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Interview ‘Music is an area of life that should be free’

JANE WEAVER, headlining Hull’s Substance Live festival next week, talks to Neil Mudd about the ups and downs of unshackling the chains of convention

“WHEN I was really little, I listened to The Bay City Rollers,” says Jane Weaver.

A surprising confession maybe but, then again, perhaps not. The Widnes-born artist's music picks over eccentric folk, psych, electronica, obscure East-European prog and space-rock.

She's top of the bill at Substance Live in Hull on Sunday week, during the 10-day festival of “music, art installations, performances and provocations” and her appearance comes on the back of Modern Kosmology, a heady brew of dreamy vocals, propulsive motorik rhythms and neo-komische loveliness.

“It’s a combination of nostalgic stuff I’ve grown up with,” she says of the album’s influences, “things like Hawkwind and Stereolab but also heavier stuff like Chilean rock band Aguaturbia and other psych stuff I’ve heard around the house by accident.” Maybe that's unsurprising, since Weaver's married to DJ, producer and label boss Andy Votel.

Her presence at Substance Live resonates in other ways. Weaver’s record label Bird was set up partly in response to what she perceived as an imbalance in the music industry. “I had so many female friends, amazing musicians and artists who were floundering around me, while all our male friends in guitar bands were going from strength to strength,” she says.

In 2007 Bird released Bearded Ladies, a compilation of new and rare recordings featuring an all-female roster of artists. Weaver dubbed it “a sonic sisterhood.”

It was essentially new material that she'd heard and liked and “older stuff by Wendy Flower and Bonnie Dobson — Wendy & Bonnie — and Susan Christie.”

Critically well-received, Weaver calls Bearded Ladies “a small success.” Accompanying performances by Flower, Dobson and Christie at Jarvis Cocker’s Meltdown proved bittersweet.

“Wendy Flower said that they were so young — they were something like 15 when they made [Genesis] — that, when she thought it had bombed, she had so many copies of the album she was just literally throwing them away anywhere.”

At the time, Weaver told writer Jude Rogers: “My first experience with music was all, 'You're not blonde enough, you're not thin enough,' and this goes through all female music, even in the so-called liberated times of the late ‘60s.”

Substance Live, which features a line-up of groundbreaking women artists, including Nadine Shah, Hannah Peel and Lone Taxidermist, suggests there is still a need.

In 2015, music blogger Josh Dalton mocked up a poster for the Reading and Leeds festivals in which he blanked out the names of male artists and all-male groups and only nine acts remained of the 100 or so booked to appear.

“I do moan about it a lot,” says Weaver. “It shouldn’t have to be a gender issue. Why should we have to do this? But, like I say, I’m glad to be a part of it.”

Weaver grew up through the intense upheavals of Thatcherism, the consequences of which continue to divide. Should today’s women performers be looking to the overtly gender-political legacy of artists such as Pauline Black and Viv Albertine for inspiration?

“It does depend on the artist,” Weaver says. “The good thing about social media is even if you don’t say it in your music, you can say it online. There’s a common thread between creative minds and free-thinking.”

Substance Live is subtitled The Future of the North. “For me, living in the north is just perfect,” she says, casting aside recent doomy projections for the region. “It allows you to keep a bit of distance.”

She has a point. Modern Kosmology sounds like nothing anybody else is producing, which is why pro-women events like Substance Live are so important.

“It should be diverse. Music is an area of life that should be free. It should be offering expression. Why should there have to be a formula?”

Why indeed.

Jane Weaver appears at Substance Live on December 9, details:


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