Concert Live Audience

Elles Bailey

Singer - Songwriter - Feminist

Screenshot 2022-11-08 at 12.01_edited.jpg

"You all probably have no idea who I am." This is her opening line, but she's wrong. "I love you Elles!" A voice shouts from behind me. It belongs to a male-presenting audience member in a tailored black blazer, platform Doc Martens, and wicked eyeliner. He's one of a large and diverse fan base devoted to Elles Bailey, the woman standing on stage with one hand on her hip, the other on the mic, the embodiment of Americana confidence.

She’s the opening act tonight at Usher Hall and my god, does she open the night. Elles starts to work with the crowd. I say work with because she's not simply working them, she's pulling them into the energy of her music. She's showing them that yes, it's Tuesday night and that's the perfect time to shake out their hair, to sway their hips, to not settle for one great song but rather a whole set. And you know what? They seem to agree. She has the audience on their feet, singing or clapping along to songs that topped the UK Blues and Americana charts. Her powerful voice fills the hall, lassoing the attention of each audience member until we're all in her hand, led on a journey through her newest album Shining in the Half Light, which has received rave reviews. This is unsurprising given that her last album The Road I Call Home came in at over five million streams

and continues to climb.

Two weeks later we're sitting down for an interview discussing that very same album. Elles has already had a busy morning spending time with her 18 month old son, Jasper, and we segue from pleasantries to a discussion of motherhood. 

Se7en: How has becoming a mother changed your views on both the music industry and femininity?

Elles: I was out for lunch with my husband and a friend of ours who runs a mental health clinic. She has three kids and her husband is the one that stayed at home. We were talking about being mothers and being working mothers, and the mum guilt. Then Nick, my husband, turned around and said, "It's funny, I don't feel guilty when I go to work." And I was like, "That's because society doesn't make you feel guilty." The amount of people who look at me and say, "How do you make it work?" My friend turned around and said, "They only say that because you're a woman. If you were a touring male musician with kids, no one would say, 'how do you make it work?'"

I've always been very career driven. I think that with children it was one of those things that kept on getting put off because in the music world you're always climbing the ladder and you're like, I don't want to stop yet. I don't want to stop yet. 

 

It's funny, after being so body conscious my whole life, although I'm five kilos heavier than I've ever been, I feel the sexiest I have ever been. I grew a human and my body has changed, but that's okay. I stand up on stage and I show my stomach. I always wear a jacket or something like that, but I don't mind showing my stomach and I don't mind if my belly wobbles a bit because I'm proud of this sort of figure that I've got now. 

Se7en: Correct me if I'm wrong, but you went on the Bob Cast show very shortly after giving birth?

Elles: Yes, that was my first public appearance after having Jasper. I was still breastfeeding, so he came with me. 

I remember doing an interview with a magazine called Blues Matters. Like 'introducing new artist Elles Bailey,' maybe five or six years ago. And they asked, "What are your goals for the industry?" And I said, "To be a successful musician and have

a family." I think although maybe that is the goal

226244.jpg

of a lot of my male counterparts as well, I don't think it'd be vocalised in that way. I've just always wanted to set my own targets. 

Se7en: In reaching for those goals and being on that journey, where do you think you might have faced gender bias?

Elles: This is a really interesting one because I think a lot of gender bias isn't really vocalised, as in you might not realise it at the time. It might be very hidden in the sense of, you know, as I have a team around me, I'm protected in some ways.

The face that women aren't often festival headliners is still not vocalised enough; I just think if you look around you don't see many women headliners that just seems like utter madness. I think people really need to start shaking up the system. There are some incredible artists out there, regardless if they're male or female or whatever colour their skin is, it's got to be about the music. It can't be about any kind of discriminatory biases.

 

It's the 21st century, but I think there was a statistic this year that only 14% of festival headliners were female. It's down to the gatekeepers of the industry to try and change these biases. We need to show aspiring females, aspiring black artists, aspiring artists from different ethnic groups that if you're going to fight and work as hard as you can, it's got to be worth it. 

Se7en: In what ways do you see yourself supporting other women and marginalised genders through your work?

Elles: I now have a radio show on Planet Rock. I don't pick all of the music, but I do really, really try to showcase as many female artists as I can within my show.  I will always lobby the people around me to be like, come on, let's make sure we're getting a really good representation of beautiful threads that make up the colourful tapestry of our music scene and be as inclusive and diverse as possible. 

