Being in a band – a girl’s perspective

Different for Girls: A Girl’s Own True-life Adventures in Pop by Louise Wener.

While I never followed the band Sleeper, I was aware of them – their singles were fun and tuneful.  However their singer, Louise Wener, did stand out from the crowd with her big brown eyes, pouty lips and great haircut – there were few other girls involved in successful Britpop bands.  Reading her wonderful memoir of her life in Pop, I can say I bonded with her from the beginning, as she recounts sitting with microphone in hand taping the chart show (been there, done that), and also a shared love of David Cassidy – she’s only a few years younger than me, so musically I’m right at home with her all the way.

It also helps that Wener is an established novelist these days having swapped guitar for the pen some years ago. She can really write, and the result is a hugely entertaining memoir, full of wonderful stories, and self-deprecating wit – she’s not afraid to turn the spotlight on herself at all.

Born to a Jewish family in north London, Louise was the youngest by several years in her family. The first chapters recount teenaged years at school where she was geeky and introverted, and bullied by the girls with perfect skin.  A gap year followed sixth form; Wener went on a Kibbutz, and had a whale of a time, but was brought back down to earth arriving in Manchester to study English, but she did meet Jon Stewart and they started a band.  After uni they moved down to London and found a bass player and drummer Sleeper was born with her older brother as manager.  They got their break supporting Blur, and the big-time beckoned …

There’s something about a tour itinerary that lists Barcelona, Milan and Berlin in its dates that’s making me hysterically resistant to the lowest common denominator, herd mentality of rock  band touring: the endless communal meals where we have to find a cafe that serves egg and chips because half the crew is vegetarian and egg and chips is all they will eat. The living in each other’s pockets on the tour bus, smelling the tattooed roadie’s farts, listening to each other’s shitty music and filthy night-time snores.

This is my first time touring on a sleeper bus. A glorifed caravan with coffin-like compartments to sleep in and everyone huddled up on a banquette at the back, smoking and drinking and watching Spinal Tap for the 53rd time. There are rules on the tour bus. Don’t poo in the toilet; it can’t take it. Sleep with your feet facing forward, in case you crash like Bucks Fizz. Respect each other’s privacy and space. Difficult one, this: save for the sliver of curtain by your bunk there’s no real privacy to be had.

She makes it sound like so much fun!  She recounts the highs and lows: the pressure to keep the band together, to write new songs, always being considered the front of the band because she’s a woman, splitting up with Jon, then falling in love with drummer Andy. They had the sense to bow out on a relative high, before the singles failed to chart.  She obviously got a lot out of it even with all the stresses and strains. 

This is an intelligent and witty memoir which I would heartily recommend to anyone who enjoyed Britpop – I loved it. I’ll definitely check out some of her novels – if they’re anything like this book in style, they’ll be great fun too.  (9/10) Book chosen from a list supplied by the Amazon Vine programme.


12 thoughts on “Being in a band – a girl’s perspective

  1. Should have known you were a Cassidy girl, Annabel! After all you have good taste in everything else!
    Have to confess that Britpop sort of passed me by as I was deep in motherhood and more likely to sing along to Postman Pat and early Kylie (eldest son, now 26, had a passion for the Aussie pop poppet when he was 5, so we lost all attempts at looking cool when we pulled up to traffic lights in the car with I Should Be So Lucky playing loudly!) than anything more fashionable.
    I do have a copy of Blur’s Park Life dating back to that era though!
    Have heard of Louise Wener and Sleeper, so I will look out for her books as the last female perspective music book I read was by Ronni Spector about life with Phil which was frankly hair raising (almost as much as that weird Art Garfunkle-alike wig that Phil Spector wore for his trial!)
    ps Have forgotten the books to post to you again, dammit!

    • As I was late to motherhood, I could bypass Kylie and head for Blur and Oasis in my thirties – how hip I was!!! Luckily ABBA are back in with all age groups for my daughter.

      Does that mean you’re a Cassidy girl too Liz – I do hope so! One of my prize posessions was a signed photo I won in the Blue Peter Keep Britain Tidy poster comp which he promoted for them – I got a Highly Commended badge plus the photo – which I sold years ago – drat. I’m now desperate to read Allison Pearson’s new novel, which is all about the David Cassidy fan club – sounds really fun.

      I’ve sent you that auction catalogue BTW, but no rush for the others as I’m getting into holiday mood …

  2. Oh how spooky as I was thinking about this author and Sleeper this morning (because I always think any Louise who has published a book was in the band Sleeper and was reading a Louise Dean review – ha, ha) I read one of her novels and it wasn’t half bad, not brilliant but not half bad. I have meant to read more and havent! I might have to download Sleeper as I was a big fan… and then maybe read this too.

    • You should read this Simon – it was brilliant fun. She has a feminine slant on that era that adds much to the standard rock biog. Glad to hear the novels aren’t bad, and I was thinking of downloading some of their best singles too.

  3. Sleepers single was the first I ever brought, I think I was about 15. Ah britpop I loved it. Will this make me feel old though?

    • You’re making me feel old Jess! It’s a case of ‘Twas ever thus’ in the world of rock ‘n’ roll though – there’s a timeless quality about rock memoirs & biogs – they still get up to all the same stuff, but not many are written by women which makes this one a bit different.

  4. Ah yes, the divine David was all over my bedroom walls when I was 11 or 12 . Not quite my first love as that was James Drury who played the Virginian,( I was a horse-mad until I was about 15 and he had a gorgeous grey!) but I was a member of both David’s fan club and the Partridge Family one and spent long hours day dreaming!
    Still have my much played copy of Cherish in a box somewhere – how sad is that?
    Glad to see that you are reading Dresden – hope you like it!

    • Liz, James Drury was cool, but inexplicably I liked Trampas! I moved on to Pete Duel later though when Alas Smith & Jones started. Cassidy was a God – with those shell beads and perfect feathered hair!

      Loving the Dresden – great recommendation – thanks.

  5. It’s already out of stock at Amazon Vine. That’s unusual.

    I have a fondness for Sleeper, but I find it difficult to listen to their music these days as it has a Pavlovian reaction. 13 years ago, I was driving along the M25 listening to Sleeper’s “Sale of the Century” when the traffic suddenly slowed to a halt. Everybody stopped except for one car, which smashed into me at 70mph. The back crumpled up and the momentum sent the car crashing into the central reservation, which then destroyed the front. I found myself sitting in a metal cube that barely resembled a car, but somehow the Sleeper cassette was still playing its upbeat song. In a way, the music was apposite, as I felt glad to be alive.

    • Bloomin’ ‘ell! I can understand your reaction Steerforth – I’m glad you’re still here too.

      On a less serious note – I have a similar reaction to Pernod…

  6. A bit of social history there too. It sounds like a good read – especially for someone who shared the music and experiences of the era. The bus sounds really bad – no adult should have to live like that!

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