself too seriously. Said inability most definitely extends to my musician-self and to my onstage identity, which is sometimes a useful strategy.

In terms of music genre, there is seemingly a perceived dichotomy between ‘serious’ and ‘fun’ when it comes to live performances, and Prog rock is often positioned alongside the former rather than the latter. There’s some lovely reading on the definitions and characteristics of Prog music here http://www.progarchives.com/Progressive-rock.asp#definition. For the purposes of today’s post, though, it’s the association of Prog with the notion of ‘artistic credibility’ and ‘epic’ or ‘grand’ performative and conceptual themes that matters the most. Examples of flamboyant (and sometimes downright bonkers-in-a-good-way) theatrical ‘comedy’ in Progressive rock are well documented, but I would argue that those are perhaps appreciated for their cerebral and intellectual merit, rather than merely for their humour. Again, I am more than willing to be challenged on that point: t’is merely my own opinion <<deploys virtual Headguard, just incase>>😊. My personal vexation is that, in a wider sense, the categories of ‘professional’ and ‘unprofessional’ are often unfairly mapped onto the ‘serious’/’fun’ binary. Told you these dichotomies were a nuisance! I have never understood why experienced, professional, skilful bands should not openly enjoy themselves in a way that suits them during a live show, if they wish. I still don’t get it.

The two bands of which I was a part were of course very different in terms of sound, image and, importantly, personnel and attitude. Consequently, there was far more space for humour and mischief in The Reasoning’s live shows than there had been in Karnataka’s, but that was always in addition to and never instead of our musical proficiency and dedication to our stage craft. There are multiple forms of ‘performing art’, after all: from classical ballet to pantomime, stand-up comedy and everything in-between, and it seems perfectly plausible to me that a rock band might draw on elements of many such things, even during the course of a single show. Surely that’s the essence of being ‘creative’ at its best? Ultimately, as long as the dynamics of the music and the lyrical messages of the songs are properly represented in its live delivery, then so what?

In my opinion, all that really matters is that the performance style complements the music and doesn’t detract from it. In a review by Voiceprint records[3] – which has just recently been brought to my attention – of Karnataka’s Strange Behaviour[4] album, our live performances were described as “sensual, spiritual and unrestrained by musical boundaries”, which I think is an eloquent and accurate description. There was a more mischievous quality to The Reasoning’s shows, yes, but that was carefully and tastefully handled; glitter gun misfirings at The Borderline and the accidental marmalade spillage at (I think) Leamington Assembly notwithstanding. Our playful band/audience interactions during the popular set closer Aching Hunger[5], for instance, never overshadowed the darker, more melancholic or dramatic live performance of tracks such as Breaking the 4th Wall[6] and Shadows of the Mind[7], or the emotional rollercoaster of Adventures in Neverland. Our gigs were often a boisterous affair, though 😊. There’s a nice example from the video archives here, recorded at a packed London show in 2012, during which we were accompanied by the supremely talented Dave Foster on guitar: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4eYLDZ38SbU .

Obviously, there are no definitive answers to the many questions that I’ve raised here. The experience and meaningfulness of music is a very subjective thing, after all. And so I return to the topic of my own gender (and sexuality) as a part of those shows.  In last week’s post, I reflected on some of the ways in which my erstwhile bandmate Anne-Marie Helder and I very much enjoyed creating and developing a stage image, as that pertained to elements of wardrobe, hair and make-up. 

Our two-girl onstage ‘frolicking’ was also considered – by some – to be a little controversial, hence the “sensual” reference in the aforementioned Voiceprint review, I guess. Whilst such things surely exist somewhere, I’m not as yet aware of any gig reviews that criticised our choice of stage behaviour for being contextually inappropriate. Most people rather enjoyed it, as I recall, and quite rightly, too: so did we! I think it brought the songs to life and helped to illustrate their musical textures and soundscapes, much as any choreographer would seek to do although, in our case, the whole process was very organic. Although we naturally developed some loose ‘routines’ to certain sections of particular songs over time, most of them were genuinely spontaneous and not in the least contrived. Also, when you’re a singer and there are lengthy instrumental sections in your live set (that’s Prog for you!), it’s all very well learning to do interesting things with percussion, but either you retreat to the wings for a bit, or you find an alternative. You can’t just stand there for the entire duration of a guitar/keyboard solo and look gormless! As a frontperson, it is absolutely your job to express and perform the band’s music through your body which is, in effect, your instrument. If there happen to be two of you, and there’s another lovely body with whom to frolic then, well… so much the better, if you ask me. Thank you, Anne-Marie, for the beautiful journey 😊.

