“I’ve never for a moment thought that I was unliberated as a woman. It’s never occurred to me.”
Chrissie Hynde’s response to the question of whether she’d encountered sexism of any type in the music scene dripped with dispassion, but the intensity of her words gives insight into a person that refused to be messed with.
In a 1980 Countdown interview with Cherry Ripe, she was equally dismissive of aligning herself with any gender focused movement or ideology.
“I’ve no inclinations toward feminism or whatever,” she said. “It’s never bothered me, no one’s ever discriminated against me because I was a woman. All in all, it’s to your advantage really. People give you a break because they think you’re a novel act or whatever. But I don’t like to play on those things too much myself. Maybe it’s because I don’t think I could do that very well.”
What did serve her well were her strong instincts for seeking out the people and places where great music developments were about to happen. She left America in the early 70s, bound for England, to be amongst the bands she adored as a teenager.
Of course, there’s the stories of how she almost started a band with The Clash’s Mick Jones or a project with members who went on to form The Damned, and how she had a stint writing for NME.
“A good writer… it’s sort of an art form in itself,” she said. “A lot of people say rock writers are just frustrated musicians, but I disagree with that, I mean quite often they are, but someone who’s good at it, that’s just as interesting and entertaining as being in a band. I prefer being in a band, myself!”
To hear her composure and her insights into her craft and the industry that surrounds it in this 1980 interview, just over a year since the formation of The Pretenders, is refreshing.
It’s just more evidence of what we already know about Chrissie Hynde. It illuminates, both then and now, how rare she is as an unapologetic, straight talking, intelligent and talented figure in rock music. And it seems she knew exactly what she was looking for in a band.
Cherry Ripe chanced to ask if The Pretenders had any lucky breaks coming up as a group. Hydne’s reply was swift.
“No, not especially. In that time I could have easily gotten on stage with a variety of people but I never thought it was good enough, that it was right. So, I just waited instead of getting up there and doing something that wasn’t as good as I could do.
“So, the fact that I eventually got a very good record company and a very good manager and a very good band, very good producers and everything… I don’t really call it luck, I just waited until the best came along and then I snatched it.”
There’s no denying the range of moods and stories Hynde must have been storing up in the lead up to making the group’s debut.
From the confident swaggering lines of ‘Brass In Pocket’ like ‘cause I’m gonna make you see, there’s nobody else here, no one like me’, to her heartfelt and tender delivery in ‘Kid’: ‘You think it’s wrong, I can tell you do, how can I explain, when you don’t want me to…’, which featured beautifully supportive guitar work by James Honeyman-Scott.
Throughout the album’s 12 songs you get the sense of a band who was riding a surging creative wave. Fuelled by a punk attitude and energy, but stretching themselves beyond to explorer reggae inspirations (‘Private Life’), 60s pop (‘Stop Your Sobbing’), pop balladry (‘Lovers Of Today’) and just razor tight propulsive rock (‘The Wait’, ‘Mystery Achievement’, ‘Tattooed Love Boys’).
Hynde told Countdown she knew she had a winning combo on her hands.
“As a working unit, I can’t imagine a band that could get along better with each other,” she said. “There’s no rifts between members, everyone really digs everyone else and everyone totally respects everyone else.
“The other three [band members] are just fantastic musicians, I wouldn’t want to replace them with anybody if I had the choice of any musician in the world. I’ll come in with a riff on the guitar, you know melody, hopefully I’ll have lyrics, and the band just go to town on it.
“And the inimitable Pretenders sound… I mean if I wrote a song and got a bunch of session musicians to do it, it would in no way sound like anything that we do because The Pretenders have a very definite sound.”
With Pete Farndon’s driving bass lines, Honeyman-Scott’s inventive and jagged melodicism, Martin Chambers’ hard-hitting rhythmic backing and Hynde herself, a sneering, arousing and dazzlingly magnetic vocalist and frontwoman, there’s no doubt this foursome was a unique quantity.
The evidence is apparent when you hit play on The Pretenders’ self-titled debut and hear a band, charging out of the gates, with songs that still feel as vigorous and as enjoyable as the day they first unleashed themselves on the world.