 

Se7en: What kind of support would you like to have received when you were starting out in the industry that you didn't receive? 

 

Elles: That is a really tough question. There are a lot of sharks in this industry, and I have met many of them. I've been burned many times, but I've just brushed it off and thought, ‘Okay, well, that's happened.’ And I've learned from it and gone onto the next thing. It’s still happening though and I still get shocked. 

 

I got nominated for UK Blues Award in 2018. I then found out that there was an Americana association. I actually found that out in Nashville at the Americana Fest and discovered the UK Americana Association. There are these big bodies of people that are all working together to help artists like me. And I knew nothing about that when I was first starting out. So I think any advice I've got for artists starting out is to find out who the people are in your genre that are there to help you and there to support you, and give you a platform for which you can sing your stories.

You can find Elles Bailey's work on Spotify and Youtube, and follow her on Instagram at @ellesbailey.

Se7en will be covering her March 16th show here in Edinburgh at the Caves; you can find tickets linked below. Be sure to grab one (or treat your friends and get several) before they sell out! 

https://www.ents24.com/edinburgh-events/the-caves/elles-bailey/6594876

Fairytale

Ellie Mental
November 10th

when i was young, i dreamt of dragons

of witches and wizards

kings and queens, of blood 

and magic

i dreamt in the night of villainous

despots who would fling

curses and shadows

at me and my golden shield,

while my righteous sword 

flourished 

and danced,

a singing blade of light against

the dark,

i dreamt in the day of flying

through the sky, sometimes

on the backs of winged beasts

and sometimes on wings

of my own,

i would cartwheel, dive and spin

through the clouds

racing along rivers and canyons

into the setting sun,

i dreamt in the classroom and at

the dinner table,

i dreamt in the car

on the bus

at the supermarket,

i dreamt wherever, whenever

i could, it didn't matter, it was

just for me

but the dreams faded,

the magic no longer lingered

upon my return to the waking world,

my imagination grew darker

weaker,

yet it also grew a different branch,

growing in a new

direction,

one of cold reality over brilliant

fantasy,

i began to dream of change

or at least the hope of it,

but now when i close my eyes

i see the doom of our time,

creeping upon us

like the sorcerers of my childhood,

twisted and cruel, an evil 

beyond reckoning,

but they don't wear the robes

of a master of magic,

but rather blue uniforms and badges,

carry sticks and guns

in place of swords and wands,

but every bit as effective

at crushing the good and the pure and the

innocent

but in this world, 

there is no fated hero, no great leader

of rebellion or crusader of love,

no

just us

and we are not built for war,

yet we fight, as we must

for a cause thrust upon us

by demon kings in suits and ties,

who lord over all in eternal wealth

while we scrape for the crumbs

of a system built to kill us,

and the spells i chanted as a child

are now slogans and hashtags

repeated into the aether,

petitions and protests have become our

soldiers and armies arrayed against

tyranny,

and the shining armour i wore

in battle

is now my community, my comrades

who fight

for their rights to be  respected,

for justice over silence,

against  brutality and murder,

so now that i am older, my dreams

have not changed,

it's just that today

i dream of a better world,

a fairer and safer life

for all, and that this fairytale

finally comes to its end

moral or not.

Athletics: The Guidelines Read 'Male'

 

Women have historically and consistently been marginalized in the world of sport, first and foremost through its obsession with female bodies. In order to keep women ‘in their place’ despite evolving pressures to include them in athletics, governing bodies of sport like the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) have created regulations and norms that exist to repress and, to a certain degree, humiliate female competitors. Such organizations have constructed these regulations around layers of biased scientific inaccuracy, knowingly capitalizing on the common misconceptions such inaccuracies have led to. This misinformation centers around the physical and hormonal capabilities of the human body, with a particular focus on the percieved ‘frailness’ of the female body. 

One of the founding reasons why women are viewed as frail is based on the belief that physical prowess can only be attained by possessing the high levels of testosterone typically found in men. This translates into a disregard for women’s athletic ability as they are assumed to be intrinsically destined to fail in any physical competition. What's interesting is that this doesn't just apply to females in competition with males; when a woman wins a game against another woman she is still considered to have failed because she was competing against an equally feeble individual. In the rare instance that a woman and a man are allowed to play against each other, any victory on the part of the woman will be widely debated and discredited. Not only that, she will be classed as undesirable because of her strength. This remains true when we look at interactions and norms outside athletics, such as in the workplace. Women have to work harder to showcase their abilities and any success they achieve is severely doubted. These two spheres of life feed into each other in an anti-feminist cycle, one that is maintained in order to prevent women from garnering respect or support. 

