Take It Like A Man by Amanda Shires


Phyllis Nan Sortain Pechey was born in Leytonstone in 1909. Her family moved around the country (Herne Bay, Swanage, Bournemouth and Wroxham) until her father’s creditors caught up with him, causing her to live her teenage years in destitution, selling cleaning products door-to-door and working in a dressmaking shop. In 1926, she married a 26 year old man, Sidney Evans, who died in a plane crash a year later. His grandparents brought up her son, Peter. In 1928, Phyllis married Arthur Evans but they separated after a year and he brought up her second son, Christopher. Phyllis married for the third time in 1938, to Gregory Holden-Dye but, since Arthur Evans, as a Catholic, refused to divorce her, the marriage was bigamous. Eight weeks later, this liaison was over after she met Johnnie Cradock (who had four children with his first wife) and they stayed together for the next 48 years, until his death in 1987. Phyllis changed her name to Cradock, by deed poll, in 1942 and they finally married in 1977, one year before Arthur Evans’ death (thus achieving Phyllis’ second bigamous marriage). On the marriage certificate, Phyllis gave her age as 55, even though she was 68 and had a 49 year old son.

Phyllis’ working career took a turn for the better when she left the dressmaking shops in the 1920’s and started working in restaurants. After she met Johnnie Cradock, they began writing a cookery column for The Daily Telegraph. Johnnie Cradock had been to Harrow and had subsequently been a lieutenant in The Territorial Army. This column resulted in a television career for the two of them from 1955-1976, in which she changed her name to Fanny Cradock. The popularity of their show was due to many factors: she was very keen to emphasise that her recipes did not include fancy, expensive ingredients (“this won’t stretch your purse”); every year the BBC published a booklet of all her recipes; most importantly, the dynamic between the two of them was comedy gold with the monocled, blazer-wearing Johnnie hovering behind his “wife”, waiting for her barked instructions and often being berated for being too slow. Their programmes, “Kitchen Magic” on BBC and “Fanny & Johnny” on ITV were hugely successful and transformed post-war British cuisine, introducing pizza and prawn cocktail to a public who, initially, were struggling with rationing.

I got beaten by Scott at pool yesterday which was very disappointing as I thought I had the hex over him. (Apparently, “hex” is derived from the German word “hexe”, which means witch). We used to teach Maths together (he still does teach) and yesterday we met after I had completed a depressing shift at The Samaritans. I told Scott that I had wasted 40 years of my life teaching Maths. It seemed to me that despite the beauty, wonder and generic usefulness of solving maths problems, the most important thing that teachers could teach is how to form and maintain lasting relationships. I had spent three hours on the phone, listening to some very pleasant people who were desperately unhappy because their relationships with their family and friends had deteriorated and they felt lonely and isolated, living unfulfilled and meaningless lives.

Fanny and Johnny Cradock had fulfilling, meaningful and influential lives but left a trail of disrupted families in their wake. I occasionally wonder what it would be like to work with my wife and quickly come to the conclusion that it would be a toss up as to which of us would kill the other one first. It seems to me quite incredible that Fanny and Johnny Cradock’s marriage survived 20 years of TV shows and a further 20 years of retirement. This got me thinking about married couples making music together – how good was the music that they made and what was the effect on their marriage?

Victoria Williams and Mark Olson. When The Jayhawks contributes a song to “Sweet Relief”, a 1993 benefit album for Victoria Williams, who had recently been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Mark Olson left The Jayhawks and married the singer who had already released four albums and, as The Original Harmony Ridge Creekdippers, the duo released seven albums before their divorce in 2006.

Paul Kantner and Grace Slick. After finishing her relationship with Jefferson Airplane drummer Spencer Dryden, Grace Slick begun a relationship with Paul Kantner which lasted from 1969 until 1975, during which time Jefferson Airplane (or their offshoots) released five albums. They had one child, China, who appeared on the front of her parents’ 1971 album, “Sunfighter”. Grace Slick ended the relationship in 1975 to marry Skip Johnson, a roadie with their band. Paul Kantner died in 2016.

