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