Today Manchester. Tomorrow the World.
We started 2001 on a high. We’d been offered our first London gig, at the Oval in Kennington by Gertrude – an all-girl post punk band from the big smoke. I’m still not sure how they heard of us, but by that point we’d done so many queer and Ladyfest benefit nights, we’d probably earned our spurs.
We were super excited, one, because it was in London and two, because Electrelane were also on the bill.
Like our friends The Blue Minkies they were from Brighton. We had their singles, Film Music, Le Song, Blue Straggler and Gabriel. These early tracks were mainly dreamy but abrupt instrumentals, and way more sophisticated than anything we were doing.
When we arrived for sound check it was hard not to be daunted, the venue was way bigger than the cosy corners and dive bars that we were used to playing. We worried that our sparse punk noise would get lost in this space that seemed more in keeping with an aircraft hangar or TV studio than a venue.
One thing that we did have in our favour was that our song writing was flourishing, once we struggled to fill 15 minutes on stage, now we were cranking them out. Favourites included: Mariella (our ode to Mariella Frostrup), All My Heroes Hate Me, Everything Happens When I’m Not There, Olympian Cool, Five Finger Discount, Music for Townies, Tank Top Girl, Virginia, and our one and only ballad I Karumba.
With your husky voice
And your agility
I’ve seen you rock climbing
You’re the voice over queen
New media supreme
Your fingers on the pulse of every scene
Mariella – Ma – Mariella
The gig went well. And weirdly, Electrelane seemed to be as chuffed at playing with us, as we were with them. My brother flew down to London to see us. The cavernous room was packed. I wore a North West Co-op t-shirt that Nick had given me to stay true to our roots. Loads of people we knew were there. I’d love to say they were all in attendance for us, but mainly they were lured by the sight and sounds of Electrelane. But it didn’t matter, we’d got London under our belts, we felt like pop stars, and it would be the first of many shows with Electrelane.
We kept on gigging, with our prime objective being to play Ladyfest Glasgow that August. Ladyfest was a thing of legend in our world. It started in Olympia in 2000, with the likes of Sleater-Kinney, The Gossip, Bratmobile and Sarah Dougher coming together for a female led political, musical, cultural and artistic happening. Lee Beattie, a young Glaswegian witnessed it all, and inspired, vowed to bring Ladyfest to Glasgow.
Lots of people who we played with were already confirmed to play: Hooker, Flamingo 50, Angelica, Gertrude, and our friends The Blue Minkies and Electrelane – although to be fair, we were still more Electrelane groupies than friends at this point. Beattie had managed to get a whole host of bonafide riot grrrl heroes to come over from the US to play, including: The Gossip, Bratmobile and Katastrophe Wife . Bis and Kirby provided the local talent.
We just didn’t get our act together. I think we sent a demo but knowing us probably after the submissions deadline. I think we were waiting to be asked. If it had been in Manchester, no doubt we would have been chewing Lee Beattie’s ear off, begging for a slot. But while we were good at bigging ourselves up in our home city, we’d have to work on promoting ourselves elsewhere. We ended up going to Ladyfest, but only as observers.
We were massively disappointed and feeling very hard done to, but soon got over it as we boarded the train to Glasgow for four days of drink, dancing and music with all the people we had met over the last two and a half years.
Nick couldn’t come, so me, Elvis, Vix and McCaffrey headed up. We were staying in the Eurohostel on Clyde Street and were all gobsmacked when we saw Kat Bjelland roaming the lobby with the rest of Katastrophe Wife. Our unofficial headquarters that weekend was The 13th Note, it was there that we met up with Holly and Seleena, Ruth Bop, Irene and Ros from Lesbo Pig and IRRK records, the Minkies and Electrelane.
There were lots of great performances, but the Minkies stands out as one of the best. They were playing in the tiny basement of the 13th Note. It was August and sweltering. Every time they played a note all their equipment seemed to move. Our fringes were spammed to our heads and the walls were dripping with sweat as the crowd jumped to the Minkies perfect pound shop pop.
Afterwards, we all headed to a whisky bar off Clyde Street, a proper dog rough place, with hardy old drinkers propping up the bar. God only knows what they must have made of us; me and Elvis in our leather jackets looking like the lesbian Velvet Underground, and Betty and Steph Minkie in their Scholl orthopaedic shoes.
Whatever they thought ten tunes on the juke box later and five whiskys down the line, we were getting on with these old timers like a house on fire. I remember one of them dancing with us and twirling his pullover above his head. It knocked a big clump of archaic dust off the fan above which plopped right into his pint. Without batting an eyelid, he downed it in one. Maybe we created a new kind of boilermaker that day.
The camaraderie continued, with one of the old guys treating us to drinks with the multitude of coppers he had lined out on the table. With the stale sweat lingering in the air, we left. A few years later when Kate and I were living in Glasgow, we tried to find the whisky bar, but it had gone and left me wondering if I’d dreamt it all.
