Peter, Paul, and Mary at the Washington Monument
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Edited by Annie J. Randall Music, Power, and Politics


Hands off my Instrument!

Helen Reddington

Chapter Excerpt

Rock is a pedestal sport, as in being a Monarch—wherever possible a boy inherits the throne—females are not thought to be the stuff worship/idols are made for/of. Girls are expected to grovel in the mezzanine while the stud struts his stuff up there, while a girl with the audacity to go on stage is jeered, sneered and leered up to . . . a guitar in the hands of a man boasts “cock”—the same instrument in female hands (to a warped mind) screams “castration.”1

This chapter focuses on a moment in British rock music history that began roughly in 1976 when some young women in rock bands, instead of taking the usual female role of lead singer backed by male instrumentalists, actually picked up electronic instruments, notably guitars, and played them themselves. This was an unusual phenomenon, almost without precedent in the fields of rock and pop music.2 Still considered unusual, especially in the UK, nearly thirty years later, it is often taken for granted that a woman’s role in a rock or pop band will be that of vocalist. I aim to pinpoint the reason this phenomenon was so short-lived and why it did not lead to the revolution in rock music that some of us expected.3 I explore the female musicians’ participation in the instrumental side of sound creation in bands, the power this seemed to bestow upon them, and the media’s response to both phenomena. I link the rise of these women instrumentalists both to the anyone-can-do it ethic of the punk movement and the Equal Opportunities Act of 1975, and locate their decline in Britain’s sociopolitical atmosphere at the time of the Falklands War in the early 1980s.

    * [Footnotes omitted in this excerpt. Please see full book.]


  • Image: Joby and the Hooligans. Brighton, UK, ca. 1980.

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