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Leaders of the Pack - Teen Canteen and The Girl Effect #2

Turning thirty was a bigger deal than it should've been for Carla Easton, singer, song-writer and driving force behind all-female quartet, Teen Canteen. Instead of either trying to ignore such a benchmark or else drown the sorrows of her twenties last hurrah, Easton decided to get pro-active. Roping in an A-Team of musical friends including Eugene Kelly of The Vaselines, Duglas T Stewart of the BMX Bandits and Norman Blake of Teenage Fanclub, Easton arranged a night designed to celebrate girl groups while raising funds for Scottish Women's Aid, and The Girl Effect was duly born.

Those attending the sold out show at Edinburgh's Summerhall venue in May this year in association with the arts centre's in-house promoters, Nothing Ever Happens Here, saw some fourteen acts play two songs apiece by female artists of their choice. These ranged from covers of classic 1960s pop from the likes of Martha Reeves and The Ronettes through to more recent chart botherers such as Destiny's Child and TLC, with the likes of Joan Jett and The Bangles filling in the generational gaps.

While Stewart and Blake tackled That Lonely Feeling by 1960s Edinburgh sisters, The McKinleys, Stanley Odd played a mash up of Betty Boo's Doin' The Do and The Velvettes' Really Sayin' Something,the latter a song itself covered in the 1980s by Bananarama. With Stanley Odd also paying homage to Teen Canteen themselves with a version of the Glasgow-based quartet's debut single, Honey, Easton and co closed the evening with a sublime take on The Ronettes' be My Baby.

With some £3,456.72 raised for Scottish Women's Aid, a sequel was inevitable, and this Thursday night sees Teen Canteen take the reins for The Girl Effect #2, at which a similarly stellar line-up of artists including Kathryn Joseph, Jo Mango and Broken Records embark on an even more eclectic live display of girl-pop at Mono in Glasgow.

While just who is playing what is being kept under wraps, artists being covered are known to include Shakespears Sister, Shampoo and Girls Aloud, alongside classics by The Shangri La's and The Marvelettes. Works by Sleater Kinney and uber contemporary Glasgow duo Honeyblood are also on the set list.

“I was really surprised when we first did it,” says Easton, “because when we set out the parameters of two songs from any era and the definition of what a girl group could be, I thought it would be all sixties stuff that people would choose, but it wasn't, and that made it even more exciting.”

With The Girl Effect modelled on various themed charity gigs Teen Canteen had played in Glasgow,

Easton decided to tag the event to Scottish Women's Aid after reading about how public funding cuts were affecting refuge centres and other lifelines for women suffering from domestic abuse who might not have anywhere else to turn.

“The cuts are affecting the most vulnerable people in society,” Easton observes, “and I just thought it would be good to pull together a creative community to try and help, and to try and highlight some of the work that Scottish Women's Aid does.”

The Girl Effect shows tie in with a recent, noticeable rise in charity gigs, a modus operandi that hasn't been as visible since the 1980s. While it's not hard to work out the parallels between then and now in terms of punitive governments causing an entire underclass to live on the breadline, in the current climate of enforced austerity, events such as The Girl Effect come with a more human face than those of old.

“I know Jamie from Broken Records who runs Nothing Ever Happens Here put on a couple of food bank benefits,” says Easton, “and I think it's great when people pull together like that. It's always a bit awkward when you approach bands for something like The Girl Effect, because there's no fee, but because you're in a band yourself everybody gets what it is you're trying to do, and there's a shared understanding there.”

Teen Canteen were formed in 2012 by Easton and Sita Pieraccini after their previous band, Futuristic Retro Champions, came to a natural end. With Easton on vocals and keyboards and Pieraccini on bass, the pair enlisted Deborah Smith and, after a couple of line-up changes, Chloe Philip of No More Tiger and BMX Bandits. With debut single, Honey, released in 2013 on cassette (gift-wrapped in honey-scented paper, no less) by Edinburgh's spoken word and music night Neu! Reekie!, which Teen Canteen have played several times, the sound that resulted owed as much to the Glasgow music scene's extended indie-pop lineage as it did to the 1960s groups The Girl Effect is inspired by.

It is a sound beloved by Easton ever since she heard rhythm and blues based vocal trio The Cookies' 1963 hit version of Brill Building songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King's Don't Say Nothin' Bad (About My Baby).

“I became obsessed by it,” Easton says of the song, notable for it's kiss-off line, 'So Girl You Better Shut Your Mouth', delivered with understated steel by lead singer Earl-Jean McCrea. “Listening to that and The Cookies Greatest Hits, I wanted to know who they were, and who the other girl groups were. I wanted to know what became of them, and how all that made me feel. That whole era from '58 to '63 became my obsession, but there were other great bands from later as well, like Honey Cone and The Fuzz.

