They are bold, they are loud and they are young. They don’t care what anybody thinks and they are not interested in pleasing anyone. Our today’s guests are truly special. Very rarely, our blog has the pleasure to host a full female band, and we are really happy we can introduce you to WITCH FEVER. The group is known for its strong feminist/equality message, beautifully crafted dynamic shows and excellent music. We caught up with the quartet on the eve of their charity gig, Manchester Punks for West Papua at Alphabet Brewery in Manchester and we spoke about their influences, being catcalled at gigs and playing at the legendary Granada Studios.
Official bio: Manchester based all girl punk grunge band. Angry and honest, bringing grungey riffs, a heavy beat and an eclectic mix of clean and shrieking vocals.
“They are raw, in your face and making a glorious and beautiful racket, are full of explosive and kinetic energy and collapsing new riffs and are going to make a noise musically and culturally” – John Robb for Louder Than War
“Imagine the Slits meet Black Sabbath partying with Pussy Riot in Kim Gordon’s angry neighbour’s basement. Drunk. Witch Fever are wonderful.” – Legendary Hacienda DJ, Dave Haslam
“All girl grunge punk band from Manchester with unhinged feral vox and a ramshackle approach yes, but supercool sonics, this band display an undeniable rough-hewn charm.” – Bug Bear Promotions
“For a band who were catcalled onstage in Bristol for not being proper punk, they’re near as dammit the epitome of its sound and attitude. So, to paraphrase another great punk band: get outta their way or they’re gonna shove.” – Nightshift Magazine
Amy Walpole (guitar, lead vocals)
Alex Thompson (bass, backing vocals)
Alisha Yarwood (lead guitar, backing vocals)
Annabelle Joyce (drums)
Louder Than War magazine announced Witch Fever`s arrival with the words “deep inside the claustrophobic music scene of Manchester, there is something happening”. Please introduce yourselves to the readers of Indieterria.
WITCH FEVER: We’re Alisha, Alex, Annabelle and Amy. We are WITCH FEVER. We play punk, we’re all women, and we don’t take any shit!
The band describes themselves as punk – grunge but we see your sound as being much broader than that. Would it surprise you if we qualified you as the heavier end of the indie circuit, boldly crossing into metal scene at times? We have been listening to your material and Val.i.um of Pist.On, Karyn Crisis, Jack off Jill or Tura Satana come to mind almost instantly.
WITCH FEVER: We totally see the cross over into metal – a lot of our riffs are pretty doomy and evil. The indie thing, not so much, but we’ll take your word for it! (laughter).
Not only musically, but also lyrically you seem to be much bolder, going further than many of your peers on the circuit. The Blinders use dystopia/literature to deliver their political message. Cabbage, Shame or Strange Bones are known for their strong opinions but none of them are as direct as you. In “Toothless” you scream out “I`m a force to be reckoned with” and everyone knows you mean business. Was it a part of the plan to become such a heavyweight act or did it come together naturally in the rehearsal room?
WITCH FEVER: We didn’t plan it. When we started, we knew we wanted to be on the heavier side of things but didn’t really have a specific direction.
Amy found that lyrics are the only place we can be totally honest and angry about anything we wanna be angry about. It’s important to us to dispel any myths about women only being pretty or quiet or delicate – of course women are these things at times but they are not ONLY these things. On stage, we make femininity about anger, power and strength.
All the members of the band come from different parts of the country but study in Manchester. Do you think that being “out of town” gives you an edge of being different and fresh on the scene that is dominated by local lads with guitars?
WITCH FEVER: We’ve all had quiet different upbringings and lived in totally different places so we suppose the experiences from that come together and make us what we are. We all moved to Manchester expecting it to be amazing for music but it was quite underwhelming. There’s a significant lack of women/non-binary people being given opportunities that men are. We’re here to change that, and hopefully inspire others too.
You have recorded incredible session for Stay Fresh/CITY LIFE at the Old Granada Studios playing two tracks: “Toothless” and “Creeper”. It must have been an experience to play the same room in which the Beatles gave their first ever television performance in 1962.
WITCH FEVER: We loved doing that, however we had no idea about the Beatles thing! Maybe people will be saying that about us in 60 years
John Robb of Louder Than War/Membranes is not the only fan of your music. Dave Haslam – legendary DJ and journalist also is impressed. In his piece for I Love Manchester (Women in Manchester music: are the times a-changin’?) Haslam mentioned you and Liines as the groups he recommends to other music journalists and your image illustrated the article. Did you expect to have such important figures in your corner when you started out?
WITCH FEVER: Not at all! We’re still surprised by things like that. It’s really encouraging to have prominent men in music on our side, and Dave really is lovely! He’s always championing female artists which is great!
You have toured extensively nationally (Leeds, London, Oxford, Birmingham among others) and internationally (The Netherlands). You have appeared with Cabbage at their Glamour At Thee Ritz. You seem determined to bring your music to the masses. How important is touring?
WITCH FEVER: Very important! We love getting to play new places and meeting so many people. We’d rather not have to do the Megabus thing though!
