Anger as English pub bans female-fronted bands

Doctor Brown’s pub in Middlesbrough
(Image credit: Google)

A pub in England has banned female-fronted bands from playing, claiming their customers don’t think women should sing rock songs.

The decision by live venue Doctor Brown’s in Middlesbrough has sparked anger, but manager Paula Rees has defended the choice, saying it’s a business matter – and that her regular customers won’t turn up if a woman is on stage.

She tells The Northern Echo: “We had female singers on in the past and customers just didn’t like it. We’re a rock bar and they don’t think that women should sing male rock songs.

“It’s nothing to do with me – it’s the pub’s regulars who come in every week, they won’t come in if there’s a female singer.”

Rees reports that the rule will be relaxed for one female singer next year, and would consider artists if they could guarantee a large crowd – but insists that the general ban will stay in place.

She adds: “We’ve got to keep our regulars happy. I’m not a rock fan so can’t judge myself but I’ve been told that some women can sing and some can’t, but they can’t sing heavy rock.

“If we put a poster up and our regulars know there’s a woman in the band, they won’t give them a chance. They’re my bread and butter and we can’t risk nobody coming in.”

Vocalist Hannah Sowerby, who fronts Revenant and Syndicate 66, says her gigs were cancelled after the pub discovered she was a woman.

Sowerby says: “I haven’t been allowed to play because I’m female, despite the fact my band can draw a crowd.

“You wouldn’t get people saying they don’t like male bands, because not all male singers are the same – just like not all female singers are the same.

“It is a sexist attitude from the regulars and there’s no excuse for it in 2017, you’d think we’d be past this by now.”

TeamRock reached out to Tequila Mockingbyrd’s Josie O’Toole who says she doesn’t buy the pub’s excuse.

She says: “Everyone has their musical preferences but every act should be judged on its own merits. But to write off 50% of the population before they’ve even sung a note is so disappointing.

“And quite frankly, I don’t buy the ‘it’s what the punters want’ story from my experience of the UK. In the pub gig scene, there seems to be an incredible male gender bias in the audience, who are more than receptive to female musicians.

“If anything they seem to be more interested in checking out the show as it’s something a little different. We’ve never had anyone say they don’t want to watch us because we’re female. Quite the opposite, if anything.”

A spokeswoman for the Musicians’ Union told the paper: “For the purposes of booking shows, female-fronted bands should not be treated any differently to male-fronted bands, and neither should they be expected to identify themselves or their music according to their gender.

“We have been investigating the seeming lack of female artists on festival lineups but this is the first time I’ve personally come across a booking cancelled explicitly because of the gender of the performer and the assertion made that audiences aren’t interested in gigs featuring women.

“Sexism in this regard is damaging both to the local music community and to the wider industry.”

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Scott Munro
Louder e-commerce editor

Scott has spent 35 years in newspapers, magazines and online as an editor, production editor, sub-editor, designer, writer and reviewer. Scott joined our news desk in the summer of 2014 before moving to the e-commerce team in 2020. Scott keeps Louder’s buyer’s guides up to date, writes about the best deals for music fans, keeps on top of the latest tech releases and reviews headphones, speakers, earplugs and more. Over the last 10 years, Scott has written more than 11,000 articles across Louder, Classic Rock, Metal Hammer and Prog. He's previously written for publications including IGN, the Sunday Mirror, Daily Record and The Herald newspapers, covering everything from daily news and weekly features, to tech reviews, video games, travel and whisky. Scott's favourite bands are Fields Of The Nephilim, The Cure, New Model Army, All About Eve, The Mission, Cocteau Twins, Drab Majesty, Marillion and Rush.