November 16, 2013

Au Pairs - Stepping Out of Line: The Anthology (2006) / Equal But Different: BBC Sessions 79-81 (1994)

Stylistically, The Au Pairs are most often compared to Gang of Four, the legendary Leeds band that played a seminal role in rise of post-punk, and while both bands were well-versed in radical leftist politics, structuralism and a jaggedly dissonant yet entirely danceable musical aesthetic, The Au Pairs were anything but derivative, as the band was fronted by the awe-inspiring Lesley Woods, one of the first openly lesbian musicians of the rock era, whose voice was equal parts bluesy sultriness and punky aggression and whose stage presence was a force to be reckoned with. Joining Woods were fellow Birmingham natives Paul Foad on guitar, bassist Jane Munro and drummer Peter Hammond, a lineup that was unconventional in itself for being equally comprised of males and females in a truly collaborative context, while the songs also set the band apart by putting forth an uncompromisingly feminist perspective on gender politics during the early years of the Thatcher-era. Jane Munro: "At the time- to me anyway- the stuff that we were doing didn't seem that out of the ordinary because most of the bands we were gigging with or who were influential at the time also had political and/or feminist lyrics- the Gang of Four, the Slits, the Clash, the Raincoats, the Mekons, to name but a few. In retrospect though, to judge by the number of people who remember and were influenced by the band, I guess we must have stood out- possibly down to Lesley terrifying the audience!" As with some of the other bands Munro mentions, lyrically, The Au Pairs could occasionally come off a bit politically didactic to certain ears, but musically, post-punk rarely sounded this dynamic and this fierce.

Lesley Woods
The Au Pairs formed in 1979, with Jane Munro being the last to join: "I joined the band by a kind of happy accident, really. I was on the periphery of the Moseley music scene and the other band members and I had a mutual friend, Martin Culverwell, who later became our manager. I'd bought a bass guitar and had progressed as far as the bass line from 'Peaches' [by The Stranglers] and Martin said he knew a band who were looking for a female bass player. Lesley rang me. The four of us had a jam together at a room over a pub, and the rest is history." After playing a number of gigs together, the band wasted no time in recording their first single, "You," and after releasing their second single, "Diet / It's Obvious," a year later, they were invited to record some BBC sessions. This momentum allowed The Au Pairs to begin recording their debut album, Playing with a Different Sex, which was issued in 1981 on Human Records, a label owned by a friend of the band. Munro: "We wrote the songs by jamming around a riff or melody line that one or other of us had come up with; it was very much a joint process. Lesley wrote the lyrics and, no, we didn't always agree with her views but she was a very strong character and invariably got her own way." Comprised of a heady mix of Punk, Dub, Reggae, and Funk, along with Woods' whip-smart and ironic evisceration of bourgeois notions of sexuality and gender, Playing with a Different Sex was a stunning, defiant debut that garnered the band immediate attention from the music press. Songs such as "We're So Cool," which is sung from the perspective of a woman halfheartedly trying to convince herself that "things are cool" with her emotionally vacant lover and "Armagh," which details the torture and sexual abuse of wrongly imprisoned Irish women at the hands of the Tory government, were matched by the album's memorable cover, an iconic Eve Arnold photo of women fighting in the People's Liberation Army. Lesley Woods: "The Chinese woman on the cover isn't wearing a uniform but this searing dress. It's not like when people say women can fight as well as men because they usually dress up in a uniform; this woman is going into battle as a woman, running into battle carrying her gun."

Paul Foad
Due to Woods being the driving force behind the band's aggressively politicized lyrics as well as a mesmerizing figure on stage, the music press began to focus almost exclusively on her in terms of album reviews and interviews, something Jane Munro feels didn't always offer an accurate picture of The Au Pairs: "They became more and more obsessed with the band's political stance and Lesley's lyrics. As a result she became the unelected spokesperson. I was never in my element doing interviews anyway and they always seemed to be dredging over the same old ground, so to some extent it suited me to let Lesley get on with it. If the rest of us had been more assertive it would probably have been better for the band though- we might even have been able to demonstrate we had a sense of humour, although I doubt the press would have been interested in that- not controversial enough." Make no mistake, however; the early eighties were highly politicized times, and music gigs in the context of the punk and post-punk scenes were always about anger in response to the corrupt values and general apathy of mainstream culture. This also made the gigs as much about connecting with others ideologically and sharing information as they were about hearing music; in other words, these gigs were a catalyst for political activism. Paul Hammond: "You could have a go at attacking issues through music because there were places to play for bands [....] We'd play to thousands of people, mainly students and all in anger- all wanting to do something. That's gone now."