When speaking about touring, we cannot not ask you about a certain gig in Bristol where you have been though some horrible experience. Would you like to revisit the story for readers of our blog – because in 2018 there are still people out there who do not believe that gigs can be harrowing experiences for artists and the public, especially women.
WITCH FEVER: So, regularly we experience misogyny, sexism and harassment, but Bristol was a gig in which it was so bad that we had to formally complain and ask for CCTV footage. We were being constantly leered over and undermined before and during our set. Men grabbed us, a guy from one of the bands shouted at us to take our tops off, a woman asked us to strip for her friend etc. Throughout the set, we kept repeating that we felt uncomfortable and needed space but nobody listened. Now at most gigs, we make a point of saying that we do not tolerate it at our shows.
On 30th November your debut release double A-side single “Toothless”/”Daddy pt.2” will be released via Brassneck Records. The red vinyl 7” looks magical on promos that we have seen. Can you tell us more about this release?
WITCH FEVER: Its blood red, has a sleeve with 4 individually designed sides, and you summed up the rest! We love it!!!
You will appear at the fundraiser Manchester Punks for West Papua on 1st December 2018 at Alphabet Brewing Company, alongside The Membranes and Modern Family Unit. What can we expect from the set?
WITCH FEVER: Every gig is different and mad in some way! We haven’t played for a couple of weeks so it’ll be a lively one!
You can say that 2018 was a very good year for Witch Fever. What are your plans for the upcoming 12 months.
WITCH FEVER: More records released, new songs, more videos, LOTS MORE GIGS, and a big fuck you to the patriarchy!
The interview wouldn’t be complete if we haven’t had a quick word with the band’s manager, Debbie Ellis. Debbie has been working as a professional photographer and manager for many years and her experience is very valuable. And we are truly proud to have the ability to highlight the wonderful work that women in music do!
How did you start working with Witch Fever?
Debbie Ellis: A few years back, I took up photography. I started out doing gig photos and met a young female photographer who was also in a band. She asked me to go see her band WITCH FEVER and take some pictures. So I did, as I suppose, I’m more intrigued by female artists in general as I was in a band myself and enjoy the dynamic of working creatively with women. I thought they were great and a friend of mine suggested I manage them. The band said yes and now we are here, 3 singles in and there’s a real buzz about the band. They are so talented and driven. They exceed any expectations live. You really have to see them to appreciate their unadulterated power.
Manchester music scene is dominated by guys. Witch Fever are doing an excellent job causing some ripples and showing that all female bands can be successful as well.You are the only female manager we know! Being a woman, does it make your job harder? Are there any other female managers out there we need to mention?
Debbie Ellis: I know The Moonlandingz have a female manager, which totally makes sense.
From day one of being in a band to present day of working as a band manager and a music photographer, I have experienced a lot of, mainly negative remarks. Usually with regard to my ability to use technology, write a song, play an instrument, perform on stage. I feel as a manager, my authority is questioned regularly. At quite a few gigs, whether in the role of manager or photographer, I have been asked am I one of the bands mum.
Although on the upside organisations like “Girls I Rate“, “Women in Music” and PRS 4 Music are some I know of that have good support networks. I recently heard about the Keychange initiative set up by the PRS Foundation, which is to encourage festivals to achieve an equal gender balance of performers by 2022 by signing their pledge. To date, many of the big named festivals have signed up, so it will be interesting to see if it comes to fruition. I know Sound City Festival has a lot of women in influential roles and are part of the Keychange Initiative.
Personally for me, the one thing I have always done, is to support and champion other female artists. I love working with women and to be able to give a little back means the world to me, and it goes a long way.
You are not only a manager but also a photographer, again one of only handful of female photographers in rock music. Your pictures are part of the successful “There is a light that never goes out” photography exhibition at Manchester Central Library. Tell us more about it.
Debbie Ellis: The exhibition has been curated by the renowned music photographer, Jill Furmanovsky. She had the foresight to leave one wall of the exhibition clear so she could gather a selection of more recent photographs of contemporary Manchester bands. As the majority of the exhibition features phenomenal images of iconic Manchester bands, such as Oasis, Joy Division, The Stone Roses, The Buzzcocks etc, which have been taken by herself and other acclaimed photographers as Kevin Cummins, Ed Sirrs & Paul Slatery.
As you can imagine I am absolutely thrilled to have two of my images (Blossoms & Witch Fever) included in the exhibition.
I totally think the fact I have been in a band and I’m female works in my favour when working in my photography role, too. I can be so tuned in to how the artist / bands are feeling. My approach is much more creative than technical. Photography to me is a creative process that cannot be rushed, you need to take time to get to know the people you are photographing before you get the results that make for a great image. Irving Penn, the 1950’s master of portraiture, would take over 200 photos on a contact sheet to tire out the subject before he would find ‘truth’ in their face!
You can follow the band on social media:
Please come back soon as we will have a full review from the gig ready in a couple of days!
It was an amazing show and we need to tell you all about it!
Rita and Malcia