It’s been a rough ride for The Courtesans at times, they even had to fight for the right to use their name. Slowly and surely though the London four piece have established themselves as one of the UK’s most original bands with a sound that defies classification and a stage show that laughs in the face of convention. Proving feminism shouldn’t prevent women from being feminine Sinead, Agnes, Saffire and Vikki sat down for a nice cosy chat with Gary Trueman to discuss female equality, bar brawls at gigs and playing with sharks.
GT: What do you say to people who might say your use of sexuality on stage is anti-feminist?
Sinead: “They’re obviously not getting any. Simple. The thing about being a woman is to embrace it and show who you are as a person and as a woman. If not what are you trying to hide.”
Agnes: “Why would you slag people off for being in touch with their sexuality? It’s something we are born with, you can’t fucking escape it. You can try but you can’t.”
Sinead: “We’re great believers in equality and we do fight for the LGBT rights. Sometimes when you get an attack on feminism you think why is it going so backwards? As humanists we believe in equal rights for all. People need to stop judging and that goes for a lot of women as well. Women tend to judge other women too much these days and give each other a hard time. We get enough shit from the media as it is.”
Saffire: “Women are the worst at judging other women. Men….well….it doesn’t affect you as much as hearing it from your own sex.”
GT: Talking about equality, one of the things that has gained a lot of support recently is the Free The Nipple Campaign which seeks to break down double standards in how male and female breasts are perceived in society. What’s your take on the campaign?
Sinead: “The thing is there’s not much difference between the male and female breast apart from the fact that ours are a bit lumpier, slightly larger. Some guys have bigger boobs too.”
Agnes: “Moobs! Excuse me but some moobs are much bigger than mine. I’m a B cup and trust me I’ve seen some moobs I could be jealous of.”
Sinead: “Why are people so ashamed of the nipple? It’s perfectly natural and science wise if you look at the actual tissue and anatomy around the breast area male and female are pretty much the same.”
Agnes: “So why is it such a big deal? My question to people who think that the female breast should be covered is why? I’m curious.”
GT: Could it be old instilled perceptions of sexuality?
Agnes: “Most likely, you could be right.”
Sinead: “I love boobs and would be quite happy to see them all day. It would be such a happy environment if everyone just got their boobs out.”
Saffire: “I’m gonna turn it on its head a little bit and say if it wasn’t for sexism then like if back when a woman lifted her skirt a little and showed a bit of leg and it was really erotic, I like that taboo. But at the same time I want the freedom, but would it take away that taboo?”
GT: Do you think modern society has desensitised people through the internet etc?
Sinead: “Definitely I think so, especially the younger generation now where there are all sorts of artists that are very much pushing towards the plastic fantastic way of life. You’ve got people like Kylie Jenner for instance who’s only seventeen years old and looks like she’s twenty five, she’s having her lips done etc. and it’s all pushing girls towards thinking they’re not perfect unless they have their lips plumped up. They’re all sucking the tops of Coke bottles these days just to get a massive pout. It’s sad because natural beauty is a wonderful thing and it should be embraced. When you want to enhance things with make-up it’s not damaging you but when girls are injecting their faces with things and they don’t know what they’re doing I think that’s kinda sad. It’s the society we are living in now, everything is fake.”
Agnes: “With regard to desensitising it’s a good point because I think we are desensitised in the worst possible way with access to porn and your expectation of your sexual partners as a result. Guys getting addicted to porn.”
Saffire: “It takes away the intimacy.”
Agnes: “Exactly. We are desensitised in the wrong way. It’s fucked up because with intimacy we should see that as a very cherished personal thing, something very important. Not like a glass of Coke you’re drinking every day or guys looking at porn having a quick wank on their lunch break. Sex should be cherished, intimacy with another person. But at the same time when we’re talking about our bodies not as a sexual object, that shouldn’t be a taboo. That should be desexualised in a way. We need to find a healthy balance. If I go on stage with my tits out it shouldn’t be oooh! she’s a slag. It shouldn’t be an issue. On the other hand we need to keep what’s intimate intimate and don’t cheapen it.”
