Regular readers of this blog ought to know the answer, but that is still the question John Harris asks in The Guardian, in a piece on the male-dominated nature of mainstream rock, which turns into a paeon of praise for Fleetwood Mac as the only band headlining a major festival this year that isn’t all-male.
After 17 years as an on-off quartet, Fleetwood Mac have assembled all five members of their most successful line-up and come back to remind us that they are by far the most successful mixed-gender rock band in history, though surprisingly few people have ever thought to follow their example.
The fact that their internal romantic entanglements made their most successful period such an emotional hell might serve as a cautionary tale. Then again, the incredible, fantastically honest music that came out of it all speaks for itself. Rock and pop tend to scrape perfection when they deal with love and relationships; in Fleetwood Mac’s greatest work, you hear those subjects explored with such power precisely because both male and female views are on show.
Which is just as true for some of the best work of bands like Mostly Autumn and Karnataka in their various incarnations. Albums such as “Delicate Flame of Desire” and “The Last Bright Light” are not filled with songs about Hobbits.
Harris’ comments about the male-dominated mainstream festival scene makes a stark contast to the grassroots progressive rock scene that this blog gives extensive coverage to. Looking at the bill of this March’s HRH Prog, which featured Knifeworld, The Skys, Touchstone, Anne Phoebe, Mostly Autumn, Collibus, Jump, Magenta and Steeleye Span, half the bands contained at least one female member. Not only that , they were overwhelmingly the better half of the bill too.
What’s notable about the way progressive rock has become more female-friendly in recent years is that it’s all happened organically. Bands have formed with women in them, and they’ve built up audiences. They’ve become such an accepted part of the scene that anything that looks overwhelmingly male is regarded with suspicion.
We have seen no aggressive campaigns to stop people listening to all-male bands as if it’s all a zero-sum game. Likewise there have been no Gamergate-style backlash complaining that wimmin are ruining prog. You might get the occasional grumpy old git moaning about too many female-fronted bands on a given festival bill, but nobody pays such misanthropes much attention.
Perhaps this is what happens when you have a scene driven by shared love of music rather than by corporate bean-counters and demographics-driven focus groups.