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Au Pairs - Interview

  by Tommy Gunnarsson

published: 11 / 1 / 2008

Au Pairs - Interview


Tommy Gunnarsson speaks to Jane Munro, the bassist with 70's Birmingham-based political indie punk/funk group the Au Pairs, about her group's rise and fall

In the 1990’s, a lot of American feminist bands surfaced, creating a music scene called “riot grrl”, a scene that was also a big booster for fanzines and feminist discussions in general. One of the more famous leaders of this genre is Kathleen Hannah, who formed Bikini Kill, and later on also Le Tigre. But fifteen years earlier, two girls and two boys from Birmingham got together under the name of the Au Pairs, with bassist Jane Munro being the last one to join. "I joined the band by a kind of happy accident, really. I was on the periphery of the Moseley music scene and the other band members and I had a mutual friend, Martin Culverwell, who later became our manager. I’d bought a bass guitar - and had progressed as far as the bass line from ‘Peaches’ (a song by The Stranglers-TG) and Martin said he knew a band who were looking for a female bass player. Lesley rang me. The four of us had a jam together at a room over a pub, and the rest is history." Jane was the only member of the band who had never played in any other group before forming the Au Pairs, but she had a great interest in music from an early age. "I’ve been interested in music as long as I can remember – we had the radio on all the time at home when I was a child. It was a fantastic time to be growing up, listening to the Beatles and the Stones, then later to Jimi Hendrix, the Doors, Roxy Music and reggae. When punk arrived though it was so exciting it just blew everything else away, and all I wanted to do was go to Barbarella’s and the other Birmingham clubs and pubs and see as many different bands as possible. I wasn’t in any bands prior to the Au Pairs, but I have to own up to being in a pretend one at the age of about 9 or 10, complete with cardboard guitars !" "My main musical influences when I started playing with the band were Tina Weymouth, Paul Simenon and Sly ‘n’ Robbie." The Au Pairs released their first single, 'You', in 1979 on the small indie label 021 Records, the same label that also released their follow-up, the fantastic double A-sided 'Diet / It’s Obvious' a year later. By now they had been playing a lot of gigs, including some sessions for the BBC (some of the tracks from those sessions are available on the great anthology 2CD set 'Stepping Out of Line', which was released a couple of years ago). Their debut album, 'Playing with a Different Sex', was released in 1981 on Human Records, a record that caused some controversy, first of all because singer/lyricist Lesley Wood, being a feminist and lesbian, wrote some very sarcastic and outspoken lyrics, but also because of the song 'Armagh', which was about the “troubles” in the town of Armagh, Northern Ireland and the many fatalities that had occured there. "We wrote the songs by jamming around a riff or melody line that one or other of us had come up with; it was very much a joint process. Lesley wrote the lyrics and, no, we didn’t always agree with her views but she was a very strong character and invariably got her own way." On the album is also a cover of David Bowie’s song, 'Repetition' (from his 'The Lodger' album), a song that surprised me when I learned that it was written by Mr Bowie. I had never realized that he had written lyrics about the mentality of a wife-beater… When you read about the Au Pairs nowadays, you always get the feeling that they were a very odd band even back then. When looking back on it, Jane agrees, at least kind of. "At the time – to me anyway – the stuff that we were doing didn’t seem that out of the ordinary, because most of the bands we were gigging with or who were influential at that time also had political and/or feminist lyrics – the Gang of Four, the Slits, the Clash, the Raincoats, the Mekons, to name but a few. In retrospect though, to judge by the number of people who remember and were influenced by the band, I guess we must have stood out – possibly down to Lesley terrifying the audience !" As usual, the British music press was at first very positive and told their readers that Au Pairs was the next big thing, a hype that soon backlashed. "They became more and more obsessed with the band’s political stance and Lesley’s lyrics. As a result she became the unelected spokesperson. I was never in my element doing interviews anyway and they always seemed to be dredging over the same old ground, so to some extent it suited me to let Lesley get on with it. If the rest of us had been more assertive it would probably have been better for the band though – we might even have been able to demonstrate we had a sense of humour, although I doubt the press wouldn’t have been interested in that – not controversial enough." A year after their debut album, the Au Pairs released a second album, 'Sense and Sensuality', where they showed increasing jazz and funk influences, which made the album less brilliant than its precursor. It seemed that the songs were also less melodic, and that the band almost struggled to be as weird as possible. Jane agrees: "I felt that the first album was far superior to the second, for the usual sort of reasons that first albums are often better. We’d had plenty of time to develop the songs on 'Playing with a Different Sex’, whereas I felt we’d spent so much time gigging prior to ‘Sense and Sensuality’ that some of the songs and arrangements felt contrived and awkward. I don’t think the others would agree with me on that, but I wasn’t very happy by then anyway and that clearly coloured my views. I must say that the remixes on ‘Stepping Out of Line – the Anthology’ have vastly improved everything, so thanks to Pete (Hammond, the drummer -TG) for his hard work there!" Shortly after the release of that second album, Jane quit the band, and six months later, the band finally split. "As I wasn’t there I can’t tell you exactly why the band finally split up. I know Lesley kept going AWOL and I think everything just imploded in the end. Already when I left things were already on the slide - I just wasn’t enjoying being in the band anymore, plus I was getting heavy pressure in my personal life." A third album was being planned, but, as the band split, it never happened. According to an article on the Internet, Steve Lillywhite was supposed to produce it, which tells me that the band was going for a more “pop” sound, a wise decision if you ask me. After splitting up, the members of the band all continued to play music in separate bands. Lesley Wood formed an all women band called Darlings, but then gave up the music industry to become a lawyer. Paul Foad, the guitarist (and occasional lead singer along with Lesley) is still in the music business, and plays the guitar with a jazz band in Birmingham. He is also a guitar teacher in the very same city. Pete Hammond, the aforementioned drummer, is also still drumming away, and, like Paul, he is also a music teacher. And Jane can tell us herself : "I was in another band for a relatively short time after the split, but that is a rather long and tedious story, although it does account for why I gave up playing. I also did a bit of amateur sound engineering with a couple of local bands, but I’d had enough of the music business really and gradually drifted into doing other stuff. So, I’ve been a massage therapist for the last fifteen years, which I enjoy immensely. Complementary therapies seem quite popular for reformed musicians – I hear that Terry Chimes, the ex-Clash drummer is now a chiropractor, and I did some work last year with Mark Laffoley who used to be in Generation X. Talk about going from one extreme to the other - perhaps we’re all trying to make amends for our earlier excesses!" She is still keeping in touch with her old band mates (apart from Lesley), but there are no talk of reforming the band. "I’m still in touch with Pete and Paul – we all still live in Birmingham. We don’t actually see each other very often – we’ve been threatening to get together for a drink for about the last five or six years and still haven’t managed it. I have had no contact with Lesley though." "And no thoughts on reforming on my part – I haven’t played the bass for about 20 years so I might be a bit rubbish really." And that might be just as well. There aren’t too many reunions that have led to any good music, and I doubt that Au Pairs would be one of the exceptions. I think I will just keep enjoying those old records.

Picture Gallery:-
Au Pairs - Interview

Visitor Comments:-
338 Posted By: lesley, london on 28 Jul 2010
I dont believe for 1 moment that Jane said any of that.... Come on, she was NOT like that makes her out to sound. I am not that bad a judge of character..,. Or am I ??? BITCHING IS WHERE I'S AT (c) Lesley Woods Lesley Woods Songwriter ( since the age of 9 ), Singer, Lyricist and Guitarist

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