GT: More personal to The Courtesans, have you had negative feedback at shows because of the way you perform or how you look on stage and how did you deal with that?
Sinead: “We do have a slight negative feedback, we had some recently and we made the mistake of not speaking to this particular female, we did a gig recently in Wales and there was a female towards the back of the room. There were lots of other females there who enjoyed it and said they felt empowered but there was one at the back who was quite disgusted and gave us funny looks etc. What we’ve taken from that when it happens is that I think we should approach them and just talk to them. Not in a horrible way but I would want to know why? What did you feel was negative towards you as a woman and how did you feel about that? Of course we get stuff on line and on my personal page as well. People can be quite awful to you and say horrible things about your weight and the way you look.”
Agnes: “With the band we expected much more negative feedback.”
Sinead: “We are who we are and we express ourselves as we want to but we are open to opinions. I don’t think it’s a bad thing if some people don’t like us because I’d like to find out why.”
GT: You’ve recently won a court case for the right to use the name The Courtesans. How stressful was it and how much of a relief was it to win the case?
Sinead: “The biggest relief is that it’s over. It’s not about winning, we don’t have to deal with it anymore.”
Agnes: “Let me put it from our point of view because there is the other side and not necessarily she would agree but I don’t give a shit because I’ve got a lot of evidence. In 2011 we gathered as a unit and came up with the name The Courtesans. We searched the internet for any known or semi known bands under the same name so we don’t clash. After a lot of searching I found one video on you tube under the name Eileen Daly And The Courtesans and we thought fair enough it’s different enough and we proceeded. We purchased the website and started creating social media, Facebook. After a few months someone directed me to a post in a group called Eileen Daly And The Courtesans which had one member, guess who, and the post said “band decided to go back to its old name but we can’t get the Facebook page because some other band took the name The Courtesans and they are a crap band anyway and they’re trying to sell their music by not having any knickers on, oh dear.”
Sinead: “It escalated into slandering us on line, calling us frauds, fat, talentless, that Agnes because she’s from Poland she should be scrubbing a toilet. She said that we were buying our likes and our manager was probably Pakistani.”
Agnes: “It went to racism.”
Sinead: “She was racist, sexist and a bully. It was awful and we didn’t write anything about her on line. It was pointless. We had a court case, it was simple, we were trying to get the trademark.”
Agnes: “The name wasn’t in use, she didn’t establish any goodwill or reputation and that’s what ultimately matters. There was an ongoing battle with a lot of slander on her side.”
Sinead: “We wrote to her on an open thing on her page saying this is pathetic, the woman is twice my age. We were like why are you acting like we’re in a school ground here? We said we wish you the best with all your projects.”
Agnes: “Happily for us the adjudicator was very clear in her judgement. She failed at the first hurdle to establish any goodwill and reputation and therefore there is no reason why we should not have a trademark which confirmed what we were saying from the beginning.”
Vikki: “It’d be lovely if she just chilled out.”
Agnes: “For us it’s end of story, we can’t be bothered any more.”
Sinead: “For us it’s a complete waste of energy.”
(Photo: Gary Trueman)
GT: Your music sits across so many genres, it’s impossible to pigeon hole. What acts do you find you end up playing with most and do you think they suit your music?
Sinead: “Not always no. We’re very open minded to music as individuals and we’re always interested to hear new music and new bands whether it’s stuff we’re in to or not. A lot of the time when we play gigs, and this can happen especially with ladies, you can get pigeon holed into it’s an all-female night. So rather the promoter listening to the music and what goes together they’ll just put you together because you’re all female. So it could be a really grungy band or grunge pop like we are or a hard core punk band, and then a jazz band. It’s silly, it should be about the music not the sexuality. Sometimes you can get a hit and miss audience, some people might be coming to see us and get confused why we’ve got a jazz band with us and the jazz fans will come along and they’re not in to us. Sometimes it can work the other way and people can say it’s not our thing but it’s pretty cool and vice versa for the other bands as well. If we’re running the night we have more control over it.”
