KATE NASH: Manchester falls hard for the London Riot Grrrl

KATE NASH remains an enigma to many. Once embraced as the darling of the UK’s indie singer-songwriter scene, only to be dropped by her label last year in the lead up to her now self-released third album “Girl Talk,” Kate has borne the brunt of many a cynical observer. However, rather than crumbling under the weight of media pressure and industry expectations, Kate chose to capitalize on the situation she found herself in. Following her unbridled passion for evolution of the music and arts communities, she fully committed herself to going independent, successfully seeking public support to crowdfund the recently released LP.

At the age of 25, Kate Nash is taking no prisoners. Writing music with a modern-day Britpop-meets-riot-grrrl touch and touring with an incredible all-girl backing band, she takes time out to actively support causes across the globe (she released a limited edition 7” vinyl single in the States on Record Store Day 2013 to honour Russia’s Pussy Riot, supported the 2011 Japan Tsunami Appeal, and personally collected donations for victims of the 2011 England riots), is working on expanding her project to encourage girls into music (the Kate Nash Rock ’N’ Roll for Girls After School Music Club) across more UK cities, and has been helping out New York all-girl band SUPERCUTE!. Her initiatives haven’t gone unnoticed, and she is fast emerging as a strong role-model for women and artists.

On meeting Kate at Manchester’s trendy new venue Gorilla, we find her a force to be reckoned with, a giddy combination of humour and straight talk, clear-minded about her new direction, and deeply concerned about an industry which has a long way to go to improve its handling of female artists.

Gorilla is a brilliantly kitted-out restaurant-bar-venue, with its roomy 600-capacity music venue boasting high ceilings, sleek industrial design and full sound system. Tonight, the crowds pour in, ramming out the room all the way to the back and up onto the balcony. I’m surrounded by a mix of local hipsters, riot grrrls and boys, and industry members eager to check out Kate Nash’s latest incarnation. Following trusty West London 3-piece punk band THE TUTS, we’re treated to a mixtape of tracks to get us in the mood including The Runaways’ “Cherry Bomb” and Le Tigre’s amazing “Deceptacon.”

To energetic whoops and squeals, the tone is set with a projection of Kate lip-syncing to Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” (“And don’t tell me what to do / Don’t tell me what to say… You don’t own me / Don’t try to change me in any way”).

Drummer Fern Ford emerges onstage, followed by bassist Emma Hughes and lead guitarist Linda Buratto, all sporting “Death Proof” t-shirts, and Linda’s guitar strap carrying the slogan “Warning: Loud Music” – so we know what we’re in for. The Manchester crowds generously applaud each member, but screams take over when Kate Nash appears, in an elegant black number, shiny black shoes, characteristic blonde streaks, “girl gang” necklace, and yes that is a tiara.

Straight into first track “Sister” and the band wastes no time in rocking out. The front row grrrls bop fiercely, one of them looking like she’s about to pass out with exhilaration, and the show is already resembling something you’d more likely find in LA or New York. The track ends with everyone on a high. “It’s nice to be back in Manchester! You’re awesome!” pipes Kate.

Inspired by the Tarantino film, “Death Proof” is a disturbed satirical commentary on obsession and heartache (“Tell me doctor that you can get rid of it / Let me keep what I need and you can burn the rest”). It’s a highly stylized track with dark undertones, hypnotising the crowds as Kate repeats “I don’t have time to die.”

One of my favourite tracks, not just off the new album but off any album this year, “All Talk” is a powerful grunge-punk track with urgent bass, angsty guitar, pounding drums and no-nonsense lyrics (“You have a problem with me ‘cause I’m a girl, I’m a feminist / And if that offends you, then fuck you”) and the live version of this is wild.

As Kate moves through the set with some older numbers, it’s revealed that the tiara is a nifty £1.99 purchase from motorway services on the way up to Scotland. In response to her disclaimer that she’s really not pretending to be the queen, a guy shouts out, “But you ARE the queen!” – which goes down well with the crowds.

To introduce “Free My Pussy” which she released on (pink heart-shaped) vinyl today for Record Store Day, Kate expresses her appreciation for “the physical and artistic side of music, as well as the digital future” and explains her reasons for supporting Pussy Riot: “You can’t just throw people in prison for being offensive. Putin is a dictator… I wrote this song for anyone who has been oppressed. But if the word ‘Pussy’ offends you, you can always pretend it’s about a cat – or, you can lighten up!” The song is greeted with massive applause and cheers of respect.

“Foundations” sees my photographer singing in unison with the audience. Kate pauses to thank those who supported her new album, thanking them for allowing her “to grow and develop as an artist, because many people out there want you to be one thing.” As she introduces “Girl Gang” (a blinding cover of FIDLAR’s “Cocaine”), more thanks go out to her female supporters over the years (“Bitches are better than blow, y’all…”) and she emphasizes the value of women helping other women in the creative arts, voicing her frustration that there are statistically fewer female composers than men.

She closes the set with “Under-estimate the Girl” – a song which upon online release caused a storm of criticism on Twitter. Undeniably the signature tune of Kate’s tour, and symbolic of her narrow escape from the mainstream industry (“I feel like I might survive alone if I get my release”), this track works really well live, resulting in a full-on stage invasion and crowd-surfing.

While a minority of dazed couples who are not sure what to make of the new Nash sound take the opportunity to exit, the rest of the audience pack closer to the stage. They will not let her go, so she’s back with Meredith Brooks’ 1997 hit “Bitch” which tears the roof off the venue as boys and girls pogo it out at the stage front. She leaves them behind with the bang they were waiting for, creeping back later to sign merch whereupon she’s mobbed by a hundred or so fans. She tends to each and every one until she’s eventually escorted away.

If Kate Nash was ever looking for reassurance that her new musical direction is working out for her, then she came to the right city.