250 years ago, when the guitar was a relatively rare instrument in Britain, one very musically gifted young woman played several fretted stringed instruments, including the English Guitar and the Spanish Guitar.
Ann Ford was an only child from a rich family, and had been given the best education that money could buy, including musical tutoring in many instruments. At an early age she showed an aptitude and flare for music, throughout her youth gave concerts for friends and family. Her father it seems was not so proud of her growing ambition to perform for the general public though. It was one thing to play in the drawing room, quite another in public.
But Ann was determined, and started to organise concerts. In the run up to her first public performance, her father used his influence with the Old Bailey Magistrates to have her arrested. She was not to be deterred and continued her plans. Her father tried to disrupt her concerts by sending in thugs, but on she went, eventually escaping his control and becoming a well-known musician of her time, counting royalty amongst her audience.
Gainsborough’s painting of her shows her holding her English Guitar, which as you can see is a lute like instrument in the 18thCentury, but she also played the Spanish gut strung guitar, the lute, viola de gamba, harp and was something of a leading light on the “glass harmonica” or Musical Glasses (wine glasses).
References: The Glass Armonica, William Zeitler, 2009, glassarmonica.com /Two Nerdy History Girls, Loretta Chase & Isabella Bradford, 2010, twonerdyhistorygirls.blogspot.co.uk
(First published 2015)
So Punk…. It’s 1977, I’ve just hit teenage, and there’s something wrong….I don’t know who’s in the Top Twenty, and my friends are taking the p. Plus, I’m always wearing the wrong clothes or shoes, or being too gobby, or not lady-like enough, and I don’t have a boyfriend (did any of them?). And it appears that these are the MOST IMPORTANT things in the world.
Then along comes this grubby set of characters, and I’m on a roll. It wasn’t nice, it wasn’t clever, and it was calling my name. Punk was more than just the music. Punk validated me. It said you don’t have to be a nice young lady, you can be clever and witty and a bit gobby, and you can voice your opinions and climb trees and wear trousers. All the things my Mozart and Miles-loving family had taught me, but that 1970s Britain said a girl shouldn’t be. I shouldn’t be a trouble maker. I wanted to be a trouble maker and punk helped me. By 16, I was running political campaigns, standing up to authority, and being generally arsy. Could I have done that while listening to Abba and wearing blue eyeshadow? Possibly. Was it easier with Poly Styrene and Chrissie Hynde and Siouxsie Sioux and Viv Albertine and Ari Up and Patti Smith standing behind me? Without a doubt. Punk held my hand and walked me into Attitude. “Girl-power” : ha!, this was proper, grown up, don’t-mess-with-me-power.
It was also about justice for people who didn’t have power. Punk spoke about something other than romance – and I know that’s why I was particularly drawn to that Marmite of a band, The Clash. There’s a ’77 interview where they are telling Tony Parsons what makes their music better than the Rolling Stones, and Joe Strummer says “it’s rubbish: they’re singing about – well I went down to see my baby but she weren’t there… you know what I mean like, oh I kissed a girl on ‘er lips – Oo What? I don’t wanna sing about that …when we write songs right, we don’t write them about rubbish…” Hell, I’ll let him talk for himself:
It was so difficult choosing which guitarists to put on my Guitar Heroes TShirt.
So here’s how it went: I don’t claim that they’re the best guitarists in the world. There’s some that I couldn’t include because they have trademarked and copyrighted their names.
I chose people from across different musical genres. I chose them because of their contribution to music, or because of their contribution to social change, or to a particular genre. Or because they’re not frontmen or frontwomen so we don’t often get to see them in their full glory. Or because they are technically and musically brilliant but don’t get the recognition they deserve. Or because they have inspired people to pick up a guitar. Or because they play music you wouldn’t normally listen to, but you need to check out their playing. Or because, well, they couldn’t very well not be on it. Or because when I listen to them play, I get just a little bit choked up.
In the 1950s and 60s women were more likely to be found in the titles of songs than in the band, let alone playing guitar. But two women in particular stand out, and they both did their time with Bo Diddley.
(First published April 2016)
In 1950s and 60s, women were more likely to be found in the titles of songs than actually in the band, but two women in particular stand out and they both did their time with R&B and Blues man Bo Diddley, The Originator. You might not of heard of either of them, but both women were key players in the birth and development of Rock n Roll.
Peggy Jones – Lady Bo – 1940-2015
Innovative guitar player Peggy Jones, played and recording during the 50s, before meeting Bo Diddly and joining his band, where she become known as Lady Bo. She and Diddley shared rhythm and lead roles so seamlessly it was difficult to know who was doing what, and together they created the iconic guitar sound of the time. She experimented with synthesizers and new guitar technologies, developing the sound that made Bo Diddley. But that was just the start of her musical career. She left the band in 1961 to pursue a solo career with her own band The Family Jewel, recording hit records as well as playing with countless other bands and being a sought after session musician.
She and her band joined up with Bo Diddly again in 1970 and performed with him for the next 20 years, as well as with her solo act.
Sorry about the quality of this video, but the sound quality is much better than on others I could find.
Norma-Jean Wofford – The Duchess – 1942 – 2005
Wofford was taught to play guitar by Bo Diddley during the 1950s, and when his guitarist Peggy Jones left the band in 1961, he invited Norma-Jean to join. He nicknamed her The Duchess and told his band and crew she was his sister “to protect her when we were on the road”. She played lead and rhythm guitar, on both studio recordings and on stage.
With her custom Gretsch and her gold lame frocks, she was visually stunning, but she could also play, pumping out that Bo Diddley sound, playing on albums Bo Diddley & Company The Originator and more.