In his new book, Re-SistersCosey Fanni Tutti, musician and co-founder of industrial band Throbbing Gristle, draws parallels between herself and two other uncompromising female artists allergic to convention: electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire and 15th-century mystic Margery Kempe, considered by many like being the first person to write an autobiography in English.
In this excerpt, Tutti digs into Derbyshire’s reputation on the 1960s music scene, which oscillated between “brilliant” and “difficult”, “demanding” and “disturbing”. Derbyshire died in 2001, her legacy as a creative genius cemented by those influenced by her work, including Pink Floyd, Portishead and Orbital.
But in her lifetime, Tutti writes, she encountered sexism, belittlement and disrespect. All this, she adds, she herself encountered as a professional musician.
Re-Sisters: The Lives and Recordings of Delia Derbyshire, Margery Kempe and Cosey Fanni Tutti
It is never easy to be part of the establishment when one is driven by the instinct of self-preservation to oppose it. Delia’s boldness and self-confidence helped. Some people said she could be unpredictable, contradictory, fiery, and hard to work with. Up one minute and totally enthusiastic, with floods of ideas, then down and demotivated the next, lacking inspiration during periods of depression. Her mood swings suggest the possibility that she has bipolar disorder. Oscillating like a sine wave from positive, above baseline zero, then dipping into negativity – ironically, as Delia herself expertly demonstrated for a BBC film using one RW oscilloscopes. She appears to have had many experiences considered to be potential triggers for bipolar episodes – a traumatic childhood, stress, work pressure and alcohol abuse. That may have been the case, but I could also understand that she could have presented herself that way for other reasons: having to work within the limits of equipment and technology, difficulties with her colleagues, sexism and others. prejudice, whether blatant or unintended. .
Her patience must have been tested at times, and I would venture to assume that her sudden mood swings and outbursts could also have been a way to release the frustration she was feeling. She sometimes withdrew, spoke to no one, which was flippantly called ‘sulking’ or giving people the ‘silent treatment’, ‘sending them to Coventry’. I myself know how upsetting, insulting and maddening seemingly innocent offhand remarks can be, and the anger they provoke can be hard to ignore and contain. The tone of voice and the delivery of a simple comment may differ when speaking male to female, rather than male to male. A few years ago, my suggestion to add sound to a mix got the answer: “We can do that later”. But it was delivered in such a dismissive and curt tone that I took it to mean, “Shut up, woman, I’ll let you know when I want your opinion.” We talk about and not to, as if you weren’t there, especially if there is a technical problem. It is assumed that as a woman you know little about these things, so you must be to blame. This happened at the Throbbing Gristle gigs when the sound crew (always male) came on stage to troubleshoot technical issues, messing with my equipment as they joked about it between themselves and the rest of the group, without speaking to me, only to find that the issues were actually nothing to do with me and that someone else (a man) had done something stupid – but it was brushed aside, not criticized or mocked, with no apologies offered.
It’s humiliating and boring to be publicly treated this way. Sometimes circumstances dictate that it is best to repress your feelings – which then triggers an act of self-soothing through what I can only describe as a controlled internalized outburst of built up emotions. An outburst could lead to saying something you might regret, quickly followed by more critical comments about female hypersensitivity or hysteria – or, for Delia, getting fired from her job. Her silent withdrawals would avoid this and also provide some protection for herself by “closing the door” on people who disrespected her or her job. Or maybe it was just so she could refocus. I’ve done this myself in response to similar situations. Trying to make yourself understood but being perceived as difficult or obstructive, when you are truly reeling from others’ obstruction, their attitude towards you, their inability or unwillingness to empathize. Or you are just deep in thought. I withdraw within myself: it is a place of comfort where I can get relief from a world that can seem so foreign to me, when I reach the point of overload, the feeling that what is wrong and has nothing to do with who I am or who people seem to think I am. It’s a way to protect yourself. Inside, no one can reach you. Other times, I make my feelings known in no uncertain terms. It’s about knowing what or who is the priority.
Delia was demanding and did not tolerate imperfection in her own work, presenting only what she deemed perfect. Perfection is subjective – what I think is perfect Delia may not have, but the works are ours and that decision is entirely ours. Therefore, she was offended, angry and immensely irritated by the male-female hierarchy, when some men imposed a rank on her and rejected her on creative decisions, talking her up and down, ignoring her expertise with a air of authority over things they knew little about. about, certainly less than she did. For Delia, they were unqualified and had no right to interfere with her music. She was not a shy violet and she had corrected them, often in public at a meeting or party – much to the annoyance and outrage of the men she corrected. Correcting inaccuracies was part of her character – she couldn’t help it. Needless to say, his impropriety was not appreciated. Being quite outspoken and outspoken myself, I know how this can be seen – not as you being confident in your competence but as a “problem”, a sign of non-cooperation, when we just don’t want to be reduced silenced or considered a doormat to be walked through.
‘Re-Sisters: The Lives and Recordings of Delia Derbyshire, Margery Kempe and Cosey Fanni Tutti’ is now available via Faber