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Oldies But Goldies: An Interview With The Au Pairs From 1982

(Here is one of a band that never had the success they were on the verge of, the Au Pairs. Written in 1982 for Creem, the good folks at rock’s back pages did its usual magic trick. I didn’t mention that Lesley is a lesbian because she wasn’t out yet . Thanks to Mark Pringle -IL)

“He works the car, she the sink
She’s not here to think
Sits with the paper, discuss the news
She doesn’t have political views”
‘Diet’ — the Au Pairs

NEW YORK — Unlike the women she tends to write about, Lesley Woods has views on absolutely everything including politics. As lead singer-lyricist-guitarist with English rock group Au Pairs these ideas are filtered through her obsessive awareness of the injustices perpetrated against women by men, and the group’s hard sound of jangly early Led Zep guitars plus a Gang Of Four-ish funk rhythm section. It’s a neat trick: a sexual approach to an anti-sexist subject working from a solidly commercial framework that neither devalues the questions of feminism but seldom hits you over the head with it.

“I write from personal experience,” Ms. Wood explained in the dressing room of Manhattan rock club Ritz. “I don’t mean that these things have (necessarily) happened to me — and it has nothing to do with feminism as a movement, but I write about what I know and if that’s the way it turns out…

“The Au Pairs don’t sloganeer, we have no banners to stand under. Calling us feminists gives the impression that we write for a particular cause. I don’t write songs that are feminist, they may very well be about that, but they are just as much about anything else. We are not that narrow in our scope — see what I mean?

“Anyway, there are two guys in the band, and although men may sympathize with us, they can’t be feminist themselves.”

The Au Pairs were formed three years ago when Lesley dropped out of Birmingham University, went on the dole, and became friends with guitarist Paul Foad (an ex-member of a punk band called the most repulsive in the land by English tabloid News Of The World) and drummer Peter Hammond. When long time friend Jane Munroe added her bass the band was complete. They spent the first year touring Britain non-stop and garnering a monster cult following, although their punky first single ‘You’ on 021 Records was a minor disappointment. It took another year to get back in the studio, but the result was worth the wait: a double “a” sided 45 and still their finest vinyl moment. ‘Diet’ is an atmospheric examination of a housewife becoming brainwashed by the mindlessness of her existence; ‘It’s Obvious’ is possibly the best song Lesley’s written to date. It builds from cool-but-slowly-heating guitars to a traded vocal/harmony denouncement that throttles an old cliché till it’s spitting blood (the cliché? “You’re equal but different”). They kicked off ’81 with a New Years Eve/Day American debut playing support to the Gang of Four at Hurrah that was absolutely magnificent and ranks as one of the premiere performances I’ve ever seen (Lester Bangs would write in the Village Voice “I saw God in the form of the Au Pairs”). They spent the rest of the year touring Europe, being gushed over by rock critics on both sides of the Atlantic, and recording their debut album Playing With A Different Sex which shot to numero uno in the Brit Independent Charts.

Although there’s nothing strikingly new in what Lesley has to say, still not many bands would bother to say it, and unlike other quasi-feminist bands (Raincoats, Slits, Jam Today) she realizes that condemning sexism doesn’t mean condemning or ignoring her own sexuality. Onstage (like any great rock band) both Lesley and Paul ooze sexiness, more, she’s one of the few rockers to tap the ironic possibilities inherent in using this idiom to such an end. Beyond this, Lesley’s got a remarkably powerful voice — she’s one of a few who can get away with covering ‘Piece Of My Heart’, a voice that has the caustic edge of a Rotten one minute, a thorough sensual purr that makes the hairs on my neck stand up the next.

My interview is hardly a stunning success, the band seems tired, I hate interviewing people in dressing rooms at the best of times, and over the past year they’ve become far more nervous with members of the press (I spoke with them eight months before for New York alternative East Village Eye). However Ms. Woods did see fit to state her (unconditional practically) support for the Irish Republic Army, and her (cautious) support of the Palestine Liberation Army.

Finally, I strongly suggest you catch them the next time they’re in the States. You don’t have to have political convictions or be a feminist to love the group; if you can get off on rock you can get off on the Au Pairs.

“A Woman’s Own diet keeps her figure trim
Has a headache takes Anadin
There’s a constant pain behind her eyes
She needs to be tranquillized”
‘Diet’ — the Au Pairs

1 Comments

  1. Susan on February 12, 2022 at 12:41 am

    Love the au pairs

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