Skip to main content

Gina Birch and Helen Reddington – Stories from the She Punks

Gina Birch and Helen Reddington don’t look like money launderers. Yet, as the two elder-states-women of the UK’s first generation of punk tell it, this is pretty much what their local bank suspected them of being when they applied for an account to help fund their new film. Rather than some cops and robbers heist flick, however, Stories of the She Punks is a documentary on the largely untold history of the duo’s female peers who navigated their way through the gob-flecked scene to become musical pioneers.

One might have thought Birch’s tenure as bassist and co-vocalist with the Kurt Cobain championed Raincoats and Reddington in her Helen McCookerybook guise as front-woman of Brighton-based John Peel favourites The Chefs and Helen and The Horns would have been enough to convince any bank to support them. If not that, then their more recent careers as respectable academics should have swung it. Sadly, the pair’s artistic alliance wasn’t deemed to be a business opportunity worth supporting.

 “We couldn’t work out what was going on,” says Reddington, “but there were these emails that just seemed to be going round and round and round.”

“Eventually,” Birch continues, “an older man sat down with us and said, I’m sorry, we can’t offer you a bank account. We were like, why, and he said, well, you could be laundering money, or you could be making a porn film. We said we’re academics, we’re making this for academic purposes.”

Birch pauses.

 “There’s a thing on telly now, isn’t there,” she says. “Women Make Porn.”

“That’s us,” says Reddington.

Stories of the She Punks is anything but porn. As can be seen tomorrow night in Edinburgh when it screens as part of this week’s Doc’n Roll season of music-based films, over its forty-five rough and ready minutes, Birch and Reddington’s film gives voice to many of their contemporaries from the punk era who at the time were barely heard. Filmed over the last five years, the film flits between interviews with Viv Albertine from The Slits, Ana da Silva from The Raincoats, Gaye Black from The Adverts, as well as less well known but just as significant artists, including members of Dolly Mixture and The Mo-dettes.

Beyond the London scene, there are appearances from Lesley Woods of Birmingham’s The Au Pairs, and, from Manchester, Liz Naylor of The Gay Animals. There is also a star turn from Shanne Bradley of The Nipple Erectors, whose lead singer was a pre-Pogues Shane MacGowan.

“Shanne was in the thick of things from the start,” says Birch, “and had such a lot of lovely stories, but she’d never been interviewed before at all. She appears in pictures in books about punk as ‘unknown woman,’ but she’s the one who auditioned Shane MacGowan. There should be a book or a film about her by itself.”

Stories from the She Punks also features an appearance from Patricia-Anne Brown, aka Trash, of long-lost Edinburgh band, The Ettes.

“I was doing a gig in Glasgow and Trash turned up,” says Reddington. “I’d met her briefly before at Viv Albertine’s birthday party, and then I had a gig in Edinburgh, which was when we did the interview. She was the last person to be interviewed, but the camera wouldn’t work, so I filmed it on my very wobbly iphone.”

The roots of Stories from the She Punks stems from Reddington’s book, The Lost Women of Rock Music – Female Musicians of the Punk Era, first published in 2007. Birch was one of the first people Reddington interviewed for the book.

“We were friends anyway,” says Reddington, “and we’d toured together, doing song-writing workshops with old people.”

“It was a good excuse to sit around and drink tea as well,” adds Birch, “and the film was a by-product of that.”

At the time, Birch was also making a film about The Raincoats, whose self-titled debut album, released by Rough Trade in 1979, remains one of post-punk’s defining statements which has in turn influenced the ethos driving the film.

“It’s a DIY film of women talking about being in bands in the 1970s, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else,” says Reddington. “The only message it’s got is the one that comes out of people’s mouths, which is very true and authentic, and I think people like that.”

“I think the good thing about it,” says Birch, “is that some of it is so badly filmed, and looks at times like we’ve perhaps filmed it from the back of a suitcase, that there’s a wonderful punk aspect to it, and it’s so DIY, and I think that’s its saving grace.”

