Something amazing happened in Leicester over the last 18 months. Unglamorous proved that there’s huge untapped talent and potential in women who might be considered too old to start learning musical instruments, writing songs and forming bands. Not only have these bands created a super-cool local music scene that’s fun and creative for everyone, but now we’re releasing an album of 12 songs by eight all-women bands.
Ruth Miller, who ran the original workshops, was so amazed at the quality of songs that beginner women were writing that she decided to record and release this album…
“…not as a home recording released solely in digital form, which might have cost a few hundred pounds, but referencing those local punk compilations of the ’70s and ’80s which don’t get made these days. The gatefold vinyl sleeve is a beautiful artefact in itself with photos and quotes from all of the bands and a colour inner sleeve charting the progress of Unglamorous coming out of Leicester’s unique Covid lockdown experiences. I wanted the musicians to experience a professional recording studio to get the best sound from their raw performances. I wanted it mastered by a great female engineer. Releasing on vinyl, CD and digitally needs a lot more money and I’m so proud to have raised over £12k via Kickstarter to do this. So much of the spirit, attitude and simplicity of this comes from punk. Like punk, the ideas are spreading to ordinary women – and others of all ages – around the world!”
The pressure is now on to get news of the album out into the world. If you haven’t been involved with the Kickstarter campaign, the best way to find out is by subscribing to the unglamorous Bandcamp page, from where we will eventually sell downloads, CDs and LPs.
On the day itself, 8th March, we launched a Kickstarter project to raise the money to make a sampler album with eight of the Leicester all-women bands on it. It’s an ambitious project, and we’re in need of some big inputs in the next two weeks if the Kickstarter is to become successful.
The launch event was a gig featuring 12 all-women bands from Leicester – and five of them were playing their debuts. The venue moved the gig to the larger downstairs space in order to be able to have 300 in the audience and even then, people were turned away.
The bands were all brilliant and we’re looking forward to many more live gigs in Leicester over the next few months. Here’s the end of the night with The Verinos eventually having a stage invasion!
Welcome to any new followers or reader of this blog. I thought I’d try and explain what unglam is and how it came about. My name is Ruth Miller and I started Unglamorous Music as a small project here in Leicester when the UK came out of Covid lockdown.
For a while there’d been a focus in the UK on summer festivals getting more female acts on the bill and as headliners. This 2015 poster was edited to show any acts with women in them – not the all women bands, just any act having a woman in the band. At the time, many people argued against this approach, saying that there weren’t many women playing music and they probably weren’t good enough anyway.
In the following years, female singers and musicians promoted themselves better, made a rightful claim to be on these bills and most festivals started at least to consider a degree of gender balance by 2020. If you’re a young women studying music production or performance at school or college now, there are a lot more possibilities for a career in music because the support and good intention now exists.
I’ve been happy to see the rise of women in British alternative music. At first I thought that I’d never take part in this new era as a musician because the universal message of the music industry is that it’s fine to be a woman in music so long as you are well-groomed, beautiful, young, slim, good-natured, articulate, desirable, charming and possess incredible talent. If you’re Tina Turner, Joni Mitchell or Debbie Harry it’s ok because you’re already famous and you used to be all those things; even after the age of 70, they can be ‘looking good for their age’.
There are reasons why there’s so many fewer women musicians compared to men in the music genres I like. If you’re 45 now, did you have a go at being in a band in the 1990s? Maybe playing guitar with a mate or having a go on the drums down in a cellar … or maybe you actually got it together to play a couple of gigs. So many men I talk to have had that experience, but when I talk with women, that informal music experience was either not a part of their youth, or they hung about with guys who did exactly that, but didn’t get involved. One of the Unglamorous band members said that she spent years sitting around in rehearsal rooms while her boyfriend’s band played,
“But no-one ever offered to teach me guitar or asked if I’d like a go on a drumkit. You were just there as a girlfriend!”
There’s generations of women who missed out on the fun, the creativity, the power and the buzz of playing in a garage band. With Unglamorous Music, the aim is to offer that experience to beginner women of all ages. You can come as a one-off to see what it’s like to play a drum kit, blast out noise on an electric guitar or bass, but also to play with other beginners and see just how good it sounds and feels even when you know nothing!
