12 Feb 2023

Ruth Miller: Middle-aged women making punk music

From Sunday Morning, 8:31 am on 12 February 2023

In the English city of Leicester, groups of older women are getting together to play punk music.

Ruth Miller is the brains behind The Unglamourous Project  with the aim of creating a local punk scene for older women.

Ruth's band, The Verinos.

Ruth's band, The Verinos. Photo: The Verinos

The women are from many different ethnicities and it's the first time for many of them that they've been anywhere near a musical instrument.

Miller, herself in her sixties, played in a band many years ago and now plays guitar for The Verinos- which means women in Esperanto.

The average age of the women in the The Unglamourous Project is 56 she tells Jim Mora, with the eldest being in her 70s.

The idea came about when she visited a friend for coffee, she says.

“I used to go around her house and drink coffee and talk about politics and do gardening. And then I just happened to say to her, I've got this idea that I'm going to get some women and teach them how to play instruments.

“And she said, ‘Oh, I've always wanted to learn to play the drums.’ And I had no idea. She's never said anything like that before. And she watched one YouTube video that showed you how to play the drums. And that's the only tuition she's ever had. And she's absolutely brilliant.”

Miller came back to music after going through life’s more traditional phases, she says.

“If you go down the getting married or having a family route, or pursuing a career, all of which are things that I did, you focus on that for a time.

“I kind of thought those days were over and it was just something to be nostalgic about, but I think you hit a particular age and think, well I don't care what anyone thinks, it's my life and I really want to do music again.”

Punk’s DIY ethics are at the centre of the project, she says.

“It doesn't matter whether people like it or not, they don't have to listen. And I think that chimed with a lot of other women when we've played gigs, they just love that idea that we're doing it for ourselves.”

The Verinos have a plenty to say, Miller tells Sunday Morning.

“One of the things that we do tackle in our songs is this idea of women as sex objects. One of our songs is called ‘Take off your Porno Glasses Mate’.

“It's about how like when women go out jogging or running for exercise, or whatever reason women go out, they're not going out to be ogled by men.”

Other bands in the collective are spikier, she says.

“Velvet Crisis are well known for being the most sweary band.”

Being released from polite norms is liberating, she says.  

“Women who feel that they've gone through their lives being sensible and doing the right thing and being polite and fitting in with society and matching everybody's expectations.

“And then they get to a point and they think, why am I doing this? I'm angry I want to express the things that make me angry.”

It is not, she says, a “cutesy granny project.”

“We're not here to make older women look cute, we're here to show older women in their whole diverse reality.”

She started the Verinos as a test project, she says.

“We did our first gig and it was so successful, women in the audience were coming up and saying we want to do this as well.”

Many women who come to the project’s rehearsal space are complete beginners, she says.

“To me the best way to learn an instrument is from the very beginning to play with other people.”

“And so, at our very first workshop, it'll be somebody who's never played the drum kit before and I'll say sit down there, go, bang, bang, bang with your foot and get the kick drum pedal playing and trying to get them to do it in time.

“And then I'll give a bass guitar to another woman. And I'll say, don't do anything with your left hand, just with your right hand, pluck that string and try and get the drum and the bass working together.”

Basic, but worth hours of solo practise, she says.

“From the start they're playing together, which to me is far better than doing three years practise with a tutor at home and never playing with anybody.”

The project has wider emotional benefits for the women involved, she says.

“There are lots of women who've had various mental health issues, shyness and lack of confidence. And the whole collective nature of making music with other people gives that support.

“Often, you'll get women who will come along the first time and they'll be kind of clenched up and reluctant to do anything. Oh, I can't sing, oh no, I couldn't do that. And then with encouragement after about three or four weeks, it just looks like a different person.

“They do contact me and say how much they're getting from it, several people have said it's changed their lives.”