rock-o-the-northCan women rock? Does a band actually benefit from being fronted by a female or are they more likely to suffer? And how many acts have gained instant exposure due to the sex of their singer only to sink without trace so much quicker than their peers?

All these questions and more popped into my head during an intense 30-minute set by US metallers In This Moment in front of a sparse Newcastle crowd this week. On a four band bill they were the only act I was interested in and that was due, in no small part, to the fact that vocalist Maria Brink looks as good as she sounds.

That, of course, is the point. If ITM’s small but perfectly formed lead singer couldn’t hold a tune or hit a note there would be little future for a band only just beginning to break into the rock mainstream.

There are only so many gigs a band can play based on image alone – even the enduring Alice Cooper (a man, btw) admits gimmickry can only get you so far. Women in rock might get ahead more quickly (some would argue the exact opposite is true) but their longevity, like that of their male counterparts, lies in an ability to add substance to the style.

Back in the heyday of hair metal when, ironically enough, men often looked more like women than women, examples of hard rocking eye candy were ten a penny. With a blonde perm and tight leather trousers it was easy to bag MTV rotation and glossy photo shoots by the dozen – just ask the likes of Lisa Dominique and Femme Fatale’s Lorraine Lewis. But neither commanded a vocal range to match their wardrobes and the duo swiftly disappeared without trace.

But that’s not to say there was a dearth of quality in amongst an incredible quantity of female rock star wannabes. Ex-Runaways Lita Ford and Joan Jett delivered the full package – as pleasing on the ears as they were on the eyes and their feisty back catalogues easily stand the test of time. Even so it’s impossible to imagine either enjoying such commercial success had they not possessed the most obvious of charms.

These days there is both quality and quantity when it comes to rock bands fronted by female singers and Ms Brink is just one glowing example. Nightwish and Lacuna Coil continue to set standards and neither band is now judged on its singer alone. The music is what defines their success and fusing soaring melodic metal with a female tone has become a recognised tool of the rock trade.

But could both bands be even bigger with men behind the mic? It would be naïve to suggest that prejudices still exist when it comes to judging female artists and for all the PR positives they bring to the table – the glossy covers, fashion shoots, personal appearances etc. – there are still vast swathes of the rock community who look at female vocalists and laugh.

Thanks to the multi-talented Maria and her ilk those opinions appear increasingly outdated. But would I have watched In This Moment had a sweaty bloke with a beard replaced the cute blonde in a pinafore dress. I guess I’ll never know.