2007 - 2022

Demanding Safety for Women in the Scottish Music Scene

Part one of an exploration into sexism and misogyny in the Scottish music industry.

Recent allegations of sexual misconduct against the DJ Tim Westwood raise wider questions about the culture of exploitation in the music industry. The documentary Music’s Dirty Secrets: Women Fight Back (by investigative reporter Tamanna Rahman and producer Ruthie Evans) lifted the lid on the power imbalances and cultural problems of sexism, abuse and exploitation within the music industry. The programme asks: How safe is the music industry for women?

As the iNews reported (‘Brave report into abuse in the industry‘): “The question investigative reporter Tamanna Rahman set out to answer in Music’s Dirty Secrets: Women Fight Back is why the #MeToo movement has failed to bring about meaningful change within the music industry. The sobering answer, as she discovered in this by turns absorbing and disheartening film, is that too many men in powerful positions are simply unwilling to confront the issue of abuse.”

“She recounted the case of Andy Anokye, aka grime artist Solo 45, currently serving a 30-year prison sentence for raping multiple women. He had been championed by his label despite a conviction in Cyprus for domestic battery.”

The issues have resonance in Scotland too where questions about power, representation and gate-keepers are prominent – and where arguably a smaller music scene leads to even more secrecy and a culture of complicity.

Geoff Ellis the director of Scotland’s TRNSMT festival famously explained away the lack of equality at Scottish festivals saying “it will be a while” until there is a 50-50 gender balance on festival bills “because there’s far, far less female artists”. But this goes far beyond the issue of representation and the male gatekeepers who dominate festival programming. The issue is about safety and access and equality.

Iona Fyfe revealed last year that she was ‘offered gig help in return for sex’, and last month at Edinburgh TradFest the issue(s) came into focus again with a talk by Dr Una Monaghan about the impact of gender on participation in traditional music scene in Ireland.

She has researched the problem and gathered witness testimony from over 80 Irish musicians. Eleven of the 83 responses recounted details of sexual assault and a further 16 gave accounts of sexual harassment.

Dr Monaghan’s article ‘121 Stories: The impact of gender on participation in Irish traditional musicwas first published in the journal Ethnomusicology Ireland in 2021. Her research demonstrates that the mechanisms and structures of the Irish traditional music scene continue to privilege the contribution of men. Recent work done in Scotland by organisations such as the Musician’s Union and the BIT Collective suggests that a similar situation exists in Scotland and the rest of the UK.

As the Sunday National reported: “One musician spoke of her shock and humiliation when her manager stuffed cash down her bra ‘in full view of everyone’ after she had asked for payment.

Asked what could be done, Monaghan said that one thing would be to make sure that festivals create gender balanced programmes: “In terms of festival line-ups there really is no excuse.”

Which brings us back to Geoff Ellis and the problem of gatekeepers.

As one musician – who wanted to remain anonymous pointed out, “Doune the Rabbit Hole is run by Craig Murray’s company, a man who was sent to prison for breaking the anonymity of complainants in a trial for rape and sexual assault, is hardly thought of as a problem. A recurring problem is women speaking out being made-out to be ‘troublemakers’ or ‘difficult’ which adds to a culture of quietism.”

That might be changing with a number of new groups emerging to collaborate for change.

While the Bit Collective formed to declare #TradStandsWithHer and to state: “A growing number of young female musicians are risking their livelihoods and forfeiting their anonymity in order to speak out about their personal experiences of sexual abuse, assault, harassment and coercion by men on the folk and traditional music scene, both in Ireland and the U.K.” other groups such as POWA, Popgirlz and Brawgirls are also appearing.

The Bit Collective have set up a confidential email address for people to report instances of sexual harassment, assault and abuse in the industry. They explain: “We need a code of ethics, which protects women in folk and traditional music from sexual harassment and assault, and sends a clear zero tolerance message to male perpetrators.”

If the Bit Collective focuses on the trad scene, POWA (Protection of Women in the Arts) has a wider lens attempting to ‘create opportunities through supportive networks’. POWA is an anti-harassment, anti-abuse musical collective. Since it’s inception they have commissioned songwriters & producers to create new musical works including: Rosie Bans, Suse Bear (Good Dog), Fisty Muffs and more.

Now Popgirlz, FannyRiot and POWA have surveyed music festivals in Scotland and found that only one out of 63 has a anti-assault policy in place. This would seem like an obvious starting point and demand for music festivals, even if it does seem like a low-bar.

In January 2022,  Popgirlz Scotland, Fanny Riot and POWA Scotland came together to conduct some research on the Scottish Festival scene. By observing whether festivals displayed a sexual misconduct or anti sexual harassment and violence policy on their website; including in their terms and conditions, they built a picture of the gaps glaringly left by Festival organisers in 2022. They formed Friendy Fests Scotland (FFS) and have already received positive responses from TRSMT and Celtic Connections, who are updating their policy to prevent sexual assaults at their festivals.