In 2016 Caster Semenya won gold in the women's 800 meter at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics. What should have been a joyous day for her was tainted by the years of debate leading up to her participation in the 800 meters; debate surrounding her validity to compete. As part of the build up to her competition the International Olympic Committee (IOC) ruled that "A female…should be eligible to compete in female competitions provided that she has androgen levels below the male range (as shown by the serum concentration of testosterone)." This means that in order to qualify for the Olympics a woman must have a very low level of testosterone in her body. To be clear, while testosterone levels are found to be higher in men, they vary widely among women as well. The idea that there is a normal “range” of testosterone women should fall into is false. How do sports officials even discern the hormonal levels of athletes? It’s not a test that is run across the board and the reality is rather absurd. Semenya, like so many other women, was singled out for hormonal testing based on her physical appearance. The muscles she worked endlessly to build, the endurance she trained for, the skills she had honed; all were disregarded and instead credited to a supposed increased level of testosterone. Her prowess dismissed because her success in a physical competition didn’t fit within the bounds of what is acceptable to do or look like as a female in our society. 

An important piece to note is that the ‘ideal’ physique for a woman is based on Western paragons of femininity. The female athletes singled out as needing to pass hormone tests are those from Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Identification for testosterone testing is done on the basis of muscle size, breast aplasia (breasts that are considered to be too small), and excess body hair. Expecting all women to fit into the Western standards of femininity and basing their viability to compete on these standards is proof that science is entrenched in gender biases. 

 

It comes as no surprise then when Olympic athletes such as Semenya, who's body represents both her heritage and the rigorous training undergone by an Olympic athlete, is chastised by the public, her fellow competitors, and the judges themselves for her body's departure from the supposed 'norm.' This serves as a further attempt to cast women in the role of “The Other” (Simone de Beauvoir); painting them as out of place in an arena devoted to and dominated by the masculine.

The Western standards in question promote a female body that is very slim, toned but without any visible muscle growth, short in stature, white, hairless from the eyebrows down, with small and 'delicate' facial features. Examining the Sports Illustrated Women covers over the last 100 years is a definitive example of this trend. It is evident that women are idolized in athletics only to promote weight loss and be sexualized so as to appeal to the white, heterosexual Western man. The vast majority who sit on each cover perfectly fit such a description, and even the token models of color resemble their white counterparts almost exactly, save for skin tone. The wide and beautiful range of bodily and facial features that non-white women possess have been eliminated in a particularly troubling manner. Sport-related media has hand picked a few women of color who fit into their confined standards of beauty and health as if to say to the public, 'Yes, we are a diverse publication and here are five black women to prove it.' Not only are they missing the definition of diversity, they are consistently presenting a cherry-picked few to represent the varied many. 

In the world of media, magazines are not alone in depicting such false female imagery. The digital world of TV and movies overwhelmingly portray female athletes in revealing clothing and without a drop of sweat in site or hair out of place. The sports that women are shown engaging in are those that are socially acceptable for females to participate in such as cheerleading, dance, or gymnastics. Even then they are presented more as hobbies than legitimate forms of competition. On the occasion that a female protagonist plays a sport like football, there are caveats that come with allowing her to take on such a role. Personal drama inevitably makes it onto the field, ponytails get pulled, the lead player falls in love with her coach. These tropes and more can be found in a myriad of films including She's the Man and Bend it Like Beckham. Even the critically acclaimed I, Tonya focuses on the personal drama and accusations of sabotage undergone by Tonya Harding, the Olympic ice skater. This in of itself isn't a bad story to tell, but when one looks at the heroic tales of male athletes that overwhelm the sports genre of film, it's difficult to ignore the stark differences between the dominant narratives for each. These trends that are reinforced by athletics then play out in the real world. Male narratives gloss over or excuse mistakes and glorify even diminutive successes while the shortcomings of women are seen as witless, irreversible failures. 

The world of sport exemplifies  how our male-dominated society has fought to suppress women - by controlling their bodies. It is by placing constraints on how a woman is allowed to look physically, the ways she is allowed to use her body, and what arenas she is allowed to play in that athletics has perpetuated and solidified a society that reserves its respect for men. It is one of the arenas of life that offers endless opportunities for all of us to question norms, regulations, and the patriarchal answers that are handed to us.

