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45 f

It’s true across Britain, she thinks, but is not so much the case elsewhere, saying, “At Celtic Connections, the American and Scandinavian female musicians are so inspiring to see. They walk on stage and assert themselves. They’re confident. We need to find a way to be proud of our- selves and encourage women to be proud of their music.”

To achieve this, we women need to scrutinise where our ideas are coming from just as much as we want men to look at the assumptions that inform theirs. Green says, “I overheard a woman say, ‘Who the fuck does she think she is?’ whilst watching another woman on stage.”

And it was whilst waiting to go on stage at a festival last summer that Rhein- gans experienced one of the worst intro- ductions. “Ironically it was an all-female billing on the Friday across the two main stages, which was great. But it wasn’t necessarily clear why this was happening, so ‘ladies’ day’ became a bit of cute aes- thetic, a throwaway thing. It meant the compere didn’t know why it mattered. She introduced Anna as having a degree in Occitan folk music, saying ‘We like a girl with a brain.’”

As Rheingans says, the all-female line- up to redress the gender balance at festi- vals is good, because it forces considera- tion of all the musicians who can fit the bill. But the idea of quotas as a solution to the issue is contentious.

Posting on Newton’s Facebook page, the Peterson fan says his daughter “cer- tainly doesn’t need a bunch of guys held back to facilitate her progress, that’s just insulting.” And discussing an artist’s album he says, “If there was a 50/50 quota as espoused by Fair Plé, gender equality in numbers would be successfully achieved but the record in question wouldn’t have enjoyed the A-team which is, I assume, those who are on it.” (i.e. more men than women).

This points to male fears about women taking their jobs, to a male per- ception that competition exists on a level playing field (despite its grass being root- ed in the ‘lobster hierarchy’) and also to women’s fear regarding audience percep- tion of the quality of their playing – “They wouldn’t be there if it wasn’t for the quota,” though a few bars of playing would prove otherwise.

As Macdonald says, “I was always against the idea of a quota, because I felt that the fight we put in would be under- mined. I want to be in the same space as my peers as a fiddle player, because I’m playing as good as I can, in a liberated kind of way. I did not want to be token. I felt like you have to be really tenacious, that I have to prove myself.”

This is a common theme with the women I spoke to. And Butterworth says, “It’s not just about proving myself, but about being really organised. I make sure I’m really organised.” This helps, she says, to get work. But the women musicians here recognise that they have to prove themselves in a way that men don’t, just to get onto the pitch.


acdonald has changed her mind about quotas. What she would like to see now is them in place for a peri- od of time. “I just want

change. So if festivals now have to book more women, over time this will become reflective of the real scene.” When quotas have done their job, says Tickell “we could all settle down and pick the best people,” having become aware of the wider choice.

McShane says it’s important that bookers are conscious of gender balance. “I’d be disheartened if I went to a festival and didn’t see women performers. Gener- ations of musicians providing music for festivals will be playing to kids and teenagers going there. Festivals need to be aware that young people coming might want to go on and play folk music. Kids need to see their own gender represented, and they need a whole balanced spread of music. Good-quality music.”

The need for quality is a given in all the musicians I spoke to. Jenna Reid sums it up, “For me you have to be excellent at what you do, work hard and maintain good quality,” and Kerr points out that the lack of presence of women in folk festivals and the scene generally is noth- ing to do with the amount of talented women out there. Which can only bene- fit the music.

Show Of Hands, for example, are very vocal about the positive effect that Miranda Sykes has had on the way they work as well as her contribution to their sound. And the benefits are social too. “Paul Sartin,” says McShane, “always said ‘It’s nice to have mixed company on tour.’ He didn’t mean this in a weird way, or in a ‘Rachael will do the washing up and make the tea’ kind of way. Just it was more balanced.”

Playing in mixed bands is definitely a positive experience for both men and women, though the women just wish that the men would recognise issues of inequality that remain largely unseen by them, from personal safety – Kathryn Tick- ell says, “playing in a band with other women, they just automatically know if a situation is cause for concern, even if it’s as simple as two of you going to get the van late at night that’s parked away from the gig in a dodgy area” – to just being told “blimey, you’re good.”

Catriona Macdonald describes walk- ing into the folk students’ common room at Newcastle University. “There’s a big notice board. And on it were pictures of female musicians, of all generations. They said to me, ‘If you see it you can become it.’” At primary level, Reid says, “I really notice a difference. I have a feeling there’s a good chance there are as many girls as boys, if not more. It’s to do with role mod- els; there are more women who play music, not just the fiddle. But that amount of young people playing creates a commu- nity of its own.”

Folk music is fundamentally about

community, and for it to survive it’s essen- tial that it’s taken up by the young. Folk is also about inclusion and celebrating our

common humanity, so it needs, says Kerr, to “recognise that half the planet is female,” and for male voices to speak up and support that recognition. The story outlined at the top of this piece is not less desirable than the narratives that these women are questioning.

And by seeking to change attitudes that deny equal rights for half of humani- ty, women are creating a space for those school children to thrive. They are looking towards a model for the future that does- n’t deny differences between men and women but accords them equal dignity. In doing so, women folk musicians are creat- ing a sense for these children that if they grow up wanting to carry on the tradition, they can. They are showing that if the next generation wants to protect and nurture and keep folk music fresh and relevant, as they are doing now – then it’s possible.

“At the moment,” says Sandra Kerr, “the door is shut and we’re outside. I want us to be let through, not because we’re pretty girls but because we’re singing and playing beautifully. It’s an issue about the right to work.”

By these women musicians imagining their world based on equality, mutual respect and new narratives of co-opera- tion for the benefit of everyone, they are in effect looking to create in folk music a microcosm for a way of working that will benefit us all. Folk won’t just be a sound- track to equality but a model for the soci- ety of tomorrow. Fair plé to them. F

Jenn Butterworth:

Maire Ni Chathasaigh:

Jo Freya:

Mairearad Green: Jane Harbour: HEISK:

Delyth Jenkins: Sandra Kerr: Kinnaris Quintet: Lauren MacColl:

Rachael McShane: Rachel Newton:

The Poozies (Mary Macmaster): RANT:

Jenna Reid:

The Rheingans Sisters: The Shee:

Songs Of Separation: songsofsepara-

String Sisters (Catriona Macdonald):

Kathryn Tickell: The BIT Collective: Fair Plé:

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