ROCK / File under formative: Long forgotten, now revered: Ben Thompson meets the Raincoats

'THE RAINCOATS are so bad tonight that every time a waiter drops a tray we all get up and dance . . . I die so many times during their set that in India they think I'm the fourth prophet.' Such was the verdict of the NME in 1979. The reviewer: Danny Baker, en route to becoming a chat-show host and Daz Ultra's representative on earth.

So not everybody liked this group. Other critics raved about them, but they never came within spitting distance of a hit single, and broke up in 1984. The three albums they released have been more or less unobtainable ever since. Their music might have been expected to vanish without trace, but instead it camped out in the back of people's heads, and over the past year or so few names have been dropped more widely. Now comes a long-overdue reissue of their defiantly strange and ultimately enchanting trio of LPs.

Formed in west London in 1977, by two women - Gina Birch from Nottingham and Ana da Silva from Portugal - the Raincoats were inspired by punk rock exploding all around them, especially its profusion of female voices: Patti Smith, Poly Styrene of X-Ray Spex, and most of all the Slits, whose Palm Olive would provide the bracingly Teutonic drumming on their first album. They went through a couple of line-ups before violinist Vicky Aspinall became a permanent member, and The Raincoats was recorded as a four-piece.

This record still sounds extraordinary. Not so much for the individual elements - the churning violins, clattering drums and defiant voices, the exceptionally catchy tunes - as for the overall sense of something new and bold taking shape. In the anxious rhapsody of 'In Love', the compressed fury of 'Off Duty Trip' and the great laughing hijack of the Kinks' 'Lola', the Raincoats were heading somewhere no one had been.

'Our structures were never traditional,' remembers Gina fondly, sitting with Ana in Rough Trade's Ladbroke Grove office, 'the fact that our songs had a beginning, a middle and an end was basically down to the fact that we started, we went on and then we stopped.' Untutored playing was nothing new, but the Raincoats' refusal to confront their audiences - 'we were all quite shy by nature' - combined with their feminist beliefs to evoke a novel reaction from those who didn't like them. 'We were both ball-breakers and too self- effacing at the same time]' Gina says proudly.

As time passed and the other two Raincoats (they never got another permanent drummer, and still want Mo Tucker to know they have work for her if she's interested) joined Vicky on speaking terms with their instruments, their music evolved. It became softer and suppler, but even more unusual. The polyrhythmic mysteries of 1981's sparse and spiky Odyshape take time to unravel even now, and the courtly pan-global chamber music of their 1984 swansong Moving is even harder to get to grips with. On first hearing, it's a nightmare of whimsical community-centre folksiness, but if you stick with it a formidable strength emerges.

The Raincoats were the product of a time of millennial excitement; when men and women were able to play in bands on equal terms, when music seemed to be tugging at the bricks of the wall that keeps them apart. When they split up, kindred spirits like the Au Pairs and Delta 5 had faded away too. Women would play a leading role in the pop music of the next few years, but more as glamour-queen vocalists than worker bees. Why did this happen?

'It's got a lot to do with the way the music industry is organised. There's definitely a male- bonding thing in major record companies.' Gina shoots me a jovially accusing look - 'you should know about this. If you're a woman in a band, you're treated in a different way; you're never going to be in the club. Well, you might if you're not careful - but not in their club.'

It's not surprising that the current wave of noisy, woman-fronted bands cite Gina's band as an influence. What else are these people trying to do but secure the bridgehead that the Raincoats helped make a decade ago? Not that they were aware of it. 'Not at all,' says Gina. 'If I mentioned to anyone that I used to be in a band, when I said which one they wouldn't have heard of us.'

Last year Ana was working in a Portobello antique shop when she had visitors: Nirvana's Kurt Cobain and Hole's Courtney Love - grunge's royal couple. Long-term fans, they had come looking for Raincoats LPs at the Rough Trade Shop and been sent round the corner to meet one of the makers. Ana wasn't sure who they were.

Subsequently Love's band Hole covered the Raincoats' 'The Void', and Cobain wrote sleevenotes for the reissue of the first album, his enthusiasm for which secured a large-scale release on mighty Geffen Records in America. His description of how listening to this band makes you feel is probably as good as any. 'We're together in the same old house,' he writes, 'and I have to be completely still or they will hear me spying from above, and if I get caught everything will be ruined, because it's their thing.'

Do they have any worries about benefiting from the patronage of a male rock star? 'No,' says Gina, 'I think it's brilliant.'

'The Raincoats' (Rough Trade CD/LP) is out now. 'Odyshape' follows on 10 Jan, 'Moving' on 7 Feb.

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Arts and Entertainment
Rob James-Collier, who plays under-butler Thomas Barrow, admitted to suffering sleepless nights over the Series 5 script

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week