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The Last Bohemians podcast
photography Laura Kelly

The podcast bringing the stories of fearless, maverick older women to light

The Last Bohemians is a jubilant retelling of cultural icons like Cosey Fanni Tutti and Pamela Des Barres’ rebellious lives

The creatives, the avant-gardists, and non-conformists, those that are celebrated, referenced, and kept on a pedestal in the cultural canon castle, are almost always men. They’re lauded in a way few women ever are, and the myth of the male genius is a thick veneer that’s tough to prise open. A new podcast, The Last Bohemians, brings together “female firebrands and maverick outsiders” in an effort to chronicle and celebrate the stories of women who changed culture across generations. Journalist and podcaster Kate Hutchinson meets the likes of erotic novelist, painter, and confronting cultural pioneer Molly Parkin to dissect loneliness, self-love, and Soho exploits, while author, musician, and iconic groupie Pamela Des Barres brings us on a journey through summers of love, hedonistic glory days, and music, considering the modern lens of consent, sexual agency, and misogyny. Industrial music pioneer and author Cosey Fanni Tutti shines on sex, subversion, and the vitality of working class voices from her Norfolk home, and original rude girl Pauline Black talks intersectionality. It’s a rhapsodic, necessary retelling of trailblazer stories.

“I like nostalgia, because when I look back at the past, it’s always great. I don’t do things to be proud, I just do things that feel right,” says Cosey Fanni Tutti in her episode, reflecting on a career and life that’s been about never compromising, pushing the limits of performance and art. “The difficulties I’ve had in life, I could have been a tortured artist, had I not stood and thought ‘well fuck this, let’s get on with it’.”

Below, host Kate Hutchinson discusses some of her fascinating guests, why women are so often ignored in the cultural narrative, and the makings of a DIY podcast.

What’s the main mission of The Last Bohemians?

Kate Hutchinson: I wanted to interview people in arts and culture whose lives have been fearless, maverick, controversial, wild, shocking – all the things that you’re not supposed to be when you’re a woman and you’re over 60. I wasn’t hearing these voices in an audio format outside of maybe Woman’s Hour, the long-running programme on BBC Radio 4, and I think it’s important to celebrate rebellious attitudes and alternative ways of thinking at a time when young people, myself included, are increasingly facing work, life, social media pressure, and all the anxiety that brings with it.

The women in The Last Bohemians have all succeeded in their various fields – art, theatre, music, literature, science – by not giving a toss what anyone else thinks of them. People have told me that they’ve felt inspired after listening to the series, which is so great to hear. It’s great medicine if you’re stuck in a creative rut, if you’re feeling frustrated by how posh the arts are, or if you need some reassurance that you don’t have to play by the rules. I find it annoying the way that creative men’s hedonistic, unbridled, debauched lifestyles are celebrated but when it comes to women of the same age that sort of behaviour is seen as ‘uncouth’. My friend Sharon and I had this discussion at a Courtney Love concert a few years back, about why society always wants to tame wild women, and I’ve been interested in that area ever since.

Why do you think that older women creatives are so largely left out of the cultural narrative?

Kate Hutchinson: For one, women have less visibility the creative sectors because they are often forced to retreat from their work or from the public eye at some point in their lives due to being the primary carer for their children. There are also prejudices around older creative women, such as being “out of touch”, because for some reason going through, say, the menopause equates to losing one’s edge, which is absolute bollocks. I do think that our views on older female creatives are changing and that they are being better respected and represented but I worry that they’re seen as a trend in the arts instead of omnipresent. I read an article recently, for example, that lamented the lack of female retrospectives in galleries and museums in London this year, while last year there were loads. It’s not like there isn't an enormous number of women artists around the world who deserve that space.

“Each of these women have had to forge their own paths and create new roles for themselves as opposed to the narrow ones the world has handed them” – Kate Hutchinson

What defines the guests you’ve chosen?

Kate Hutchinson: Apart from being distinct in their own fields, each of these women have had to forge their own paths and create new roles for themselves as opposed to the narrow ones the world has handed them. They’ve had to shock in order to smash societal norms. Cosey Fanni Tutti, who is one of the founders of pioneering industrial band Throbbing Gristle, decided to use the images of her taken for her porno career as the basis of her solo exhibition at the ICA in the 1970s, thus inverting the male gaze; Molly Parkin was a single mother writing erotic novels; Amanda Feilding is a countess who has eschewed the aristocracy for scientific experimentations in psychedelics. They’ve all taken risks, and they’ve had to challenge culture in order to change it.

