Archive for the ‘Suzi Quatro’ Tag

Girl Power

Growing up in the 1970s, I was acutely aware of gender stereotypes. I was a very ‘girly’ girl as a child – fond of dresses and dolls. I didn’t climb trees, I didn’t like getting dirty. Then I moved into the 1980s, and adolescence, and I became more aware of the imbalance between girls and boys. And it seemed unfair. I figured out very early on that I didn’t want to have kids, and I liked doing things that girls weren’t supposed to like doing. I started writing horror stories at age 14. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons at 15. I was the only girl in the group for much of the year, and I have already talked about how all the boys ganged up on me in a previous post.

Fortunately for me, when I want to do something, the fact that other girls don’t do it has never put me off. But this isn’t always the case. A lot of girls are put off pursuing an activity or career they enjoy, because being the only girl can be off-putting, especially if you get picked on, as was the case in my first D&D group.

This is why it’s crucial to have role models, especially for girls. Why are there not more women playing lead guitar, or bass guitar, or driving race cars? Why are there not more women pilots, or women fire fighters? There are, of course, women doing these things, but they are still very much in the minority, and they need to be a lot more visible in order to inspire the next generation of young women to follow in their wake.

My inspiration for playing bass guitar was Suzie Quatro, who I remember seeing on ‘Top of the Pops’ in the 1970s and I thought she was a cool rocking chick. My inspiration for writing horror was Stephen King, who of course is male but he writes sympathetic female characters – something some male writers aren’t able to do – and it never occurred to me, as a teenager, that writing horror was something women weren’t supposed to do. Over the years there have been a number of people who have said to me something along the lines of ‘what’s a nice girl like you doing writing horror stories?’ but it does happen less frequently these days, and I hope people are more enlightened. After all, in the view of many people the first modern horror novel was FRANKENSTEIN – written not only by a woman, but one that was only seventeen years old at the time.

Mary Shelly. Image (c) National Portrait Gallery

I’ve considered myself a feminist since the 1980s. Although we have made some inroads since then, it seems we’ve still got a long way to go. I was touched recently by a news article about four-year-old Esme, who told her mother she needed to be a boy because she wanted to be a fire fighter, and she’d only ever seen male fire fighters in books and she ‘didn’t want to be the only girl.’ This prompted fire crews all over the UK to post tweets and videos from their female fire fighters, to prove to Esme that you can be a fire fighter if you are a girl. The story is encouraging, but also highlights how important it is for female role models to get more coverage.

We also seem to be making some inroads in sports. The women’s football league got national TV coverage on terrestrial TV for the first time this year, and had the best viewing figures ever. And the England team did quite well, I note – getting to the semi-final. I am not a follower of football, but this made even me happy.

I am also happy that there is a series of races for women drivers, again on terrestrial TV, for the first time this year. I have been a fan of Formula 1 for over 25 years, and I’ve been banging on for just as long that there aren’t enough opportunities for women racing drivers. This year we have the Formula W. OK there are only six races, of only half an hour each, which is nowhere near equivalent to Formula 1, but they don’t have anywhere near the investment, and it is a start. If people watch the Formula W races, and support them, they might get more investment and most importantly these young women (and they are all young, but so are the male drivers), will pave the way for little girls who dream of becoming racing drivers to understand that this is a dream within reach.

We need these trailblazers. We need women of courage, battling against the preconception that women can’t do these things to prove that they can, and the fact that they are doing these things needs to be publicised so that young girls can see that they can do these things and they won’t be ‘the only girl’.

The final Formula W race takes place at Brands Hatch in the UK next weekend, and I have tickets. I will be there in the stands, cheering on these trailblazing women.

In a small way I hope I am also encouraging a new generation of women bass players. When I have my bass guitar lesson, there is a young girl – maybe about 12 – who watches me through the door for the last few minutes while she waits for her own lesson to start. She seems to genuinely enjoy watching me play, and always gives me a ‘thumbs up’ at the end of my lesson.

I feel that at last we are taking steps towards gender equality. They are very small steps, but at least they are being taken. Which is why it’s so important to support trailblazing women when they come along, forging a path for others to follow in their wake. And it’s why I am so excited about going to Brands Hatch next weekend for the final race in the Formula W series. It doesn’t really matter who wins the championship. In my opinion, all of these women are winners.

