Play It Like a Woman- Anna Calvi @ A38

When I was a kid, I used to play football with the boys, and, in all fairness, some girls too. We were all perhaps too young to get the implications, we just played. For manifold reasons in my case. Principally because I sucked at all the things girls were supposed to be good at, like making dirt patties as early practice for future cooking, sowing clothes for their dolls, skipping rope elegantly in a skirt, playing some female compatible sport like the much-dreaded volleyball. When it came to football, I was good though, fast, kept the ball at my feet, and loved it.

Later, the other girls stopped playing, and I was told I should stop playing too. For no reason, really. Except that I was a girl and at a certain age you should stop pretending that you can live your life as easily as a man. Another thing girls were not supposed to do was play the guitar and write their own songs- now, this is not something I attempted to do, given my fundamental and absolute lack of skill, but I did play close attention to the fact that women in bands were always relegated to the role of singer, and perhaps, out of the sheer kindness of the men, they even gave her a guitar she could hold and occasionally go for some easy notes with it. Sure, there was the odd female singer-songwriter, often somewhat disparagingly dubbed a ‘songstress’, but the idea was that they were niche, generally a little bit deranged and odd for having chosen this dangerous life instead of simply belting out a banger written for them by a gifted man.

This is perhaps a (very) long introduction that might feel slightly off topic, but I may just be getting to the point. Given all the above, discovering the music and (stage) presence of Anna Calvi felt like a breath of fresh air- here she is, obviously being ridiculously good at playing the guitar, writing her own music about the things that feel important to her. Being refreshingly open and natural about the fact that she fancies women. Generally playing the game by her own rules, sometimes wearing breathtakingly high heels, sometimes military boots, because whatever a woman wears to do her job is her very own business. Sounds like common sense, should be common sense, but it isn’t, so much so that when someone does it, they feel like warriors.  

She plays her guitar a bit like a warrior, handling it like a weapon, perhaps for seduction, perhaps for defense, a weapon nevertheless, and she handles it like a man. Or how we think men should handle guitars, as opposed to everyone handling the guitar the way that is most natural to them. The most immediate reason for this man-handling (sorry as usual for the terrible pun, though one can definitely read a little into it if they wish) on A38 is her most recent album, Hunter, which is easily one of the best of the year, the kind of record that critics like to call a triumph, with each song able to stand alone yet at the same time belonging to a coherent whole. A concept album of sorts, but not an over-complicated one that tries to shove itself in your face, it can even feel somewhat subdued at the first couple of listens only for you to realize later on that you keep hearing and humming the tunes. Its rendition on the night is quite basic- a drummer and a set of synths and Anna on the guitar. Anna on the guitar is of course plenty, and as I was raving above, exactly what the doctor ordered. Whenever I see her play I think of the little girl I was and of how she could have used someone to tell her that you can not only bend it like Beckham, but also play it like Calvi.

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