Saskia Holling

 




 


 

 

Saskia Holling recently released her debut book, Girlsville: the Story of the Delmonas and the Headcoatees, a wonderful bio on two of the most well known bands to have come out of the Medway scene. Some people think of both bands as Billy Childish projects, and while Billy certainly had his fingerprints all over both bands, the book dives deep into the history of both bands, and its members, before and after, and during the bands run. All the ladies of both bands participate in the book and all are given equal time to have their say. While a few other people are interviewed, including Billy Childish, the ladies get most of the air time, as it should be as its their story. What makes Girlsville such a wonderful read is that it’s a loving tribute to two bands that deserves nothing but praise, well researched and Saskia writes from a fans perspective, and while its not necessarily written from her perspective she does throw in her own comment now and then, which for me gives the book a better voice, and also allows us gets to know our author better. 

 

Munster: First off congratulations on the book it’s a wonderful read and a great telling of two brilliant bands that are a part of a very influential scene. What made you want to tell the Headcoatees and Delmonas story? 

 

Saskia: Thank you! After dinner one Friday, after several glasses of wine,  Russ and I were chatting about the public face of the Medway music scene these days and how little of it reflected the experiences of Hilary, Sarah, Louise, Holly, Kyra and Debbie. I know most of them personally, and knew their musical backgrounds and, in some cases, their current musical output, and thought, ‘Hey, they must have interesting stories to tell … ‘ That was over four years ago – it took me a while to contact everyone, collect their stories, put them into a readable format and then find a publisher; thank you Lee Grimshaw and Spinout!

 

Munster: You mentioned in the book that neither bands feature much in other Medway books, surprising considering how well known they are and all members have gone on to do other projects, and are as well known in the scene as the Milkshakes and the Headcoates. Is there any particular reason you put this down too? 

 

Saskia : Yes, a couple of books had come out about the Medway scene and they hardly mentioned The Delmonas and Thee Headcoatees. A large amount of time had been spent documenting the experiences of other bands from the scene through interviews, but neither writer had even approached any of the women involved in the scene to contribute their experiences. As a person interested in the stories of other women in music, and as a fan of both Thee Headcoatees and The Delmonas records, these were actually the experiences I most wanted to hear.

But, why these bands weren’t mentioned much by these books … ? Hmm, I think it is probably because a lot of the time music is written for blokes, by blokes. I’m not criticising these books in particular, I think it’s a societal thing where people treat music, particularly garage, rock and punk, as a boys club. Women are often side-lined and treated as novelties; not to be taken too seriously. As a result, there is a whole world of music out there made by women which is quite often ‘forgotten’ about by the people who choose to record our musical history. 

 

Munster:You mentioned you didn’t know anything about the Medway scene until you discovered the Headcoatees. What was it about the band that had such an impact on you? 

 

Saskia :Apart from looking very cool on the cover of the ‘Girlsville’ album – you know, not perfect, polished or scantily clad like garage girls were ‘supposed’ to be at the time … They just had a naturalness and coolness about them, and the music matched that image – kind of imperfect but cool, natural and refreshing and, most importantly, it sounded like they were all having an absolute ball! That to me has had a lasting effect – that element of just making it real and fun – not precious – just enjoying it. If no-body else likes the music you make, or think it’s daft –who cares, so long as you enjoy making it.

 

Munster: I must admit, for someone who was never part of that scene, and born in 1989, a lot of the bands from that scene I have only discovered in recent times, except of course Billy Childish, who was a big influence on a lot of people here in Melbourne. Why do you think he has become the standout figure in that scene? Was it simplify the massive discography?  

 

Saskia : Billy Childish works very hard and has been incredibly prolific with his music, writing and painting. But, there are also other multi-talented artists that are, or have been, active on the Medway scene that don’t draw as much attention even though they have been pretty prolific too.  So, it could be to do with the massive amount of output but I also think that Billy is the perfect ‘artist’ / ‘artiste’, for journalists and the media; he’s pretty enigmatic, not afraid to show off, and often says quite controversial things which everyone likes really as it gives them something to talk or write about! He’s also male, and as I’ve already said, that’s who the blokes who write about music (in the music press for example) like to write about.

 


 

 

 

Munster: The ladies in the book all seemed happy to talk, and were very open and seemed no topic was off limits, so I take it when you approached them about the book they were all keen and had no issues with you telling their story? 

 

Saskia : Yes it was great that they were all willing to share their stories with me and they were all up for it. For some of them, it was the first time anyone had asked them any questions at all about their experiences with those bands, which just seems crazy to me. But, in a way that was helpful because it gave them, at last, a real opportunity to open up and tell their side of the story of these bands; a story which had been left to other people to tell before this point. I’m really grateful for their openness and for the fact that they were willing to let all of these experiences be out there in the public domain – life ain’t perfect – there are ups and downs for everybody.

 

Munster: Reading the epilogues it seems everyone has moved on and is happy with their legacy with the bands, but at the time there was dram and friction, some members still not on talking terms, where you surprised by some of the stories that where told? 

 

Saskia : I have to admit that some of the stories took much darker turns than I anticipated. I was kind of expecting it all to be a totally happy ‘what fun we had together’ kind of story, but obviously there was more going on behind the scenes than I had been previously told or imagined!

 

Munster: I loved how the book flows and how the story is told, and while it’s not written from your point of view, you do throw in the odd comment here and there giving your own personal opinion, gave the story a bit more personality I thought.  

