LGBTQ+ artist Anita Gabrielle talks to SAE about her new EP ‘Just Neat’ ft. Ed Sheeran collaborator Amy Wadge

08 Feb 2021

As part of our LGBTQ+ history month series, SAE spoke to self-proclaimed ‘dyke in a hat’ and singer-songwriter Anita Gabrielle, who has recently released a new EP titled ‘Just Neat’, which is raising money and awareness for Parkinson’s disease. We learned about how she’s been impacted by COVID-19, and heard about her collaboration on ‘Best Friends’ with Amy Wadge, who has worked with Ed Sheeran, Camilo Cabero and Christina Perri. 

What was the inspiration behind your EP, Just Neat

My best beloved brother, Michael, not only changed my life in 1968 by introducing me to the music of Joni Mitchell but, when I was very small, he had considerable patience to sit and read to me. My favourite audio delivery of his was always my ‘Micky Mouse Weekly’. Michael and I wrote and recorded songs together in the 1980s for all-female trio, ZeNaNa, he pioneered early synthesizer music and has always been the most wonderful big brother. When he told me of his diagnosis of Parkinson’s disease, I wanted to do something to assist research into this disease and the idea of a fundraising EP came to mind. Making ‘Just Neat’ has been an absolute joy for me, giving me a distraction from the difficulties of a pandemic and hopefully assisting, in a small way, those affected by ‘Parkie’s’.

Why was it important to raise awareness and funds for those affected by Parkinson’s disease? 

It’s important to raise awareness at this time because so many charities are currently struggling because of the present focus on the pandemic. It is absolutely understandable that the pandemic should be the focus. However, people are still being diagnosed with Parkinson’s every day. This horrible disease has not stopped affecting lives. Parkinson’s UK offers fantastic information and support, so I wanted to support them as best I could.

You’ve had some problems with your own health in recent years, with a cancer scare, the removal of a kidney and a hip replacement. Does this mean you’ve been forced to isolate during lockdown as someone high risk? 

I was advised by my GP to be very careful so haven’t been out very much at all since last March, but my health has improved since my operations, so I am very fortunate and have not had to isolate.

How has coronavirus impacted your livelihood? 

My obvious hope is to get back out playing live when this is behind us. Not playing music with my band and friends has been a huge loss, as it has been for so many.

Why did you want to work with Amy Wadge on this release? 

Amy is an extraordinarily successful singer/songwriter who has worked with many wonderful artists, so when she offered to sing and play on ‘Best Friends’ (the single from my EP ‘Just Neat) I was utterly delighted. Amy co-wrote ‘Thinking Out Loud’ with Ed Sheeran and still writes with him. In fact, Ed Sheeran’s album immediately prior to his hugely successful + was called ‘Songs I Write With Amy.’ She has written all the songs for the BBC series ‘Keeping Faith’ and writes with people like Camilo Cabero and Christina Perri. Amy’s mother also lives with Parkinson’s Disease so the cause is very close to her heart, as well as mine, so having Amy on this release was a complete no brainer.

Who are your main musical inspirations? 

In 1980 I helped form my first band. Women playing electric guitars and rocking out was still fairly unusual and I felt inspired by bands like the Slits and Delta Five. I have mentioned earlier Joni Mitchell with her extraordinarily brilliant guitar playing and deeply clever songwriting was inspiring, and, these days, I really like Billie Eilish and First Aid Kit. In the 1980s, my  brother Michael and I worked together making music for an all women group which I formed, ZeNaNa. We appeared in a lot of London clubs like the Hippodrome, Le Beat Route and Dingwalls. I like to think that we were the forerunners of bands like Little Mix, Girls Aloud and the Spice Girls, even taking strong female characters from history to create our image.

Why did you choose to market yourself as a “dyke in a hat”? 

