Girls Can Play Guitar: Meet the musician paving the way for the most exciting female talent in Leeds

Izzy Hobbs is ripping up stereotypes and showing the world that Girls Can Play Guitar.

Saturday, 13th November 2021, 4:45 pm

Frustrated at being mistaken for the girlfriend of a band member at gigs, or being told how to turn on the guitar she's been playing for more than a decade, the Leeds-based musician decided to tackle that unconscious bias head-on - launching a platform to give a voice to women working in music.

Her Girls Can Play Guitar project is highlighting the breadth of female talent in Leeds, particularly instrumentalists and those working behind-the-scenes who she says are often overlooked.

As she prepares to host a celebration of talent at Belgrave this week, Izzy told the Yorkshire Evening Post how her journey into music began.

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Izzy works to support female musicians in Leeds, particularly instrumentalists and those behind-the-scenes (Photo: Steve Riding)

The 22-year-old said: “My parents have always listened to such a wide variety of music, my dad is into heavy metal and my mum is into jazz and country.

“I started out as a little rock and roll kid, I was obsessed with Green Day and Metallica.

“We had a shed out in the garden and me and my friends used to go out there and listen to all the Green Day albums, trying to figure out how to play them on guitar.”

Izzy grew up in Norfolk and first picked up a guitar aged eight, starting music lessons a year later.

It was during secondary school that she really found her groove, falling in love with performing after starting a band with friends.

“I was just waiting to finish school so I could study music full time," she said.

With her sights set on a career in music, Izzy moved to Leeds four years ago to study at Leeds Conservatoire.

“The music scene had a massive pull," Izzy added.

“Coming from Norwich, which is a very, arty, close-knit and intimate city, Leeds felt like all the best parts of that. It’s small enough that you can go into a bar on Call Lane and know at least one person there."

Izzy teamed up with Leeds band Kairos while she was studying, hitting the road with her electric guitar with gigs in Manchester and a headline show at Headrow House - one of the highlights of her career.

But she found that many spaces for women in music were focused on singer-songwriters or female-led bands; as an instrumentalist, she didn't fit, and the idea for Girls Can Play Guitar began to form.

When she was approached by Leeds City Council-backed music project Bloom Sessions in March to host a virtual event for International Women's Day, she decided it was the perfect time to launch the project.

Izzy said: "Being a guitarist, I’ve experienced a lot of unconscious bias.

“There’s been loads of times when I’ve gone to a gig and people have assumed that I’m the girlfriend of one of the band members, or people are trying to be helpful and tell me how to turn on a guitar.

"It’s like, 'come on man, I’ve been playing the guitar for more than 10 years'.

"It’s not deliberate and they don’t mean to be rude, but we all act based on stereotypes. If people haven't seen a female instrumentalist, they’re going to have preconceptions about how that person plays and what they look like.

“It never comes from a bad place, so that’s why it can feel awkward to talk about. But it’s a conversation that needs to be opened up.

"I wanted to launch the platform to push that side of things - showing it’s not uncommon to see that anymore."

Izzy has pledged to make sure all her live events feature female musicians or those of marginalised genders, as well as looking out for the best female talent behind-the-scenes, from graphic designers to sound engineers.

And she said there's never been a more exciting time to be a woman in music.

“There is so much support and schemes for women and people of marginalised genders in Leeds," Izzy said.

"Working with Bloom has taught me so much and it's amazing to see the work of Come Play With Me, Music Leeds and Girl Gang - they're all pushing female talent and it's such a supportive community.

"It’s about bringing everyone together and making the industry more equal. And Leeds is actively trying to do that."

Fine-tuning her sound

As a performance artist, Izzy quickly had to rethink her career when the pandemic put an abrupt pause on live gigs.

She won an acoustic guitar after being awarded the Wolfson Music Instrument Grant earlier this year - and she's spent lockdowns fine-tuning her sound.

Being open to new opportunities is key to finding success as a musician, Izzy said.

She added: "Those 18 months completely changed the sort of music I play, but also how I play it. Learning to record, programme and produce everything was a really good focus.

"There are so many aspects of music - I went to university thinking I was just going to be performing, but now putting on events has become a major part of my musical career.

"Don’t close yourself off to anything."

Female talent to rock the roof off Belgrave

Girls Can Play Guitar and Come Play With Me will present three up-and-coming Leeds artists at Belgrave on Friday, with doors opening at 7.30pm,

The Sunkissed Child, a newly-formed nine-piece band fronted by singer Yasmina Naha, will headline the event, supported by solo acts Heju and Laura Kindelan.

Izzy has tipped the artists as some of the most exciting new talent in Leeds.

"The Sunkissed child are incredible musicians, the textures and the lows are perfect and Yasmina's vocals work really well as the centrepiece.

"Laura Kindelan has got such a way of captivating an audience. Whether she’s playing with a full band, or on her own, she reads the room so well and her music feels very intimate.

"And I've been a fan of Heju for years, her songs have such tenderness to them, she’s an amazing storyteller and her songs have so much feeling.

"Some of them are a bit cheeky, others are heart-wrenching. She’s amazing at putting a message across and her band are incredible in supporting that message."

“For those who haven’t been to a gig in a long time, this is the perfect start," she added.

"It’s going to be chilled out enough if you’re not up for having a super-party, but Sunkissed Child and the brass section is going to get you up and dancing.

"It will be a lovely, friendly atmosphere."

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