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In midlife, Janet Berry, 53, from Leicester felt like she was in danger of fading into the background until she found a new outlet as part of the all-woman indie band, Velvet Crisis…despite only knowing four chords! Here she explains how rocking out on stage relieves her menopause anxiety among many other benefits.
As told to Andreina Cordani
‘Music has always meant so much to me. As a teenager you could tell when I’d had a bad day because I’d shut myself in my room and put music on at top volume. I played a bit of guitar at school, and my student years were lived to a soundtrack of the Pixies, Sonic Youth, the Stone Roses and the Happy Mondays. Gigs were my happy place.
But when you grow up, other priorities take over. I married my husband David and stopped going to gigs – we were saving our money for more important things.
By my late 40s, life was full-on. I was rebuilding my career, raising my son James and daughter Alexandra. Music was squeezed into that tiny part of life that was left over. Occasionally I’d put on a Smashing Pumpkins album but I had no headspace to experiment with new bands.
At time passed, I noticed a shift in attitudes towards me. My job is advising churches on looking after historic buildings and artifacts and people asked me why I was bothering with management training as I’d be ‘retiring soon.’ And when I did start going to the occasional gig I was always nervous about being the oldest person there.
And then there were all these weird symptoms… migraines, brain fog, weight gain, sleeplessness and catastrophic PMT. Worst of all was vaginal dryness. Although David was really kind and understanding, it hit my confidence hard, which affected our relationship.
I didn’t think these things were associated and I was shocked when my GP suggested it might be perimenopause. But when I looked at the checklist of 38 symptoms I had 31 of them.
At first I refused HRT, I told myself I’d cope. But then I started getting what I thought were painful UTIs. It turned out that vaginal atrophy can also affect the urethra. It was all down to hormones again.
Eventually I was given oestrogen gel and pessaries to help the atrophy – they worked like a charm.
The other symptoms began to lift too and for the first time in years I was able to breathe again, to take stock of my life.
Then I saw a post on a friend’s Facebook saying 66 Days to Your Debut. It was posted by a music organisation called Unglamorous, calling upon women to meet up in January 2022, form a band and perform a song live on International Women’s Day.
I thought it sounded great, but there was no way I had time for that.
But the idea wouldn’t go away. The more I thought about it, the more I desperately wanted to try, and David urged me to go for it.
I went to a music shop, bought a cheapie electric guitar and squashed down my nerves.
The organiser, Ruth Miller, was so welcoming. When I told her I could just about play four chords she said: “Four chords is great.”
She introduced me to Sophie, Steph, Danni and Cathy – my new bandmates.
“Actually, I know four chords but I can only actually play three…” I confessed. But working together we came up with a little song using those three chords.
By our next meeting I was convinced I wasn’t good enough to join the band but so desperate to be part of it that I was quite prepared to just ‘do a Bez’ and dance with maracas in the background! But they were lovely, and the fact they were prepared to work with me really boosted my confidence.
We were all at different life-stages. Steph was the eldest at 71, Danni and Sophie were in their 30s with Cathy and me in between. As we worked together, something just gelled. I even started playing bass and loved it!
We called ourselves Velvet Crisis. It worked perfectly – we sang crisis songs, but there was a softness to us too. We talked about our lives, and wrote songs about workers’ rights, female empowerment. Steph wrote one called Invisible Woman, about when your hair turns grey and you disappear. I’d seen for myself how that can happen.
The big night of the concert, 66 days after that first get-together, drew closer, and my nerves increased. I still got brain fog from time to time – what if I forgot the lyrics? When we got to the pub, the stage was tiny. Would I knock Sophie over with my guitar? Fall off stage?
But as we climbed onto stage, and heard the crowd roar, I felt this rush. I was due to sing Invisible Woman, and when my turn came all my fear vanished. I just wanted to do Steph proud.
I can’t begin to describe the high I felt. And as we performed our songs I realised that we were being heard. I had a voice, I was a valid member of society and people were listening to me. That feeling of being heard is so important, so empowering. We came off stage absolutely bouncing.
There was no question about carrying on after that. Someone at the gig booked us for their festival. Ruth got us a few more bookings and now we’re performing regularly and writing new songs. 18 months on. And of course we’re going to other bands’ gigs too – my life is full of music now. David’s been hugely supportive. James, 14, and Alexandra, 12, are at that stage where anything I do is embarrassing but it’s great for them to see me going off to band practice.
Life is still full-on, and I still have menopause symptoms, but I have an outlet now. Some days I’ll come to practice all stressed and nervous but I’ll grab my bass and just let it all out. After that I’m fine. I can cope. Just like it always did, music makes me feel better.
You can see Velvet Crisis perform on their YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/@velvetcrisis or follow the band on Instagram https://www.instagram.com/velvet_crisis_leicester/
Velvet Crisis performs two tracks on the Unglamorous Sampler album, available from Rough Trade records https://www.roughtrade.com/gb/product/various/unglamorous-sampler#vinyl-lp-black
They are performing on 4th August at The Musician, Leicester and 19th August at the Leicester Punk Weekender.
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