In 2021, I formed all-women band The Verinos playing really simple punky songs with three beginner women and a keyboard player from an old 1990s band we’d both been in called Ruth’s Refrigerator. When The Verinos played gigs, loads of women would approach us afterwards saying that they wanted to have a go, and that’s why I set up band workshops at Stayfree Music in Leicester.
I’ll write another blog post soon about why the Unglamorous approach to music is very different from traditional instrument learning, in its pace, demands and purpose. But at the core is the encouragement to always create your own songs with lyrics that reflect your existence. There are many other projects around the world encouraging girls and women to play and teaching them instruments. I think Unglamorous is different because the aim isn’t to enter the music business by meeting those standards, it’s to create our own fringe scene that’s carefree and fun.
Some of the Unglamorous bands have songs with one chord, sometimes women can’t get to rehearsals because of their caring responsibilities, all the bands are really encouraging and supportive of each other, we raised over £1000 last year for a local charity New Dawn New Day that works with vulnerable women. It’s just a different kind of music scene and with a little bit of local knowledge and support, you could do this anywhere!
Photo credits: Black & White image – Polly Hancock Colour – Kath Moskvina
It was just going to be an ordinary week; getting the recorded tracks ready for the album pressing, rehearsing the new women who’ll be playing their debut gig at Firebug, Leicester on International Women’s Day and promoting 3 comedy shows coming up at Leicester Comedy Festival next week. The bands from the start of last year – Dada Women, The Wonky Portraits, Velvet Crisis and The Verinos, along with Glitch Magnet, Virginia’s Wolves and Venus Attax are now establishing themselves in Leicester, being approached by other promoters and having wonderful live shows. Emails are now flying in from many of the 2023 cohort with their band names: BOILERS, Pretty Dirty Rats, Peri Peri Women (TBC) and Hot Flush (TBC). It’s all looking really exciting, with plenty to do.
Then an article about the Unglamorous scene is published in Positive News
“We’ve created a whole new approach to music,” Miller told Positive News. “It’s kind of a hobby for us, but we’re actually producing great art rock, and that’s not been done before by ordinary women from our age group. We’re proof that you don’t have to be young or the typical student type to start a band. … “I had a brainwave,” she said. “If you’re playing quite simple music like garage rock or punk rock where there’s only a few chords, I could actually teach women how to play, write some simple songs and support them as beginners.”
It’s a great piece and writer Robin Eveleigh demonstrates that Unglamorous is a valid punk-style entry to the current alternative DIY music scene. It’s not a community project designed to do good and win grants to sustain itself; neither is it obsessed with getting attention, record deals and millions of followers.
The Positive News story is well-received via the Unglam WhatsApp chat, but it soon becomes obvious that other media outlets source stories from PN. Would we do a podcast interview? Would we be interviewed for an English teaching magazine? Could The Guardian do a feature and interview some of the older women involved? Could Channel 5 News come up and film a jam session and talk to some women? So we rapidly pull it together, find those who are available to punk rock it up over lunchtime, and those who can do phone interviews in their work breaks.
Here’s what Channel 5 came up with … and the calls from other media shows are still coming in. Some people are saying how good our PR is, but we don’t have PR … we just have a really brilliant idea that appeals to so many people and they can see the fun that we’re having with it!
There are lots of things that stand in the way of women who might fleetingly think about being in a band. The big one is confidence in knowing what to do, but another is having never had a go on different instruments to try them out. Here’s a few ideas that might help you have a go at playing instruments without making any big financial commitment:
Music shops – With a friend, go into a musical instrument shop at a non-busy time (early morning or weekdays). Have a look around and then talk honestly with the person serving. You’ve never tried a bass/drumkit/electric guitar and would like to start. Can they give you any tips? If the shop isn’t busy, ask if you can have a go on a basic instrument. If you get good service, go back in a week, buy something cheap – drumsticks, a guitar plectrum etc and maybe have another go.
