An Observation of Experience (or: “Are You Looking At My Bra?”)


The Experience in question is the pub open mic night. The variables in play are those of an adjusted set list due to illness… I’ve had a really bad sore throat and cold which meant my bandmates stepped in to make sure I only sang every other song as lead vocalist, and that the more demanding of our songs were omitted from the set. Logistically, this meant that due to the space restrictions of the venue, although I was placed “up front” I wasn’t necessarily always the one addressing the audience as I am most of the time.
I am a relatively inexperienced “front woman”. I haven’t done many live gigs, and this was only the second one in a pub. I’m willing to keep an open mind about pub gigs, due to this inexperience, but so far, I’m not convinced it’s right for me.

Being the front person of the band feels – sometimes – like a weight. Not always. And I am not apportioning blame, it’s just how I feel. I do actually like it for the most part, I like talking to the audience and enjoy them talking back. So far it has been polite and fun! I am aware that I am the one presenting the band, and that I should do so responsibly… mwah hahaaaaa!

Last night, because of not feeling 100%, and still feeling that I had no instrument to hide behind, I was more conscious of myself than I usually am. This has thrown out some interesting points for discussion perhaps – feel free to join in.

The open mic night is a predominantly male province in terms of participants and audience. I counted only three women in the audience last night. All of whom were with men, and one of those left before our set began. The other men came individually, in pairs and in groups. Some were noisy. I was the only woman performing again (as mentioned in a previous post).

I am not often these days conscious of my physical self in a space. The area for performers was small. Good job we like each other, and have good standards of personal hygiene. But these guys are used to me, they know me pretty well now I think. I was more conscious of how I present. I acknowledge that I am a middle aged, grey haired, overweight woman. Mutton dressed not perhaps as lamb but hopefully as mutton with interesting seasoning and tasty gravy? I feel a contrast between myself and my band members who always look effortlessly cool. T-shirt, shirt, jeans. A uniform of sorts? (Cue teasing for almost matching checked shirts from Andy and Ian) I agonised, for a while, about what to wear, especially in new venue with an unknown audience. I want to present as someone worthy of interest for half an hour. I want to be interesting, rather than overtly attractive perhaps? My selection of clothing is important to me. My visual art work largely consists of garments and what they say. My short sleeved dress has printed teacups and pots and cakes to reinforce the stereotype! It is knee length and so I wear leggings and comfy purple boots with it. This is because having bare legs is too much, especially as I have visible cleavage too. I’ve been warned the venue is hot, so have not worn my usual t shirt under the dress. From my own vantage point I can see my bra. It occurs to me that anyone standing close enough, over about 5’5” tall can too. I become conscious…suddenly hyper-conscious of this. Does my consciousness show? Are the audience conscious of my self-consciousness? This thankfully fleeting thought makes me stumble over my song introduction, and having spent ages making sure my curly grey hair is perfectly arranged, I proceed to nervously wrestle my fingers though it, to make sure that by the end of the set I look like a hedge. I am who I am.

There is a tension between not dressing up, but dressing to perform, to present… the presentation is read more immediately than the lyrics or even the music? I perform, yes, but as myself?

If being part of The Sitting Room is part of my art practice (and it is) then I should scrutinise my choices in the same way.

Some people might say I’m over-thinking this. But actually over-thinking this is my job as an artist. Isn’t it? I am here to observe, question and comment. My work as visual artist, performer or writer is created from those observations and subsequent questions and comments.
The acknowledgement of privilege, The aspect of the male gaze, gender roles, equality, performance and the presenting of the group are all up for questioning here.
I notice the audience demographic every time I perform. I prefer diversity. An apparently single-group audience makes me uncomfortable. I am affected… but I don’t think it goes both ways.
I notice, and am grateful for the support and protection of my fellow band members: checking my voice; instructing the sound man, plying me with drinks; walking me back to my car; or giving me lifts so I don’t have to drive if I’m not feeling too well. I am simultaneously irritated by the societal need for it… but it is a fact of the relationship between us, I’m thankful, and I make note of how it makes me behave, I make note of how our behaviour impacts on each other. (I fight an urge to cut patches out of their shirts and stitch the pieces to my dress…)

I know that I feel differently about things to my fellow band members, for a variety of reasons, but gender is at the top of the list. I feel this way because I am a woman, definitely. I also know I feel like this because of the lack of experience. I do not know what it is like to look at me for half an hour, listening, watching… I have no idea what my performance looks like, only what it feels like. I try very hard to work well for these people, to do my best and not let them down. They are talented, lovely people who deserve the best representation, whose work deserves the best representation.
We haven’t been doing this for long. Feedback is generally good, musically, lyrically, and we give off a good vibe I think, because we have a good working relationship based on mutual respect, kindness, laughter and democracy. I think this shows.

In reading this through before posting, I am not sure that I have really captured what I’m thinking, whether I am being clear. But I’m going to post it anyway, to record these immediate feelings of nervousness, self-consciousness, inadequacy…and of a real present need to do it regardless. I’m posting it because I am The Tenth Woman. Because I’m going to carry on doing it anyway. If I don’t do these things who will, and if I don’t do them now, then when?



PS If you are a rare woman attending a gig, and feel that you shouldn’t be able to see my underwear from where you are sat, please take me to one side and gently tell me so!

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