Someone says girl band and, at best, you think punk/80’s enthusiasts, gyrating ‘girly’ girls wearing too much eye-liner and with their bras on show. Throw ‘oh btw they’re also a choir’ into the mix and you might expect the latest offering from X-Factor first round rejects carrying a strong Jehovah’s Witness vibe.The polar opposite of ALL of the above can be said of London’s all-female 22-strong music group Gaggle, headed by choir mistress Debra Coughlin.
She is, of course, the alpha female of the clan - no Mother Goose puns please. There is still a strong sense of does-what-it-says-on-the-tin about Gaggle, yet they’re out to knock down boundaries. Pitching themselves as an alternative to burlesque, reality TV and bad boy bands, they formed at drinking spot The George Tavern, their official HQ nesting/stomping/rehearsal ground and general home-from-home.
Who says there can’t be a non-novelty, all girl alternative choir, spectacular, attractive and talented in equal measure?
Coughlin - formerly of 586 - started out with a clear vision of what she wanted: to create an all-female choir. Except y’know, with a non-church vibe. You would think that with 21 team members it might be difficult to keep everyone happy but the group have always shared the same aspirations - as intellectuals and feminists with the aim of making music but doing something different: “Something that didn’t already exist, the group is a landscape - a work of art.”
So does it piss off Coughlin that some people label the band a ‘lesbian cult’? Or a ‘laggle’ as it were? (No shit, that counts as real slang in Canada). “I think that when anybody makes a generalisation about a group of people like that it is just lazy. Yes there are members of Gaggle who are lesbians but they are the minority as it happens.”
Stoke Newington darlings Club Motherfucker - one of the very few decent club nights left in the capital - are set to make a comeback next month, and Gaggle will be playing their opening night gig. For this and several other reasons I suggest you diarize the event. 12 September.
Gaggle’s MySpace tagline reads ‘We Are New’. So new are they, in fact, that although they’ve just played Field Day and Latitude, they’re yet to even cut a record. Debut single ‘Drunk’ - expected in October - tells of the down side to our drinking culture. So a public service vibe then like the Drink Aware adverts? “Uh no, but it’s really...” Coughlin trails off for a moment, “...sonic.”
Gaggle are billed as a choral Riot Grrrl band - there’s strong love for Courtney Love amongst the band sure, but equal props for the non-walking-car-crash that is Micachu. “I just think she’s great,” enthuses Coughlin “I love what she is doing.”
As for the other 21 members, aside from liking hanging out at The George they couldn’t be more different. Aged anywhere between 20 years and a more ‘vintage’ origin some have PhDs, some decree absolutes, and they hold all kinds of nationalities.
“The variety is insane. It started out with a few of us then it just expanded organically through friends and fellow musicians. We all have alter-egos, partly for legal reasons.”
Coughlin goes by her surname but the rest of the crew have names like ‘Gusset’, ‘Peachy Bitch’ and ‘Lipstick’. “The idea behind the pseudonyms is that it allows people to express themselves in a way they couldn’t in everyday life. There is scope to be far more subversive when using a character.”
“There are visual artists, people in fashion, etc. Everyone has a talent or creative calling.” Which I’m told lends itself to the group being “visually very rich.”
True-to-say, their hooded on stage outfits are medieval meets sci-fi or, as Lauren Laverne describes them, ‘nu-rave pre-Raphelites’. Laverne’s been waxing lyrical about their live performances and fellow beeb radio presenter Huw Stephens dubs them ‘brilliant’ and the ‘most extraordinary band I’ve heard in a long time.’
Unlike your typical girl group there’s no snarling / bored looking guitar playing - in fact none of the gagglers play instruments on stage. Coughlin is the songwriter but collabs with former 586-er Simon Dempsey. This isn’t, she points out, some sort of betrayal of the female way.
“It’s not about that at all. Regardless of gender Simon is just the best person I know at making beats.”
Their live performances are a melee of choral, stomping, chanting and require kick-ass stage costumes. Their custom made garb comes courtesy of Emily Bosence’s ‘OOPS!’ clothing label - Super Super’s Namalee is a fan - the result is an East End futuristic version of the more tradish choir robes one might expect.
Headstrong, sexy, talented Gaggle are certainly a shut-the-shit-up-and-pay-attention band. Coughlin is quite rightly a proud captain of these sisters literally doin’ it for themselves. Soulful, arousing, menacing and marvellous.
Gaggle - aka - Coughlin, Schwa, Honey, Bette, MissMiss, Wunderla, Launette, Alibi, Culwick, Luddite, Polydorou, D, Gusset, Dana, Strick, Green, Kiki, Namsoo, Kumari, Lipstick, Peachy Bitch and McClean play Fistful of Fandango @ 299 on 9 September.