Pete Hammond, Jane Munro, Lesley Woods & Paul Foad
The Au Pairs released their follow-up LP, Sense and Sensuality, a year later, and though, if anything, the political messages were even more overt this time around, musically, the band was attempting to explore some new sonic possibilities, the result of which is a more textured jazz and funk-influenced sound that integrates synths and occasional horns into the mix, while Woods' vocals demonstrate more range and a smokey soul-like quality at times. Nevertheless many argued Sense and Sensuality was less melodic, less fully conceived than the debut album. Jane Munro: "I felt that the first album was far superior to the second, for the usual reasons that first albums are often better. We'd had plenty of time to develop the songs on Playing with a Different Sex, whereas I felt we'd spent so much time gigging prior to Sense and Sensuality that some of the songs and arrangements felt contrived and awkward." Despite Munro's misgivings, it's hard to argue with the moody brilliance of songs such as "Sex Without Stress" and "Instant Touch," both of which back Woods' deceptively laid-back, almost jazzy vocals with some funky post-punk grooves. While perhaps not as consistently great as their debut album, Sense and Sensuality finds The Au Pairs in the process of seeking a wider audience while retaining their political edge. A daunting proposition indeed, but it yielded an album well worth rediscovering thirty years after the fact. Lesley Woods in 1981: "We think our songs are commercially viable. The music itself is also commercially viable. Our lyrics are based on the same subject as a lot of other people's songs, only we present ours in a different way. This means we can't be put in a bag. Because the music press can't decide whether we are commercial or political, which to me is a ridiculous distinction: The Beat are very commercial but their songs are also very political. A lot of music journalists want to be able to reinforce these distinctions."

Stepping Out of Line: The Anthology (2006)
Disc I- Playing with a Different Sex 1981
 2. Love Song
 3. Set Up
 4. Repetition
 5. Headache for Michelle
 6. Come Again
 7. Armagh
 8. Unfinished Business
 9. Dear John
10. It's Obvious
-Bonus Tracks-
11. Pretty Boys (BBC Session) 
12. Monogamy (BBC Session)
13. Ideal Woman (BBC Session) 
14. You
15. Domestic Departure
16. Kerb Crawler
17. Diet
18. It's Obvious (Single Version)
19. Inconvenience (12" Version) 
20. Pretty Boys (12" Version) 

Disc II- Sense and Sensuality 1982
 2. Sex Without Stress
 3. Instant Touch
 5. Shakedown
 6. Tongue in Cheek
 7. Intact
 8. Don't Lie Back
 9. America
10. Fiasco
-Bonus Tracks-
11. No More Secret Lives (1983 Demo) 
12. Runs with Honey (1983 Demo) 
13. Hakka He Ha (1983 Demo) 
14. Taking Care of Him (1983 Demo) 
16. Piece of My Heart (Live : Berlin Tempodrome 6/20/81) 
17. Headache for Michelle (12" Version)

Links in Comments

Equal But Different: BBC Sessions 79-81 (1994)
 1. Monogamy
 2. Pretty Boys
 3. Come Again
 4. Ideal Woman
 5. Dear John
 6. The Love Song
 8. Repetition
 9. Unfinished Business
10. Diet
11. We're So Cool
12. Armagh
13. The Set-Up
15. Intact
16. Shakedown
17. Slider (Instant Touch) 
18. America
19. Steppin’ Out of Line
20. Sex Without Stress

Links in Comments


  1. Stepping Out of Line




    (part I)


    (part II)


  2. Equal But Different: BBC Sessions





  3. Many thanks for these, and to "return the gift" (Gang of Four, with the Au Pairs, my favourite band), here are a few Au Pairs rarities and more to come if you would like them.

