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Feminist Improvising Group


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The Feminist Improvising Group (FIG) was founded in 1977 in London by Scottish vocalist Maggie Nicols from Centipede, and English bassoonist/composer Lindsay Cooper from Henry Cow. The other members of the five-piece ensemble were cellist/bassist Georgie Born, also from Henry Cow, vocalist/pianist Cathy Williams from the British duo Rag Doll, and trumpeter Corinne Liensol. They had originally intended calling themselves the “Women’s Improvising Group”, but at their first engagement they discovered that the organisers had billed them as the “Feminist Improvising Group”. Nicols said that the “political statement of the band’s name never even came from us! But we just thought, ‘OK, they’ve called us feminist, we’ll work with that’ .”

FIG’s debut performance was at a “Music for Socialism” festival at the Almost Free Theatre in London. Their act was a combination of music and comedy, and focused on “women’s experience” and “mundane daily things”. Nicols described it as “quite anarchic. It had elements of theatre; we had props, we were chopping onions, I was rushing around with perfume, it was completely improvised.”

FIG were the first women-only improvising group, and they challenged the established improvising community with performances that were theatrical, with politics and farce supplementing their music. They staged parodies around the role of women in society and incorporated domestic “found objects” in their performances, “vacuum cleaners, brooms, dustpans, pots and pans, and egg slicers”.

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