The team around you – photographing, producing – are women, do you think that reflects in the work?

Kate Hutchinson: I really hope so. Most if not all of the interviewees were pleased to see an all-female team bringing their stories to life for a change and that went some way to put them at ease. I’ve worked with all-female teams on charity events before and I find it very powerful to surround yourself with women. It was also just fun to do a project with one of my best friends, the photographer Laura Kelly. But I also think this series is a celebration of the DIY spirit: to make a radio series, usually what you have to do is find a production company to help you get it through the Fort Knox-like pitching system of the BBC, or a platform like Spotify, and then get it made. I didn’t want to wait for anyone to give me the keys I assembled a team of people I knew who were great and did it independently, on my own terms.

“This series is a celebration of the DIY spirit” – Kate Hutchinson

What’s the most challenging thing about bringing these kind of stories to life?

Kate Hutchinson: The editing process! Essentially what you’re hearing in the series are very heavily condensed versions of long, winding interviews that spiralled off on tangents and darted up, and down, and back again. Crafting the narrative was a huge challenge and my producers handled it with enviable patience. I also wanted to present the interviewees in their own words as much as possible, without my opinion chiming in. The other challenge is that you’re not always going to agree with the people you interview. I wouldn’t say I necessarily agree that trepanning (ie drilling a hole in one’s head) has medical benefits, as Amanda Feilding argues, although I’m very interested in why she thinks that.

The super-groupie Pamela Des Barres’ episode was also an interesting one. I’d read a piece in the Guardian about groupies and the #MeToo movement and I thought that it would be a new way to explore her history, which she has discussed at length already in her two memoirs. I asked her whether she considered that men might not deserve the pedestal they’ve been put on and whether she regarded that era any differently now. While I didn’t agree with her answer – she’s of the perspective that it was a different time – that is her truth, even if it could be seen as controversial. I don’t agree with the idea of no-platforming people just because you don’t share their points of view. In Bonnie Greer’s episode, she talks about how you have to hear people talk so that you can hear that they’re wrong, and I think that’s an important sentiment to bear in mind in our ‘cancel culture’.

Do you have a favourite guest or moment?

Kate Hutchinson: Molly Parkin, the erotic novelist, painter and famed Soho bohemian, was the inspiration for the series – 10 years ago she emailed me some of her poems to read at a cabaret event and I’d been dying to meet her ever since. I loved hearing her lewd stories about the various jazz musicians she’s shagged in her Welsh rasp but there’s a particularly poignant moment towards the end of the episode, where she reads out one of those poems. Her story is in many ways defined by the men she’s slept with and in this poem she talks about outliving her lovers and wonders whether she has sapped them of their lifeforce, essentially by giving excellent blowjobs. When she lets out a deep chuckle at this thought, it’s just magic. I played her episode to my grandma, though, and had forgotten how saucy it was.

And then Bonnie Greer was a fireball of profundity. Everything she said was illuminating, and she presented loads of ideas in new ways, especially from the perspective of her being an African-American outsider in Britain and what that means for her making work about race. I also thought what Cosey Fanni Tutti said about how the most interesting people to talk to are those who work in factories was crucial. The art world is obsessed with aspiration and triple-barrelled surnames, and we don’t hear enough from working-class voices.

Is there any advice you could offer to someone wanting to start their own podcast?

Kate Hutchinson: It’s a bit of a minefield but the best place to start is having a very strong, clear idea of what you want to say and who your audience is. A catchy title helps. You need a microphone, a broadcast quality dictaphone, like a Tascam, and editing software which you can download for free. Otherwise, I’d recommend joining a social media audio network like Sound Women and finding like-minded people who can produce and edit for you. Then, you need to choose your hosting platform: Soundcloud, Mixcloud, Audioboom, Libsyn – there are loads, each offering a variation of the same thing, for a small monthly fee. I went with Audioboom because the interface made it easy to connect my podcast with iTunes (crucial) and Spotify, so that my series also appeared on those platforms. Rather than being just another voice gassing on a mic with a mate, I’d think carefully about what you’re adding to the noise – my preference is to hear new and inventive storytelling, rather than gags on a topic like Game Of Thrones

You can listen to The Last Bohemians in full on iTunes, Spotify, Audioboom, and follow more of the stories on Instagram