Punkgirldiaries is pleased to publish a new interview with Victoria Yeulet. She’s a great and fascinating example of exactly why we wrote this blog – Victoria is a woman who was too young to be part of the first waves of punk, but who has been influenced by punk musically, in personal style and attitude to life. Yeulet describes herself as a feminist activist, musician and music historian. She now has a personal and academic interest in older popular and traditional forms of music and has been involved with film, radio and writing in various forms, including ‘Women Make Noise – Girl Bands from Motown to the modern’. Many punk fans pay attention to Victoria Yeulet because she’s the only female to have played in iconic punk band The Television Personalities.
PGD: How did punk attract you and how did you get involved?
I grew up with a brother who was a few years older who was into pretty straightforward 77 punk- Sex Pistols etc and then also some great hardcore like Bad Brains, Black Flag etc so this was really my first introduction to Punk, I guess I was about 8 or 9 with some of this stuff, which is really young when I think about it now. I didn’t have too much personal engagement until I was about 11 or 12- but cos I was such a music obsessive since a really young age, I had listened to and taken in so much about it.
My own engagement was probably when I wrote for an older girl at my school’s fanzine she made- she saw how interested I was in zines and music so she kind of took me under her wing- she was completely unsnobby and cool and asked me to write for her zine, got me into some gigs etc. I grew up in Croydon which is a London suburb, and had what was at the time, one of the best record shops in the country- Beanos- and a number of others. Some- like Punk shop Shake some Action maintained an intimidated/intimidating dynamic between themselves and us early teen punk girls spending all our money on records every weekend and wanting them to stock our zines, others had some really sweet staff who would recommend us stuff and not be patronising arseholes. It was always a fine line to be negotiating- particularly when you want these places to be home and welcoming to you against the rest of the straight square world at that time, gigs could often be bad enough.
I was going to see a lot of bands, whatever I could afford, lots of stuff seemed to be coming from Glasgow-Bis, Chemikal Underground etc , and then stuff like Kenickie and the Slampt scene, a lot of people who turned up at the same shows were doing zines and becoming friends/ having regular meet ups. It seemed an era that got defined as ‘cutesy’ but all the most interesting people I met were really into music made especially by punk women through the eras and riot grrl, and had long term involvement in bands, zines and putting on shows- they were cultural producers and in hindsight it was really the last thing of its kind coming just before the internet with blogs and message boards- it was all analogue with letters and zines in the post, mainly throughout the UK and some further afield.
I met two girls at a show who were from Croydon too, we then started fanzines both together and separately and this was a great time, I feel really happy to have been involved so heavily, at such a young age too, in something that was both really fun, and welcoming and know tons of the people from then twenty years later, many still involved in the areas they were then. Most importantly to me, there were tons of really exciting varied welcoming smart women especially who also saw people like Poly Styrene and heard Thee Headcoatees and felt the impact,and wanted to live their lives in ways that reflected their passions, it was accessible in most ways, mainly the people we associated with most were really genuine. I was very aware of class- having a strong w-class South London accent and so forth and I heard it reflected in a lot of these women,this was not something I was really connected to when listening to the Pistols or whatever- the gendered aspect was very distinctly a specific experience for me to feeling at home cos there was so many punk boy arseholes who treated punk girls like shit anyway, we needed to know other women to feel it it seemed. I was never a tom boy, always very femme in appearance and punk also provided a space for that where everyone could do whatever the fuck they wanted I felt, something that drew me and made feel aligned with what I would loosely define as ‘punk’. I certainly ran into criticism and various things later in life being involved in ‘punk rock feminist’ circles for being myself in that way, which was really ironic, but by that time I felt and understood different strands of punk, including more trendy sceney critics who defined themselves as ‘punk’ and the snobbery of some anarchos ,and was pretty distinctly into my own things that I wouldn’t have described myself in those terms anyway.
I do definitely consider though- definitely in my first few years that punk was the best definition for where we all fit, it wasn’t my only inspiration by a long way, but finding the spaces that women held within it was definitive for me. I was really into a lot more varied genres from a young age, a big 50’s and 60’s Doo-wop, RnB and Souley especially and tastes wise would probably have fit more neatly into a subcultural idea of Mod but the inclusive, non fashion/ less superficially oriented and female cultural production centred-ness of the music and people we became involved in ended up being where it all made sense, there also weren’t people aspiring to be or behaving as groupies or hangers on, it was people doing stuff which is what I wanted to see as a music obsessed girl and then woman.
The are lots of universal experiences contained within my experience, but I really do feel that the people and zines/shows we were involved with were really radical, the last of their kind in that formatting before the net, and formative for me in being the person I was and would continue to be and become- messiness, amateurism, strong accents and attitude prevailed for me, you could be really brash or really introverted,queer, straight,fat, nerdy,thin, loud, shy- we were aware through many of the male punks we ran into in different punk scenes that this was the kind of punk we wanted, not to reitterate the worst aspects of school in our social environments which we saw they were, in our language they were just ‘kevs who think they are punks’.
PGD: What bands did you see?