Agnes: “With regards to bands that suit our music, it’s more electronic rock. So Nine Inch Nails, Deftones, Tool. Much of this is because Howard is a dark person so what comes from him is dark.”
Sinead: “For those that don’t know Howard is the fifth Courtesan, he’s our best friend. He’s our sexy lady. He’s the one that walks in the shadows, he works with us and we love him to pieces. We wish we could get him up on stage in a frock but he prefers to stay in the shadows.”
GT: Do have find you get areas of the UK that are more positive than others? Where are the places where you’ve had the best reaction to your music?
Vikki: “Up north, Manchester, we love Manchester.”
Sinead: “We played a gig in Aberdeen and it was amazing. As soon as we got in there for our sound check there was a bar brawl. It was the best thing I’ve ever seen.”
Saffire: “They were crawling all over the floor in slow motion because they were so drunk.”
Sinead: “I was setting up the merchandise and turned round and there was all these little old fellas having a fight.”
GT: Your album ‘1917’ has had some great reviews. It sounds like it was a labour of love making it.
Agnes: “It was supposed to be released a year ago.”
Sinead: “We’ve had it released to our pledgers and we sell them on every gig we do so they’re always sold exclusively on the gigs.”
Agnes: “We’re holding off on release mainly because we need to have some kind of awareness of the album and to have that awareness you have to get radio plays or you need to advertise. Getting back to that pigeon holing, our music simply put is not quite heavy enough for Scuzz but we’re way too heavy for Radio 1. We’re not quite indie enough for XFM but we’re way too dark for Heart. We’re slipping through the net somewhere and that presents certain problems because you don’t get the amount of exposure you wish. We will always sell the album at gigs or on line if someone asks.”
GT: This is a question specifically for Agnes. You did possibly the most hard core ice bucket challenge I saw (Carried out nude on a cold day with a seriously large bucket of iced water). Was it really that cold?
Agnes: “Well I must admit I stopped Howard from putting too much ice in it although he was sneaky and added a few cubes in the bloody thing. Yes it was freezing and I was naked which does not help. It was quite cold outside. The biggest shocker is the head, but the other shocker is down there, the noony, that’s a shocker when the cold goes there. I was going to give a proper speech and Howard was standing on the ladder above me and the bastard poured it over me half sentence. I was speaking to the masses and giving the message of love and he just poured it over. I did not expect that.”
GT: Speaking of the message of love, you’ve covered Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘The Power Of Love’. Why that song?
Sinead: “It’s the power of love and that’s what we want to spread, we want to spread the love. It’s a timeless song, it’s great. Who doesn’t like ‘The Power Of Love’? You could be in to Slayer and you’re still going to like it, just admit it. We do. We love Slayer too.”
Agnes: “You might think it’s cheesy on the surface, but it’s quite dark when you listen to it. It’s quite sad.”
GT: Finally, a special question just for The Courtesans. What is your most unfulfilled desire?
Sinead: “I really want to play in Tokyo. I’ve got lots of bucket list things I want to do. I really want to ride an elephant as well. I’d love for us to play Tokyo one day though and have a massive crowd and jump in it and crowd surf.”
Vikki: “I would like to play in an aquarium with sharks.”
Agnes: “What? Does this involve the whole fucking band?”
Vikki: “Yeah. Like the Britney Spears video with the sharks swimming round.”
Saffire: “Apart from cryogenic dinosaurs from the past coming to life at a gig I’d say I’d like to do a gig where everybody is in the zone. Where everyone connects with what you’re doing and you’re really feeling it like a euphoria.”
Agnes: “I’m not going to go to extremes, I’m not going to talk about my sex life. I would really like to have an impact on a society in some way. Though music, through lyrics, a legacy where I have an impact on people and how they see the world and how they see each other. I would like people to understand about a more even spread of resources and wealth and that we can be a happier and more caring society.”