Invisible Women

Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men

 

In 2019 Carolina Criado Perez did what had never thoroughly been done before: she quantified the undeniable suffering and huge disadvantage of women the world over. She exposed the immense gendered gaps in data and design, from transportation network planning to military gear to the medical field and so much more. All this, in 272 pages. Invisible Women isn’t a diatribe against men, it isn’t a call to arms against the patriarchy, and it certainly isn’t a bra-burning manifesto. This non-fiction book reads like a novel, and for many women may seem like the scientific counterpart to their journal or diary. With each chapter, Perez details the ways in which even the most (seemingly) mundane aspects of life create an uphill battle for women. Each turn of the page brings another irreconcilable example and corresponding datapoint that will make your eyebrows raise in surprise and your heart recognize the familiar face of everyday female life. This book makes it impossible to brush off feminist concerns as ‘emotional,’ ‘irrational’ and ‘silly.’ Largely through the use of case study research, Invisible Women covers workplace and governmental policy, the evolution of technology, how architecture has evolved, and the ways in which we communicate. It is the story every woman has lived and the validation she needs; the story every man must hear and the understanding he must practice. The understanding we must all practice, because the book doesn’t simply compare the masculine and feminine experiences. In explores the intersectional disparities within the umbrella term ‘women’ and the ways feminism has left out the majority of those it claims to uplift. This is a fascinating read for anyone, no matter what gender identity they claim (and for those who don’t claim one at all). Perez explains in irrefutable fact what Beyoncé’s song “Who Runs the World? (Girls)” introduces: that yes, women run the world as leaders, but they do so more as laborers. Not by choice, but by design. No matter who you are, this book will shift how you view the world in an irrevocably positive way. 

 

Absolutely five stars ★★★★★

 

“The result of this deeply male-dominated culture is that the male experience, the male perspective, has come to be seen as universal, while the female experience, that of half the global population, after all - is seen as, well, niche.”

 

“(The) work women do is not an added extra, a bonus that we could do without; women’s work, paid and unpaid, is the backbone of our society and our economy. It’s about time we started valuing it.”

 

“It’s not always easy to convince someone a need exists, if they don’t have that need themselves.”

Death is Not the Woman Clad in White, it's the Barrel Shrouded in Black

We scream bans off our bodies 

And to stop putting bullets in our children’s heads. 

Above all the gunfire  

When our children are six feet under 

Swathed in silk in black lacquer caskets  

Because you couldn’t let your second amendment go  

But allow a mother to lower her baby into the ground.  

Yet, you shame the women who stare at white ceilings  Medical lighting 

White pills, silver syringes 

Who chooses to save her life instead.  

Some women never want children 

of those who do 

I can guarantee you 

they never want to send them to school  

Wearing a bulletproof backpack.  

A gun kills children indiscriminately 

Not a woman’s conscious choice. 

Yet of the two above, 

The gun has more rights than her.  

Why do men fear a woman that is powerful 

More than the black barrel of an assault rifle? 

It’s because they can control the weapon,  

but are desperate to control the woman.  

They think her choice is taking something away from them but no,  

it’s their tools doing the taking.  

A woman’s right to her body effects one person 

That woman. 

A man’s violation of a woman’s reproductive rights, 

A Court’s decision on the subject matter, 

Affects anyone with a uterus. 

Yet when it comes to violent weapons 

They think choice is the answer.  

The state’s choice to regulate guns.

The choice to pull the trigger. 

Why is that choice allowed in the world 

And a woman’s is not? 

Why is a woman’s body so dangerous? 

Tell me. 

Tell me why you call me a sinner for wanting a choice. 

You say women should be gentle and caring, why do you put chains on her body? You lie and say you do it to save lives 

That don’t even exist.  

What about my life and my body which have already been placed on this earth. Why should I be defined by life that I have not  

And may not want  

To create? 

Being able to create children is not an obligation.  

Children are not always a gift. 

And what about the lives of the children in foster care 

Who may never see a happy family? 

Should we overload the system with more suffering lives? 

Tell me then, is that really saving them.  

You aren’t against death 

You are against women.  

Next time put the ban on your bullet and keep it off my body,

Then you can say you’re pro-life.