Prince has been back in town. I for one am very excited that his royal purpleness is back. Apart from the fact that the guy is a genius and a total legend I'd also like to commend him for using the all girl band, 3rdEyeGirl, as his backing band. For all the self-congratulating that the music industry indulges in when it comes to diversity and equality - we don't share the same inherent homophobia that football suffers from for instance - there is still a deep rooted prejudice regarding a woman's role in popular music across all genres.
Take a look at the UK album charts and it's there for all to see. Out of the top twenty albums, 14 of them are all male bands. Out of the six remaining acts three are solo female singers and the other three are male bands fronted by a female singer. So, here we are in 2014 and there is not one all-girl band in the top 20 album charts.
This is bonkers. When you visit the many music colleges and popular music institutes in the UK, you will see just as many girls on these courses as boys, so how come this doesn't translate to an even gender spread in the charts? How come it's OK for a girl to front a band but it's not OK for her to play drums or bass or any other instrument? I know there are some bands out there with female instrumentalists but they are the exception rather than the norm. Apart from a handful of notable exceptions - Haim, The Bangles, L7, Indigo Girls, The Mo-dettes, The Slits, Fuzzbox, er... all right I'm struggling now - it is male bands that dominate the industry. And of course, these all female bands have not been anywhere near as successful as the all girl vocal groups that we are all very familiar with. So it would seem that we're quite happy to see women sing but we don't want to see them playing guitars and the like, what is that all about?
You might think that the classical music scene would also reflect these awful stereotypes, but strangely enough, orchestras lead the way in breaking down gender barriers. If you see any film of an orchestra say, fifty years ago, you will see vast ranks of silver haired gentlemen wildly sawing away on their instruments. Fast forward to 2014 and orchestras now have an excellent gender balance on almost all instruments. I say almost all because the one exception in an orchestra is the brass, which is still male dominated.
This is where I think we might be getting to the nub of the problem. Brass instruments such as the trumpet or trombone are invariably seen as strong, macho, physical instruments and masculine not feminine (apologies here to the magnificent Alison Balsom, the exception that proves the rule?).
Equally, in almost all forms of popular music, men are guilty of portraying their skills as something that only men can do really well. Whether it's jazz, rock, soul, punk, reggae, pop or any other genre there has always existed a distinctly macho swagger that basically says 'lady, you stand at the front and look pretty while the men get on with the serious stuff.' What a load of old tosh. There is no reason on earth why a woman should not be able to play a musical instrument just as well as a man and with just as much individuality, innovation and creativity.
If the music industry really wants to pat itself on the back for its supposedly enlightened approach to diversity and equality issues then it should start by exploring ways by which we might break down these outdated and indefensible stereotypes. Let's look forward to a future where Ivy Benson and Savages are the norm not the exception.