top of page

Ruby Tuesday - Melanie

Looking back, a lot of the Asian community groups of the 1990's in Islington, and indeed London, were either for women or were at least run by women. At first look this would seem to be surprising in cultures which are usually seen as patriarchal societies. But this might have been because the men were at work and the women were left at home with some, at least, time on their hands. My own opinion is that they needed an outlet for their energy and intelligence, beyond doing the shopping, preparing meals and looking after the kids. Certainly the women we met were a pretty smart bunch.

One of the toughest nuts in the basket was a Mrs Siddiqui of the Bangladeshi Women's Association. She used to haggle over every grant she received, squeezing us for every penny we could spare, convinced we had an unlimited budget - we were a Council after all. She was a very short, plump women who always dressed in traditional Bangladeshi clothes with a headscarf covering he hair. She also allegedly couldn't speak a word of English and always brought along her school-uniformed nine year old daughter to meetings to translate for her. We suspected that Mrs Siddiqui understood everything we said, but that it was all a ruse to eavesdrop on us. We also realised that the daughter herself, despite her tender years, was a shrewd negotiator in her own right, often playing Mrs Nice against her mother's Mrs Nasty, and she generally had us wrapped around her very little little finger. I wouldn't be surprised if she was now the head of some international corporation.

By the end of the sixties, many female singer songwriters were establishing themselves in the US, not least among whom were Joni Mitchell, Nina Simone, Laura Nyro, Carole King and Janis Ian. Melanie Safka, more commonly know as just Melanie, was one of these. Although she had several hits with her own compositions in the States, she first came to prominence in the UK with her rendering of the Rolling Stones' "Ruby Tuesday".

While the Stones' version is about a free spirited woman, specifically Linda Keith, a model for Vogue, who was Keith Richards' girlfriend at the time, and is a celebration of her independent non-conformism, Melanie's turns the song into a much more thoughtful affair, a meditation on the cost of being an "individual", strong woman.

The passion with which Melanie, belts out the chorus, and the softer moments where she sounds as if she might break down, invest the song with an epic sense of tragedy which isn't present in the original. She literally turns it into a different song. She also served notice to one and all that we were entering a new world where a seemingly unprepossessing, little woman was someone to be reckoned with.

A bit like Mrs Siddiqui.

bottom of page