“Bricolage,” Reddington posits.

Birch agrees.

“It’s kind of charity shop film making,” she says.

“TK Maxx,” counters Reddington.

A twenty-minute trailer premiered in 2016 at an event at the British Library as part of an exhibition to mark the fortieth anniversary of punk. The sold-out screening was pretty much the only representation of women in the entire show.

“I think it was a shame that a lot of the women were excluded from that, and in a way our little trailer was a kind of recognition of the women. There were all these singles on the wall, and none of them, except maybe Siouxsie and Poly Styrene, had women in the band. A lot of the women made their singles a little bit later, because they weren’t there with their guitars ready to go. They were inspired by it, and were practicing in basements, and their music came out perhaps a year or so later.

“I was quite cross at the opening, shouting ‘where are the women’, and probably upsetting a lot of people. Punk was such a massive opportunity for young women and older women to have some visibility in bands, which largely they hadn’t had before, so it seemed infuriating to me that there was this absence.”

During the screening itself, however, Reddington recalls “this wave of good will. It was absolutely rammed, and it felt like an affirmation or catalyst. I suppose that might have something to do with the editing choices that were made. There was so much film, and both of us have got a sense of humour, so we naturally picked things out that appealed to us from that perspective. A lot of the time people are talking about quite awful things, but in quite an upbeat way, so there’s a dark laughter kind of thing, but when you think about it, someone telling an anecdote about being attacked by skinheads might come across as quite funny, but it’s actually really horrible.”

Working with rudimentary equipment, Birch and Reddington eventually completed the film, with Doc’n Roll’s input a vital boost.

“They really believed in us,” says Reddington, “and you really need that when you’re doing something DIY. You call it DIY, but you still need to get it out there.”

The end result “dances about all over the place in terms of who did what when,” says Birch, “but the actual nubs of the ideas are nicely put together.”

According to Reddington, “It’s about forming a band and being in a band, and that can appeal to anyone, whether you’re a man or a woman. There’s no big fanfare at the start to say you have to be a feminist to get something out of it, but the stories in it are so interesting that by the end I think you’ll be a feminist anyway.”

Doc’n Roll runs at Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh, Thursday-Sunday. Stories from the She Punks plus short films by Gina Birch and a Q and A is on Friday at 6pm.

The Herald, April 24th 2019


ends

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

DISC 1 1. THE STONE ROSES   -  Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3   -  Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART   -  Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS   -  Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY  -  Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!   -  Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS  -  I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS  -  In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES   -  Everso 10. THE SEERS   -  Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND  -  You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS  -  We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE   -  Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS   -  Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND  -  In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES  -  Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS   -  Justice In Freedom (12" Version) 1. THE STONE ROSES    Don’t Stop ( Silvertone   ORE   1989) The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1 1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77) 3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77) 4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77) 5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77) 6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77) 7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77) 8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78) 9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78) 10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79)  11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79) 12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79)  13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79) 14. JOLT See Saw (6/79) 15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79) 16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79) 17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79) 18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79) 19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79) 20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79) 21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79) 22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79) 23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79) 24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80) 25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980) 1. THE REZILL

Edinburgh Rocks – The Capital's Music Scene in the 1950s and Early 1960s

Edinburgh has always been a vintage city. Yet, for youngsters growing up in the shadow of World War Two as well as a pervading air of tight-lipped Calvinism, they were dreich times indeed. The founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the subsequent Fringe it spawned may have livened up the city for a couple of weeks in August as long as you were fans of theatre, opera and classical music, but the pubs still shut early, and on Sundays weren't open at all. But Edinburgh too has always had a flipside beyond such official channels, and, in a twitch-hipped expression of the sort of cultural duality Robert Louis Stevenson recognised in his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a vibrant dance-hall scene grew up across the city. Audiences flocked to emporiums such as the Cavendish in Tollcross, the Eldorado in Leith, The Plaza in Morningside and, most glamorous of all due to its revolving stage, the Palais in Fountainbridge. Here the likes of Joe Loss and Ted Heath broug