    First up, Live at Berlin Tempodrome 20.06.81 during the Women's International Festival. The later official release included only half the tracks played on that day, being a re-issue of a common vinyl bootleg which omitted seven whole tracks for space reasons. See for yourself; here's the tape setlist of the gig:

    01 Game *
    02 Let's Make Love *
    03 Sex Machine (Dear John)
    04 Love Song
    05 She's Nothing *
    06 It's Obvious *
    07 Headache For Michelle
    08 Music *
    09 Armagh
    10 Repetition (Written by David Bowie)
    11 So Cool
    12 Come Again
    13 Piece Of My Heart (Written by Berns/Ragovoy)
    14 (Domestic) Departure *
    15 (Kerb) Crawler *

    * = omitted from later official release. The omission of the last two tracks was particularly unfortunate as both were on the Au Pairs' very first single. Get this fullest version of "Live in Berlin" (missing only Diet and Set-Up) from the great 433 here:

    433 also gives us another ultra-rare cassette bootleg, the Au Pairs' final show from 1983, mostly probably at the Vienna Frauenklang Festival, 3-5 February 1983, a gig which included a couple of tracks only otherwise available as 1983 demos on the Stepping Out anthology (marked *):

    01 America
    02 Set-Up
    03 I Make You (aka Music)
    04 Sex Without Stress
    05 This Country (aka Runs With Honey*)
    06 Lion Love (?)
    07 Communication (aka Headache for Michelle)
    08 Beast Of A Machine (?)
    09 Get Out Of The Way (?)
    10 Fiasco
    11 From the Land Of The Setting Sun (aka Hokka He Ha*)
    12 Obvious

    Get it here:

    And a third gift from 433 is a very rare Dutch 1984 12" EP from Dutch funk group Dojoji with Leslie Woods on vocals, produced after she'd left the Au Pairs, breaking up the group. The Dojoji EP track Kiets Lorren is a version of the Au Pairs' song This Country aka Runs With Honey from the last gig, also on Stepping Out as a 1983 demo.

    Those are 433's gifts; I have studio demos for the first album and about a dozen live gigs in lossless, most pretty good quality and all kindly donated by the great StevieD. Just ask and I'll pass them on for posting. Cheers, Dave Sez.

  4. Dave,

    thank you so much for the links! I would love to have the lossless live and studio material. Please send links to:

    thanks again!

  5. Great to find this write-up as I just bought this 2 CD set on a whim. Thanks.

    (Question -- how do I figure out what goes in the **** spaces in the comments?)

    1. Hi Phil O.

      glad you liked the review! For the download links, replace "****" with "mega"

    2. Thanks for the great posts. I am having a bit of a problem with Mega. Is there another link.

  6. Ignore my last comment - figured it out. And thanks again.

  7. These are all amazing. Thanks. The Au Pairs were one of the best bands to come out of the late 70's musical explosion. I wish they had more output.

  8. Thanks to my blogmates SilentWay and circle, I have recently been posting my Au Pairs bootleg archive, most of which is lossless and kindly given to me by the great Stevie D. If you like the Au Pairs, you won't want to miss any of these - from the demo sessions for this album to their last recorded gig in 1983 (several unreleased tracks) and even a return from beyond the grave, a 1984 EP of Leslie Woods and Dutch funk band Dojoji. And having mentioned Delta 5, two extremely rare live recordings of theirs have surfaced in the last couple of months, so I'll give the links to them too. Here you go; get busy (and don't forget to read the comments to each post)!

    SOURCE 1: together with (require adult consent as the bloghost also posts pictures of babes)

    SOURCE 2 (partial mirror):

    Also a FLAC rip of the Dojoji EP has just emerged here:, and Leslie Woods has resurfaced with an interview and a new song here:

    DELTA 5:

    GANG OF FOUR (much more available on request in these comments):

    Cheers, Dave Sez.