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‘We were before the Spice Girls’: How feminist trio Zenana signed a record deal in their seventies

Anita, Penny and Ruth of Zenana, pictured in 1985 (Zenana/supplied)
Anita, Penny and Ruth of Zenana, pictured in 1985 (Zenana/supplied)

They’ve got artificial hips, a pacemaker and five kidneys between them, but the all-women trio experiencing a surprise revival in their seventies are raring to go as they prepare to play their first gigs in almost four decades.

Zenana, a rock band who formed in Milton Keynes in 1983, were reunited after a young DJ stumbled upon one of their early singles on vinyl while crate-digging in Cornwall, and began playing it at his club nights around Europe to rave receptions.

Comprising Anita Gabriella Tedder, Penny Griffiths and Ruth Elder, Zenana disbanded in 1987 but have since been signed to a record label and are booked to play a series of shows this summer.

Speaking to The Independent, Tedder explained how she and her brother, Michael, had initially started working on songs together in the early Eighties using his home studio, before she realised she wanted to perform music “that was also about empowering women”.

After meeting Griffiths and Elder, Zenana – inspired by a Persian word meaning “of the women” – were formed, and they released their single “Witches”, a song Tedder says was “about women having agency”.

“That was really a core part of the whole ethos of Zenana,” she said, adding: “This was long before the Spice Girls… I don’t think the music industry knew what to do with us.”

Zenana in 1986 (Steph Daniels)
Zenana in 1986 (Steph Daniels)

Unfortunately, the song “died a death” and disappeared until two years ago, not long after Tedder and her longterm partner, Steph – the band’s manager – threw a party to celebrate their anniversary.

For “a lark”, the former band ended up digging out an old backing tape for “Witches” and began to dance to it: “All the old moves came back, and we had such fun with it.”

The moment happened to take place in front of their friend, Amy Wadge, who is best known for being one of Ed Sheeran’s go-to songwriters, who also co-wrote Sam Ryder’s hit Eurovision song, “Spaceman!"

The very next day, as if by fate, by Tedder received a message from the DJ, 24-year-old Kiernan Abbott, who told her that he had been playing “Witches” in songs around clubs from Paris to Los Angeles.

This prompted DJ Antalheitlager, managing director of Amsterdam-based record label Rush Hour, to offer them a record deal.

Zenana in 2024: Anita, Penny and Ruth (Jean Fitch)
Zenana in 2024: Anita, Penny and Ruth (Jean Fitch)

The band are now releasing an EP with an eight-page booklet and remixed versions of their original songs.

“Initially I said we were too old,” Tedder said of this unexpected foray back into the music industry.

“Ruth has a pacemaker and is awaiting a heart operation, Penny’s had cancer and her hips replaced, I’ve had my hips replaced and I’m a kidney down… But Ruth said, why don’t we, we’ve got nothing to lose!

“We’ve been through so much, and so we’re actually starting rehearsals for live shows. It’s a lovely thing at this time in our lives.”

Zenana now have three scheduled shows for June and July ahead of their festival appearance at BedGringe on 28 July. The Rush Hour EP of “Witches”, featuring the extended Bedmo Disco ’85 remix, will be released at the end of May.