Hit! How the ’80s post-punk band Lining Time crystallized a moment in the history of feminist protest music
IIn 1982 a group of women found their common voice. “If I can hit, you can hit, she can hit, we can hit,” they sang during a performance in Plymouth, passing the vocals like a baton while performing playground rhythms on wooden block percussion. Calling themselves Lining Time, this group of dance and drama students came to their own understanding of music as a creative expression.
The theater language training at Dartington College of Arts had given the group a medium to tell their stories; Injustices such as the Thatcher policy, the Falklands War and endemic violence against women forced them to do so. In this cultural moment of post-punk attitude and resurgent feminist movements, Lining Time – Claire Bushe, Cathy Frost, Lisa Halse, Cathy Josefowitz and Mara de Wit – came together.
“During our year in Plymouth, we all lived and worked near the naval docks, and I remember the constant harassment we endured going anywhere, any time of the day,” Bushe recalled. “I remember the Reclaim the Night march. I was very anxious to do it even though so many women attended. It took a lot of courage to walk through the center of this city at night. Groups of men cheered as we marched and sang.”
Hit, Lining Time’s only cassette from raw but powerful folk music and protest songs, drew influences from Françoise Hardy, Bob Dylan and flamenco along with improvisation, puns and choral elements, and arrived at a remarkable sound somewhere between their post-punk forefathers, the Raincoats, and their successors, Life Without Buildings. “We played without rules or conventions, adapting and adopting anything that we liked or made us laugh,” explains de Wit. The album was an adaptation of her shows, which were sequenced to tell a story — “how five different women got to their ‘strike’ moment,” as de Wit puts it. Forty years after it was forgotten, it is relaunched as part of a retrospective on the artistic career of the late Josefowitz, and his staunch demands for bodily autonomy and queer liberation are as relevant as ever.
Swiss-raised Josefowitz and Holland-born de Wit formed the musical core of the group, which covered guitar, clarinet, drums, bells and more while all members practiced breath, voice and vocal work. “[They] brought all the self-confidence of the European women of the 70s that I had never experienced before,” Bushe recalls of Josefowitz and de Wit. Radical views and European influences also found their way onto the album, including covers of a French nursery rhyme and a track by 1970s German female coop rock band Flying Lesbians. There is also an anti-war song attributed to the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, a protest formed in the early 1980s that would play a key role in the movement for nuclear disarmament and women’s participation in British activism. When it comes to route selection, Halse says, “the choice should always be comprehensive, supportive and wide-ranging, within our rather limited ability range.”
And Lining Time were more than just a band. Halse describes them as a “consciousness-raising” group that collaborates artistically and challenges beliefs and assumptions: “This is still an ongoing conversation. The personal is political.” They were community oriented, bringing a cappella songs and rhythmic clapping and stomping from the project to the community and reaching out to groups such as travelers, the visually impaired and pregnant women through their performances. “The lively singing was well received. [It was] contagious, connects immediately to women’s and girls’ experiences,” says de Wit. “It was very dynamic and fun.”
Lining Time broke up in Plymouth after that year. After moving to Wales, Josefowitz and de Wit performed as Research and Navigation for audiences such as nursing home residents from 1983 to 1988. In addition, Josefowitz continued her career in the performing and visual arts, creates choreographic works and paintings that explore the body, self-expression and dance. Her works included cardboard marionettes by performing artists, crooked architectural sketches of stages, paintings of bodies distorted by movement and emotion, and towards the end of her life a series of coloristic abstractions that eschew bodies entirely. She died in 2014, her legacy being managed by Les Amis de Cathy Josefowitz – the organization that commissioned the archival publication of Strike.
Halse, de Wit, and Bushe all agree that society hasn’t evolved far enough since Strike’s recording: Bushe addresses issues such as violence against women and girls, wage inequality, incarceration, racism, and a “pervasive cultural norm — knowing male, het – limiting choices and possibilities”. Still, all three share an optimism about political art’s potential to challenge oppression. Today, Bushe still teaches acting at a specialized school for dyslexics, using music to help students find their voice and formulate ideas: “It unleashes their imagination and connects to what they know.”
And all three believe in the potential of political art to challenge oppression. “You don’t have to have global solutions, but share and disclose the steps that are important to you or that you have in mind,” de Wit advises younger artists. “It can make a difference, change someone’s perception, broaden their horizons a little bit. Human consciousness is a fine thing.”