When Emma Daman Thomas of experimental art-prog-poppers Islet found she was pregnant, she realised she didn't know a single woman to whom she could talk about what it was like being both a musician and a mother. It was her sense of a pressing need to learn about and share such experiences that prompted her to set up More Baby In My Monitor Please, a panel discussion that kicked off her From Now On-affiliated festival The Future Is Female at Chapter on Saturday.
Currently pregnant for the second time, Daman Thomas took her place alongside fellow musicians Gwenno Saunders (who chaired the discussion) and Lisa Jen Brown of 9 Bach and Public Service Broadcasting. Over the course of an hour, the trio tackled a topic that's almost taboo in an industry in which youth is so widely prized, talking about about the self-criticism and guilt (felt internally but subtly imposed from outside), the (im)practicalities of touring and the impact on creativity, before opening up the discussion to the floor.
Fatherhood certainly affects male musicians in ways that filter into their music: Sweet Baboo's latest album Wild Imagination, for instance, is largely about his young son, while Field Music's last LP Commontime was created in the studio in the very finite time that brothers Peter and David Brewis had in amongst childcare responsibilities. But the three panellists (plus Estrons' Taliesyn Kallstrom, absent but represented by a piece specially written for the occasion) were absolutely right in stressing that society continues to regard childcare as the mother's responsibility, and that fathers who disappear off on tour are never subjected to the same level of implicit or explicit judgement or criticism as mothers. Neither are men often perceived as flaky and unreliable as soon as they mention they have children - something that Daman Thomas has endured on more than one occasion.
The consensus was that combining motherhood with a career in music can be tough, and it probably pays to be realistic (which Brown readily admitted she wasn't), but that it's certainly not unfeasible with the support of partners, bandmates and venues. Indeed, as one audience member volunteered from personal experience, far from being "harmed" by periods of parental absence or a lack of regular structure/routine, children can actually benefit from having a musician for a mother, in terms of confidence, sociability, creativity and adaptability.
If the session helped to demystify the experience and allayed some concerns or fears, then it will have done its job - but the feeling was that it might actually inspire something bigger: a network allowing conversations and the sharing of experiences to take place on a larger scale. Watch this space.
Unfortunately, I couldn't stay for the festival's programme of music in the evening, which featured Lone Taxidermist and Charismatic Megafauna among others. Daryl Feehely's excellent photos give a glimpse of what I missed out on.