Girls to the front.

by joannerachel

Three years in and the alcohol fuelled nights, gigs and years tended to blend into each other. So I’m ashamed to say that I can’t quite pinpoint Nick’s last gig with Valerie, just like I never could quite locate the drum machine programme for Olympian Cool or Tokyo Girls without great difficulty from that point forward.

Although we had an absolute blast in our formative years, like any other band we had boozy crossed words and unspoken internal politics and at some point very late in 2001 or very early in 2002 our charismatic bass player and founder member left.

Valerie was Nick’s band in every sense of the word. It was his and Vix’s idea and he and Elvis definitely moulded our politics. There was never any debate that we wouldn’t carry on without him. We’d miss him for sure. But he was and is what a feminist looks like, and he left behind a band with three women who had found their voices, their sound and their beat.

At our first practice, I was so shy that I sent the rest of the band into another room before I’d sing, now I was asking my Mum if she knew who I was. Elvis was fast becoming an underground legend and Vix, well Vix was Vix, and had always been an unassuming one off. We were the thrill seeking ladies that Valerie Solanas spoke of, and that wouldn’t have happened without Nick.

BoyNick

His broken wrist after a fight at Poptastic, meant playing as an all girl three piece wasn’t totally alien to us. And that Bette Davis gig stood us in good stead for our first official gig without Nick, which was in a disused swimming pool in Sheffield. It did sound kind of sparse without his rasping bass lines and high-pitched raps and we’d have to fill that vacuum of sound soon, as Switchflicker were about to release our first EP and we had a mini tour organised to support it.

But first, the ever supportive Electrelane asked us to open for them in Liverpool. It was at the students union which was a massive old hall and was only about a quarter full. We were getting used to being a three piece and the gig was more intimate than the venue would suggest. Surprisingly, the crowd asked for more, so as you do we launched into a cover version of Hotel California. It lasted about three lines before we realised we didn’t know any more words and tottered off stage. Julian from Invicta Hifi was in the audience and had always showed a bit of interest in us, we loved his band Ladytron and I secretly hankered after him signing us, but it wasn’t to be.

Mia from Electrelane wrote a review of our set for Careless Talk Costs LivesEverett True’s new magazine – which was the most credible press coverage we’d got at that point, other than our spread in Diva and The Big Issue.

It was also at that gig, that Mia sidled over and told me that Kate was back from her travels in Australia and our erstwhile romance was about to be rekindled.

Away from the music, one of the greatest things about being in Valerie was our creative get togethers, our cut and paste sessions produced posters, t-shirts, badges and art work. There was a rumour that we were named after Valerie Singleton, and perhaps we were all repressed punk rock Blue Peter presenters at heart. We’d get together with a few bottles of wine and a DYMO and see what happened. It did get out of hand once when Vix made a range of Valerie knickers.

From one of those sessions came the genesis for the artwork and fanzine for our first EP. I wince when I read it now, but at the time it was totally us; cheeky and pushing our luck, but still thanking everyone who had spurred us on.

Valerie7

The record had been sent off to the Czech Republic to print, and when the beautiful transparent 7 inch vinyl landed back in our hands – the blagging and self promotion started.

I remember being sprawled in my bedroom, lovingly packaging the records up and hand writing letters to John Peel, Steve Lamacq, Jo Whiley, and oddly the guitarist out of Idlewild (because I’d seen him wearing a Sleater-Kinney top), hoping for some airplay or a support slot.

But, more excitingly, we were off on our first tour. Well, it was more of a mini tour really. But we grandly christened it the Last of the Summer Swine Tour calling in at Liverpool, Nottingham, London and Brighton.

The one we were looking forward to the most was playing with Le Tigre at Nottingham Social. Kathleen Hanna, was the queen of our world, and we were going to be playing with her and her new band. She was like the Madonna of riot grrrl; reinventing herself from the raw noise of Bikini Kill, to the cultured electro rallying calls of Le Tigre, not to mention Julie Ruin’s original DIY crush songs.

We arrived at the venue, caught a glimpse of Hanna, Johanna Fateman and JD Sampson, went weak at the knees and retreated star-struck to a pub across the road with wallpaper that doubled as books.

We stormed the gig, everything clicked and the Nottingham audience were great. We fed off them, and after some soap banter the girls on the front row were shouting Zoe Tate, Zoe Tate makes me want to masterbate.  Stef Mainey had made the trip, Noisy Shit popped down, as did the loyal Grilly (aka DJ Gallowslut) and Phil and Jo from the Liverpool crew were there.

For the very first time after All My Heroes, we could show off and say that’s off our new single. By the end of the set we were bopping and rolling around the stage. We sold some 7’s and were floating on cloud 9, basically I was getting all geared up for Kathleen to christen me the new queen of riot grrrl.

Le Tigre stormed through most of their debut record and Feminist Sweepstakes. They were amazing.

Le Tigre poster

After they had gone off stage. I was having a post gig analysis with someone when I noticed Kathleen Hanna approaching. Time seemed to stand still as she glided over. Was she walking towards me? She was. Oh my god, she’s coming over to say how much she likes the band, that we must come over to America so she can produce our first album.

She opened her mouth and the immortal words is this your cardigan? Someone left it on stage, came out. They weren’t the words of encouragement I was hoping for, and alas it wasn’t my cardigan.