In next week’s post, I’ll expand on these ideas a little more. I will also brave the topic of scopophilia – erotic pleasure derived from looking – and its significance for me as a professional (female) musician. I promise to try very hard not to get myself into trouble in the process…

“Wild is this ride / I’ll take you anywhere…”[8]


[1] https://www.loudersound.com/prog

[2] The Reasoning, ‘Hyperdrive’, from the album Adventures in Neverland. Comet Music, 2012

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voiceprint_Records

[4] Karnataka Strange Behaviour. Immrama Records, 2004

[5] The Reasoning Awakening. Comet Music, 2007

[6] The Reasoning Dark Angel. Comet Music, 2008

[7] The Reasoning Awakening. Comet Music, 2007

[8] The Reasoning, ‘Script-Switch Trigger’, from the album Adverse Camber. Comet Music, 2010

Dressed to impress, but for whom?: playing with the boys.

In this post, I provide plenty of autobiographical anecdotes about being female in a predominantly male rock band. I shall be invoking quite a bit of theory today as a means of better articulating some of my experiences, too. You may wish to fill up your coffee mug!

As I mentioned briefly last week, a key part of the wider ‘gig experience’ was, for me, the construction and development of a stage ‘image’ as both of my bands’ frontwoman. The fact that we were working under our own steam, i.e. on our own independent record labels, was a somewhat ambivalent situation. On one hand, it meant doing without any externally provided financial backing and resources but, on the other, it was extremely liberating when it came to our creative freedoms around decisions about how the bands should sound and look.

Being the only girl in an otherwise all-male band was a great adventure. I acknowledge that my personal experiences in this regard were perhaps not entirely conventional, given that I was married to a fellow (male) band member during my time in Karnataka and again during my subsequent time in The Reasoning. There are a multitude of pros and cons to that arrangement – I’m sure most couples who work together in any context would acknowledge the same – but I have no doubt that it provided me with a certain degree of protection not always available or afforded to female peers in similar situations, and that’s something I didn’t take for granted.

During my later years with Karnataka, I was fortunate to front the band alongside Anne-Marie Helder, which enabled the two of us to be really playful and experimental with our appearance, outfits and onstage antics. As I’ve said of other memories described in previous blog entries… good times, fondly remembered. Photographs and videos from those years document the many chapters of our evolving image, from layers of lace, billowing sleeves, ribbons and (literally) flowers in our hair, to PVC leggings, vinyl miniskirts, leather corsets and New Rock boots. We weren’t afraid to push a few boundaries, and it was highly enjoyable and exciting. I learned some important clothing-related lessons along the way, such as the more unusual uses of gaffer tape, and the hazards of going braless during a set that involved much cavorting around onstage 😊.

I was The Reasoning’s only female for the vast majority of the band’s lifetime, and so I was usually left to my own devices when planning, sourcing and – occasionally the most challenging part of all! – actually getting into and out of my stage outfits; an activity not for the fainthearted. There were plenty of image changes then, too, from silky dresses paired with the aforementioned New Rock boots, a pair of Gucci hot pants, fishnet tights and the feathered black wings, whose image became synonymous with our album ‘Dark Angel’[1]. I also eventually re-discovered the joys of performing barefoot; something that I’ve always liked to do in the studio, because it makes me feel centred and grounded when I sing. Outfit-related lessons learned during those years included remembering to check that both legs of my tights had actual feet in sufficient time to change them before gig time (not kidding), and how to apply stage make-up in the poorly-lit toilets of a strip club next door to the venue. Also not kidding. Such incidents maketh the woman: there’s no question about that! 😊

Plenty has already been written on the topic of female rock musicians and the ways in which they come to inhabit a space that is ‘socially coded’ as male[2], although much of it takes a feminist perspective. Whilst I fully understand that there still exist serious structural inequalities for women within the music industry – and elsewhere – I choose not to use my blogging space for the purposes of close engagement with wider political debates on that subject. Importantly, I reiterate that I’m only able to write from my own personal experience. I make claim to my own personal story and no-one else’s in doing so.

