When I was (much) younger, a lot of my musical references came from Kurt Cobain. I was a huge Nirvana fan, and I would buy every music magazine with his picture and hang on to his every word. Being a generous musical soul, he would often recommend bands that I had never heard of, which – quite some feat in those pre-internet days – I would immediately investigate like a little baby indie detective. It’s how I came to PJ Harvey and Shonen Knife; I took all my birthday money to Virgin and bought Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star by Sonic Youth because Kurt said Sonic Youth was his favourite band.
It is also how I came to the Raincoats. That and the cover of The Void that Hole did as the B-side of Doll Parts (on the CD single there was also a cover of Hungry Like The Wolf, which delighted me no end).
I loved the Raincoats. There was something about them that particularly appealed to my pre/early teen self on a very basic level. I listened to Pretty and No-one’s Little Girl constantly (which I’d got hold of on bootleg from Camden Market). Pretty was my favourite, which was apt for a teen girl: the lyrics make me smile now, but at 13 years old they were almost painful in their truth.
When I was 22 and I met my first really serious boyfriend, one of the things that impressed me most was his record collection (obviously, so important). In the best possible way, he had the same musical tastes as a teenage girl, which is pretty rare in a 27-year-old dude: Throwing Muses, Lisa Germano, The Raincoats. Dear reader, he made me a mix tape.
Anyway, fast forward to a 35-year-old woman in Brighton who lives alone in a house that looks like a teenage bedroom and still listens to the same music she did when she was 13…
When I heard that the Raincoats were playing in a tiny community hall just round the corner from my house, I immediately bought two tickets and posted on Facebook about how excited I was about it. Then I promptly forgot about the whole thing.
A friend with all the same musical references as me was all set to come with me (‘so presumably the Raincoats are really angry old women now – I’m totally in’). He was then struck down with illness and I had a really bad week. I thought about maybe giving the tickets away. I stuck another post on Facebook to ask if anyone wanted them. I just wanted to stay in my house.
But I had a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that if I did, I might be missing something amazing, something my 13-year-old self would kill to see. So, at the last minute, I rallied. I roped in one of my best girlfriends, who had never heard of the Raincoats but is always up for an adventure.
And it really was an adventure – a proper adventure, that happened close to home.
From the start, this was not a normal gig. West Hill Hall in Brighton is TINY. I have only ever been there before for things like jumble sales (seriously); it’s the sort of place you can hire for a children’s party, where they have coffee mornings and aerobics classes. We were among the first to arrive, as a funny bunch of local characters (us included) trickled in with carrier bags of ale and gins-in-tins (it was bring your own booze, no bar or anything like that). There was even a little coat rack thoughtfully provided.
The band came on unassumingly, so much so that we weren’t sure if it was really starting or not. There was some huddling on the edge of the stage and checking of instruments. We all waited patiently, with a school assembly vibe. The few small children in the audience looked a bit bemused, then bored.
‘Hello. Sorry we’re late – we did do a sound check earlier, but then we went to get some food. We were expecting an audience of 80-year-olds and 5-year-olds here,’ Gina Birch said, before she played anything. ‘You all look sort of…middle.’
They launched straight into No-one’s Little Girl (well, I say ‘launched into’ but there was a false start first because a guitar wasn’t plugged in – it was that sort of a set-up; ‘launching’ makes it sound a bit too whizzy, TBH), followed by The Void.
When the music started, the vibe changed from school assembly to religious, out-of-body, spiritual, powerful experience. I arrived a fan, but I left a devotee.
I have genuinely never seen anything quite like it. Just the fact that these incredible women were up there on a stage doing what they do felt radical. Everything about it was radical, in the purest sense of the word. It was radical in its juxtaposition of the ordinary and the utterly extraordinary. Sixty-something women being powerful on a tiny stage, not wearing ‘stage outfits’ or even ‘performing’ in the usual sense of the word.
It was a communal experience, there in that tiny hall – an all-ages show where everyone was engaged and there were kids running around and some older people sitting in chairs they had dragged out from a little stack in the corner. ‘Why stand up when you can sit down?’ noted Gina.
Except there was no sitting down about it, not in the larger sense. I get goosebumps even thinking about their performance of Feminist Song. Honestly a life-changing moment.
This footage is not from the gig I was at; it’s a different one. However, it will give you a better idea of how this incredible everyday battlecry of a song made me feel than any vague description I could give can. It was visceral.
The show was so powerful and primal, sex and rage in its purest and least photogenic form, and all the better for it.
They ended with their cover of Lola and on the way out, a cute boy talked to me, all starry-eyed about how amazing it was, and then disappeared. I walked home grinning and feeling like I had been changed – for the better – on a proper, molecular level. It was bonfire night and there were fireworks over Brighton all the way home.
The gig started at 6pm (of course it did, everything about it was homespun and not at all gig-like), so I was home by 8:30pm for some soup and a roll-up at my kitchen table while I tried to process the incredible experience. I texted my friends and made them watch Raincoats videos. I kind of wanted to tell my ex-boyfriend about it, but I didn’t. My 13-year-old self was enough. I am so, so thankful. So inspired.
Yesterday – the day after – I put on my new Raincoats T-shirt (I'm still wearing it now). My friend Harriet came over and we drank tea and wrote like maniacs all day long, piling up words and words and words. In between, I made a cake and made butternut squash soup and fretted about a leak under my bathroom sink. None of this is a coincidence.