A punk band from 1988 – 1993, fronted by vocalist Fiona Watt, who describes them as 'loud, messy, shouty, fast, thrashy post-punk'. The name comes from a 1986 Sun headline where the Pope was shot at. Fiona currently sings in the Forest Choir in Edinburgh, and VSS songs can be heard on last fm.
Did you experience much sexism during the time you sang with Vatican Shotgun Scare?
The worst time was probably in 1990, when we supported Macclesfield band the Macc Lads, who had a reputation for being “the most misogynist, homophobic and racist band in Christendom”. They had been banned from most venues in the UK due to their provoking audience violence, and no other bands wanted to support them, not surprisingly. We were offered £50 to do it, a lot of money back then. The rest of the band were unemployed and skint, saying 'that'll pay our rehearsal space for months'. So we voted on it and it was three to one against me, so I ended up agreeing to do it . That night I had to cross a picket line of protesters outside the venue, I felt like a complete traitor! The only other woman in the whole venue was the barmaid, with the sold out audience consisting of 500 men. It was a horrible hostile atmosphere and I was bricking it - as we went up on stage there was complete silence, I don’t think for a minute they had expected to see a support act with a woman fronting the band. We started playing and they started gobbing on us, shouting 'get yer tits out' etc, thankfully we were always pretty loud so I was really just aware of them shouting pathetically over the din! I had insisted on a very short set, so we did that and got off as soon as we could. On the way out I only recognised one face in the audience - a guy from my work that everyone loathed as he was in the BNP! So looking back, playing our set favourite “Roman Catholic Priest” was probably a bit of a brave move! I got home and stood in the shower with all my clothes on – there was gob all down the front of my dress.
Bloody hell! Anything else?
Well one time we got reviewed by The List, and the journalist described my voice as 'yappy'. It really wound me up, because that made me sound like a little annoying dog – would he have called me that if I was a man? Reviewers back then often used very different language to describe female musicians than they used to review male musicians. I actually met that reviewer at a party 15 years later and pulled him up on it (laughs). At that time, I think in general female musicians were criticised more harshly in the press than their male counterparts.
Someone else I talked to mentioned that The Skinny (Scottish music paper) only ever has guys on the cover.
The Skinny is a boys club. I'd be interested to see how many of the editorial staff are men. All of these mags like Kerrang...its always just guys writing about people like themselves – other guys! In the punk era NME was more about “intellectual” punk bands, and Sounds championed the more raw street punk, but the only time women were on either of those paper’s covers was when they were looking pretty. Poly Styrene wasn't on the front cover that often, she had braces on her teeth, and didn’t look as “feminine” as Debbie Harry or Siouxie Sioux, but I guess if they were in the business of selling papers, so that’s what they were going to do. But I didn’t notice Jimmy Pursey, Joe Strummer etc getting made up and having their hair done to grace those front covers!
Did you have many difficulties being the only woman in the band?
Definitely...sound engineers would always be men and talk to the men in the band about our requirements, never asking me! Promoters were all male, venue managers were male, security was always male, all the other bands were usually all male. So most sound checks there would be 30 men in the room and I'd be the only woman. So even if you're assertive, it was hard, it
was easy to feel intimidated. There were hardly any other women playing in bands in Edinburgh at that time. The only women I can think of who were doing loud fast stuff like us were The Matter Babies, the Dog Faced Hermans, and Archbishop Kebab, a great band fronted by Karen Kebab who liked to sing songs about her periods, much to the bemusement of the audience! It was ground breaking stuff in 1988 - it was pre-PJ Harvey. So in total of about 50 bands playing live in the city about five had a female front person - that was it, a measly 10%. There were no all female bands at all, and most women in the bands were singing, not playing instruments.
Why do you think that was?
There was a big breakthrough around punk, with women beginning to appear in bands. There was Poly Styrene (of X Ray Specs), Blondie, etc. But it was still very much a novelty. Possibly more women weren't coming forward because it was still a boys club – bands were for boys. Even if you went to see a live gig, the audience would be about 80% male. And sometimes I got the impression some women were there only because their boyfriends had dragged them along! I struggled to find any women who were as interested in music and bands as me. There would always be folky type acts where women could play guitar, in the Joni Mitchell vein, but playing an electric guitar wasn’t seen as being particularly feminine. Women weren't very supportive of each other at that time either - it was quite hard to have any kind of solidarity when so few women were making music.
So it was just the culture?
Yeah. It definitely felt like we were breaking ground. If we went to a venue in Newcastle or somewhere, and there was another woman on the bill, I was amazedI The Mekons were on the Rock Against Racism tour in 1978, and they had a female bass player, she was about 40, and to us teenagers she looked like she could be someone's mum! I 'd never seen a woman playing bass live, I thought she was fantastic.
So you find that inspiring?
Yeah. In 1991 there started to be Hole, Babes in Toyland, L7, and they were also really inspiring to me. But it was a bit too late for VSS, because we were just starting to fold then.
I found L7 a lot more inspiring than Courtney Love...she dressed like people expected a women in a band to dress, but L7 properly didn't give a fuck.
She had that dressing up as a little girl thing, the kinda whoooo look, I wasn't so sure about that, but she was kinda in a realm of her own.
Did you feel pressured to sexualise yourself on stage?
I certainly didn't feel pressured, about what I wore or how I looked, for us it was all about the music, we took things quite seriously. I wore shorts and stripey tights and big clumpy boots, sometimes a beret and a leather jacket, I certainly didn't wear make up, I had my hair cut really short, so my look was certainly not anything that could be construed as overtly feminine – I suppose , subconsciously, I was fitting in with the boys club. Other women in bands would let men shift the gear, but I didn't want to be seen as the weaker party, so I did that too! I wanted to be as strong as them, as loud as them, but I was the exception.