Pauline Murray is best known as the lead singer of the punk band Penetration, and hails from Ferryhill in County Durham.
“It was a totally different culture, it was the working mens club culture, where men were men and women were women” she said talking about growing up in the north east of England.
Leaving school at 16 she studied art at Darlington College, then in May 1976 the 18-year-old Murray saw the Sex Pistols perform, and she and her Ferryhill comrades formed a band, initially called The Points, but eventually settling on the name Penetration after the Stooges’ song. They played their first gig in October 1976 at the Middlesbrough Rock Garden, and played their first gig in London at The Roxy in January 1977, supporting Generation X. Their first single, often heralded as a punk classic, “Don’t Dictate” was released on Virgin the following November.
In 1977, as a 13 year old proto-punk, my information about the outside world came solely via the TV, the radio and weekly copies of the music papers, I was simply too young to go to gigs, I wasn’t in a band, I’d never had a pint of lager, and I didn’t know any actual proper punks. It made me an arms length kind of punk girl tethered by my own under-ageness, but I was still sucking in every possible piece of information and inspiration from wherever it came. Penetration were not having the hit singles that some of their contemporaries were, but there were often photos, gig reviews and snippets of information about them in the music papers, they did a John Peel session and would sometimes feature on TV shows. I remember being struck by Pauline’s look, the pale face and the black short hair, but what always came across was her no-nonsense and ballsy approach to life. In the video posted above, you can see as Pauline marches over to the troublesome audience member and simply disarms him by taking away his beer bottle that he’d been using to spray beer all over her and the stage for half a song. Pauline was having none of it, she honed in on the problem and dealt with it, all mid-song and without skipping a beat. I always drew a certain parallel between Pauline and Gaye Advert, both of them seemed to be the two real stand out women in bands who didn’t play on their looks; they didn’t wear dresses or pout around, they just got on with their job. Compared to Pauline, style icons like Siouxsie were undoubtedly awesome yet at the same time completely unapproachable, Poly Styrene was a brash, brilliant self creation and Debbie was all ice-cream and Warhol. But it was Pauline and Gaye with their kohled eyes, black clothes and “I’m just in the band” attitude – that was a different, new kind of revolution entirely. This was liberation in action, a sudden and total democracy – now everyone could be just one of the boys.
Pauline on the front cover of the NME in November 1978 and a flyer advertising Penetration and support band The Fall from Eric’s in Liverpool
Interviewed by undergroundengland in 2017, Pauline talks about the same, age old topic of being “a woman in a band”
“First of all, I never thought of myself as ‘a woman in a band’. I was just a member of the band. And I didn’t want to make an issue of my femininity. In punk, the women made themselves ugly. They didn’t want to be thought of as a sexy chick in the front of a band. I always played that side of it down, I was myself. I mean, it was all men around [the industry] and I just didn’t want to have been thought of like that. People like Poly Styrene, Gaye from the Adverts – you did get picked out for being a woman in a band, but that is just how people translate and perceive it all. [Punk] for me, was against all of that. I preferred to be thought of [for] my contribution to the band, not as a woman.”
She goes on,
“I appeared to be kind of a-sexual, you know? Not utilizing my sexuality was the very nature of punk, to me. You know, Debbie Harry was very feminine. But she looked great anyway and was from a different era. Patti Smith was quite masculine looking…. we would have been a different band if we had traded on the fact I was a woman”
“To me, punk is about your attitude, about being creative…Punk was about getting out your message to your audience, making the t-shirts, writing the zines”.
Penetration released two LPs, toured in both in the UK and US, then suddenly split up in October 1979. Pauline went onto form Pauline Murray and The Invisible Girls with Martin Hannett, and then Pauline Murray and the Storm. In 2015 and after a 36 year hiatus, Penetration released “Resolution” their 3rd studio album.
Penetration’s “Don’t Dictate” is undoubtedly a Punk classic, it’s confrontational, it tells it like it is with a simple straightforward tag line, and for Punk Girls, Pauline might just have been more of a catalyst than she’ll ever probably know.
Penetration’s website HERE
Follow Pauline on twitter HERE