The senseless and tragic murder of twenty-year-old Sophie Lancaster in August 2007 sent a shockwave through the alternative community after tabloids revealed the young victim had been attacked due to her ‘alternative’ appearance. Full of piercings and make-up, Lancaster and her partner Rob Maltby were occasionally ridiculed by passers-by but on the evening of 11 August they were attacked by a group of teenagers while making their way home through Stubbylee Park in Bacup, Rossendale. Maltby was savagely beaten by the boys before Lancaster, who had tried to defend her boyfriend, was punched and kicked so hard that, as the Telegraph later claimed, ‘their footwear is imprinted on her face.’
In 2009 the Sophie Lancaster Foundation became a registered charity, having been created by Sylvia Lancaster, Sophie’s mother, with the intention of highlighting the prejudice and hostility levelled at many subcultures in society, such as the heavy metal scene. The work of the foundation has been so significant over the last few years that a stage at the acclaimed Bloodstock festival has been renamed the Sophie Lancaster Stage in honour of her legacy and the charity’s achievements over the last few years.
To mark the seventh anniversary of the tragic event, the Sophie Lancaster Foundation joined forces earlier this year with British metal group Bad Pollyanna for the charity single Invincible Girl, a haunting ballad whose protagonist celebrates her own strength in the face of adversity. ‘To say that everyone at The Sophie Lancaster Foundation is extremely excited about this track is an understatement,’ announced the charity in a press release. ‘We all feel that seven years is an appropriate milestone to celebrate the strength and courage Sophie’s death has given us to slowly but surely change the world. The proceeds and awareness from this charity single will help us continue our crucial work.’
Bad Pollyanna singer Olivia Hyde discusses bullying, the negative public image of heavy metal and Invincible Girl.
When did you first become aware of the tragic death of Sophie Lancaster and the charity that had been launched in her honour?
The news which followed after the initial attack on Sophie of course sent shockwaves through the alternative community right from the very start. As we are very much a part of the community ourselves, we have always been aware of the foundation as their presence is a familiar sight at many of the UK’s alternative events.
Many children suffer bullying either at school or at home. Was this something you experienced when you were younger and how did you overcome these struggles?
Many people experience some form of bullying throughout their lifetime, whether it be in school, in the workplace or even in the street. While nobody truly has the answer to overcoming the struggles involved in such cases, we feel that The Sophie Lancaster Foundation’s work in educating young people and promoting a message of tolerance towards those who seem ‘different’ is a great first step. To begin to build a better environment for alternative, disabled and LGBT to thrive in, education is key.
Do you think there will ever be a time when metal fans can be themselves without fear of ridicule or physical harm over their taste in music?
Generally, people can’t relate to what they don’t understand. Alternative music can seem like a completely alien concept to some as it is not to their taste. Of course there is nothing wrong with that at all; however, more and more people have grown more accepting of the scene. Alternative music has never had such a larger following as it has today so as younger generations get older and the alternative community grows, we would hope that people’s fear of ridicule will decrease.
Did you see yourself in the protagonist of this song and how have fans reacted to the themes you explored?
The song’s opening line ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’ reflects the main concept behind it. Throughout life we all experience ups and downs, good times and bad times, ourselves included! As with many artists, I try to write from the heart. Many of our songs are influenced by personal experiences as well as thought provoking concepts which could be going through my mind at any given time.
Invincible Girl has certainly grown to become a favourite amongst our fans. Many people have told us how the song has helped them to stay strong through the tough times and the more we hear how much it has helped people, the more we’re glad that it was chosen for this campaign!
Was the song written specifically with Sophie Lancaster in mind or was the track already composed when you joined forces with the charity?
We were initially approached by Julian Kynaston, founder of Illamasqua, after he had attended a show in which we performed at. Julian had heard our song Invincible Girl and thought it would make a fitting centrepiece for a campaign that Illamasqua was planning in aid of The Sophie Lancaster Foundation.
In some ways the song seems to mourn the loss of innocence, particularly with the line ‘I know that once upon a time there was a child but it died, had to harden to survive the dark.’
That specific lyric refers to realising that those who hurt you are struggling with their own demons and that the innocent child inside them died as a result. Unfortunately, the innocent child inside you generally meets a similar fate when you have to hold your own in a world where these demons run amok.
Sylvia Lancaster has offered both her support and her approval of Invincible Girl and Bad Pollyanna’s association with the charity. Do you think this collaboration could convince other musicians and charities to join forces against bullying?
We would certainly hope so. To be honest, many musicians within the alternative crowd as well as all manner of creative types will have most likely at some point faced some form of adversity and use that as inspiration for their endeavours.
With teenage suicides and high school shootings becoming commonplace in recent years, do you feel schools and the media are doing enough to highlight the issue and prevent such tragedies from occurring?
Absolutely not. The average person doesn’t understand that suicidal thoughts occur when the pain someone feels is greater than the amount of resources they have to cope with it. There is such a stigma attached to it that those suffering dare not confide in those around them for fear of being labelled as ‘crazy,’ being accused of attention seeking and, most common of all because they already feel isolated, detached from the world and feel that no one would want to listen anyway.
If people were more educated about depression and mental illness in general- and how common place depressive symptoms are- they would feel more comfortable in seeking help. Also, those around them would find the symptoms easier to spot and know how to reach out most effectively. Our next album explores the subject boldly and we hope that it will remind sufferers that they aren’t alone and encourage them to open up about what they are feeling.
Social networks have now given bullies new ways to harass their classmates outside of school, but it has also allowed children to interact with artists and charities who can offer support. Is there enough regulation on sites such as Facebook and Twitter and how could these companies protect their users without violating their right to privacy?
There has been some headway in this in recent years with trolls serving jail time for threatening behaviour online but more could and should be done. The last we heard Mark Zuckerberg is phasing out all anonymous messaging and commenting on Facebook which is a step in the right direction. There will always be the question of where you draw the line in terms of what is free speech and what is abuse but a good start would be making it illegal to threaten and verbally abuse someone online just like it is to do in person. The question of protecting someone’s privacy is a tough one. In the real world a third party can report to someone in authority if they fear abuse is taking place. Perhaps making it easier for others to voice concern on your behalf online might help some.
Could you see the Invincible Girl becoming a recurring character in your music and are there other person issues that could be explored through her? Would you consider creating a concept album surrounding this character?
The Invincible Girl represents us all. She is the character that carries the scars of all her experiences but bravely carries on and tries to use those experiences to become a better person. We’re currently working on our second album so you’ll have to wait and see!
Recently the Sophie Lancaster Foundation revealed their first Alternative Hate Crime Conference. Will you be participating in this meeting and how could you make your fans aware of such events?
With Invincible Girl gaining more and more traction, we’re sure that the campaign will involved in many aspects of the foundation’s work in the future. Though many of our fans already follow the foundation’s work, it is always good to keep an eye out for more news on the foundation’s website www.sophielancasterfoundation.com or on their social networks.