I’m finishing this post with a video of the trailblazing woman I still see as an inspiration: Suzie Quatro, performing ‘Devil Gate Drive’ in 1974.

My Life in Music: 1978

In 1978 I was living with my mother and sister in a small council flat, and my sister and I went to stay with my dad every other weekend. We were still living in Mossley in Lancashire, but we were now on the other side of it.

Mossley was, and still is, a small town. The church was often the centre of the community in small towns, and it certainly seemed to figure prominently in our lives at that point in time. My sister and I went to Sunday School at St George’s Church, and I went to the same church hall once a week for my Brownie pack meetings. I remember the vicar coming round to talk to my mother about cleaning jobs, which she was looking for. As a single mother she was working three jobs around feeding us, taking us to school, picking us up again, and putting us to bed. I never realised that at the time.

The church was involved in a lot of fetes and festivals, and Whitsun in particular, taking place in the Spring a few weeks after Easter, was a big deal. Every year at this time we had the ‘Whit Walks’, which appears to be unique to the North West of England. There would be a big parade through the town, and everyone who belonged to any of the churches would participate. My sister and I would both get new dresses for the occasion, and we’d join the parade, walking through town and waving at people who lined the streets to watch.

Each church also crowned a ‘Rose Queen’ every year. As far as I can tell the Rose Queen originates from the May Queen, but I can well understand why the Christian church changed the name – the May Queen has somewhat sinistar pagan origins connected to virgin sacrifices. The ceremony would be held at the church with all the queens from the neighbouring churches in attendance for the ‘coronation’. Sunday School took place in the church hall, and although everyone was in the same hall there were lots of tables in there and the classes were divided up by age (and apparently by gender). In 1978 it was my Sunday school class – a group of eight-year-old girls – from which the Rose Queen was chosen. The honour went to the girl with the best attendance. I was never in the running – although I was told I had to go to Sunday School I wasn’t made to go every week. In the end there were two girls who had the same perfect attendance, and in the end they had to draw lots to find out who got to be Rose Queen. The one who didn’t win had to be a Maid of Honour like the rest of us, wearing a long dress and carrying the Rose Queen’s train, at not only the coronation of our Rose Queen but at the coronation of all the other Rose Queens as well. We also got to ride on a float in the Whit Walks, which I quite enjoyed because it meant I didn’t have to walk that year, and I was never very fond of walking, even as a child.

So the picture here is from June 1978 and shows me and my best friend Helen in our ‘Maid of Honour’ dresses. I think the picture was taken outside the church hall. My sister is in the middle, in her ‘Whitsun’ dress. Helen and I were born four months apart and were friends from infancy because our mothers were friends. We went to the same school and the same Sunday school and were pretty much inseparable until the point we moved to Canada. I never really had a best friend in quite the same way after that, and she’s someone I would dearly love to find again, but have failed to do so, despite many Google searches. Sometimes you have to accept that people in your past stay in your past.

Anyway, being a Maid of Honour for the Rose Queen was quite possibly the most exciting things that happened to me in 1978, in a life that consisted of school, Brownie meetings, Sunday School, watching TV, playing with dolls and weekend visits to my dad’s house. One of my favourite TV shows was Top of the Pops, which would have a weekly count down on all the chart hits, and it was filmed in a studio where they would roll out some of the top artists of the day performing their hit song to a studio audience. I was already a big Abba fan, and they featured frequently on ‘Top of the Pops’ during the 1970s, but generally in a video and not a live performance because of the distance involved in travelling from Sweden.

This year’s selected song is one that I remember watching on ‘Top of the Pops’ this year, but for once it’s not Abba. As an eight-year-old I was a very ‘girly girl’. I liked wearing pretty dresses (one of the reaons I liked Whitsun so much; I always got a new dress), I didn’t like getting dirty or climbing trees and I thought boys were noisy and uncouth. But I saw this video, featuring a tiny but dynamic woman sporting an enormous bass, and something awoke inside me. Something that would grow up to be a wannabe rock chick.

It’s entirely down to Suzi Quatro that I now play bass guitar and like strutting my rock chick stuff at open mic nights, and it was this song that first brought her to my attention – “If You Can’t Give Me Love”, which hit the UK charts in the spring of 1978. The video is the performance I remember watching on ‘Top of the Pops. Note that the instruments are not plugged in, because all the songs are mimed. I never twigged that at the time.