Mother Superior

Mother Superior was an English all-female rock band that recorded the album Lady Madonna, released in 1976 on the Swedish SMA label.

Members: Lesley Sly (keyboards, lead vocals), Audrey Swinburne (lead guitar, lead vocals), Jackie Badger (bass, vocals), Jackie Crew (drums, vocals), Simon Etchell (keyboards), Janis Sharp (guitar), Kate Buddeke (vocals), Pete Chapman (guitar)


Formation

Mother Superior formed in London in June 1974 when guitarist Audrey Swinburne and New Zealand-born keyboardist Lesley Sly (both singing songwriters) teamed with bassist Jackie Badger and drummer Jackie Crew. They gigged for two years between England and Benelux.

In 1975, they took advantage of downtime at IBC Studios, where they cut an album for a rumored deal with Polydor. It first appeared as an untitled test-press with the IBC logo on the record label. They made six UK test pressings but couldn’t secure a proper domestic release. In 1976, Mother Superior got an offer from SMA, a Swedish schlager label reputed for its recent support of the jazz-rock bands Lotus and Pandora.


Lady Madonna

Mother Superior released their singular album, Lady Madonna, in 1976 on SMA. It features five Sly–Swinburne originals and covers of Stephen Stills (“Love the One You’re With”) and the titular Beatles classic.

Musically, Lady Madonna encompasses harmonized balladry (“Just One Look”), instrumental themes (“Ticklish Allsorts”), and multi-movement epics (“No Time Toulouse Lautrec,” “Mood Merchant”); each with mood variations, cadences shifts, and virtuosic passages. They cover multiple idioms on the longer numbers, especially “Years Upon Tears,” an adventure in country, rock, and psychedelia.

A1. “No Time Toulouse Lautrec” (5:49) has a desolate intro with ‘pinging’ notes and ominous sounds. ‘Trippy’ verses (in G minor) with ghostly vocals and Fender Rhodes electric piano. Intense, fuzzed-out mid-section interspersed with chanted stanzas. Winding Moog solo and jagged guitar pattern usher the final verse.
A2. “Just One Look” (5:53) is a ballad with rhythmless verses of finger-picked baroque guitar and sliding bass. Tightened, harmonized chorus with running E note (Fmaj7→E).
A3. “Mood Merchant” (7:03) is a slow, heavy, multi-movement rocker with wailing (open cadence) intro licks, brisk (close-cadence) acoustic verses, and a lengthy neo-classical organ middle.

B1. “Love the One You’re With” (4:39) originated as the opening track and lead single on the November 1970 self-titled debut album by Stephen Stills; covered since by Aretha Franklin and the Isley Brothers. The famous chorus line (“If you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with”) summarized post-hippie ‘universal love’ ethos. Mother Superior render Stills’ classic with unison harmonies and brisk chordal refrains.
B2. “Ticklish Allsorts” (5:19) is an instrumental with a stop–start intro and hopping chordal verses (Am→F) broken by a ‘menacing’ drop riff (Am→E). Dark bass-dirge middle, followed by a syncopated organ passage and a final verse overlaid with ‘lyrical leads’ and legato runs.
B3. “Lady Madonna” (4:35) originated as a March 1968 non-album Beatles a-side; credited to the Lennon–McCartney partnership but written by Paul McCartney as a stylistic ode to Fifties trad rock. Mother Superior render McCartney’s classic with running harpsichord and dobro across a ‘knee-slapping’ uptempo. Lesley delivers CB-filtered vocals against Audrey’s distorted riff and wah-wah leads.
B4. “Years Upon Tears” (5:57) opens as a mid-tempo country ballad (in G and Dm) with dual fingerpicked acoustic guitar and Lesley|Audrey vocal trade-offs. Rock chorus with ‘churning’ strum and harmonized vocals. Moog-sputtering instrumental break. Pastoral passage (at 3:30) gives way to psychedelic sequence with ‘demented’ CWoAB-like vocals and jungle percussion.

Lady Madonna is the earliest production credit of IBC staffer Hugh Jones, an engineer on 1972–74 titles by David Ackles (American Gothic), Lesley Duncan, Matthew Fisher, Tim Hardin, Return to Forever (Light As a Feather), and String Driven Thing. He later produced post-punk titles by Essential Logic, The Sound, Teardrop Explodes, and Echo & The Bunnymen.


Later Activity

Mother Superior continued as a live act for two years through multiple lineup changes. Lesley departed for stints in the unsigned acts Daughters of Zeuss and Garbo. Audrey joined the all-female rock group Brandy and served in the Ivy Benson Orchestra, an all-female UK jazz ensemble (founded in the 1940s).

The two Jackie’s continued Mother Superior with singer Kate Buddeke, guitarist Janis Sharp, and male keyboardist Simon Etchell. After six months, Janis joined Axess, her husband’s band. Guitarist Pete Chapman played out the final months of Mother Superior, which disbanded in December 1977.

Jackie Badger recorded two albums with Snips, a new wave act led by singer Steve Parsons (ex-Sharks, Baker Gurvitz Army). Jackie Crew reappeared on the 1981 EP Stereotyping by the jazz-rock combo Jam Today. Lesley Sly later surfaced with two writing credits on Musical Images Vol. 10, a 1991 new age release on the Australian Image Music Library label, credited to Oceania.

In 1996, Lady Madonna made its CD debut on Audio Archives, a UK indie reissue label dedicated to overlooked Seventies artists (Fantasy, Graphite, Northwind, Oberon, Skin Alley).


Discography:

  • Lady Madonna (1975)

Sources:

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