Unless you’ve been in a coma for the last few months, you’ll have heard of The Gossip, a punk rock outfit from Arkansas. The band recently topped NME magazine’s “cool list” – or rather their lead singer Beth Ditto did, since she’s the one who’s been generating headlines.
This is for three reasons. She’s overweight, she’s a lesbian, and – a marginal point for the mainstream media – she has an amazing voice.
The Gossip played a rare free gig at HMV in Oxford Street, London, on Monday night last week. As we waited for the show to start, screens pumped out a series of pop videos featuring skinny women with skimpy clothes, gyrating their hips and looking suggestively towards the camera. The incongruity between this scene and the band we’re about to see is not lost on the audience, and giggles spread throughout the crowd.
The Gossip’s music is loud, angry and energetic, but the main thing that stands out is Beth Ditto’s voice. She can scream the house down for a full minute non-stop, yet in the next breath produce a rich, gospel voice and make it seem effortless.
Beth Ditto’s stage manner is also striking – there’s a complete absence of pretension. We are not watching a staged performance, but someone genuinely enjoying and getting lost in her music.
She dedicates “Yr Mangled Heart” to “all the homosexuals – or more importantly, the people who are scared of homosexuals”.
The Gossip proudly declare their “life dedication to action, passion and drive”. It’s inspirational to see a band with politics running through their lives, rather than just wearing it as a fashionable badge.
The crowd is relatively mixed – older and younger, male and female. But it’s noticeable that there are a lot of young women here. I’m glad they have a very different role model from the “size zero”, faceless, opinionless and talentless women that dominate the public arena today.
When a woman appears who does not fit the stereotype, it’s a relief. When that woman is a million miles from the stereotype, it’s exhilarating.
The Gossip played at HMV Oxford Street, London