The Feminine Principle


A big part of post-punk philosophy was a rejection of the macho posturing of traditional rock music, with many bands disdaining masturbatory guitar solos and playing music that was more influenced by black rhythms because white rock was seen as conservative, sexist, and reactionary.

Another revolutionary thing about these groups was that many of them were either all-female or led by women. Some were more politically strident or musically radical than others, but bands like The Raincoats, The Slits, Delta 5, The Mo-Dettes, Marine Girls, and Essential Logic all challenged how rock music should both sound and look, and brought a feminist perspective to traditional rock song subjects like love and relationships.

Birmingham combo the Au Pairs were one of the most committed to that perspective, and though a co-ed band they were dominated by the striking voice and attitudes of Lesley Woods (the NME cover girl above) who, while not as well known as your Siouxsies, Traceys, and Paulines, really should be considered one of the great female icons of post-punk and one of its best singers.

In an era overflowing with classic debut albums the Au Pairs’ 1981 Playing With A Different Sex is one of the greatest, casting a savage eye on female sexuality, gender relations, and politics over some of the best post-punk-funk music ever made. There was a dryly sardonic edge to Woods’ voice that made her bitter pills easier to swallow and you could dance to it too, it’s like the funkiest lecture on feminism you’ll ever hear. Songs like “Come Again” are brutal but funny on the subject of sex, and with lyrics like “Do you like it like this?/Please, please me/Is your finger aching?” it’s not surprising it was banned by the BBC.

Download: Come Again — Au Pairs (mp3)
Download: It’s Obvious — Au Pairs (mp3)

The 1980 single “Diet” wasn’t on the album but I think it’s the best thing they did, a devastating little Play For Today of a song about Stepford housewives.

Download: Diet — Au Pairs (mp3)

Bonus clip: Here they are in action. Unfortunately the band broke up in 1983 after their second album and Woods eventually left the music scene to become a lawyer, though judging by this rare interview she seems to be trying a comeback.

Something for the Weekend



Magazine must be contenders for best assemblage of individual talent in one post-punk band, or band of any kind really.

Nice to see Annie Nightingale at the start there.

Making Plans For Crackerjack



Though it’s undeniably silly I hope that XTC were well chuffed with this. Getting played by John Peel or appearing on Top of The Pops are nothing compared to having your song performed on a great British television institution like Crackerjack. I would have retired happy after this.

A friend of a friend of mine worked on Crackerjack in the early 1980s and got a group of us tickets to see a show. We had a bloody marvelous time, Stu “Ooh, I could crush a grape!” Francis was the host then and Depeche Mode were on performing “Monument” (apparently, I’d forgotten). Every time we shouted CRACKERJACK! the Boy Scouts sitting in front us turned around and gave us funny looks as if they were thinking “What are these old people doing here?”

I still have the ticket.


We didn’t get Crackerjack pencils but the bloke we knew on the show got us copies of Depeche Mode’s A Broken Frame album signed by all the band. Like a fool I later gave mine away to my girlfriend, it wasn’t a great album but really wish I hadn’t done that now. Wonder if she still has it.

Something for the Weekend



When “Gangsters” first came out The Specials (or The Special AKA as they were then) played at The Greyhound pub which was a small venue near us in Fulham. My sister asked me if I wanted to go and I said no for some reason. What a fucking idiot.

Something for the Weekend



Bold choice of Gary Numan to release a moody, violin-driven ballad with no actual chorus as a single from The Pleasure Principle but this still got to No.6 in the UK charts. Clearly the man could do no wrong in 1979, at least as far as the record-buying public were concerned.

Though it’s probably hip to like Numan now a lot of people thought he was a bit of a joke at the time (myself included), but this is one of his records (along with “Down In The Park”) that I loved even then. Terrific video too, looking very analog retro-futuristic now.

Dear Smash Hits


I may have mentioned before that I once had a letter printed in Smash Hits. I don’t have the issue anymore and for some reason I only recently thought about searching through the archives at the terrific Like Punk Never Happened blog to find this major event of my youth. Here it is, from the March 6th, 1980 issue:


I was 17 when I wrote that, and while there’s no denying my teenage passion, my prose style could use some finesse (no change there). I remember being shocked — and then thrilled of course — that they’d actually published something I wrote. It was the first letter on the page too which made me doubly chuffed.

The Pretenders had only just become stars with the chart-topping success of Brass In Pocket but I’d been a fan since their first single so was smugly protective of them in the way only a I-liked-them-before-you-did fan of a newly-popular band can be. I was totally smitten with Chrissie Hynde too, so when this C. Wills fellow expressed his (still) idiotic opinion in this letter I was moved to defend her from the “blinkered” opinions of the unthinking masses in typically self-righteous teenager fashion.

I’m not entirely sure why I included The Police in my angry denunciation of “narrow minded hero worship” but they had also recently made the leap from minor act to big pop stars and I guess I must have been a bigger fan of theirs than I remember.

I am rather proud of the fact that I stood up for “real” women in rock music, though my feminist credentials are somewhat tarnished by the fact that I had one of those awful “sexy” posters of Debbie Harry on my own bedroom wall at the time, so I don’t know what I was being so high and mighty about. That last sentence is pretty good though, and I still think anyone who doesn’t love Chrissie Hynde’s voice needs putting away.

What’s most interesting to me is that this is the authentic voice of my 17-year-old self. My mother was an inveterate chucker-away of things and I never kept anything either, so I have nothing that I wrote (or drew) in my youth — no school essays, no diaries, no notebooks, none of the comics I created — so this might be the only thing written by the younger me that still exists. Reading it now is like some Back To The Future moment where I’m confronted by a teenage version of myself. It was so long ago I don’t know that kid anymore, but I do recognize the smug, superior tone common to teenagers with opinions they think are the absolute truth. It could be worse I suppose, while I was certainly too harsh on Debbie Harry (she was no bimbo) I should be thankful that I’m not expressing any of the really stupid opinions which I know I had back then. Thank you teenage me, for not embarrassing your future self.

Not using my real name was obviously a ploy to make me seem far cooler than I was.

Download: Tattooed Love Boys – The Pretenders (mp3)

Something for the Weekend



Two of the best singles of the 1980s performed live in one video. Bargain!

Something for The Weekend



“The Lionel Bart of the Seventies”

What’s it all about?

The sentimental musings of an ageing expat in words, music, and pictures. Mp3 files are up for a limited time so drink them while they're hot. Contact me: lee at londonlee dot com

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