‘Everyone is aware of you’d do completely something for him. You are able to do this, certainly?” In 1993, I used to be dwelling in St Petersburg within the former Soviet Union for a yr as a part of my college course, finding out Russian. I had fallen wildly in love (by which I imply in lust) with the lead guitarist of a Ukrainian punk rock band, Colney Hatch. And right here was the band’s supervisor asking me to just do this one little factor: break the band within the west.

It was true that this was a Meat Loaf scenario: I’d do something for love. Nonetheless, the one music trade names I had even heard of have been Inventory, Aitken and Waterman. When the band’s supervisor sensed reluctance – primarily based on the truth that I used to be a clueless 21-year-old, had no contacts on this planet of rock and had been to London solely as soon as, to go to John Lewis once I was eight – he stated: “You need them to succeed, don’t you? Or are you only a groupie?”

It was the last word insult. Who needs to be only a groupie?

I had met the band in a nightclub the place that they had a month-to-month residency. The guitarist was sitting reverse me, utilizing his cigarette packet to faucet out the drum beat to Ace of Base’s All That She Desires in opposition to the desk. The horrible tune was on repeat in all places that yr. As he regarded up and our eyes met, I stated out loud to the buddy subsequent to me: “I’m sitting reverse a God.” With lengthy hair and excessive cheekbones, he was good-looking in a form of Whitesnake-on-MTV means that prompt an invisible wind machine adopted him in all places he went. I couldn’t imagine that he would discuss to me, not to mention let me be his girlfriend.

If that’s what I truly was. I spent plenty of time fretting: “Are we truly having a relationship? Am I being taken significantly?” When you’re a hanger-on, you realize it. And it’s form of humiliating. However, on the time, it additionally felt empowering. The band was named after a Victorian asylum (“as a result of we’re loopy guys”) and so they described themselves as “Ukraine’s reply to the Purple Sizzling Chili Peppers”. They have been going locations. I may very well be instrumental in them hitting the large time.

‘I’m fairly just like the sixth Rolling Stone’ … Anita Pallenberg with Brian Jones in 1966. {Photograph}: J Wilds/Getty Photos

Most of their gigs happened in dive bars and dingy nightclubs in Moscow and St Petersburg. There was a scene that had flourished for the reason that collapse of the USSR in 1991, a mishmash of post-Soviet prog rock, folksy protest singers and bands with plenty of hair doing Pink Floyd covers. (The mangled lyric “smile from a whale” from Want You Had been Right here is for ever lodged in my mind.) This was a chaotic period, so viewers attendance was unpredictable. Typically, the gigs can be sweaty and packed, with dozens of youngsters in stone-washed bartered Levi’s crowding to the entrance to scream Colney Hatch’s most memorable chorus of their cod English: “I’m not drunk / It’s solely fucking funk.” At different instances, I’d be just about the one one within the membership and positively the one one on the dancefloor, swaying with imaginary sophistication, a bottle of Baltika beer in my hand, watching my shadow within the disco lights.

The band did want me badly for one factor: attempting to make sense of their lyrics, which that they had written with the assistance of an historical dictionary. They didn’t actually communicate English, however they needed to sing within the language of the Purple Sizzling Chili Peppers in order that they might make it massive within the west (not like different bands on the time, who made some extent of making music in their very own language, for home consumption). In the summertime, we travelled south by Ukraine to a music competition in Odesa, arguing throughout all the lengthy bus journey over whether or not it’s doable to say: “They suck their stinking crosiers.” (Me: “No native English speaker will perceive this.”) I attempted and didn’t reform their on-the-road food regimen, which consisted of low-cost bottles of “konyak” (faux cognac) and beer (which they claimed to be a comfortable drink). And I attempted and didn’t get the guitarist to drink much less and love me extra. Greater than 30 years on, I want I had simply focused on having enjoyable and embraced the label “groupie”.

However the tag itself remains to be as divisive as ever. Final week, a documentary about Anita Pallenberg opened in cinemas. Pallenberg was an Italian actor, mannequin and artist who met the Rolling Stones backstage at a gig in Munich in 1965, when she was 23. She later had three youngsters with Keith Richards and used to say: “I really feel as if I’m fairly just like the sixth Rolling Stone.” Catching Hearth: The Story of Anita Pallenberg, narrated by Scarlett Johansson, is meant to maneuver Pallenberg away from any affiliation with the dreaded phrase “groupie”. Its administrators – Alexis Bloom and Svetlana Zill – have stated the movie is “an act of historic reclamation: placing the feminine perspective again within the official narrative of rock’n’roll”.

‘I used to be the muse and I don’t care what folks say about that’ … Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Web page with Pamela Des Barres in 1973 in Los Angeles. {Photograph}: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Photos

In the meantime, Pamela Des Barres – who was a part of the entourage across the Byrds, the Doorways, Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and extra within the 60s and 70s, has championed the reason for the groupie. Simply the opposite week, at 75, she hosted a Hollywood tour of the areas from her bestselling 1987 “groupie bible” I’m With the Band.

However whereas she could embrace the time period, being a groupie was by no means a feminist function. Coined within the mid-60s, the phrase was a tacit acknowledgment that ladies can be round these new rock’n’roll teams however by no means in them. Sylvia Patterson’s memoir I’m Not With the Band: A Author’s Life Misplaced in Music, shortlisted for the Costa biography award in 2016, tackled this stress head-on; it’s apparent that the phrase “groupie” made life troublesome for feminine journalists, producers, technicians, certainly any girl with a job to do who was not with the band.