Contacts and friends of friends – In every situation (work, family, socialising) mention that you’re trying to find someone who will let you try out a drum kit/guitar and does anyone know someone who might help you out? There is bound to be someone who will let you have a go, or maybe even lend you something basic.
Second-hand and charity shops – you often see instruments on sale in these shops. The quality isn’t always good, but if it’s cheap enough, it’s worth considering and you can always have an extended try out in the shop and then decide not to buy it. Don’t be embarrassed about any lack of skills, just hit, pluck or strum any old thing confidently!
Rehearsal rooms – people in bands hire practice rooms, often by the hour to do rehearsals in. Often weekends and evenings are busy, with muso types carrying guitars in and out. But these spaces will have quiet times where they’d be glad of any new customers. Look for rooms or studios that are staffed and ring up or go in to enquire whether they can help beginners. The people should be friendly; if they’re snobbish, ageist or sexist, ask them why – because everyone has to start somewhere and music should have no limits. Ask if they could help by letting you borrow or hire instruments (drum kits and amplifiers are usually provided) and showing you how to set up. If you and some friends go together, maybe daytime or early evening, you might be able to play around and experiment in a private space for less than £5 each.
There are barriers to getting started playing in a band, but a lot of them are to do with knowledge and knowing what is possible. Please comment if you have other tips!
Main picture The Wonky Portraits band formed in Leicester 2022
You CAN play any instrument you fancy, but the hard part is not comparing yourself with others, feeling isolated and then giving up. Ruth Miller of unglamorous music believes that beginners should experience the absolute joy of playing music in a band now, not after 3 years of practising.
If you’re starting long after you have left the education system, it’s harder to follow the conventional route of lessons, grades, music school, in which case you’re never going to be THE BEST. But that’s not really the point. Playing an instrument with others in a band as a beginner is such an awesome experience that it’s worth trying just so you can see how it feels.
Unglamorous music is a very specific approach, aimed at women – but applicable to anyone lacking in confidence and experience of playing. Some of the principles are:
Choose an instrument that appeals and fits in with others
Find helpful people to lend you stuff and support unconditionally
Form a duo or band with other beginners straightaway
Explore very simple rhythms and sounds
Write your own words about your life
Sing great tunes and backing vocals
Play your song in a confident, cool, challenging way
Get encouragement and applause from friends
Start performing to audiences as soon as possible
You’ll notice that a lot of the principles are about getting encouragement. This is the key. It’s what stops you doubting and giving up. Those early audiences for simple, authentic, inexperienced playing made garage rock, punk, grunge, riot grrrl music happen. Your supporters online and in real life need to be open-minded, generous, artistic people who will lend you a guitar and praise your efforts unconditionally. You do not need a virtuoso bass player showing you how to do it properly, or anyone who criticises or gives ‘helpful feedback’. They mean well, but ultimately it will kill your art.
If you’re a woman, it is particularly powerful to play with other beginner women or anybody who truly wants to help you try your own thing. Sadly, the music tutor scene and many YouTube tutorials are often about people showing off and making you feel inadequate and slow. That’s why so many people have a guitar they no longer play – they felt that they didn’t SUCCEED at it.
The unglamorous music project isn’t part of high culture music or the beauty/fashion-led youth music industry … nor is it some funded community thing aiming to cheer people up in a village hall for 6 weeks. Unglamorous is every bit as raw, challenging, genre-busting as The Slits were in the late 1970s. Except it’s now 2023 and women don’t need to be young, skinny, white, attractive, living in London and dating members of The Clash in order to voice their thoughts through music.
Follow this blog to get tips on how to get going, wherever you are in the world. In Leicester, UK, there’s an unglam scene with eight all-women bands, plenty of gigs and a forthcoming album.
Last year, I decided to get more women of all ages playing instruments, writing songs and quickly forming garage bands. There aren’t enough women instrumental players so most bands are all-male or just have one woman in the line-up. I’ve always loved the sight and sound of all-women bands and the 70s/80s punk and post-punk ethos seemed to encourage it. Nowadays, bands like The Slits, The Raincoats and Mo-dettes are an important part of music history.
