Cosey Fanni Tutti, Poly Styrene & Co - Where are the old rockers now?

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The Independent Culture

Women punk rockers were among the foremost hell-raisers of Britain's most anarchic music generation - until, that is, they hung up their safety pins and mohicans to become care assistants.

Women punk rockers were among the foremost hell-raisers of Britain's most anarchic music generation - until, that is, they hung up their safety pins and mohicans to become care assistants.

A study has been launched to find out why the genre that gave the world Becki Bondage, Cosey Fanni Tutti and Poly Styrene went on to produce little in the way of a female musical revolution.

Helen Reddington, a music lecturer at the University of Westminster, in London, is appealing for more than 100 women members of punk bands from the late 1970s to come forward. The researcher, who was herself a member of a punk band in 1977 Brighton, is trying to find why a golden era for women in music turned into one of male dominance.

A survey of more than a dozen former female punk rockers so far has found that virtually all have left music to join an array of professions including jewellery-making, astrology, and painting and decorating. Bizarrely, for a culture that glamourised disdain, 50 per cent of those former thrash sisters who responded gave their new career of choice as "care assistant", or working in a care-related industry.

Ms Reddington, who performed under the name Helen MacCookery-Book with her punk band, said: "It is difficult to judge why these women have ended up doing what they are doing. Certainly, it is the case for many that when punk fizzled out they found themselves having missed out on higher education and they had to choose whatever avenues were open to them."

The role of women in punk, a genre led by the Sex Pistols, and the general desire to stick up two fingers at authority, provides a key insight into how British society changed between the late 1970s and mid-1980s, says Ms Reddington. Punk's heyday, between 1976 and 1979, saw more women in bands than before or since.

But within five or six years, all that had changed and one theory is that another forceful female not afraid to raise her voice to get her message across may bear responsibility for the decline. Ms Reddington said: "Margaret Thatcher put people off powerful women in a big way and I don't think it is any coincidence that she turned up around 1979 and that soon people got fed up with the idea of listening to women."

In the UK alone, it is estimated there were more than 20 all-girl punk bands. Women punk musicians were also memorable for their names:Poly Styrene and Lora Logic, in X-Ray Spex; Gaye Advert, of The Adverts; Becki Bondage in Vice Squad; Vi Subversa in Poison Girls; Cosey Fanni Tutti in Throbbing Gristle; and Joy de Vivre of Crass.

But, Ms Reddington said, "For some reason, the face of rock music did not change, despite the expectations in what was the heyday for women instrumentalists." She said: "You see women singers on Top of the Pops, and the perception is that there are a lot of women, but in fact there are few women musicians and instrumentalists, and it is men who write and produce too."

She says nowadays it would be impossible for a movement like punk to succeed. "If I play a song [by X-Ray Spex] called "Oh Bondage, Up Yours", about half my students will be horrified by the vocals. They are shouted and very aggressive, and people now are not used to women singing in that way. But that song was actually performed on Top of the Pops."

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