A COUPLE of weeks ago The National went to a brilliant gig at Glasgow’s Art School. A mini festival of sorts, it was as refreshing as a blast of peppermint, from the bands’ paint-daubed posters to the packed audience of families and young people, hipsters and seniors. And girls, lots of girls; tots and tweens, angsty adolescents and spirited young women.

The show itself was a straight-up ace, with slots featuring a band who chanted about their love of dogs, Crystal Rock, a proto-punk troupe with the sort of witty songs about waffles a young Jonathan Richman may have written, and an r’n’b-tinged dream pop band with the makings of a couple of genuine radio hits. Elsewhere, there was Abiss, a beanie-hatted duo whose scream and distortion catharsis recalled Free Kitten, the supergroup led by Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon.

This was the showcase of Girls Rock Glasgow, a summer school aiming to empower girls and young women through music creation and performance. It was also the first time the week-long school, which first ran in 2015, opened the showcase to the public as well as family and friends. With or without personal involvement, this was a great gig; the atmosphere sparked with excitement too.

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That the performers were all females, the multi-generational audience predominantly so, remains unusual in 2017. That’s boggling to a gig goer who came of age around the time Elastica made it cool to dress like a carefree, androgynous mod and feminist rockers L7 were throwing tampons at the audience.

Back then, progress was still a thing. The early 1990s had a spacey sense of optimism that we’re appreciating once more.

But rock and indie music were different to girl-power pop. Men and boys continued to dominate, from the guys on stage to those in the moshpit, to the roadies, techs and studio dudes. The message was implicit: that somehow, making, playing, creating and enjoying music wasn’t really for girls and women.

Certainly at the beginning of my gig-going days, I felt that sense of exclusion, as perhaps did girls at the recent TRNSMT festival where only one in nine performers were female. But though the bands I saw live rarely featured women, through the likes of John Peel and the pages of Melody Maker I had my female rock icons: the unapologetic, badass Babes In Toyland, Brighton’s Huggy Bear and the caustic, defiant witch punk of Bikini Kill, led by cultural lightning rod Kathleen Hanna. Hanna became the reluctant spokeswoman of riot grrrl, the feminist punk rock movement spawned in Portland, Oregon around the same time as grunge lit up Seattle in Washington. It’s a book by another of the scene’s figures, Sleater-Kinney guitarist/vocalist Carrie Brownstein, which inspired the formation of Girls Rock Glasgow in 2014.

“It’s called Rock ‘n’ Roll Camp For Girls: How to start a band, write songs, record an album and rock out,” says Jude Stewart, who’s on Girls Rock Glasgow’s management team. She was given the book by a Canadian artist involved with Stewart’s previous project, a community-centred arts organisation called Frock On.

“The book simplified everything,” Stewart says. “And I thought: ‘This is actually quite doable’. So I pulled in other people, and that’s how it started, we all just found each other.”

Organised by a management team of eight, and delivered with the help of around 30 volunteers at Glasgow’s Kinning Park Complex, Girls Rock Glasgow runs the workshops with the help of local musicians such as Katrina Mitchell from The Pastels, Suse Bear from Tuff Love, Killer Bangs’ Helen Farrow-Thoms, Sarah Glass from The Fnords and Fallope & The Tubes, an outfit described on their Facebook as “six witch sisters who perform together in a weirdo-punk performance band”. Other volunteers include school teachers, students, designer-maker Trudi Lang, who’s responsible for band merch, and mums-into-music like Stewart herself.

“This year we expanded, we had another two days at the Art School,” says Stewart. “That was just to get the girls bonding, to get them to rehearse there. Because I think it’s quite terrifying to go from a former school building into an actual music venue. It’s thrilling too.

“The Art School is our spiritual home. They have a brilliant sound woman there called Alice Black. What we want to provide are working role models of women in music, so that the girls know that women can be both sides of the stage.”

Some volunteers are previous participants such as Breagha Cuin, one half of Bratticus, a riot punk sibling duo from Tomintoul. The sisters’ mother taught yoga during the recent school, which also included workshops on mindfulness, parkour, consent and body autonomy. As it says on the Girls Rock Camp’s Portland-based mothersite: “‘Girls Rock’ is more than just a slogan.”

Key values include a belief in empowerment, respect for diversity and that “girls can play any kind of music they want”.

“We’re not a stage school,” says Stewart. “We’re all genuinely interested in and pro-all kinds of music, and that’s what we encourage.”

The recent school cost £180 for waged households and £70 for unwaged households.

“That worked out at £20 a day,” says Stewart, who adds that notes of interest are usually taken from January. “We were also able to provide 12 free places, though I would prefer to do it completely free.”

Fundraisers are often organised with the help of Edinburgh Girls Rock School, which works with over-18s. Both are pending members of the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, a growing international network of like-minded projects.

“We are very involved with them,” says Stewart of the Edinburgh school. “Their members have come and tutored here. This year we were thinking of doing a Grannies Rock School where the upper age would be, say 65. They’re brilliant. We’re very much a sisterhood.”

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