Easton had already begun her love affair with music care of her elder brother, who conspired with her to keep her off school so they could listen to The Stone Roses just released 1994 single, Love Spreads. She was eight years old.

Having learnt piano and saxophone, Easton went on to study at Glasgow School of Art. It was here she began writing songs for Futuristic Retro Champions, taking a back seat on keyboards while Pieraccini sang lead vocal. Only as she developed more confidence as a writer did Easton move centre-stage on an increasingly mature canon of heart-on-sleeve pop romances.

It was this essence that saw the pure joy of Cherry Pie appear so perfectly on the soundtrack of John McKay's bookish 2013 rom-com, Not Another Happy Ending. This pre-dated Teen Canteen's second single, You're Still Mine, a 7'', self-released on frosted clear glitter vinyl, while its follow-up, Sister, was put out on bubblegum pink cassettes in an edition of just 100.

Such attention to detail in terms of presentation may stem from the band's art school roots, but it also points to a sense of self-determination that pulses everything they do. Rather than jump into bed with a marketing driven record label, Teen Canteen have, thus far at least, seized the means of production enough so they're doing things on their own terms.

This extends to the recording of the band's forthcoming debut album, Sister, which was funded via a PledgeMusic campaign which saw the target reached within forty-eight hours, with ten per cent of any money raised after the goal was reached again going to Scottish Women's Aid. The PledgeMusic campaign's success has not only given Easton, Pieraccini, Philip and Smith the breathing space to make the record at their own pace. It has also seen them connect with their fanbase in a way that old school major label management would be unlikely to allow.

“PledgeMusic has been great,” Easton says. “It's allowed us to have complete creative control, and to be able to do things to our schedule and cut out all the middle man stuff. We've also got some of the pledgers to come into the studio to do handclaps on the record, so it's brilliant to make contact with this community of people we've never met.”

Community is a word Easton uses a lot, both in the context of the band and in the thinking behind The Girl Effect.

“Having fans of the band helping us is great,” she says, “and you really feel a responsibility to people who join the Teen Canteen family in that way.”

With a slew of other guests on the album including The Cairn String Quartet, Sister should highlight just how much Teen Canteen have developed from their earliest recordings, done after two practices, to a more expansive sound that has nods to New Order as much as classic girl pop.

As the scope of Easton and co's ambitions becomes increasingly panoramic, it remains crucial to the Teen Canteen ethos that all four voices from the band are heard, not just in the glorious harmonies that wrap each song up in such a sense of wonder, but in how they get the work out there. That's why the band's regular online communiques are signed off from Carla, Sita, Chloe and Debs, a term of endearment that makes them sound like a gang as much as a band, both as tough and as tuneful as The Shangri-Las, an image of whom graces the poster of The Girl Effect #2'.

“I think we've always wanted a big sound,” says Easton. “Some people said we were twee, but I never thought we were.”

Beyond The Girl Effect #2 and Sister, all of the band members are active in other spheres. While Philip remains a member of the BMX Bandits, Pieraccini will be performing her solo theatre piece, Bird, at the Manipulate festival of visual theatre in January 2016.

Easton, meanwhile is working on a solo musical project under the name Ette. Named in homage to first generation Edinburgh punk band The Ettes as much as The Ronettes, Ette sees Easton collaborating with Glasgow musician and producer Joe Kane. An album, Homemade Lemonade, will be released via Olive Grove Records on limited edition baby pink vinyl early next year. If the tellingly named track, Attack of The Soul Glam Cheerleaders (Parts 1 and 2), is anything to go by, it promises to be a pop monster.

With the release of Sister imminent, Teen Canteen are also signed up to play alongside Japanese girl group veterans Shonen Knife on the Scottish leg of their forthcoming tour. With the fortieth anniversary of Scottish Women's Aid also forthcoming, one shouldn't rule out the possibility of The Girl Effect #3.

“It's all really quite exciting right now,” says Easton. “I never thought that we'd end up on a film soundtrack and be in a position where we can put out an album by ourselves, and help to support Scottish Women's Aid with all these people coming along to The Girl Effect. But we're in a position now where we've got all these songs to explore in our own time, and the band itself feels really strong just now. It's really great being in a band where harmonies become another instrument. It's really powerful. There's not really a better feeling than singing with close friends like that.”

Teen Canteen presents The Girl Effect #2, Mono, Glasgow, November 26th.
www.teencanteen.co.uk
www.scottishwomensaid.org.uk

Product, November 2015

ends

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