In her first piece for TSOTA Heather Ditch catches up with Auriel Majumdar to find out why #sheffieldgirl is so necessary.
Sheffield is a city defined, in large part, by what it stands for musically: deviance, progress, challenge, quality, warmth, accessibility, authenticity, amongst other things. And of course some of the people who earned the city its musical stripes, were women.
Of course. Surely. Weren’t they?
Well, yes, they were. And you can probably call to mind some of the women vital to Sheffield’s musical story… the head girls like Roisin Murphy, Candida Doyle, Ruth Joy, Joanne Catherall, Susan Ann Sully. A recent series of short films about our city’s musical bloodline, Sheffield: Steeling the Limelight (directed by Peter Davies and Produced by Leeroy Powell) features exclusively male voices in a celebration of how brilliant they all made it here. There’s no disputing what they’ve done, but something’s missing.
Auriel Majumdar watched those films and as she watched, she wondered when a woman might appear, telling her part of the story. And there wasn’t one. She asked the filmmakers where they’d all gone. “Nobody told us about any women”, came the reply. And that’s when it all started, because for all those head girls, those frontliners, there are a hundred others – singers, songwriters, musicians, promoters, managers, performers, producers, documenters, punters who made and continue to make Sheffield what it is, musically. And it seems, with little credit.
It’s enough to make you quite angry. It was enough to make Auriel Majumdar flashmob Facebook and Twitter with her brilliant #sheffieldgirl posts on October 20th 2015. Timelines went crazy, and we loved it.
That was good flashmobbing! Tell us about how it started.
“I went see Dave Haslam, the DJ and writer, do his Life After Dark talk about British clubbing, and I was expecting it to be the usual – an account that didn’t tell my story of clubbing, something to please the fanboys in the audience. But it wasn’t. Adele Bailey, who runs Plug, and Winston Hazel and women in the audience made sure of that – they told it the way I felt it.
“I thought maybe this was change, that I wouldn’t again have to be the one going, ‘Women were there too! I was there! I brought the party!!’ But then I questioned the Steeling the Limelight films, and was told, ‘Nobody told us about any women in that scene,’ I think you could call that lazy journalism, or you could call it exclusion. I think it’s both, and so nobody can use the excuse again that they ‘didn’t know’ about women in music, I began hashtagging #sheffieldgirl.”
It was a really clever way of tackling something that could just have turned into a scrap, a slanging match.
“I didn’t want it to be a negative. My experience, my story, is all good, really. The number 69 bus from Rotherham was free and it brought me somewhere magical. I used to come to Sheffield, to see gigs in the ‘70s and then later when I lived here in the ‘80s to dance, every night apart from Sundays.
“We were at The Limit, Leadmill, Marples, Isabella’s…we saw the B52s, Joy Division, Buzzcocks; I used to dance like it had just been invented. Still do, sometimes! I was a Jive Turkey girl – I used to see Parrot and Winston DJ at Occasions and City Hall and it felt like home – I was always a Jive Turkey punter and that felt like being a really big part of what that night was. I had DJ’d a bit at college – I was little and trendy – but I was happiest as a punter. And that’s really where I was, I was one of all those people bringing the party.
“And so #sheffieldgirl was not about beating up all the men integral to the city, but it was about telling MY story, OUR story, women on the music scene. Because if you don’t speak up, it can be re-written without you and I don’t want anyone telling my story without me in it.”
Will #sheffieldgirl live on?
“I hope so – I don’t know how yet. But I love how it connected unconnected people. It’s a brilliant way of getting everyone together. I worried at first that I was clogging everyone’s feeds, but then I thought ‘that’s the point!’ I was trying to write something honourable and interesting about everyone I hashtagged, and it got really diverse too, from film director Eve Wood (The Beat is The Law) documenting music, to the late, great broadcaster Jane Kitson; or Sarah Nulty and Kate Hewitt who make Tramlines happen, to Nat Johnson who makes beautiful, soulful folk music. There are too many to mention….there are definitely too many to not mention.
“It is a political thing. But equally it’s not about bashing anyone over the head. It’s not about causing divides. It IS about making a point. It IS about telling a story that I always knew was marginalised, but I didn’t realise how much, still. It IS about making sure that everyone who needs to know – like the ones making films, writing articles, giving interviews and perpetuating that story – that Sheffield girls are vital to Sheffield music. Always have been. End of. We’ve barely got started…so #sheffieldgirl has to keep on.”
There are plans for more #sheffieldgirl action soon. Keep an eye out online, and join in!