At this time, there may be an understanding that we’re previous these primitive issues: not solely would nobody need the label, however it could even be cancel-worthy for band members to deal with anybody as a groupie. At a gig in 2022, the 1975’s Matty Healy checked a fan’s ID after she held up an indication within the crowd asking him to be her first kiss. He was heard saying: “You higher not be 16,” earlier than she handed over her driving licence and he kissed her. To be a groupie now entails admin.

However whereas everybody now is aware of it’s dangerous to be a groupie, the awkward fact, as I do know myself, is that generally you simply really feel like a groupie about somebody. My expertise was colored by the truth that I used to be a language scholar and a geek: I held on to their each phrase not as a result of I needed to soak myself within the greatness of rock or the lore of punk, however as a result of I actually needed to choose up their language. And I used to be dizzy in regards to the guitarist in a means that was much less about music or fame and extra about the truth that he was obscenely handsome. There’s additionally an enormous distinction between being round a gaggle who have already got their title in lights and being the bag-carrier for a band who’re struggling to get booked.

Some groupies have been certainly misplaced souls, generally underage, who have been exploited. However others have been clearly passing by, needed enjoyable and went on to different issues. (This was me. I used to be a tame groupie and caught nothing stronger than head lice.)

A supplier of inspiration and emotional assist … Marianne Faithfull and Mick Jagger in 1969. {Photograph}: Keystone-France/Gamma-Keystone/Getty Photos

Others have been what the creator Elizabeth Winder describes in her ebook Parachute Girls as unpaid stylists, unofficial managers, suppliers of inspiration and emotional assist and co-collaborators. Revealed in 2022, Parachute Girls is in regards to the affect of Marianne Faithfull, Marsha Hunt, Bianca Jagger and Pallenberg: “the ladies behind the Rolling Stones”. These accounts are odd in some methods: they need to foreground the expertise and company of those girls – to banish the phrase “groupie” as a result of it’s undeserved – however all the things they do is seen in relation to the boys.

Few cultural “moments” survive the glare of satire. In 1984’s This Is Spinal Faucet, the ridiculous Jeanine Pettibone (performed by June Chadwick) marked the start of the top for groupie tradition. A Stevie Nicks lookalike and girlfriend of the lead singer, David St Hubbins (Michael McKean), she has her personal ambitions past being “the girlfriend of”. Armed with astrological charts and the catchphrase “I’m a actuality that won’t be denied”, she turns into the band’s interim supervisor, a lot to the disgust of everybody besides her boyfriend. Chadwick has stated that the movie was solely greenlit when her character was launched; tensions over Jeanine’s function have been what gave Spinal Faucet its narrative arc.

However the remaining nail within the groupies’ coffin got here in 2000 with the discharge of Virtually Well-known, set within the early 70s and depicting a gaggle of teenage ladies who’re all the time hanging round a band known as Stillwater. These “Band-Aids”, as they’re recognized, are led by the best groupie of all of them, the fictional Penny Lane (performed by Kate Hudson). They’re beautiful and beautiful within the first half of the movie, the sheen of their glamour distracting you from the nagging query of their age.

However then all of it comes crashing down with the sobering sensibility of the twenty first century. A few of these ladies are barely 16 and despite the fact that the fellows within the band aren’t far more grownup, they deal with them like foreign money. Within the second half of the movie, they’re actually traded, with one band handing “possession” of them to a different. The occasion is enjoyable till somebody turns the lights on. I watched this movie once I was in my 40s, years after my backstage period. I felt maternal in the direction of Hudson’s character and sorry for my naive youthful self, but nostalgic for that self on the similar time.

The ultimate nail within the groupies’ coffin … Kate Hudson as Penny Lane in Virtually Well-known. {Photograph}: Dreamworks/Sportsphoto/Allstar

Accounts of the groupies of the 60s and 70s now learn extra uncomfortably with each passing yr. Bebe Buell, the mannequin, creator and mom of Liv Tyler (by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler) has argued that she “considers groupie a sexist time period”. However she has additionally stated: “I feel each little woman would love exclusivity, however that wasn’t the way it was. For those who had a jealous streak, the 70s wasn’t your period. And I figured if he was going up to now, I’d date, too. I had beautiful boyfriends. On your first three boyfriends to be Mick Jagger, Todd Rundgren and David Bowie, I don’t suppose anybody would have an issue with that.”

For those who dig into any of those accounts of that point, you discover girls arguing about which ones have been the “child groupies” (with plenty of vagueness about who was underage when) and which have been the “critical” muses. Few folks need to be informed that they have been victims once they don’t see themselves like that. Des Barres has stated: “I used to be the muse and I don’t care what folks say about that. Groupies enhanced these folks’s lives in an enormous means. And if it weren’t for us, they’d not be who they’re.”

As for me, I used to be a awful groupie and a poor imitation of Jeanine Pettibone, despite the fact that I used to be very into horoscopes for a bit. Colney Hatch’s supervisor – a gruff, bloodshot-eyed beefy kind with quiffed hair, all the time wearing a turquoise-and-pink ski anorak zipped as much as the highest – defined to me at size what A&R was and stated that I ought to push the “Ukrainian Chili Peppers” angle. I dutifully went by the Yellow Pages again at my mother and father’ house in Somerset, looking for the addresses of file labels. I copied cassettes and despatched them within the publish, accompanied by handwritten letters. Replies by no means got here. The would-be Peppers of Perestroika broke up the next yr. I used to be imagined to guarantee the way forward for post-Soviet punk rock within the west. And I’d do something for love. However I couldn’t do this.

One Ukrainian Summer time by Viv Groskop is revealed on 23 Could (Ithaka Press, £16.99). All creator proceeds go to Pen Worldwide for writers in danger. To assist the Guardian and the Observer, order your copy at guardianbookshop.com.


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