Theory-wise in this post, I think it’s useful to draw on various understandings of gender identity. This seems relevant to an exploration of what it might mean and, crucially, how it feels to front a rock band comprised mostly of men when you are yourself a woman[3]. I observe that plenty of the material published on this topic, in keeping with its feminist orientation, emphasises the ways in which being that woman could be considered transgressive or controversial, for example by focusing on how women have challenged or subverted music-related practices that are traditionally considered to be male.

Viv Albertine, who I was lucky enough to meet at an author event in Waterstones last year, recently published her memoirs[4],[5] in which she shares her experiences of being in the all-female punk band The Slits[6]. Both of her books make for fascinating reading and are disarmingly, if not brutally, honest: I highly recommend them! She reflects on many such apparently subversive behaviours; practices that feminist theory might categorise as forms of ‘resistance’[7],[8]. In this context, resistance is understood as a form of agency – and power – that involves the construction and negotiation of (gendered) subjectivity. Approaches of this kind are often used to explore women’s struggle to resist, subvert or contest patriarchal gender ‘norms’ and inequalities, focusing upon the personal dimensions of political power (e.g. [9], [10]). As helpful as these constructionist conceptualisations may be, they leave little room for consideration of our inner worlds, and I’ll come back to that bit later on 😊

There’s also a binary to be observed in the study of female rock (or punk) musicians. By this, I mean that women’s experiences in this context are often understood either as (active) acts of rebellion, or as (passive) feats of endurance against a backdrop of perpetual objectification. Returning visitors to this blog will already be aware that I have an aversion to epistemological bifurcations of this kind (told you I was weird). In my blog entries dated 9.5.2020 and 16.5.2020, I made use of Winnicott’s concept of ‘essential tensions’ to justify my preferred perspective, and he will crop up many times in forthcoming posts, too. In today’s post, I find myself similarly oriented, taking up a position in-between those two opposing subject positions, in which/from which my female/feminine identity is both experienced and performed.

I wrestled with some of these theoretical points in my PhD thesis[11], which includes a chapter detailing how film viewers are ‘psychosocially gendered’. There, in a (very small) nutshell, I suggested that gender is made meaningful (to us) for complex psychodynamic reasons, and that both postmodernist and psychoanalytic theory have a great deal to offer in exploring this idea, despite often being polarised. From this viewpoint, gender is constructed and experienced within our outer (shared social) and our inner (individual, psychological) worlds. Borrowing again from the field of psychosocial studies, I quote Stephen Frosh, who writes that gender is:

“both a position in discourse, a category of culture to be contested and an intersubjective and intrapsychic element of each individual’s sense of self[12].

When it comes to theory, I favour this kind of cross-disciplinary approach because it opens up a space for exploring some of those really tricky and slippery ideas. Psychosocial frameworks help to challenge some of the binary ways in which gender is sometimes conceptualised, e.g. active-male/passive-female[13]. Additionally, from a psychosocial point of view, it’s possible to think about how we ‘invest in’ certain gendered subject positions and, importantly, how these investments are motivated not only by heteronormative ideologies, but also by the unconscious anxieties, conflicts and phantasies that inform our own individual biographies[14]. Such investments come to form part of our cultural ideologies of self and, drawing on a cross-disciplinary range of theoretical concepts, valuable ideas are to be found in poststructuralism – check out Judith Butler[15] and the alarmingly ever-present Michel Foucault[16] -, J.L Austin on the philosophy of language[17], the field of discursive psychology[18] and, of course, psychoanalysis (various, depending on your personal alignment!).

Again: why does this matter, who cares, and how is it relevant here?

Well. Back to that thing about being the frontwoman of an otherwise predominantly male band, working in a music genre (rock/progressive rock) that, despite the recent-ish and very welcome rise of female fronted acts in said genres, remains largely male-dominated, both on the stage and in the audience.