I didn’t really think of it as ‘marketing’ – but just me. I was starting my VLOG on my YouTube Channel (Anita Gabrielle and Conker Cabin Sessions) and I looked at some tips for making a VLOG interesting. One of the tips was to think about what you wore and perhaps consider wearing a hat! That made me laugh so much that I thought some old dyke wearing a hat to make her ‘more interesting’ was funny, so that’s why I used the phrase.

What has your experience as a gay, older woman in the music been like? 

I am more confident personally now than when I was young. The idea of being a ‘dyke in a hat’ would have felt much more difficult when I was younger. I worried about what people thought about me back then. I had hopes, as a young woman, of hitting the ‘big time’ and, in the 80s, suffered a fair amount at the hands of unscrupulous managers and agents. These days I am much more content having control over what I do, how I do it and who I work with. This has come with maturity. However, there seem fewer opportunities for older women to play live and most bands featuring older musicians tend to be predominantly men. But there is still always a thrill for me if a song I have written connects with someone. It’s always great if someone tells me a song I have written has expressed something for them or made them happy or want to dance.

You were outed by a newspaper in the 80s—we’re sorry to hear this. Do you have any advice for people who may not be sure whether to come out or not as an artist? 

My advice would be to only ever do what you’re comfortable with yourself. It’s a bit of a cliché, but life is a journey. We have to walk in ways that are comfortable for us as individuals. One has to be ready to come out. However, life does become easier when you don’t have to lie anymore. You can truly be yourself and, in that way, being out can be a great relief and, of course, ultimately inspires others. Without the courage of earlier pioneers, we would all still be in the closet.

If you could go back in time and tell your younger self one thing about being LGBTQ+ in the music industry, what would you say and why? 

I would tell myself not to worry so much and to find other LGBTQ+ musicians for support. I would also encourage myself to be more confident in my musical vision. In my youth, I allowed myself to be overproduced and should have stuck with my own opinions and views more about my music and where I wanted to go. In 1979 wrote a song about falling in love with my best friend at school. The song was called ‘Josie’ and was described as ‘very courageous’ at that time. The way I had written it was heavily influenced by the Police, in that it was a mixture of rock and reggae. ‘Josie’ was recorded by EMI and turned into a pop song that had nothing of the original feel and sounded horribly banal. I felt powerless to stop this awful assassination of my song. Recently, I have had a wonderful producer, Ben Garraway, working with me on ‘Just Neat’ who really has wanted to capture my vision of my songs and it’s been a wonderful collaboration. So I would say to Young Neat ‘Trust Yourself.’ And ‘Keep EMI off your tunes.’

What can SAE Audio Production and Music Business students do to ensure they are inclusive and mindful of LGBTQ+ issues in the music industry? 

For real change to occur, every person in any organisation needs to take personal responsibility to be informed and to share in raising awareness. Supporting diversity, speaking out and supporting Equality, Diversity and Inclusion policies is critical. However, policies are all well and good, but it’s imperative that policies are implemented so they don’t just pay lip service to meaningless documentation. This means that those who manage organisations need to ensure diverse representation on all decision making bodies. Sharing power is critical and seeing a representative like oneself in a decision making role is very important. 

How can people support your music? 

‘Just Neat’ is available on all streaming platforms, but old fashioned CDs directly from me (£10 includes post and packing from lawntreader@gmail.com) best supports Parkinson’s UK. Every penny goes to them.

Or donate via this link

Subscribe to my YouTube Channel Anita Gabrielle and Conker Cabin Sessions where the demo of ‘Josie’ features, ZeNaNa plus several videos of several songs from ‘Just Neat’ including ‘I Want To Go Outside Again’ which I wrote about lockdown

Come and see me play when this is all over!

What’s next in 2021 for you? 

Getting myself vaccinated as soon as possible, forming a new band to tour ‘Just Neat’, writing and recording more songs and celebrating 40 years with my beloved partner in May! 

Are you an LGBTQ+ artist who’d like to be featured on the SAE website and social channels as part of our LGBTQ+ history month campaign? Get in touch: b.kirkbride@sae.edu

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