Buddy and Julie Miller. After auditioning for her band, Buddy Miller married Julie Griffin in 1981 and they have released three albums as a duo, as well as performing on each others’ albums. In 2019, they released an album called “Breakdown on 20th Avenue South”, which “UNCUT” described as “listening to a late night argument”. The chorus for the third track is “Everything is your fault in the whole wide world”. Although credited to both artists, Julie Miller wrote every song and sings for the vast majority of the album.

Rachel Unthank and Adrian McNally. Adrian McNally was married to Rachel Unthank but they have recently divorced. They have two children. As piano player and producer of The Unthanks’ albums, he has been and, apparently still will be, an important influence on the future direction of the band who have combined Rachel and Becky Unthank’s folk music heritage with his love of English progressive music of the 70’s. They still record together and The Unthanks’ new album, due for release in a couple of month’s time, will feature them both.

Richard and Linda Thompson. Linda Peters forged a reputation as a folk singer in London before teaming up with Richard Thompson to create six English folk-rock albums that stand head and shoulders above any other music in this genre. The couple separated before an American tour to promote “Shoot Out The Lights” but they fulfilled the gigs, despite Linda Thompson smashing a bottle over Richard Thompson’s head.

James Walbourne and Kami Thompson. Kami Thompson is Richard and Linda Thompson’s daughter and she married James Walbourne in 2012, going on to form The Rails, who have released three albums. Kami Thompson once said that their aim was to “produce the perfect divorce album”.

Chris Masterson and Eleanor Whitmore have been part of Steve Earle’s backing band for 11 years and have released four albums as The Mastersons.

Paul and Linda McCartney. Linda McCartney’s contribution to the music made by Paul McCartney was emotionally important but musically insignificant. Their marriage lasted 29 years until her death in 1998.

Ike and Tina Turner. Ann Bullock first met Ike Turner in 1957 and started making music with him a year later after which, on his advice, she changed her name to Tina. She started dating Raymond Hill, the saxophonist in Ike Turner’s band and she gave birth to a son, Craig, in 1958. At the time Ike Turner was in a relationship with Lorraine Taylor who, believing that Ike Turner was Craig’s father fired a gunshot at Ann Bullock but only injured herself. Ike and Tina Turner married in 1962 and after suffering 16 years of violence from her husband, Tina Turner filed for divorce in 1978. Ike Turner claimed that he had 14 wives and also claimed that he was never officially married to Tina Turner. As a duo, they released 72 singles between 1960 and 1982. Ike Turner died in 2007.

Sonny and Cher. Cherilyn Sarkisian first met Salvatore Bono in a Los Angeles coffee shop in November 1962, when she was 16 and he was 27. They married in 1969, after their son, Chastity (“Chaz”), was born, although they pretended that they had married in 1964. After their musical career dried up in the late 60’s, they forged a new career in Las Vegas, in which Cher presented as a wise-cracking, glamorous singer, with Sonny as the good-natured recipient of her insults. In reality, he controlled every aspect of their act, from the musical arrangements to the joke-writing and their act resulted in a number of TV specials. They divorced in 1975 and Sonny Bono died in 1998.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono. John Lennon always craved the love, affection and approval from the authority figures in his life, such as his mother Julia, his Aunt Mimi, his friend Stuart Sutcliffe, his manager Brian Epstein, his producer George Martin, his spiritual guide the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and his therapist Arthur Janov. However, it wasn’t until he met Yoko Ono that she retaliated to the potential rejection and mistrust that he had displayed to anyone that hadn’t died on him, by rejecting him herself, instructing him to have an affair with her personal assistant, May Pang. This had the effect of consolidating his love for her and they remained together until his violent death in 1980, 11 years after they married.

Bruce Springsteen and Patty Scialfa. Patty Scialfa first met Bruce Springsteen in the early 1980s and in 1984, she postponed recording her solo record to join Springsteen’s Born in the U.S.A. Tour – she has been a member of the E Street Band ever since. In 1988, Bruce Springsteen’s first wife Julianne Phillips filed for divorce, and Patty Scialfa and Bruce Springsteen started living together, marrying in 1991. They have three children and one grandchild.