Angered at the gender balance on ‘Scotify’, and gently smashing the Ellis Myth, Iona Lee last year listed a ton of great women guitarists and musicians in her epic article/playlist Girls Who Play Guitar.


It seems as if awareness of the issues of misogyny and (under) representation are becoming better understood and more prominent and urgent. What needs to happen now is for there to be organisation and action for change.

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  1. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    I have had no involvement in the music scene other than as a paying customer, but, from friends who have had some involvement, I think what you have written represents their experiences. Like the film industry, I suspect such harassment and exploitation has been going on for a long time. Indeed, many boasted of their treatment of those they called ‘groupies’.

    Fortunately, as in many fields of human endeavour many women and other victims of exploitation – sexual and other – are increasingly getting the confidence to speak out and resist when such things happen.

    As with the horror of Jimmy Savile, I suspect that many, who were themselves unexploitative, have turned a blind eye, so that they could hide in plain sight.

    Let us hope that increasing numbers feel confident enough to resist and complain.

    Whistleblowing still has a fair way to go, and they are still hounded, but, it must be encouraged.

    1. Lauren says:

      Should whistleblowing be encouraged in the particular context of Murray whistleblowing rape victims identities when the process has had very little actual effect in revealing any truth, is based on no evidence , and involves harming the safety of women? Easy for a man to make such a comment. As a woman, not so easy to understand why harming the safety sexual assault victims should ever be encouraged? Why should women pay this price? And for what actual result? How can you hope more of Saville’s or others victims come forward if you simultaneously encourage others to treat women with contempt? Misogyny and abuse comes in any shape or size, even in the form of whistleblowing.

      95%+ of rape complaints result in no conviction. Is Craig saying 95+% of all women are all lying, or only the ones he spent time in jail for targeting? It must not have been easy for Salmond’s victims to come forward! One case was left unproven!! Murray’s appeal for his 8 month jail sentence was lost based on the extent of harm caused to female complainants of sexual assault. Why must this kind of whistleblowing be encouraged? His only justification for doing this seems to be that the women knew each other? Unfortunately sexual harassment in the workplace often involves several women, and they often know each other? I just don’t get it. Have we moved on much from telling women to stay in the kitchen or burning witches? Men are wanking off to porn in Parliament, women can’t cross their legs, MPs are openly sexist and degrading toward women it seems. One of our princes is an i convicted rapist paedophile!! Women who complain seem to pay a very high price in politics and in wider society.

      Save whistleblowing for uncovering truths and facts. Leave painting women as liars, based on no evidence, for the wife beaters and womanisers of last century because this just just looks like the political boys club saving each other and not justice or progression. Craig describes meeting his own wife in his autobiography as “Her body invited sex while her eyes screamed, ‘Save me.” I think that says a lot about his views of women and respect for women. He’s acquitted of his own historic rape charges by the foreign office. Coercion of sex/rape to produce visas?!

      It looks to me like he has been in jail for a very good reason. Not because he was wrongfully accused of something but because he broke the law. He seems to admit that with pride and has no remorse. In Scotland the identity of female victims is protected for a very valid reason. Do we really want a world where we have even less sympathy for women who complain about sexual assault?

      It’s too easy for men to say women shouldn’t be harassed in the music industry however, what about women who work in politics?

      1. Derek Thomson says:

        You are Dani Garavelli and I claim my £5.

        1. Lauren says:

          You can keep your £5 because I’m not Dani G?! Did you know more than one woman you can think of is able to find this to be a totally sexist scenario and by the way more men should too. Do you?

          I can’t see what good result or actual whistleblowing came from Craig M picking on sexual assault survivors, can you? It looks like his attention seeking behaviour resulted in nothing more than a complete waste of money for the courts and waste of everyone’s time.

          There is a VERY good reason why revealing the identity of rape victims is ILLEGAL, the right for anonymity for assault survivors and complainants doesn’t just fly out the window when a man wants to pick on women to help stick up for a member of his men’s shed or his political party. Assault victims still have the right to safety and anonymity even when it’s your colleague, friend, family member they are complaining about.

          What I’m saying is whistleblowing should reveal truth. What truth did CM reveal by illegally revealing the IDs of rape complainants?

          All he says that I can see is that he proves they know each other. …. And that the police questioned a lot of people…… Well guess what, women in the workplace do know each other and that’s not news. I’m sorry but that is not whistleblowing. More like, that’s the boys club grouping together to use media and online harassment to victimise female complainants, to help their friend out get away with assault and harassment. Seen that happen over, and over, and over when a woman complains about being assaulted by a sportsman, a businessman, a musician, politician. Even the police have an awful reputation towards not helping women after they have been assaulted.

          How could anyone ever focus on the music scene being less sexist if there are men involved in the world of politics still trying to drag us all backwards by 50 years and running music festivals while they are at it. This is an absolute mess for women’s rights.

  2. Derek says:

    We (The Fnords) never got that much grief, but I think that’s because Sarah was so in-your-face and that there was no spare time to shout in.

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