There was a Swiss group called Kleenex (later LiLiPUT), and California had The Runaways, though they were the product of Kim Fowley’s male fantasy.
Aside from The Slits, all we had was the female-fronted X-Ray Spex and Siouxsie and the Banshees, and bass guitarist Gaye Advert.
So it was a big deal, and a big day for women in rock, when art students Gina Birch (bass) and Ane de Silva (guitar) formed The Raincoats in 1977… even though it was another year before they became an all-female affair with drummer Palmolive from The Slits and violinist Vicki Aspinall.
Birch later said in an interview that seeing The Slits had been the key to forming a band: “It was as if suddenly I was given permission. It never occurred to me that I could be in a band. Girls didn’t do that. But when I saw The Slits doing it, I thought, ‘This is me. This is mine.’”
Birch and de Silva had no muisical experience and were, if anything, even less musically proficient than the rudimentary thrashings of The Slits themselves. But audiences (of whom I was one) were eager to watch and listen to them learn on the job.
Literally so: Birch bought her bass guitar two weeks before their first gig at The Tabernacle in Notting Hill in late 1977; I first saw them in the summer of ’79 in what is still my local cinema, the Rio in Dalston.
They exemplified punk’s DIY ethos, they had the novelty of being female, and their lyrical concerns – feminism and personal politics – were a fresh departure from the simplistic sloganeering of many male contemporaries.
In the spring of 1979 The Raincoats released their first single, Fairytale In The Supermarket, on Rough Trade, with a self-titled album following later that year. It was by no means a commercial success but enjoyed a new lease of life a decade later when Kurt Cobain named it as one of his favourite albums.
He helped reissue their three albums (with the assistance of Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth), writing sleeve notes for that debut album: “I don’t really know anything about the Raincoats except that they recorded some music that has affected me so much that, whenever I hear it I’m reminded of a particular time in my life when I was (shall we say) extremely unhappy, lonely, and bored…When I listen to the Raincoats I feel as if I’m a stowaway in an attic, violating and in the dark.”
Cobain even persuaded The Raincoats to reunite long after they had split up, in order to support Nirvana, but died before that could happen. They did, nonetheless, reform and record a fourth studio album in 1996, and have made various live appearances in various guises since then.