There were loads of smaller shows around that time, a real community built up with everyone who wanted to put on shows, Upstairs at the Garage became a place that lots of people put on nights- tons of bands I would never remember- but good stuff was always stuff involving Delia Sparrow who has been in a million bands over the years and was someone we always admired, she always had numerous things going on, always good to see, and always a great person to be around. Country Teasers I remember seeing that my mate put on around my birthday and made a birthday thing of which was cool cos they were really great that night. I also went to bigger shows like I saw the Ramones when I was very young, but mainly it was a lot of smaller bands from London/ Glasgow/ Newcastle/Manchester especially I remember. Heavenly, and bands associated with them. Lungleg, The Yummy Fur and The Male Nurse will always be stand out bands and shows from the era, they were the best of what was happening in the UK really,plus Comet Gain we had missed Huggy Bear and the Phantom Pregnancies live but we were really into that and The Medway girl bands- Delmonas, Headcoatees etc and Billy Childish, those were always good shows. A lot of US band like Make Up everyone used to see, Fugazi. I was lucky that the girls I was mates with and doing zines with were also really into film, so we liked all the bands who did stuff that referenced that too, we were big into our French New Wave, and British Kitchen sink etc at that time.
PGD What was the first record you bought?
I do not know this, as a kid I bought tons of 7″s and used to collect Bananarama
Punk records I’m not sure probably Ramones and X-Ray Spex
PGD: How did punk influence you at the time and since?
The punk that I was involved with gave me a place to negotiate being a female that didn’t want a ‘traditional’ life or fit within that, that looked different, had different interests, was obsessed with music and could have that love grow, where intelligence was valued, it represented a radical space for me, a kind of utopia in lots of ways that I didn’t see in life otherwise. We found lots of other punk scenes did not have this, and being obsessed with music/ being punk girls was its own tough thing to be living within, but it was inspiring to be with the people and friends I had.
As I got older, and found other areas of music and lives of women living outside of traditional routes in history I started to distance myself from what I thought was a narrow form of definition, as ‘punk’. It serves its purpose in a basic way, but hardly listening to anything with much interest and passion since I was about 16 that would fit within that musical genre it felt kind of weird to me. I really felt that what was often defined under a banner of ‘punk’ was so existent in generation upon generation of interesting musical, artistic and life choices, especially by women previous to that that I found it almost a co-option of all rebellious behaviour throughout the century into something narrow, it didn’t highlight what people, especially radical rebellious women, which I guess is what I was most interested in relating to through punk- had done. The more I was interested in these other lives, art and music- from tons of different genres and backgrounds, the more I just think in relation to that than a definition of ‘punk’.
I also found people constantly hounding me at certain parts of my life into defining myself as such or as ‘a riot grrl’ really limiting, annoying and one dimensional- I was more interested in talking about tons of the other great stories I had heard of women involved in negotiating their passion in jazz music scenes of the 50’s or other resistant communities and livings throughout history that don’t have endless info on them. I respect the amount of work put into the ‘women in punk are not recognised’ school of thought, cos it is really embarrassingly evident in a populist sense when you look at things like that British Library exhibit of recent years, but to me- its highlighted way more than many other interesting eras and genres.
The only kind of ‘punk’ I listen to regularly is really garage, I’m a big garage freak- most of the old garage is pre- ‘punk’ though so…..
It did impact my life community wise though, I went on to be involved in organising, and hopefully widening the interests and scope of, independent arts festival Ladyfest in London in 2002- Homocrime which was an amazing queer DIY club with music, films and events made by freaks from various punk communities for ‘queers of all sexualities’ which was really amazing, and Ladies Rock! and Girls Rock! UK camps in 2007 and 2011 teaching music and wide female music histories to girls and women. These were from DIY ‘punk rock’ structures, histories and communities so that important part of using punk to create cultures and radicalise things, and have good interesting friends is a long lasting impact.
I also went on to perform in Television Personalities who are mainly considered a form of punk band so that is an aspect too, my background undoubtedly was part of what made us all click as friends.
PGD: Do you have any good stories about your life back then?
Back then, as a kid- just lots of fun, we weren’t hedonistic, we were fucking skint and wanted to spend our money on records- weren’t interested in being idiots with what we had, i’ve always been the same. Seen lots of great bands over the years, that’s the best really, living that life with passion, which I guess is what you basically describe as a ‘punk girl’ which is good by me. I met Palmolive last year which was a huge deal to me, I love at an older age getting to see all the band members doing their current projects- being in London the Raincoats book and events more recently, plus their pretty regular playing in town is always great. Loads of musicians I have loved forever I still follow and have gotten to play gigs with with my bands like Holly Golightly which is really cool.
PGD: It’s interesting to see the academic interest in punk, and particularly women in punk, that has continued to grow in recent years. Are you involved in that?
There has been loads of it, which is great cos when I first arrived at Uni when I was 18 there was fuck all and I was so mad at all the male centric histories and complete absence of women who I had spent years searching out. Now it is thorough, across eras, although I’m sure real passionate specialists in the area would argue, and I hope continue to realign the fact that, that there is masses still to be done. I have both a grassroots and independently academic background, but its not something I am actively part of, although Helen Reddington’s book was a landmark at a certain time for many of us exasperated by the field.
Earlier eras,from many genres, including women in pre-punk garage bands I have more interest in, but on the whole I love oral histories most when it comes to this kind of documentation. I wrote for ‘Women make noise: Girl bands from Motown to modern’ Edited by Julia Downes a few years ago and wrote a chapter on women in early country and old-time music, as want to contribute where I am most valuable with my knowledge base and leave the specialists to theirs. There is lots on women in various punk scenes and eras in that book though, pushing all that stuff forward. When you have Dick Hebdige as a standard text on rebellion and subcultural studies there needs to be space for these further investigations that highlight female participation and cultural production/ negotiation, its really important. I have a strange relationship with academia, but Punk is definitely part of it nowadays- and many of my most radical friends teach within it so I value that highly. I value grassroots experience and oral histories as much though, things need to be accessible, and people should document their histories and herstories how they feel most comfortable- I hope both are covered properly.
Many thanks to Victoria for agreeing to be interviewed by punkgirldiaries.com