Helen Reddington McCookerybook (pictured above left with the bass) is on our list of women we’d most like to meet, and there is so much to admire. She’s a well-established academic who has been writing about this whole ‘women in punk’ thing for many years, including writing a readable, but hefty analysis and account of why we all piled in there in the trail of the Sex Pistols.
The Waterstones review of ‘The Lost Women of Rock Music‘ says:
“Reddington draws on her own experience as bass-player in a punk band, thereby contributing a fresh perspective on the socio-political context of the punk scene and its relationship with the media.”
In plain English – She was there and she’s cool!
It was Helen herself who first started to criticise how nostalgia for punk and its history was being written by men, about the male musicians. As a result, bands like The Slits and X-Ray Spex had been sidelined as being not anywhere near as important as The Pistols, The Damned or The Clash. The launch party for Helen’s book brought together many of the women mentioned and thus sparked off further projects and books. In more recent years, recognition of the huge involvement of females has become one of the defining characteristics of punk rock. In a 2007 article in The Guardian, McCookerybook says:
“About 15 years ago I started reading books about punk … and there was hardly any mention of the fact that loads of women were playing in bands. I thought, why hasn’t anybody mentioned this? And I suddenly realised that all the people who were writing about punk were men, and the fact that women were involved may not have seemed important to them, but it was totally important to me.”
But in the guise of Helen McCookerybook (an adopted daft version of her birth name McCallum), she has collaborated, played bass, guitar and sang, has worked as a solo performer, songwriter, done music for TV and still continues to perform regularly to huge acclaim.
Punk came along after Helen moved from her native North East England to Brighton Art College. The squatting and punk DIY scene there resulted in her playing bass for ‘Joby and the Hooligans’ teaching herself how to play and learning that being in a band was a great way of finding oneself:
“I was a really shy person, and getting into a band and getting up on stage completely changed the way I felt about myself and what I thought I could do.” The Guardian
Before long, the band split up, and Helen formed another band, The Chefs, with three friends; the band’s EP and single came to the attention of Radio 1 DJ John Peel. The sound of The Chefs and of Helen McCookerybook’s subsequent solo work had the lyrical smartness and musical innocence linked with what has become the ‘indie-pop’ genre, but McCookerybook is plainly influenced deeply by the punk experience and its politics.
Helen and some of The Chefs musicians formed an offshoot – Helen and the Horns – and this band released two singles and an album in the 1990s. Since then, gigs have been occasional, but solo recording has continued for albums, soundtracks and charity projects.
We await the release of a film project that Helen Reddington has been working on collaboratively for the last few years, which is due out soon. Stories from the She Punks will bring together the experiences of female punk musicians in bands like The Slits, The Raincoats, The Mo-dettes and Dolly Mixture.
As younger teenagers pursuing punk in small town England, we never got to meet our heroes or heroines at the time. We love what Helen McCookerybook / Reddington has done and hope to be there when the new film comes out. Is there a launch party, and can we come to it?
Great interview with Helen: http://louderthanwar.com/interview-with-helen-mccookerybook/
Helen’s website and blog: http://mccookerybook.com/
2012 interview and guitar blog: http://kitmonsters.com/blog/finding-lost-women-of-rock-helen-reddington
Review of Helen’s book by ‘olderthanelvis’ https://olderthanelvis.blogspot.com/2017/03/book-review-lost-women-of-rock-music.html?m=0 …
4 thoughts on “Helen Reddington aka McCookerybook”
I’d heartily recommend meeting Helen. She’s one of the loveliest musicians I’ve ever arranged a gig for.
Really interesting – stuff I never knew.
Thanks for sharing.