Lancashire female punk band battle sexist abuse to perform alongside Run DMC and Kaiser Chiefs

Punk rock band, Nancy and the Dolls, who've played at The British Grand Prix and Isle of White Festival.
Punk rock band, Nancy and the Dolls, who've played at The British Grand Prix and Isle of White Festival.

They're the Lancashire punk rockers whose talents have landed them gigs alongside music legends Status Quo, Run DMC and Kaiser Chiefs.

Blackpool's Caroline Lowe and Bamber Bridge's Jill Bethwaite are two-fifths of an explosive all-female punk band that has been renamed Nancy and the Dolls after riding a wave of success.

But lead singer Caroline and bassist Jill said they have had to double down on their dreams after facing abuse from a number of male musicians.

Caroline, whose band persona is Nancy Doll, added: "Lots of men say we are these five sexy girls but don't realise we can play and put on a show. Some members can play four or five instruments.

"In our early gigs, because we are women, we had to prove ourselves. Some 80% of the abuse we received on our Facebook page was from male musicians."

The band - which also stars lead guitarist Kitty Vacant, rhythm guitarist May Hem and drummer Anna Key - have used that sexism as motivation to up their game after forming in 2014 as The Sex Pissed Dolls.

Caroline Lowe, whose band persona isNancy Doll, is the lead singer.

Caroline Lowe, whose band persona isNancy Doll, is the lead singer.

A latecomer to the bass guitar, 47-year-old Jill, known by her stage name Jilly Idol, taught herself to play the instrument just seven years ago. Meanwhile, Caroline grew up with music in her blood and went on to study music, theatre and dance at Salford College before joining the Dolls.

The group began life by performing classic rock and punk covers by the likes of The Clash, The Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks and Nirvana but went on to record debut EP Maniac with producer Steve Brown, who's worked with The Cult, George Michael and Manic Street Preachers.

They have since launched a three-track EP on iTunes and Spotify, with Jill listing old working-class towns, serial killers, science-fiction, the universe and revenge among their inspirations. New song Karma is also set to be released at the end of March. Its launch will kick off the Dolls' Karma Tour this May.

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Bassist Jill Bethwaite, on the left, is known by her stage name Jilly Idol.

Bassist Jill Bethwaite, on the left, is known by her stage name Jilly Idol.

"We play high-energy punk rock. I've never seen anything like it. I've seen lots of bands who are technically amazing but boring to watch. We aren't boring. Every girl is going crazy on stage, throwing themselves around. It's very passionate," said Caroline.

The band proves that women can do it all - sing, play and command a crowd - as well as any male rocker, according to the 45-year-old. The fearless musician said she'd encourage young girls who want to reach their dreams to push themselves and refuse to be put in a box.

"We live in a generation of The X Factor and everyone wants to be a singer and be vocally acrobatic. Don't do that. Pick up an instrument," she added.

"There's talk about how women have moved on but we work in a male-dominated industry. It's been difficult for us to find very good female musicians who can do it all. You can find people who are technically good but when they perform individually they shrivel up. Our girls are amazing on their own and when they come together it's electric. They catch people's eyes."

Nancy and the Dolls will release their new single, Karma, at the end of March.

Nancy and the Dolls will release their new single, Karma, at the end of March.

The members have adopted powerful personas to help them ramp up their connection with the audience, with Jill describing Nancy as, "crazy but wonderful. You can't take your eyes off her."

Meanwhile, Caroline said: "Jilly is ultra cool. She has this Jilly Idol stare. She just stares at people. And her whole posture, it's ultra cool. You look at her and want to be her."

Another secret to their mesmerising performance, says Jill, is the chemistry they share.

"We have a great connection," she added.

"All the girls will tell you the same thing. I don't think I could be in another band like it."

Among the big players whose eyes have been caught is promoter John Giddings, who invited the girls to open the Isle of White Festival in 2016. They impressed him so much that he asked them back the following year to perform on the main stage alongside Run DMC, Kaiser Chiefs and David Guetta.

Over the years, they've even rubbed shoulders with music giants Rag'n'Bone Man, Buzzcocks, The Feeling and Mike + the Mechanics.

And their determination to prove the critics wrong has earned them iconic gigs like the official aftershow of The British Grand Prix where they met six-time Formula One World Champion, Lewis Hamilton.

"People thought we'd landed these opportunities because we'd fluttered our eyelashes but it was because we'd worked hard for it," said Caroline.

In November, they played The 100 Club in Oxford Street, London, and were supported by The Split Squad, whose drummer Clem Burke once belonged to new wave band Blondie, which made it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"It was brilliant. We could have sold it twice over. It was rammed," said Caroline.

The venue's reputation has made it a favourite among music royalty as a place for secret, intimate gigs. Major acts who've graced its stage include Queens Of The Stone Age, Metallica, Alice Cooper, The Rolling Stones, Blur, Primal Scream, Mark Ronson, Chuck Berry, Paul Mccartney, Plan B, and Paul Weller.

The Dolls have now played The 100 Club four times, with Jill adding: "It was a privilege and the crowd was absolutely mad."

They've also performed at the iconic Koko music venue in Camden, which has hosted album launches from Coldplay and Madonna, and seminal performances from Prince, Kanye West, Bruno Mars, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Amy Winehouse, Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller and Skepta.

And with their own reputation rising, the Dolls have opted to changed their name.

"The word 'Pissed' was becoming a problem for us as we were being rejected by festivals," Caroline said.

"Also people thought we were a Sex Pistols tribute band but we actually only do three of their songs. So the name had started to hinder us."

But one thing that remains unchanged is a refusal to colour within the lines as female musicians - and the vivid and rebellious nature of punk still offers the girls the perfect palette and paintbrush for putting that message across.

Commenting on what they love most about the genre, Jill said: "The energy, the passion. It's really fun to play. Punk audiences are amazing as they really connect with you and you feed off that."