Brighton Festival 2014
As guitarist with The Slits, Viv Albertine is one of a handful of original female punks who changed music forever. This fascinating talk revealed the story of a music and era hitherto dominated by male voices, which is recast through the eyes of one of the most glamorous, uncompromising and iconic figures of the time.
Viv Albertine was interviewed by Simon Price, long-respected music journalist on Melody Maker and the Independent on Sunday, about her forthcoming memoir, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. Albertine wore a long sleeve black T-shirt, black skinny jeans, black leather boots, and an impressive long, red two-tone coat. Her sole concessions to her former punk days being a wide leather belt and a pair of black leather boots with a solid metallic zip wrapping around them. Price, on the other hand, with his pinstripe suit, brothel creepers and trademark red ‘devil horn mohican’ hair and make-up, looked surprisingly more ‘punk’ than Albertine.
Price introduced her as a ‘legend’, which she immediately countered, stating she was more of a ‘leg-end – the female version of a bell-end’, and setting the tone for the rest of the event.
Witty, self-effacing and unflinchingly honest, she found her voice writing her memoir in the present tense – with the mind and knowledge she had then, rather than a more mature or judgemental overview of the present. Like a vinyl album the book is split into two halves. ‘Side 1’ covering the punk days, and ‘Side 2,’ the post-Slits years.
Albertine left art school to join The Slits and talked a lot about the period of 1976/77 when she co-founded the band, Flowers of Romance, with Sid Vicious. Albertine revealed that The Slits waited for two years to make their first album, Cut, as they wanted it to be right, and that she thinks it still stands up today as authentic music of its time. However, she believes their second album, Return of the Giant Slits, is more accomplished.
She talked about how it was to be a punk girl in those times, wearing a combination of fetish gear and DM’s with dirty hair, and how that confused and angered men – challenging the sexual politics of the time – but that it was hard work, inviting confrontation (often violently) on a daily basis.
Albertine then discussed Seventies’ feminism and how the pill enabled women to have sex much more freely, but that it took another 10-15 years before women began to question whether they actually wanted to. She talked about how feminism filled women with fury at the way they were treated, and how this fuelled the energy behind The Slits.
She then discussed ‘Side 2’ of her book, focussing on her life post-Slits, talking about society and motherhood, and how she still adheres to the punk ethic, which was about using your vision and seeing where it led, rather than the goal-orientated society we now live in.
Following the Slits’ breakup, Albertine initially became an aerobics teacher when it was a new and empowering way for women to use their bodies, then subsequently had a successful career in TV and film.
She peppered the talk with readings from her book, often with hard-hitting and disturbing anecdotes from her life such as taking heroin with Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls), having messy sex, and disturbing fantasies and dreams. This frankness was both refreshing and awkward for the audience, and proved that Albertine still has more power as a creative force than many of today’s performers. The rage and fury are still very present, just under the surface of a middle-England mum.
The audience, perhaps unsurprising, were all of a certain age, who like Albertine herself, appeared to have settled into a comfortable middle-aged middle class, far from their angry youth. But that’s not to say that Albertine has become complacent, and her willingness to pursue her art has seen her burn down a marriage of 18 years in order for her to keep seeking her truth.
Albertine’s hope for the book is that is stands as a testament to survival, her own ‘blundering through life’ and hopefully as a role-model for 15-year-old girls who have to discover life’s hard knocks.