 

Saskia : Thanks again! Yes, I was trying to find a way to tie everything together and by adding in a little bit of my own story this seemed to help tie, and give reason to, my inclusion of much of the UK music press cuttings. In the end I was a typical female interested in music growing up in the eighties and nineties and this was the culture that was surrounding me …

 

Munster: Another thing I liked was the before and after stories of each member of both bands, was a good picture and also told in their own words, how did that come about? 

 

Saskia : This was how I planned to do it from the start – I wanted to show how most bands are made up of people from all sorts of different backgrounds who come together, often through friendship and by chance, to create music together for a period of time. I also love seeing pictures of people as kids in biographies and autobiographies so I gave myself a good excuse to do this!

 

Munster:The book is filled with reviews of gigs and records of the bands, and was amazed how horrible the review, in terms of they were filled with misogyny , and also  laziness (comparing the Delmonas to Bananarama simply because both bands feature all girls singing). Really disheartening and disappointed these so called alternative rags could be so narrow minded. In your opinion has anything changed? Not so much the papers, but just the general attitude of women in indie/underground scenes? 

 

Saskia : Shocking wasn’t it! My jaw was literally dropping when I read some of these reviews and the sad thing was I had read many of them at the time (particularly in the late 80s early 90s) and hadn’t even noticed the misogyny because it was just an everyday part of our society. Have things improved? I think things have got better in the last 10 years or so but is it cyclical? When I first started playing music in the mid ‘90s there was quite a few women playing in bands in the underground scene perhaps due to the Riot Grrrl effect. We did get patronised by some: soundmen and the music press in particular, but the scenes (punk, garage, indie) were very supportive – other bands and gig goers. When I returned to gigging after a 10 year absence around 2008 I was really disappointed to often find myself to be the only women (apart from the Go Go dancers) on stage  at Garage or Rock n Roll Festivals. But there are now loads of women playing music on the garage and rock n roll scenes and it’s wonderful to see, and the support of the other bands and gig goers is back. But! In terms of the media, female garage bands now always seem to get compared to Thee Headcoatees all the time, which isn’t an awful thing to be compared to, but it is a little lazy; not every male garage band is compared to Thee Headcoats …

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21ePYcNSS5E

 


Munster: Billy Childish obviously had a big impact and role in the Delmonas and Headcoatees, what’s your take on his overall role in both bands, while he should be credited for both bands formations, he did seem too hands on which caused issues. And the ladies of both bands certainly where very talent, as proven with their post Delmonas/headcoatees careers. Would love to have seen them write their own tunes 

 

Saskia : Yes it’s real shame that Thee Headcoatees in particular could not participate in a fully creative manner in their own band. Billy (and to some extent Bruce) were just quite used to churning things out and churning them out as fast as possible, and that takes an element of control over the creative production. That control is great in terms of creating this prolific output, but, it can have a detrimental effect on the other people involved in that output when they don’t any of the control over it, especially when they start to learn more about music and their own talents as they spend more time just doing it. So, yes, great that the bands happened and that we have those records, but a shame that their full potential may not have ever been reached; although I think the ‘Delmonas 5’ LP is perhaps an example of how things could have (should have?) progressed …

 

Munster: Tell us about the fanzine Heavy Flow and what was your role with the zine? 

 

Saskia : Heavy Flow was a ‘zine I started in 1993. My boyfriend at the time, Tom, and I used to put on all ages gigs in Edinburgh – another happening perhaps influenced by the Riot Grrrl scene. For each of these gigs I’d produce a ‘zine to sell. It started off quite angry and ranty concentrating mostly on sexism and the commercialisation of period products i.e. why should we pay for something that aids us with the natural process of menstruation (an idea which is finally recognised in the UK with free period products being available). As time went on Heavy Flow became less angry and a little more music orientated and included interviews with Annie Sprinkle, Lydia Lunch and Exene Cervenka, and the infamous one I did with Kim Fowley which I will share on social media at some point …

 

Munster: When did you take up playing guitar? 

 

Saskia : I picked up the guitar in the early nineties and played lead in my first band ‘Fudd’ which was very ambitious as I was not that familiar with anything to do with chords and notes! For my second band, Sally Skull I switched to bass and that was a lot easier for me! I never had any lessons just learnt as I went along and now,  over 25 years later, I’m a pretty good bass player with the rock n roll combo, Lord Rochester, and garage grrrl punk band, The Nettelles. I’ve recently picked up the guitar again though and am still learning as I play live and in the studio … it’s always good to keep learning …

 

Munster: You and your husband Russell have a band together, big Russ Wilkins and Lightin Holling, how did that come about, and how does the song writing process go with the two of you? 

 

Saskia : The duo came about because Lord Rochester, who used to play live a lot and have travelled here there and everywhere, were not able to play together so much because drummer, Tim, moved to Shetland and started a family. We do still play occasionally, but not as much as Russ and I would like, so we started the duo so we could still go out and play music live (before Covid) and in the studio. Russ and I met through music and we’ve always played stuff of various genres and quality at home. With regards to the songwriting, we’ll both come up with ideas for melodies and / or lyrics and then we share our ideas to see where they go, if they go ….

 

Munster: What’s coming up Next?

 

Saskia : Music wise – Lord Rochester will; be back as we hope to get together with Tim again soon and we have a few singles being released by various labels this year The duo will just keep doing what it does – we made a lot of music videos during lockdown, and have been working on an album, and singles will be released this year. There also seems to be some renewed interest in the band that I was in in the nineties, Sally Skull, with some songs being re-released as singles and an album coming out in 2022.

I’m also thinking about who to write about next …

 

Munster: Do you have a favourite Fall LP to end on? 

 

Saskia: Oh, do you know what – I don’t listen to a lot of The Fall and have never owned a Fall LP … is that bad?

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