Here are the reasons why even beginner women can do this:
Simple garage rock sounds great;
Women’s voices sound great;
There’s lots of potential help out there;
Audiences want to see and hear something different;
We can create amazing original songs;
With self-belief and a few basic skills you can make great art;
A community of women musicians is a powerful thing.
Many many women enjoy going to gigs, listening to all kinds of music but could never see themselves as being a creator in that world. What I have proved is that, with others, you can take part and find a new kind of creativity in yourself. The friendships, courage, and mental health benefits of playing in a supportive local scene are amazing, and we find that the music we are making is a new tranche of art rock music – every bit as valid as The Velvet Underground, The Sex Pistols, The Beatles … but with women evolving new themes and sounds.
Last year’s 66 Days project
Here in Leicester, I ran weekly practical workshops in January 2022 where women of all ages could try different instruments, get coaching on how to listen to others and play simple bass, guitar, drums and keyboard. Even in your first time, you can play one note, create a rhythm and turn it into a cool song, with a little guidance. I organised gigs on International Women’s Day, March 8th, where five new bands played one or more songs to an excited audience.
I also created the 66 Days to Your Debut Facebook page and posted information, videos and tips for women worldwide who were interested in the project, to help them get something started in their local area last year.
Starting soon on January 1st 2023
Everyone involved wants to do it all again! We have a bigger venue booked in Leicester for 8 current bands and, we hope 2-3 beginner all-women bands that will form in the next month! Due to me undergoing cancer treatment at the moment, the 2023 Leicester Sunday workshop sessions will be run by last year’s participants – women who now play in one of the many all-women Leicester bands like Velvet Crisis, Virginia’s Wolves, Dada Women, The Wonky Portraits, The Verinos, Venus Attax, and Glitch Magnet. But I should be able to post on Facebook and possibly YouTube to help anyone who wants to learn to play in this unconventional but rapid way, regardless of where you are based. One of the most helpful parts of this coaching is showing you how to find people in your local area who could help you or join your band. Just a few days to go now!
This week, Cathy from Velvet Crisis was published in The Guardian saying how she’d joined a band as part of the unglamorous music project, so here’s a blog post about what Velvet Crisis have been doing.
As a result, Velvet Crisis and Cathy have received wonderful messages of support from around the world and many people have subscribed to the unglamorous website, which is only partly constructed and not really anything grand at the moment. But thank you if you have subscribed!
It’s a really busy time at the moment, but we’ll try to add loads more images and words to the blog and website when we can. This week, Velvet Crisis are playing a gig in Leicester at The Soundhouse Leicester LE1 1SJ with Helen McCookerybook and The Verinos.
It’s on Friday 11th November, 8pm – 11pm and you can buy tickets here
Then on Wednesday 16th November, there’s an unglamorous music event where women can have a go at playing instruments, followed by a performance that includes music, narrative, chat, as we tell the story of the 9 all-women unglamorous bands that have formed in Leicester so far! There must be nearly 40 women involved now, and it’s another chance to see and hear Velvet Crisis.
Its Upstairs at the Western, Leicester LE3 0GA with the show beginning at 7.30pm. The workshop is before that from about 5.30pm while we’re setting up and is very informal. Click here for more info and tickets from the venue.
The other thing Velvet Crisis and the other unglam bands are doing is finishing off the recording of tracks for a compilation LP which is sounding very good indeed already. Watch out for a kickstarter campaign to raise extra money for vinyl pressing etc.
Yesterday, 30th October 2022, we started to record songs by women musicians in Leicester who have formed bands and created new garage art rock – many of them as beginners. There’s so much to say about this interesting music project and it’s been hard to document it all when everyone’s so busy with creativity and events.
But from our coverage in The Guardian today, we’ve suddenly had hundreds of views and followers, So I’m intending to post loads more information and photos about the eight all-women bands that have formed in Leicester as part of unglamorous, and are now about to make a compilation LP which is ground-breaking in that all the musicians and songwriters are women, with plenty of them being much older than the typical person starting out in music.
I shall sort this blog site out ASAP! Thanks for subscribing.