What Happened to Fanny? The First All-Female Rock Band

by Charlie Morrison

mothers pride
Fanny in 1972: June Millington, Nickey Barclay, Jean Millington and Alice de Buhr. Photograph: Michael Putland/Getty Images

Without further ado, I introduce you to the band that inspired this series on female musicians I wish I’d known about as a teenager: Fanny. When I discovered this brilliantly-named rock foursome from the early 1970s, I was astonished. How had I never discovered this band as a teenager? This was exactly the kind of psychedelic rock that I devoured during my teens! This band was as exquisitely wild as Cream and as harmonic and melodious as Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – except it was comprised of four women! I soon learned that Fanny were in fact the first all-female rock act to be signed to a major label. And yet today, they seem to have vanished with little trace. There are a few live performances on YouTube, there’s one album on Apple Music, and their CDs are hard to come by. I have to wonder, what happened to Fanny?

Sisters June and Jean Millington, born in Manila and raised in Sacramento, joined forces in the late 60s with drummer, Alice de Burgh and keyboardist, Nickey Barclay under the moniker, Wild Honey. The legend has it that the band, frustrated by their lack of success in a male-dominated field, had decided to call it quits after one final open-mic at the legendary Troubadour Club in West Hollywood. That night, they were discovered by a scout for producer Richard Perry (of Harry Nilsson, Barbra Streisand and Carly Simon fame). The band were soon signed to Warner Brothers label, Reprise Records under the new name of Fanny and their debut album Fanny was released in 1970. The band would follow this with Charity Ball (1971), Fanny Hill (1972) and Mother’s Pride (1973).

Fanny skillfully weave through the full range of musical moods of the rock scene in their era. They are riotous on “Blind Alley”, with it’s wailing guitars solos and frayed vocals; they warn, “Take care of yourself, this is your story / Your voice is shakin’ the walls, and they’re crumbling down / … And someone’s gonna get burned!”. They are undeniably groovy on their slide guitar-filled cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar”. They are lovelorn on “Beside Myself”, an epic breakup song to rival The Rolling Stones’ “Angie”. Fanny encapsulate the most exciting aspects of late-60s and early-70s rock music, blended with their own sensibilities and formidable technical talent as musicians.

Before Fanny, no all-female group had found success playing their own instruments, arranging songs and harmonies themselves, and writing most of their own material. Fanny toured with big names like Humble Pie and Jethro Tull, they recorded in prestigious studios like Abby Road, and they counted among their fans none other than David Bowie and George Harrison (of the band, Bowie once said, “They played like motherfuckers, they were just colossal and wonderful”). It is truly staggering that Fanny have not been remembered alongside the iconic artists of their time and as pioneers for women in rock music. Despite their talent and boldness, Fanny struggled to amass a large mainstream following, largely due to audiences’ reluctance to take them seriously.

There is consolation to be found in the fact that most members of Fanny went on to play in many other bands over the next forty odd years. In 1983, June Millington established the Institute for the Musical Arts, a non-profit that supports women in music, and in 2001 she began running the “Play Like a Girl” rock music summer camp for teen girls, which is still going today. Although I missed out on this incredible band as a teen, I’m beyond thrilled that other teen girls will be exposed to badass rock women through June’s summer camp – and that the camp will inspire badass rock women of future generations. For my part, I aim to keep the Fanny flame alight by recognising the band as the trailblazers they were and telling just about anyone who will listen how incredible and underappreciated they are. Fanny forever!

Find out more about Fanny at their dedicated fan website, Fanny Rocks.

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