As I’ve mentioned before, I acknowledge that my personal experiences were shaped by an important fact, i.e. that my status as wife-of-a-fellow-band-member was openly disclosed and therefore known to our followers and audiences from the start. Whilst this certainly served to ‘protect’ me in some ways, it also brought with it extra complications in terms of knowing how, when and to what extent it was appropriate to invest in and perform certain gendered subject positions as a frontwoman, especially as these related to my own sexuality. The wider debate about how and when such displays are ever ‘appropriate’ (or, indeed, acceptable) for women is too vast and politically charged to invoke in my tiny little blog, but it needs acknowledging, lest it become an unwelcome elephant here. More about elephants in future posts, as well!

I am of course very fortunate in that I never felt obliged to do anything that I wasn’t comfortable with in terms of image or performance. It was always important to us all – in both bands – that the music we created was strong and well-crafted enough to appeal to listeners in its own right, and we worked very hard to ensure that our live performances were comprehensively rehearsed and professionally delivered. Is it even possible, though – particularly in today’s image and media saturated world – to claim that image shouldn’t matter, and that it ought to have no bearing whatsoever on an artist’s success (or lack of it)? I don’t think so. It matters a hell of a lot and needs to be carefully considered as part of a band’s identity. Especially, I would argue, when you’re the girl (or one of them) who’s at the ‘front’.

Some artists and performers speak of invoking a different ‘persona’ onstage, as an actor might do in performing a role in a play or a film. It was never like that for me: my stage self has always been an extension of what I consider to be just me, and live shows were an exciting space in which I could play with that dimension of my identity and enjoy doing so.

To be continued… 😊

“Open me up, set me free / bring out the woman in me…”[19]


[1] The Reasoning, Dark Angel. Comet Music 2008

[2] Frith, S. and McRobbie, A. (1990) ‘Rock and Sexuality’. In S. Frith and A. Goodwin (Eds.) On Record: Rock, Pop and the Written Word. Routledge pp 371–89

[3] I acknowledge that the categories ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are today recognised as identity positions not necessarily determined by one’s past or present biological sex. I’m nearly 50 years old, and so much of my autobiographical material is based on experiences from a time of far narrower thinking and ideas.

[4] Albertine, V. (2015) Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. Faber & Faber

[5] Albertine, V. (2018) To Throw Away Unopened. Faber & Faber

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/music/2013/jun/24/how-we-made-cut-the-slits

[7] McNay, L. (1999) ‘Subject, Psyche and Agency’. In: V. Bell (Ed.) Performativity and Belonging. London: Sage, pp175-193

[8] de Lauretis, T. (2007) Figures of Resistance: Essays in Feminist Theory. Illinois: University of Illinois Press

[9] Lloyd, S.A., Few, A.L. and Allen, K.R. (Eds.) (2009) Handbook of Feminist Family Studies. New Delhi, London, California and Singapore: Sage

[10] Kowaleski Wallace, E. (Ed.) (2009) Encyclopaedia of Feminist Literary Theory. Abingdon and New York: Routledge

[11] Cohen, R. (2012) Cinematic Constructions of the Female Serial Killer: A Psychosocial Audience Study. [Online] Available at: http://orca.cf.ac.uk/46698/1/2013cohenrphd.pdf

[12] Frosh, S. (1994: 1) Sexual Difference: Masculinity and Psychoanalysis. New York and London: Routledge

[13] I acknowledge that a shift towards greater gender fluidity is beginning to challenge some such conceptualisations in a broader structural sense, also.

[14] E.g. Hollway, W. and Jefferson, T. (2000) ‘Narrative, Discourse and the Unconscious: The Case of Tommy’. In M. Andrews, S. Day Sclater, M. Rustin, C. Squire and A. Treacher (Eds.) Lines of Narrative: Psychosocial Perspectives. London and New York: Routledge, pp136-149

[15] Butler, J. (1990) Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge

[16] E.g. Ramazanoglu, C. (Ed.) (1993) Up Against Foucault: Explorations of Some Tensions Between Foucault and Feminism. London and New York: Routledge

[17] Austin, J.L. (1975) How to Do Things With Words. Harvard University Press

[18] E.g. Wetherell, M. and Edley, N. (1999) Negotiating Hegemonic Masculinity: Imaginary Positions and Psycho-Discursive Practices. Feminism and Psychology 9(3): 335–356

[19] Karnataka ‘Woman in Me’, from the album Karnataka. Immrama Records, 1998