The sold out World Premiere at Doc’n Roll Film Fest was buzzing, and studded with punk icons - multiple Au Pairs, Mo-dettes, Raincoats, Gaye Black from The Adverts, Tessa Pollitt from The Slits, all kinds of pioneers, as well as a healthy turnout of newer artists.
While their music is still in the public eye and has inspired many different generations – Kurt Cobain was a Raincoats fan – the stories of these She Punks, women who played instruments in 70s punk bands, for the most part haven’t been told. Viv Albertine famously scrawled a protest on the Punk exhibition placard at the British Library in 2016, due to the lack of punk women featured.
Helen McCookerybook – artist, author and academic, regularly on tour and on radio – had started work on this very topic some years earlier. The result was a fantastic book under her name Helen Reddington, ‘The Lost Women of Rock Music: Female Musicians of the Punk Era’, which came out in 2007.
It sparked the search for more stories and Helen, and Gina Birch of The Raincoats, came together to make this compelling, joyful, and revealing, DIY film.
As they explained when they introduced it at the screening, it was a true punk effort – plenty of spirit, but filmed using whatever tools were available, including mobile phones and small video cameras.
Vanessa Lobon Garcia, Gina Birch, Jane Perry Woodgate, Helen McCookerybook
An amazing collection of fierce, fabulous and funny females appeared on screen. Tales of early experimentation, not giving a damn, and demolishing obstacles in their way unfolded, but also experiences of enduring really tough times and situations, including physical violence. Each and every one of them appeared to have a book’s worth of story to tell.
The Slits drummer Palmolive recalled how she first encountered Ari Up throwing a dramatic tantrum on the floor in front of her mother Nora – and judged this an excellent display of potential stage presence.
Jane Perry Woodgate transported us deep into her dubby bass riffs as she demonstrated her playing style, and talked about bands she was in, including the Mo-dettes.
There were tales of child-sized instruments being pressed into service, and a toy bass later borrowed by The Jam.
What the She Punks all shared was fearlessness, creativity, and drive, and the take away from this glorious film was of amazing lives lived (and still being lived) to the max, recounted by a bunch of trailblazing musicians with the biggest twinkle in their eyes.
In the Q&A after the film it was fascinating hearing more about the uneasy relationship that She Punks had with feminism. Helen McCookerybook said that at the time, the feminists of the 70s appeared to them to be people trying to impose another set of rules, when the punks were all about breaking rules and being yourself.
Stories From The She Punks is a vitally important and inspiring film, honouring the journeys of these musicians, and shining a spotlight on 70s culture and social attitudes. It’s celebratory and irreverent, and the She Punks not only made - and in many cases are still making - a huge musical impact, but ripped up all the rule books on how to be a woman.
Helen McCookerybook, Jane Perry Woodgate - pic Sara Mathius
Don’t go expecting YouTube levels of punk tunes, the amount of music in the film is limited due to its DIY budget – that will change as more cash hopefully comes in for music clearances. But do whatever you can to go. The film is due to appear at more festivals in 2019.
On the way out someone was handing out flyers for a show by The Raincoats’ Ana Da Silva and Japanese artist Phew on 28th November. It was a perfect postscript – these iconic artists are still breaking boundaries with their new music.
Times are changing for female musicians – new promoters like Loud Women and Get In Her Ears, radio shows, web zines, festival schemes, working to support them. Even if progress should have been quicker, we all owe the inspiring She Punks a huge debt for smashing down doors and creating a DIY Culture that’s now in the ascendant again.