Readers of a certain rage may recall a photograph which rather brilliantly captured the essence of women in punk, rock, 2 Tone and beyond back in 1980. During a Blondie tour, Debbie Harry hosted a tea party at a London hotel, gathering together Chrissie Hynde, Siouxsie Sioux, Slits’ guitarist Viv Albertine, Pauline Black from The Selecter and Poly Styrene from X-Ray Spex. In fact, you could say the only person missing from the photo was Wendy Wu from, uh, The Photos. One can only imagine the parlour games which unravelled after the cucumber sandwiches had been consumed.
It’s an extraordinary snapshot of a snappy time, but no less remarkable is the endurance of that ferociously cool collective: 43 whole years on, only Poly Styrene has passed away, and even then her ‘I Am A Cliche’ film from 2021 keeps her spirit alive. Viv’s ‘Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys’ autobiography basically reinvented books about musicians. The Pretenders and Blondie have both recently glistened at Glastonbury and various other summer stages. And even the ever-reclusive Pandaman bears witness to live and very much kicking performances by the remaining third of the sextet in July.
First up, The Selecter have been selected to support a boisterous and very much boyzoning Blur in West London, where an exquisitely sensitive ‘Under The Westway’ rubs against the raucous likes of ‘Parklife’. Yes, Phil Daniels was hiding in that striped British Telecoms tent. A grizzled Paul Weller is the filler in the support sandwich, so a fantabulously communal ‘That’s Entertainment’ aside Pauline Black very much lightens the manly load as much as her band’s nimble and impressively unblemished skapop brightens up the late afternoon. Pauline looks great too, her silver jacket sparkling through ‘Too Much Pressure’ and ‘On My Radio’. ”I’ve always wanted to say this…” she beams, “…hello Wembley!!!”
Second up, Siouxsie headlines the BBC Sounds stage at Latitude on the Sunday night. The absence of any band branding might be slightly alarming to any casual passing punters – although truth be told the Banshees haven’t shrieked together onstage for 20 years – but hers in an immaculately constructed hour-long festival-friendly set which pillages merrily from the her pre-post-punk past and dabbles with the offshoot projects.
Siouxsie looks great too, her silver jumpsuit shimmering through ‘Happy House’, ‘Hong Kong Garden’ and ‘Dear Prudence’. True, a technical hitch at the start of a frankly spellbinding ‘Spellbound’ has her snapping at her beefy backing band “let’s just play the fucking song!” but generally she’s quite jolly and welcoming , trilling and whooping between tracks and swaying like an exotic cat enjoying a particularly feline arabian night. Bats pour out of the backdrop. Patchouli fug fragrances the air. The words vampiric, vibrant and vivacious spring not unreasonably to mind. But that’s enough about George Ezra playing 1000 yards there over the field.
Earlier in the afternoon Sophie Ellis-Bextor indulges an enormous Obelisk Arena crowd. She was not but one year old when that punk rock sistas photo was taken, yet she still feels like part of the female pop furniture – quite literally in the case of her esteemed lockdown kitchen disco. It’s that communal spirit which prevails as Sophie is beaming happiness personified. A silver leotard crackles as the odd Ibiza classic is dropped into the midst of her own knowingly nubile pop nuggets – it may be murder on the dancefloor, but it’s big fun in the middle of Suffolk’s fields. An eerily but deservedly perfect zip through ‘Like a Prayer’ puts the holistic seal on the deal. Madonna would surely (dis)approve.
From the past to future stardom we go, to Shoreditch Village where Kelsy Karter & The Heroines are whipping up a sweaty storm at a sold out Old Blue Last. “Oh my nipple’s out,” the singer blushes at one particularly hectic point, “…And so’s the other one!” Insert scarlet-cheeked indie emoji here. This, it has to be said, is not an entirely unsurprising set of events – Kelsy Karter’s online reputation has been fuelled by visuals for which the word ‘raunchy’ was invented. Sophie E-B might be part of the furniture, in one particular video Kelsy is basically humping the furnishings.
Yet the New Zealand-born, LA-based frontwoman is far from any pop puppet. A two month US tour with Billy Idol has toned her gigging muscles, and co-writes with the likes of The Struts have honed her glampunk chops. Better still, beneath the catsuits (black, not silver), thrustings and wardrobe malfunctions there lurks a Kelsy Karter heart(er) of gold beating for a crowd of utterly entranced young women – a quite-literally-note-perfect version of Heart’s ‘Alone’ merely adds to the communal sincerity of it all.
One internetting onliner reckons that Kelsy Karter is carting around a noise which bridges The Ramones and Lana Del Ray. Many others haven’t recovered from her self-loving tributes to The Other Prince Harry (you may remember Kelsy was the gal who got a fake Styles face tattoo’d on her own fizzog). All of which means her key attributes are a classic rock sensibility with a punkish undercurrent – “Amyl & The Sniffers gone goth” is one fleeting thought – and a fun, fiercely funny ability to keep an entire audience enthralled for an 88 minute live romp.
The cameraphones snap like half-crazed crocodiles. After all, every picture tells a story…
THE PANDAMAN’S 2023 TOTAL: 251