So Le Tigre weren’t going to take us on world tour with them, but we were playing with The Blue Minkies and Lesbo Pig at The Bull & Gate Jubilee All Dayer in Kentish Town, so that kept us going.

It was more of a big reunion than a gig. The beers flowed as the day went on. Our set seemed pretty low key after highs of the Le Tigre support. We wore aprons and I think did one of our horrendous cover versions. We would attempt these now again and they usually ended in disaster – as per Hotel California. We also covered Girls & Boys, Rebel Girl and I Wanna Be Sedated in our time. At a gig at The Night & Day, Elvis forgot the drum intro to Rebel Girl, so we just drummed I Am The Resurrection by The Stone Roses instead and we got away with it. Another time, I invented a new word wheelport and substituted it for airport when we covered The Ramones.

Supporting Le Tigre

Supporting Le Tigre

I was overcome with excitement because I thought Sarah Smart (aka Virginia Braithwaite) was in the audience, and Betty Minkie stole the show when she closed the huge wooden doors that separated the bar from the stage,  shouting ‘contain the noise’ when Gertrude were playing. Our tour van had a busy day too. That morning Laney from The Strap Ons – who had come down with us to see The Parkinsons at the ICA and our gig – had spent the night in the van and got locked in. She summonsed a very groggy Valerie to release her.  We asked a passing Postman to help us get her out. He only succeeded in snapping the van’s handle off, while Laney remained inside. That meant we had no chance of getting our deposit back from Salford Van Hire, but eventually we did manage to rescue her and she was later seen folding Valerie fanzines with Lou out of Neighbour’s wife.

Kate had arranged a gig for us in Palmers Bar where she worked in Brighton, a basement drinking den just near the ice rink.  Lianne Hall dj-ed and I think she played too. We were back on form, but I remember being very drunk and confrontational, and pissed off the landlord when I reprimanded him for missing our set. Despite being so different from industrial Manchester, we were slowly forming lots of connections with Brighton, and alongside London and Glasgow we would gig there the most outside our home town.

It wasn’t long before we were back in London and the disappointment of missing out on Glasgow Ladyfest was slightly erased as we were on the bill for Ladyfest London alongside: Electrelane, Chicks On Speed, Kiki & Herb, Mirah, The Haggard, The Blue Minkies, Hooker, Kaito and Hello Cuca.

The opening night was really special, because Holly and Seleena, who were now the Northern Radical Cheerleaders kicked things off with their radical cheers and pom poms – squad set you bet. I stole their set list and they would end up cheering with Electrelane a few days later.

Holly&Seleena

A lot of people remembered us from the year before, and when our enthusiasm got the better of us when we saw Ladyfest alumni Sarah Dougher, she brought us down a peg or two by saying that she didn’t respond to ‘toots in the park’. She also told Elv that she looked like a lesbian golfer.

We were playing on the Friday at Upstairs at The Garage in Islington. We had been there loads to watch gigs. I’d seen Sleater-Kinney and Linoleum there, and unbeknownst to us, Kate and I had both been in the audience when Electrelane supported Le Tigre there.

The most memorable time we’d been was one New Year’s Eve for Club V. We’d been drinking in a pub round the corner and me and McCaffrey had left to get something to eat. We ended up in a café with loads of rowdy Cockney girls, when Elvis entered fresh from the pub bedecked in Christmas decorations and shouted Alright you slags in a Cockney accent. The Cockney rowdies thought this was aimed at them and it all spilled out on to the street. One of the girls was in a wheelchair and one of us brushed against it. They went wild accusing us of attacking her. The girl then started repeatedly ramming us with her wheelchair. We were stunned. This prompted McCaffrey to break down in tears proclaiming Why can’t we just get along? We wrote a song about it called Happy New Year which Vicky loathed.

Stainless steel fighting machine
Burning that rubber
Next time Scope come a calling
I’ll think of you nasty mother

We were excited to be playing a venue we’d visited so many times. Me and Elvis had gone down earlier than Vix, she was travelling on the day of the gig. A couple of hours before we were due to play, she called us to say she was on the train but she’d forgotten her guitar. We were like…Vix, you’re the guitarist. How could you forget your guitar? This sparked a mad panic, but Jimmy Minkie came to the rescue and leant us his. This led to the comical spectical of tiny Vix playing Jimmy’s massive guitar. It was in tune too, so we sounded unusually harmonious.

Vix by John Stuart

Vix by John Stuart

That night, Unskinny Bop took over Sahara Hotnights and everyone partied hard, especially Stef and Betty Minkie who did an amazing rendition of Ice, Ice, Baby, despite having to play the next day.

London was inspiring, and it was great to play, dance, drink and meet up with friends. We’d hired a room (or should I say cell) at The Generator Hostel in Kings Cross, and by the end of the weekend I think everyone at Ladyfest had stayed a night.

Like when we came back from Glasgow, we were in a post Ladyfest lull. But soon after, I was innocently meandering around the underwear department in Marks & Spencer, looking for a bra when my phone went. It was someone called Paul Smith from Mute Records. He’d heard about us and wanted to meet. Bloody hell! The big time beckoned. I better make this bra a good one.

Coming soon: Meeting Mute, Meltdown, Liars, Yeah Yeahs Yeahs, Gossip, Glasgow, Gravy Train.