Alison Surtees

The curator of an exhibition of photos of influential women in Manchester music is urging more women to upload their experiences to an online archive

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Women in music don’t often take up the recognition we’ve earned – not because we are not doing the work but because there’s a habit of devaluing our contributions. Perhaps we feel that in a very male-dominated arena, our own input was somehow less valuable. I’ve wanted to do something to further identify the influential female voice in music in Manchester for some time.

Manchester Digital Music Archive is a community-led online archive, celebrating and charting the history of music in Greater Manchester. It’s an extensive and illustrious past but, even within the archive, the narrative has been predominantly male. The stories are mostly written by men, from the male perspective. While those histories are very welcome, it is absolutely crucial to redress the imbalance and, in the year we celebrate 100 years of suffrage, we can’t sit by and wait another 100 years for such a watershed in the archive.

DJ Paulette Constable. Photo: Mary Elspeth Moore

We like to shine a light on lesser-known areas of music heritage, and it’s right that one of those areas should be women. Building on our previous online exhibition Queer Noise, curated by Abigail Ward – part of our celebration of the 50th anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality – we presented Rebel Music – The Sound of Politics in Music in Manchester and used Facebook to pose the question: “Who would you like to see recognised as an influential woman in music?”

The resulting 270 name-long list, which was really just the tip of the iceberg, led to a shortlist of 25 women across five key areas of technical practitioners, photographers and press agents, artist and label, management, writers, performers and all of the myriad professions between and around those roles.

Our plan to produce video stories on just five brilliant women who emerged from the shortlist was not enough. We, like the rest of the industry, would fall short of marking the significant female contribution to the industry. We needed to be able to show more women, literally showing their faces and telling stories, leading to the exhibition Suffragette City. In 25 portraits, these inspirational women emerge to encourage the next wave of women to know they have a place in this or any other industry.

Yet one of the saddest things in drawing everyone together for Suffragette City has been the overall feeling of each individual that they really didn’t do anything important. Just by being involved, they seem to have started to recognise their importance. But, why did it take such an initiative to do that and why did it take so long?

We’re not stopping with the exhibition – it is growing into an online virtual exhibition with contributions of more female memories and achievements.

Ours is a user-generated archive, and we’ve worked to ensure that any barriers to women sharing their stories are limited or removed completely, including a mobile-friendly redesign. Now it’s over to women take up the challenge and start to upload and share their own stories, adding themselves to the archive and broadening the narrative of the history of music in Manchester, literally one woman at a time.

Suffragette City is at the Principal Hotel, Manchester, until 10 March. For more information, the shortlist of 25 women, videos and details of how to upload further contributions, go to 

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Interact: Responses to Blog: Alison Surtees

  • Melanie Williams
    07 Mar 2018 23:19
    Thank you for your continuous contribution & creative action we can be a transformative part of X

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