Damp Squibs on Fireworks Night

Islington Garage,
5th November 1998

The origins of this outing lie in the last Flesh + Blood book — as is documented, Harvey Fenton devoted no less than TWENTY-SIX pages to Rockbitch, a satanic/sex/heavy metal (mostly-)girl group. Eyebrows here were raised as to whether they were really worth the coverage — Mr.Fenton assured me they were, so when I found out they were playing London on Guy Fawkes’ Night, what else could I do but turn up?

At this point, readers might want to visit the Rockbitch web site to get the background, especially if they’ve not got the Flesh + Blood book, with its tales of on-stage fistings, fan-fornication and general Excess All Areas. But was it all just a cheap ploy to get attention? If so, it was remarkably unsuccessful: here is Time Out‘s complete listing for the gig:

Rockbitch + Leech Woman + Breed 77. Garage N5, 8pm, adm £7. The opening set is provided by hotly-tipped metallers Breed 77.

Between that, and the fact that this tour takes in such stadia as the Fleece & Firkin in Darlington, it seems that mega-stardom is not quite banging on Rockbitch’s door.

The crowd were an interesting mix of hard-core heavy metal, the dirty mac brigade, and casually dressed men whose significance would become clear later. I carefully scoped out a position to stand; not so close that I ran the risk of becoming part of the show, shall we say, yet close enough to satisfy my entirely healthy journalistic curiosity — oh, alright then, and my prurience.

First of all, we had to get through the support bands; actually, I’m in agreement with Time Out, Breed 77 were actually very impressive, and I’d rate their chances of stardom considerably higher than Rockbitch’s. You heard it here first. The main support, Leech Woman, were familiar from Bradford; they were the ones with the angle-grinder, and once again the sparks were flying. The only noticeable change was the presence of black crosses of sticky tape on their nipples — again, the significance would become clear shortly. They cleared off, and the mob surged forward in anticipation of… well, whatever. It was really VERY tightly packed by now: I let go of my empty plastic beer glass and it took ten minutes to hit the floor. Then, to a roar from the audience, Rockbitch took the stage.


Let’s be honest. The words “Rawk Chick” do come to mind; rapidly smudged make-up, hair-colour from a bottle and so forth; not ugly, for sure, but not really my cup of tea. And hang on, what’s this? They’re also wearing crosses of sticky tape on their nipples! And one of them has ‘CENSORED’ scrawled on her stomach, above a large arrow pointing down… At the end of the first song, it became clear what was happening: the authorities had decided to take an interest, and the aforementioned casually dressed men were, in fact, plain-clothes coppers.

Now, if there’s one thing scarier than a Rawk Chick, it’s a pissed-off Rawk Chick. And, boy, were Rockbitch miffed; between every song, a tirade of vitriol was directed at the powers-that-be and the police for making them tone down the show. I had to sympathise, purely from a libertarian point of view, though some of their complaints were dumb. Saying “it’s just because we’re women” is palpable nonsense; they’d have got the same reaction had it been men sodomising each other on stage, or even straightforward heterosexual screwing. Claims to the contrary are just ignorant. I do also have to ask what they EXPECTED would happen; they’d have been better off going down the road a mile to Brown’s, where women ARE allowed to take their clothes off.

Anyway, despite the sign on stage saying “Fuck Censorship”, they didn’t, choosing to go under lamely; when the lead singer bravely exposed her nipples they was rapidly covered up again with more tape. Their stage act was reduced to a lot of lesbian kissing and some mock Satanic ritual, though covering the mouth of their skull prop with tape was a nicely ironic touch. The loss of their sexual exploits was a double edged-sword. While it certainly gave them something to complain about (Q1: is that why they’re called Rockbitch?), it meant they were thrown back onto their musicianship. This was largely bog-standard heavy metal (Q2: why do you only ever get Satanic metal, and never Satanic pop or Satanic C’n’W?), save their fretless bass player, who was not only the most skilled but the most attractive — and, an interesting point, kept her clothes on.

The overall effect was something between Spinal Tap and Showgirls, though sadly it had the sexual charge of the former, and the humour of the latter — though there was something ironic and almost charming in the way they described what we WOULD have been seeing, if it wasn’t for the presence of Mr. Plod. It is probably unfair to judge Rockbitch on a PG-rated performance, but the tame way in which this petered out does nothing to dispell the illusion that their attitude is nothing more than a cynical marketing ploy. [Whether or not it’s deliberate, it works as such, going by the inordinate interest the following morning in the office!] Still, at eight quid for the ticket, it was a ploy to which I was happy to succumb, having had an entertaining night. I may be deaf, as a result of leaning against the speaker stacks, I may be battered (the guy next to me was trying to slam-dance, even though there was about 3mm of play in the entire audience), and I may have no real interest in seeing them again, but it was an experience, and more fun than a handful of sparklers.