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Lost Cherrees’ Marie Talks Activism and Musical Evolution

For an art form that, at least theoretically, dispensed with the past and created a new paradigm of practice, punk has (at times) developed an unhealthy tendency to dwell on genesis mythologies, founding fathers, (unfortunately punk’s pantheon – spot the oxymoron – still tends, in some opinions, to be overwhelmingly male) and to elevate the past, inadvertently mirroring much that it should be an alternative to. Step forward anarcho-punk band Lost Cherrees, who have been going, in various forms, since 1979 (with a break from ’86-’03) but refuse to spend much time looking in the rear view mirror or resting on their laurels (mixed metaphors are such fun)! In fact, reading an interview from 2015 in the excellent Lost Cherrees Scrapbook 2011-17 you get the distinct impression that the band are really not keen on continually talking about the past, that their preoccupation is with the excitement, challenges, opportunities and struggles of today and tomorrow. As drummer Matt Thair comments strongly at the end of the 2015 interview “…It’s about today, what are you gonna do today…The band is about protest and action, making things happen and creating…Let’s get on with the next issue (1).”

Before their recent gig with Interrobang in London, where they played a set packed full of songs that bristled with energy and relevance (get hold of Live at AWOD 2013 to see what I mean), I was able to chat with lead vocalist Marie about the possibility of an (email) interview to find out more about life in Lost Cherrees and the ethos of the band, something she kindly agreed to…  

Photography by Jo Thair. 


You joined Lost Cherrees as vocalist in 2012 – had you sung in other bands before that?

I sang in a really lovely and fun band called Hollywood Doll and I was a singer and uke player in The Pukes. I also sang in a band called Public Execution, we recorded an EP, the band was made up of members of Bug Central and Active Slaughter, we played a couple of gigs but didn’t really do much. I also played bass in a couple of bands too, so I was used to playing gigs and recording before the Cherrees.

When you joined Lost Cherrees did you have to alter your vocal style at all for the pre-2013 songs? You were in a band called Social Schism before Lost Cherrees, were they a musically similar band?

No, I used to be a singing lecturer and I taught private vocal lessons for a long time, don’t laugh but I sang in the school choir as a kid and went to music college, so I am used to singing all different styles. Social Schism were a hardcore type band, so the vocals were very shouty-screamy. I never actually wanted to be in Social Schism, my ex-husband was in the band and he hated that I was in The Pukes and I was also doing Hollywood Doll at the time, both bands I enjoyed very much and had lots of fun with. He was very controlling and he wanted me to be in the band, he would be very good at making life difficult if you didn’t do what he wanted.     

I was really impressed looking at the Lost Cherrees Scrapbook 2011-17 there is a real sense of Lost Cherrees music being embedded in, and being just one expression of, deeply held convictions. Is that how it feels for you, that there is a consistency between Lost Cherrees and the other parts of your lives?

Yes, the music is only a part of it, it’s the message that’s important, we are all individuals in the band and we all have our own beliefs and ideas, I think that the diversity and mutual respect we have for each other helps the band to work, it makes us who we are. Matthew Thair (drummer) is very talented and he produced the Lost Cherrees Scrapbook, he creates all the visuals for the band; the album covers, EP covers, flyers, t-shirts.

A couple of years ago you taught in a centre for people with epilepsy – St Elizabeth’s, have the class war/government cuts affected the centre at all?

St.Elizabeth’s has been effected, and its meant that students and people from poorer backgrounds have struggled to get places at the centre. What does keep the centre afloat is private funding, people are very generous and donate to the centre, and they have a lot of charity events and they have charity shops, which helps to raise money.

Education in general is suffering at the moment and it’s the students with special needs and those from poorer backgrounds who are suffering the most. They are taking learning support away from mainstream, so any students that need help and support can’t access it, but then they can’t get a place at a special school as their needs are not complex enough.

Are you still working in education?

Since St.Elizabeths I’ve taught in another special needs schools and I now am a tutor teaching about autism to working professionals such as: care workers, teachers, and childminders, just to name a few of the professionals I work with. Teachers in general are having a hard time in the workplace, and I know that a lot of them are suffering from ill health due to the budget cuts as they are stretched to capacity.

You also have a family, is it sometimes difficult, time wise, to run everything alongside each other?

Life is tough (goes without saying really haha), and no matter what I would be doing it would be a struggle. I’m not from a privileged background. I’m from a Northern/Eastern European background, my family came to this country as refugees, we have never had lots of money, connections or support so everything I’ve ever done has been an uphill struggle. So this is just another period of my life which involves juggling and fitting things into place. I feel very happy to have my children and partner in my life, and I am lucky to be in a band with such lovely people who have really helped and supported me through some very tough times.

Lost Cherrees would be classed as anarcho-punk, how would you say that grouping is doing? Is it quite a healthy scene? You are quite involved in AWOD aren’t you?

I am not as involved in AWOD as the rest of the band, AWOD is the brainchild of Steve Battershill; bass player and founding member of the Cherrees. Anarcho-punk has its really good points and I think in recent years it has probably done the best its done since the early to mid 80’s. In the 90’s the major anarcho-punk bands had disbanded. Now when playing AWOD and playing gigs with some of the reformed bands, the venue can be rammed. There is also a real community spirit amongst the bands and supporters, which is great and lovely to be a part of.

About a year ago Shea joined the band on guitar – I get the impression that part of the Lost Cherrees ethos is to always be developing and evolving musically including updating the sound of the older songs?