As per usual, Elv got where a draft wouldn’t, and was invited on stage with Electrelane to do a version of Hound Dog. So at least there was some Valerie presence at Ladyfest Glasgow.
The Gossip – who Elvis also nearly ended up singing with, only she couldn’t find a satisfactory outfit – brought Ladyfest to a memorable end, and inspired an after show conga through the Barfly led by a scantily clad Beth Ditto.
It was hard to bring ourselves back to normality with all this girls to the front ethos and Ladyfest utopia ringing in our ears. But we had an EP to record, so it was back to business.
Jane Compton, who ran Manchester’s DIY avant-garde club night – Club Brenda – had just started a record label called Switchflicker and had asked us to record something for her. She’d released 7 inches by performance poets Chloe Poems (Gerry Potter) and Rosie Lugosi. Elvis and I would often spot Potter and fellow Club Brenda alumni The Divine David (David Hoyle) on Canal St and feel a bit star struck.
We never dreamed of recording anything, such were our legendary ramshackle live performances, so we jumped at the chance of getting a 7 inch out, especially for a label whose last released was The Queen Sucks Nazi Cock.
We decamped to Inch Studios off Rochdale Rd to be taken through our paces by Keir Stewart, who was lovely, very patient and had been in the Duritti Column.
We were excited, but recording was totally alien to us. We were famed for our DIY ethos, now we were being asked to play in time, in the right chord and at the right level. We recorded All My Heroes Hate Me, Everything Happens When I’m Not There, Olympian Cool and I Karumba.
I saw you looking at her through your bunsen burner
Looking like a teenage Tina Turner
Don’t give a shit what your parents say
Got to make your move before she gets away
And I went I, I , I karumba – just look at me
And I went I, I , I karumba – no virginity
And I went I, I, I Karumba – you made a man out of me
The highlight was recording outside to capture the unseasonal August rain for the intro to I Karumba (that made us feel like The Smiths), and hearing All My Heroes played back for the first time. Having played it so many times live, it sounded weird to hear it presented back to us sounding all professional. The recording definitely did iron out our rawness, and made us sound much softer than our live shows. But we had four songs that would end up on a 7 inch, that would end up in someone’s house, that would end up on the radio. We could hold onto that 7 and say ‘we made this’.
In the same month, we played for Steve Manford again to celebrate 25 years since the Sex Pistols played at the Free Trade Hall. Manchester’s finest all lined up at Big Hands to pay homage to their punk predecessors. Jackie O, Moco, Hooker, Politburo, Red Vinyl Fur, Desolation Angels, Los Nachos and Gabrielle’s Wish all played. I remember it being most notable for Nick out of The Obsession painting his body with black stars, adding a bit of Iggy Pop glamour to a wet Sunday on Oxford Road.
The bill was almost as cram packed as the venue that day, and everyone was only allowed 15 minutes to play. Our set was high speed and we got dressed up for the occasion, sporting shirts, ties and shades. Elvis even conjured up an umbrella at one point and went a bit Mary Poppins on us.
Next up was Leeds Festival and Elvis and I went to see Electrelane play, we turned up with miniature golf clubs for them to keep them amused on tour. They must have thought we were insane. It was there that they told us that one of their friends – Kate – was moving to Manchester and that we’d have to keep an eye on her.
We were playing at The Night and Day the month after and Kate came along. I didn’t realise it until about 5 months later, but she would become the most important person in my life.
We brought the year to an end with a bang. We were playing Roadmovie 2 at The Retro Bar with our good friends Jackie O, Moco and hot new Portuguese band The Parkinsons – who were being really talked up by the NME. It was the definition of an old school, rock and roll night. First on, we set the tone. Nick looking clinical in his doctors scrubs, Elvis resplendent in her tank top, me in leather jacket and ski mask, Vix surveying the crowd – we meant business. We banged out Virginia and a new song Pop Star, took a telephone call and tried to set fire to someone’s trousers. Mad Gary took over from Elv on the drums for a bit while she drank her 2-for-1 Becks.
Jackie O took it up a notch and then The Parkinsons entered the scene in their boxers, by this point tables are broken, there’s glass, beer and leads all over the floor. This was messy even for Retro Bar. Headliners Moco still somehow managed to steal the show and at one point tiny Elv had their strapping front man – Jonesy – on her shoulders. Everyone was euphoric, apart from the staff. It was a health and safety nightmare and the management eventually pulled the plug.
I suppose that gig was just our punk rock office Christmas party, and it would be a happy new year too, as Valerie were unexpectedly tipped for the top in a Manchester Evening News article called Today Manchester, Tomorrow the World. Remember kids, don’t believe everything you read.
Coming soon: 4 become 3, EP out, Tour 1.