Neil and Pegi Young. Pegi Young married Neil Young in 1978 and occasionally sung in his backing band until their divorce in 2014. She died in 2019.

John and Christine McVie. Really? Surely this post is long enough…

Amanda Shires has released six solo albums and in 2019, she founded a country music supergroup called The Highwomen with Brandi Carlile, Maren Morris and Natalie Hemby. She has performed as a member of the Texas Playboys, the former backing band for Bob Wills. Jason Isbell was a member of Drive By Truckers between 2001 and 2007 and he married the band’s bass player, Shona Tucker in 2002. Amanda Shires began dating Jason Isbell in 2011, they married in 2013 and she gave birth to Mercy Rose Isbell in 2015. Jason Isbell’s drug and alcohol dependency had seen him leave Drive By Truckers and despite releasing three fine solo albums (“Sirens Of The Ditch” (2007), “Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit” (2009) and “Here We Rest” (2011)), he was in need of rescuing and his marriage to Amanda Shires provided just that.

In 2013, Jason Isbell released a fantastic album called “Southeastern”. The opening song on that album is “Cover Me Up” which he wrote about Amanda Shires. He described the song as “a hard one for me to even get through without breaking down” because his gratitude and love for his wife was all encompassing. The song describes how, after receiving help for alcohol addiction, he was more than grateful to spend time alone with her. “Girl, leave your boots by the bed, we ain’t leaving this room.” When he sings this song live and he gets to the line “But I sobered up and I swore off this stuff, forever, this time“, it’s quite common for the audience to roar its appreciation, support and love for him.

Amanda Shires has now released nine solo albums (as well as appearing on six albums with Jason Isbell). However, at the start of the pandemic, she reached a point where she lacked the confidence to record new music of her own. “One of the first experiences I had in a studio in Nashville, the producer told me, ‘Less goat, more note.’ That affected me, because somebody’s telling me something about my voice that they don’t like, but I can’t really change my own voice. I went and got singing lessons and tried to fix it, but I can’t fix it. I’ve worked with producers that have told me they don’t understand my songs.” However, as the pandemic continued, she met singer, songwriter and producer Lawrence Rothman, who has worked with artists including Courtney Love and Lucinda Williams. When she wrote a song called “Fault Lines“, Lawrence Rothman encouraged her to record it. The song was inspired by a difficult time in her marriage. “I was trying to explain my feelings about the disconnect in my marriage to myself. I sent it to Jason and he didn’t listen to it, which was fine. He was busy during the pandemic guarding his own mental health, dealing with things in his own way.” The lyrics include the lines “Time was all I’d want. You can keep the car and the house”.

Hawk for the Dove “, the album opener, immediately makes an impact with a scratchy fiddle, booming bass drums and stunning electric guitar. On the whole album, her vocals are emotional, hard hitting and immensely effective. I love her voice – it sounds nothing like a goat!

Empty Cups” is not far removed from a Dolly Parton song and includes backing vocals from Maren Morris and includes the brutal couplet “You’re leaving now through the hole of an argument. I guess for a while you’ve been looking for the exit”.

The title track, “Take It Like A Man” describes a journey of self-discovery, set to an emotional accompaniment in which Jason Isbell’s electric guitar solo excels. She says that the title is “the opposite of what I’m doing with these songs. To be successful, you were never supposed to be emotional, but now “self-care days” and “me time” are in. Suddenly its okay to cry. In the end it’s not about how a man takes things versus how a woman takes things: everybody processes their shit differently and we have to allow people to do those things in healthy ways”. The last line summarises this: “I know I can take it like Amanda“.

“The whole point of this record is to show strength and vulnerability, how necessary vulnerability is in relationships. You have choices in life and with those choices is the inevitable consequence. It takes a lot of strength to be vulnerable, to deal with your own choices.”

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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