The Rise of the All-Female Tribute Bands

Once upon a time, in the dark, dark ages of the 1970s, it was generally agreed that women could not rock. Some brave souls bucked that trend (cf. The Runaways) but were buried under tons of sexist discrimination. Happily, though, our species has evolved to the point where we all realize that women can rock just as hard as men. (There’s a two-part Ongoing History show coming up later this spring that looks at alt-rock’s most important all-female bands.)

The Guardian takes a look at another aspect of the all-female rock band: the tribute acts where Y chromosomes are not allowed.

The upstairs room at Brighton’s Prince Albert pub is so crowded on this Saturday night that the only floor space left is next to the soundman, who is playing a pre-show tape of forgotten 80s hits. As A Flock of Seagulls’ Wishing (If I Had a Photograph of You) trails off, tonight’s band – a Duran Duran tribute act from London called Joanne Joanne – get into position. The keyboard player is having a last-minute tune-up, causing the singer to apologise: “We have to wait for Nick – he’s got a lot of keyboards.” Eventually, Nick produces the opening bleeps to Duran’s debut single, Planet Earth, and the crowd of mainly women in their 40s erupts. The song sounds much as it does on record, the only measurable difference being that the voice singing it is female.

All five members of Joanne Joanne are women, including “Nick Rhodes”, aka Lolo Wood, who not only sounds like Rhodes but, thanks to purple eyeliner and blusher, vaguely looks like him. Forming a tribute band is perhaps the ultimate gesture of admiration, and Joanne Joanne are lifelong Durannies. But, as with the other all-girl tribute bands who have emerged in the past few years, they are also free of the slavishness and braggadocio common to male tribute acts (as well as some of the actual bands they emulate).

In Joanne Joanne’s case, that means refusing to play most of Duran’s biggest hits, which runs counter to conventional tribute working practice. Their favourite period was 1981-82, before the Rio album swept their heroes from New Romantic niche stardom to household-name status. Accordingly, Joanne Joanne’s set focuses on B-sides and obscurities from the early days, with only the odd post-82 track tossed in. So there can be no mistake, their website declares: “We don’t do Rio”.

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Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

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