Yes, definitely. Moving forward is a good thing, who wants to be stuck in the past, why do the older songs the same as they were done in the 80’s? It’s the same message, people can get so nostalgic and spend so much time in the past, that they don’t appreciate or notice what is happening in the here now. The future is unwritten, so go and bloody write it! You can learn from the past, learn from the mistakes made, but you shouldn’t stay there for too long.

Which is an exciting attitude as it means the bands desire for change and improvement isn’t just pointed outwards at society but is also applied to themselves! How does the band’s politics affect the songwriting process, is it very consultative, collaborative?

We all contribute, we all have our own ideas, there is a certain mindset to which we all agree in regards to subjects and issues tackled in our songs.

Petrol Girls and other bands have spoken out against sexual harassment of women in the punk scene – is that a problem you’ve been conscious of at all?

Definitely, it’s still a very male dominated scene, in fact society is still male dominated in so many ways. I have seen and had so many women speak to me about their experiences of sexism, abuse and rape, in response to me talking about the abuse I suffered for years and being involved in Punks Against Domestic Abuse. If they have the guts to speak out against these men, they are vilified, ignored, humiliated and people tend to side with the man over the woman. I see it happen too much, you stand up and say that you have been abused or assaulted and all of a sudden, you are scrutinised and people make excuses for the man involved. Yes, I recognise that it happens the other way round and I am not supporting that either.

Do you think things have improved or not over the years?

No I really don’t, I think recently women having been speaking up more about what has been happening to them, but my concern is that people react in such a way, especially when it involves a friend who has done the abusing. Another example is when the victim is expected to behave in a certain way, such as the generalisation of a victim (a beaten down broken person, crying, withdrawn etc), some people who have been abused in some way, will lash out, will get confused, might say “It didn’t happen” just to take the scrutiny and judgement away from them. Every person is different, you shouldn’t have to go through that, people are so judgemental and it can make someone who has been through hell, very defensive.

Lost Cherrees have always been a very political protest band with songs about militarism, feminism, animal rights, class struggle. What sort of subject matter are you engaging with in more recent material?

Our most recent songs have been written about rape, domestic abuse, the EDL, war, the scene we play in, staying true to yourself and your beliefs.

When you write about similar subjects to those covered in older songs do you find that the group’s thinking and what you want to say has changed and developed?

It’s definitely changed and developed, its changed with the times, you have a new set of ideas… When Steve started the band he was a teenager (obviously I can’t speak for him) and he has become a lot more competent musically. Technology has changed, the band as a whole have been creating and playing music for years, some longer than others, so we have learned more about songwriting and production. We have three different generations of punk in the band and we all bring these influences to the table.

Does that make some of the older songs feel like an ‘awkward fit’ at all, like putting on some old clothes you’ve grown out of!? Have you updated the lyrics or just stopped playing those songs!?

Some songs, are still relevant sadly. The ‘Rape Equals Murder’ song, is still as relevant as ‘Still the Rape Goes On’, which was written and sung in the 80’s, animal rights still being a big issue, racism still being a big issue. The Lost Cherrees have always been a progressive band lyric-wise, songs have been written that are still relevant today. As much as the world changes, many issues stay the same.

Claudia Mesch wrote in Art and Politics that mainstream culture is market and media driven (2) – do you think the punk community with its ethos of DIY art and grassroots participation can be a site of resistance to passive capitalist consumption? Can the punk scene be something that encourages activism?

I think it can be something that encourages activism. I know that going to punk gigs when I was younger, going to gigs in squats in Leeds and London, and going to the 1in12 Club occasionally to see bands, I would always find leaflets, fanzines, booklet and flyers on various issues and ways to get involved and support, in ways that I had never seen before. It opened my eyes to a lot of issues that the mainstream like to gloss over.

In the book One Chord Wonders Laing comments that first wave punk created space for women to deconstruct and explore gender (3). Do you think that is still true of the punk/DIY scene or have hegemonic gender stereotypes reasserted themselves?

I don’t, I do feel that hegemonic gender (relations) have reasserted themselves, I know many women who don’t feel safe going out to a lot of the gigs they used to go to. I feel that men are a very dominant part of the punk/DIY scene, I just think it’s harder for women to find their voice for fear of being ridiculed and ignored.

Overall are you encouraged by the punk scene of the last 10 years? Do you think it has survived, thrived and developed in a positive way?

I’m undecided, a lot of people seem to have come back to punk through social media. There are a lot more people attending punk festivals, in fact there are a lot more punk festivals now compared to 10-15 years ago. Festivals such as Rebellion for example have grown tremendously in recent times.

What are Lost Cherrees plans for the rest of 2018? I think the last album was in 2015, any plans for a new album?

We have new songs to record, some we are currently playing live. 

Our recording/producing/patience of a saint producer has moved back over to Ireland, so we are trying to find the right place to record the album, I am just hoping to get working on the album before this baby is born.

What musicians, thinkers, writers have you been particularly influenced by? And who have you been enjoying lately?

Lorna Wing and Judith Gould seem to be a big part of my life at the moment (Founders of The Autistic Society and The Triad of Impairments). I listen to all types of music, I tend to listen to what I feel like listening to and not what’s trendy or what everyone else around me is listening too.

Big thanks to Marie for time, honesty and words. For more information about Lost Cherrees check out their Facebook or Spotify.

Bibliography:

(1) Lost Cherrees Scrapbook 2011-17

(2) Mesch, C. (2014) ‘Art and Politics; a small history of art for social change since 1945’, I. B. Tauris, London & New York.

(3) Laing, D. (2015) ‘One Chord Wonders; Power and Meaning in Punk Rock’, PM Press, Oakland, CA, USA.

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