INTERVIEW WITH LOUISE ALDERMAN, WOMAN MUSICIAN AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE MANCHESTER MUSICIANS COLLECTIVE
To celebrate the release of the newly released Property Of… album recorded live at the Band on the Wall in 1979, I had a chat to my former bandmate Louise Alderman. Back in 1978 we formed an all-female band in Manchester. This is how we remember it.
MB: Louise, I don’t think I’ve ever asked about how you started out as a musician? I had used the money I got for my sixteenth birthday to buy a guitar and a little practice amp but I just used to twiddle about writing little tunes and didn’t know how to take the next step, as all the bands I knew only had boys in them. Then in 1977 I was living in a flat with Dick Witts and joined his NorMedia music group. We had been working with Trevor Wishart, the music officer at North West Arts, and took part in a performance of some of his pieces at the Ghent Festival. Setting up Manchester Musicians Collective seemed an obvious step at the time. What we didn’t expect was the bands. When it started it was a mixed bag of musicians but gradually the bands took over. I did a lot of the original organizing for the meetings and gigs, as I lived with Dick and also I was one of the few people with transport (a motorbike). The Manchester Mekon were all set to play one of the first Bands on the Wall gigs and their bass player left and I joined them. I enjoyed playing with the Mekon but I really wanted to be in an all-girl band.
MB: Yes, that’s when we met, isn’t it? Dick Witts was friendly with Tony Friel of the Fall who I was also in a relationship with at the time. Though we hated that girlfriend of the band thing! We wanted to be taken seriously. Yes, so meeting another female musician was great, we just clicked. We immediately decided to form our own band. As we could both played bass and keyboards I played predominantly keyboards (an old vox continental) but we swapped round sometimes. Our first gig at the Band on the Wall was just the two of us with a drum machine but it was enough for DJ Steve Solomar to ask us to put a number on The Manchester Collection LP. The track Property Of… was our first recording, your commentary on the cultural scene when many women’s ambitions seemed to be to catch and keep a man. We found singer Lynne Howe and Cath Rycroft on guitar (who later changed her name to Cath Carroll, as NME journalist and founder of Miaow and Glass Animals.) We started gigging around Manchester and had a good following at the Russell club, Cyprus Tavern and Band on the Wall. Getting a girl drummer was always a problem, we used Tony Tabak, Warsaw’s original drummer, and then the late Jeff Bridges, singer with If Only.
MB: I think our best incarnation was with Electra Complex, don't you?
Yes, I do too. You had a stint with your sister, Lorraine in the Passage while I was working with guitarist and singer, Lyndsay Turner. When you rejoined us in Electra Complex we also finally had a great female drummer in Paulette Story. We were involved with the Women in Entertainment movement and for a couple of years played around Manchester including the Band on the wall. Our biggest gig was to a crowd of thousands at the newly opened Manchester Poly Students’ Union on Oxford Road supporting the all-female London band, the Raincoats. I remember how we had a booking to appear on Granada Reports (then presented by Tony Wilson) but it fell through when the Falklands war was at its height. I think when that didn't happen the spirit dropped out of it all and sadly, before we made any professional recordings, band members left to follow other projects.
MB: Did you have any favourite gigs? Thanks to being part of the Collective and lots of contact with other bands, we often played at the Factory Nights at the Russell Club in Hulme. There was a good Manchester contingent at Eric’s in Liverpool and frequent sets at the Band on the Wall. We played at a series of Rock Against Racism outdoor festivals, and who could forget braving the mud slides to perform at Deeply Vale free festival. Colne was a riotous gig where the crowd loved us. We also had a well reviewed gig at Bury Met when it was newly opened. MB: So why aren’t we retiring on our music royalties now? Our band failed to reach a wide audience. Without a manager or even much of a clue how to market ourselves Property Of…were going nowhere. Maybe it was the usual attitude to all-women projects – a pat on the head and back to the fascinating action of men posturing for each other’s benefit. Or maybe we expected too much from a Manchester scene that posed as right on but as history has proved had a morbid attraction to male miserableness. Looking back to then, women were certainly treated differently. I’m uncertain as to whether I would have had more opportunities if I’d been a man. Probably, I would.
sMB: Nevertheless, the music scene has had a big influence on your life. What has been happening? I think it influenced my life a great deal, completely even. Initially having the opportunity to travel and meet other musicians meant I made life long contacts and some of the people I met became lifelong friends. I got the opportunity to perform in some amazing places, including the Royal Exchange theatre in Manchester and I’ve advised on TV and theatre productions, involving music, sound and lighting. It is still influencing my life now as I’m regularly asked about that time by writers, historians or archivists seeking details of Manchester Musicians Collective. I’ve also been in a position to write up developments such as a bio of the Spherical Objects for LTM records and the Forward for the Keeping Control 3 cd set for Cherry Red Records, as well as helping to compile the content and produce the artwork. That’s in addition to assisting in the compilation of Collective tracks for American label Messthetics and releasing two albums with the Manchester Mekon. MB: And what are you doing now? In my spare time I set up online web pages to collect information about what members of the MMC were and are up to, to try to put the MMC on the map and continue to promote the present and past work of members. Though going back to the misogyny idea, even now, enquires about music are often passed on to me by the men who are seen as the first point of contact. I did go on to work in the music industry though, doing live sound engineering and lighting. Then I qualified as an engineer and worked for an international company who made mixing desks Later I got married, had children and made a career change. I followed my first love of maths to get a degree in maths and then a PGCE and now teach maths.
Your hard work and contacts directly led to Property Of… finally having an album released by Cherry Red Records. How do you feel about it? I’m really pleased. There’ve been a series of fortunate events, with a little extra push to get it over the line. And now I’m very pleased that we are fully recognised as a late 70s feminist band in the MMC. I’m also glad it coincided with the publication of your book Sharp Scratch as I inspired a character in it – Lily, the protagonist Lorraine’s bandmate in Electra Complex. It's been a long time coming. Discography