In a BBC survey you will read of the gap between the number of successful Male and Female artists in the UK. There were three times as many male than female acts reading chart positions last year. The gap is only going (if you’ll pardon the pun) in one direction. If this seems worrying it’s nothing on the plight of women in country music.
I’ve kept an eye on the Twitter feed of Nashville journalist, Marrisa Moss for a good while over the last couple of years. Unlike many of the city’s other music news feeds there’s an essential iconoclasm about a lot of her output. On twitter I’ve drawn attention to her constant updating the plight of great women artists ignored by country radio. It’s a small detail but that simple fact (recently compounded by an all-time-low of no women in the country top 40) that a large swathe of great talent is being ignored by the gatekeepers of the music and it’s an outrage which needs to be addressed.
It really shouldn’t need said but all this is happening when the women in question are making some of the most imaginative country music of any generation. Listen to the names: Pistol Annies and their component parts: Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe and Angeleena Presley as well as Kacey Musgraves, Brandy Clark, Lee Ann Womack…and so many more, all roundly ignored by country music radio. The names I’ve given you are hardly left field; they are simply writing and performing fresh music within the country format. When pressed the gatekeepers will point to their audience – predominantly female – who endorse their decision making. My riposte? How would they know? That audience never get a chance to hear the artists concerned!
So, it was from the good Marissa that the news broke on the latest instalment of #metoo. The Ryan Adams story which, if you are not up to speed, you can google at leisure. It’s not for me to pass judgement on the New York Times article or on the women who came forward but it’s no coincidence she has followed and tweeted about both this and the missing country women. Only last night Margo Price tweeted that the lyrics of her song, This Town Gets Around were really the true story of a previous manager/producer who ‘harassed me multiple times and even slipped me the date rape drug.’ Before you ask, Margo’s not played on country radio either.
Are these two things connected? Well again we have to listen to the women. Reading their stories, it’s not hard to imagine their struggles to be heard. Any person willing to give them a voice and the possibility for their music to reach a wider audience is going to be welcome. If that person has a different agenda it not only stops the voices being listened to but it sets back so much of what we have hoped had been achieved over the last 50 years.
In my time involved with a major record company the staff ratio was so skewed to male personnel that there had been a habit of senior management calling up a local nurses hostel to ask if they could send over some young women for the end of conference shindig. I kid you not. Female staff were retired early, deemed too old to make an impact in a young world while old male stalwarts were kept on, cherished and rewarded. Think of any major institution close to your heart and see if the parallels are there.
So, it’s clear that where ever we imagine we should be, we are still, in the words of a young person from whom I once asked directions in Nashville, ‘a ways away.’
On Another Country we have a simple rule. We play the music we like the best. We try to include the different strands of roots music we’ve always championed. We acknowledge that this particular genre is loved and produced by white people…that’s not something that’s going to change very much. However, there are so many great records being made by women it seems to me to go against every musical instinct to ignore that. On any given week you’ll hear their voices loud and proud and in equal measure; this week is no different.
Listen out for Caroline Spence, Kim Lenz, Patty Griffin and Ashley McBride. We’ll also say a monthly hello to our Nashville correspondent, Bill Demain who pops in from Music Row to give us his news. We’ll be on air from five past nine on BBC Radio Scotland. Join me this Tuesday evening if you can.