All female Cork band: ‘We’re not a gimmick’

JENNIFER HORGAN talks to members of an all-female Cork band who only play songs that were written or performed by women, including their own originals
All female Cork band: ‘We’re not a gimmick’

The Kates, play in The Pavilion on the January 20. Picture: IAMACOSMONAUT

WOMEN remain under-represented in many areas of the music industry.

A report sponsored by Spotify found of the 1,000 songs on Billboard‘s Hot 100 Year End Chart from 2012 to 2021 — 76.7% were by men and 23.3% were women. (No artists identified as gender non-conforming or non-binary in 2021.)

In Ireland, according to the Why Not Her? collective, between June, 2020, and June, 2021, most national radio saw Irish male artists represent between 25% and 60% of performers on the top 20 songs. In Cork, they said Red FM, 96FM and C103 predominantly played men in their top 20 songs at 90% each in 2021.

In Cork, our rebel county, a group of women, two of them from the queer community, are doing their bit to change the record. Their all-female band The Kates play in The Pavilion on the January 20, showcasing the incredible talent of female musicians and the magic that can happen when women share a stage.

The band of five are made up of Liz Clark, MaryBeth O’Mahoney, Eve Clague, Mide Houlihan, and Paula K O Brien.

Band member Liz Clark is very clear about the purpose of their group.

“We are not a gimmick. We’re passionate and talented musicians. But people are so used to seeing all-male bands and not asking questions. We want the same to be true for all-female bands. We want to normalise it so that people simply think, well, why not?”

The group, the brainchild of Liz’s close friend Paula K O’Brien, has its roots in West Cork and plays regularly in the well-known Clonakilty pub De Barras.

When Paula’s mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, she began gathering women to play music in support of the women and families affected, fundraising for the charity Ovacare. It started at Women’s Little Christmas, then happened again on International Women’s Day. From there, Liz and Paula began reaching out to other established musicians and The Kates were born.

The Kates, play in The Pavilion on the January 20. Picture: IAMACOSMONAUT
The Kates, play in The Pavilion on the January 20. Picture: IAMACOSMONAUT

“Paula really wanted nights of all-female music. Women playing women’s songs. But she got a lot of push back. People genuinely believed there wouldn’t be enough material out there. Thankfully, she doubled down. We continue to play a whole range of female artists from Irish female groups like The Cranberries to crowd pleasers like Annie Lennox and Stevie Nicks. We play Courtney Love and other all-female bands like Haim. We also play Angie MacMahon. Few people know her but she’s wonderful. There is certainly no shortage.”

Paula explains that being an all-female band offers a very different musical experience. All members are established musicians, and most have previously worked in male-dominated bands.

“Some of us would have found it is harder to find our voice in a male band because it is so male-dominated. When we get together it feels very natural. We collaborate easily. We share. We find it easy to have differing opinions and to find a compromise. We support one another.”

Crushing the stereotype of competitive women vying for the limelight, Liz continues by explaining that they are all singers.

“This is unusual in a band. It takes the pressure off as we are happy to share the singing and to sing together. We love singing together. We love harmonising and just rocking out and having fun. It’s a great release for all of us.”

The five women write and create their own music and each artist has written work for the band which they hope to record this year.

“It’s great because I haven’t performed the songs I’ve written before, so they are just for the band. This means I’m not precious about them. There’s no issue if someone suggests we change the tempo or whatever. There’s very little ego involved.”

Liz says that about 85% of their audiences tend to be female so it’s a great night out for friends and it’s also a great night if you’re looking for a woman. There’s also representation from the queer community. However, she doesn’t see the band as being in any way anti-men. Quite the opposite.

“We have some wonderful male supporters of our band. They do so much for us, lending us their equipment, carrying it, helping us with sound. What’s lovely is that they really respect and enjoy the work we do.”

Liz and her bandmates clearly love the time they spend together. She chats freely and openly, coming back again and again to how much they enjoy each other’s company and rocking out. There is a great sense of fun and freedom.

“It helps that we’re all sort of learning too. We play instruments in the band that we don’t normally play. It’s a great release for us. A great outlet.”

The passionate singer-songwriter recognises that it’s not only about the fun, however.

“Too often, young female artists see only solo female artists and it’s often very much about their looks. It’s driven by sex. We want to show them that they can also be great musicians. Women can rock out just like men rock out. It’s important that we exist as a female-only band. Our existing is political. It’s great for everyone, including men and young people, to see us up there.”

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