LEADING musicians, mostly female, will perform at St Luke’s on June 16 to launch Fair Plé, an organisation created to highlight gender inequality in the performance, production and promotion of Irish traditional and folk music.
The line-up includes Karan Casey, Stephanie Rainey, Pauline Scanlon, The Whileaways, Kate Ellis, Anna Mieke, Julie Goo, Niall Vallely, Robbie Overson and others.
The initiative was set up by singers Karan Casey and Pauline Scanlon. Karan, who is the spokesperson for Fair Plé, said the idea has been brewing for years.
“A lot of us were having conversations backstage. We’ve been talking about how women are treated in the music industry and the reality of working in the business. We’re a pretty tight community. We began to see that a lot of the line-ups were very male-dominated,” she said.
“The whole industry is male-dominated, not just folk and trad music. With everything going on in the world, a lot of women are reframing how we see ourselves. We began to ask a lot of questions and we’re trying to organise together and ask for change.”
Karan would like to see more access for women to perform gigs and to be given more respect. But Fair Plé is aware of the challenges inherent in trying to improve women’s lot in music.
“It can be difficult because there is no code of practice available. What is our workplace? We can be in a van at 4am or in an airport or backstage at a meeting.”
Many women in the music business “have felt demeaned and often dismissed,” according to Karan.
“Even our musical opinions are often dismissed. There’s more serious issues of harassment which is a reality for female performers. We’re trying to tease out all the issues while being very positive and initiating discussions.
“We want to initiate change by helping people, particularly young women in the business. We want to help them to have a platform, to encourage young women to go into the music business and give them support.”
Karan says her genre of music doesn’t have a huge hierarchy like Waking The Feminists obviously has: “They had complaints about the Abbey Theatre. We don’t have one massive hierarchy that we can fight against.”
Fair Plé is encouraging women — and men — to talk, to share stories and experiences.
“We have a lot of male support. A lot of men agree with us that there’s a real need for pretty radical change.”
Since launching herself in the music business 25 years ago, starting out with the band, Solas, Karan says that, compared to her early days, there are more women available for work in the music business now.
“Women are pushing up against the glass ceiling, asking to be hired. If you look at the schools and universities (running music courses), there are probably more women enrolled. There’s no issue with the schools and colleges. But when music starts to become a professional career, women face problems in maintaining their career or just getting going.”
However, Karan says it’s not all bad.
“I’ve had a very privileged and creative life but you have to be pretty tough because the music business can be pretty macho at times. You can often be on your own or the only woman in a band.”
Role models are important, says Karan.
“If people, particularly kids, see role models on stage, then they’ll understand in their bones that women are equal to men.”
Sexual harassment and assault has gone unspoken about for too long. Women were afraid to speak out.
“Now is the time to do it. We’re finding the courage within ourselves to speak up. It’s really important for us to keep the pressure on. Fair Plé is asking that festivals and venues look at their committees that decides who performs.
“We would like to see gender balance in these committees. We would like to see promoters and agents to look at the whole question of gender and to start hiring more women, giving us more gigs. There is also the production side of things including sound and recording. That is much worse. I’m not in that role. I’ve had things pretty good,” she added.
Karan, who is married to concertina player, Niall Vallely, has two daughters aged 12 and 18, who are also very interested in music and Karan says she will encourage them to go into the business, “if that’s what they want.”
She is encouraging people to go to the St Luke’s gig, next week.
“It’s a great line up. We’re saying these are great musicians and great singers who have plenty to say. We need people’s solidarity.”
With a couple of men playing at the gig, Karan is acknowledging that some male musicians are very supportive.
“Men and women need to live and work together.”
She added: “We’re all part of the problems. There are historical and structural issues, the questions of who’s available and who’s out and who will mind the kids when we’re out performing? As a society, we’re having this conversation. It’s the same issues for female politicians.”
Fair Plé, she added, “is a movement that is growing every day.” The Fair Plé concert at St Lukes takes place on June 16. Doors open at 7.30pm. Tickets are €20 plus booking fee. Tickets are available on uticket.ie and at Pro Musica.