There’s been a lot of coverage in the past few years on the distinct lack of female artists making up Festival line ups nationally with even less taking headlining slots. Even in the last two days the BBC ran this article on gender bias across the UK festival scene.
That report posits that only 8% of the UK’s music festival line ups were female artists or female lead bands while a gender pay gap survey from 2019 called Counting the Music found that just 19% of artists signed to record labels were female. There is now a push from across the industry through the Keychange Initiative that programmes and line ups should strive for a 50/50 balance between male and female artists across festival and music venues by 2022.
The controversy surrounding the debate is clear; why, with so many talented female musicians, bands and acts flourishing locally and nationally, is it a struggle to give them a platform to perform to a large audience?
Being a recent addition to the arts and culture scene in Newcastle, Gosforth Civic Theatre has had the privilege to work with artists, producers, theatre companies, music promoters and a host of amazingly talented people from across the region and country, and our community is wonderfully diverse - we actually have a fantastically strong female audience, making up the majority of people who engage with the venue and buy tickets. So at heart of our programming strategy, alongside quality and ethos, is having a diverse line up of artists including a strong female line up.
This month for example, which so happens to be lead by International Womens’ Day on 8 March, we have two young, female lead bands coming to Gosforth Civic Theatre, programmed back-to-back, who are representing traditional forms of music and bringing them to a new audience.
Abbie Finn Trio are with us on Thursday 19 March. Rising star Abbie Finn is a rarity; not only is she a female jazz drummer, and a phenomenal one at that, she leads her own straight jazz trio made up of Harry Keeble (sax) and veteran bassist Paul Grainger. Holding a Master's degree at Trinity Laban, Abbie performed on London's West end and in a variety of ensembles/artists including the Women of the world Orchestra, Simon Spillett, Paul Edis, Derek Nash and was a dep for the National Youth Jazz orchestra last year. She was praised in reviews where her playing was described as impeccable and vivifying.
They are followed by excellent folk/bluegrass fusion band The Magpies on Friday 20 March. Initially a duo project between Celtic Connections Danny Kyle Award winner Bella Gaffney and York based mandolin player Polly Bolton, 2018 saw their line up expand to a quartet, with the original pair joining forces with acclaimed cellist Sarah Smout and fiddle ace Holly Brandon. Their live performances are incendiary and are technically and harmonically excellent.
But it doesn’t stop there for us, the rest of our Spring and Summer programme, including music and theatre, is made up of 50% female artists and companies. Featuring Relentless by Mortal Fools, Lullaboogaloo and Zoe Gilby in April, Martha Tilson, Minnie Fraser Quartet, Unsung Collective, Joan Shelley, and The Shackleton Trio in May, and Frazey Ford, Here from Curious Monkey and Hugging Dogs from Mortal Fools in June.
We’re lucky to live in a region with a thriving arts and culture scene that generally encourages diversity across their programmes, and we’re delighted to be part of that, but it’s just a start. We must strive to keep pushing for a more diverse programmes, performers, staff, technicians and teams to be more representative of our audiences and wider culture.
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