Viv at Friars 22nd December
1978 (Tim Watts)
The Slits were a musical hybrid of punk,
post-punk and new world and were very good indeed. The band split in
1981 and reconvened in 2005 until the untimely death of Ari Up in 2010.
Slits original split, guitarist Viv Albertine went into film and is now
back with her own solo material and participates in a remembrance gig for
Ari in July.
to Viv in June 2011
Viv, thanks for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website.
Your history goes back
before Friars and Friars indirectly helped you.....our very own Kris
Needs, then editor of ZigZag, had John Peel's producer John Walters
writing a column for him and Kris badgered to him to take Peel to see you
at The Vortex. Legend has it that someone in the band literally banged
their heads together and you got the Peel session as a result!
Ha ha! Yes
that happened - it was Palm Olive who banged their heads together. Send my
regards to Kris.
Your first appearance at
Friars and very much on the up was supporting The Clash at Christmas in
1978. I know you have some memories of that show....
That was the
last night of the tour I think and we were all very frazzled. I was
supposed to be going out with Mick Jones but I had got very close to Rob
Simmons from Subway Sect. I had been going out with Mick for a few years
after we had met at art school. But during the tour I got close to Rob.
The Subway Sect did their set, then we did our set and then The Clash went
on and Mick knew something was wrong. There is a tape of that Friars gig
and during one of the songs which went on a long time, probably something
like Police and Thieves, Mick started shouting out instead of singing the
lyrics..."where are you?" and so on in a most heart rending way. He had
completely lost it on stage and it was the most emotional thing really,
painful and torn. I don't know what the rest of the band thought - they
probably thought he was improvising, but he lost it completely on stage.
He didn't know where I was and he couldn't find me and he almost couldn't
play the gig.
We all stayed
at a nice hotel afterwards, a Holiday Inn-ish type place rather than the
poor places we normally stayed at. Mick and I had sort of split up by
then. I said to the roadie in the morning that I wanted to go into Mick's
room as the guitars were in there. He said no, but I said we had split up
so there was no problem. The stupid roadie let me into Mick's room with
the key and Mick was in bed with a girl and I leapt on the bed (laughs)
and jumped up and down. Mick grabbed a water jug and threw it at me and it
missed me and hit a mirror. I grabbed my guitar and that was the end of
I can see why you remember
Well it was the end of tour
and we must have learnt something. The first gig of the tour, we didn't
even play at the same speed. We just started the song and we ended it when
we ended it!
When you came back
headlining in 1980, Cut had come out which garnered huge acclaim. The
tracks on that album are a long way from the versions you did for John
Peel. There's a huge evolution. What moved you in that direction, was it
directly Dennis Bovell's influence?
We put off
making an album for two years as we didn't want to make a thrashy punk
album and we couldn't get what was in our heads out as we weren't good
enough. We could play bar chords and thrash away. Those Peel sessions were
full of life and energy but they were not what we wanted on record so we
put it off as long as possible. We were at a stage where it was more
elegant and Dennis was the most amazing conduit. He loved punk and reggae
along with jazz and world music so he was great and wasn't sexist. We both
went to the same type of school in north London.. He had such a musical knowledge. Ari
was very exacting and so was Dennis and they hit off of each other very
well. He brought out the best in my guitar playing and we did take after
take after take in the studio until I got it right and in time (laughs).
It was agony recording that album. We recorded and played it all ourselves but Dennis
tried to play guitar on Cut but I made him take it off.. He was a very good conductor for us.
Dennis brought that musical
discipline that made it tighter for you...
Yes, he was
incredibly disciplined, but then so were we. That whole punk ethos of not
singing a word that wasn't actually true, we were disciplined in that way.
Dennis picking up on that made a huge difference to us in recording in
knowing what to leave out. We had a maxim in the studio "if in doubt,
leave it out".
So he pared your songs down
to make them as perfect as they could be...
it away. You didn't need a wall of guitars for example. Ari was very
strict about drumming and the bassline was the bassline. We didn't arrive
at the studio with that thrashy sound, we had already started to change.
When you did the Return of
The Killer Slits, the second album, what were your hopes at that point?
We pushed the
experimentation even further and many people prefer the second album over
Cut because I think it's completely out there musically and you cannot
tell which era those tracks were recorded in - they could have been
I don't think the second
album got the same acclaim as the first, it certainly deserved more.....
We were in
the Guardian a couple of days ago in a feature on the history of modern
music. At least The Slits did start something in post-punk and we were
different incorporating world music which was the focus of that second
album. I feel in many ways that the people in power at in the music
industry hadn't got over the "gimmick" of an all girl band and couldn't
see beyond it. They can now and people can handle an all girl band doing
something different. If that had been all guys, it would have been a
completely different story. A bunch if girls making rock music would have
been more palatable (in their eyes).
So the cover of Cut, where
you, Tessa and Ari are semi naked covered in mud, was a deliberative and
provocative attempt at reaction?
There was a message there though rather than just a shock value. We were
pretty wild girls though. We were girls who went into our most primal
instincts when we made the music and we felt we were being as basic and as
honest as we could be. We felt like wild animals that were trapped in
English society, it was all meaningful. We were all different, we weren't
stick insect thin models, there was nothing really to show off about us.
After the second album, the
band stopped. What brought about the end?
It had run it's course to be
honest. And Ari was pregnant. We didn't know she was pregnant with twins.
She was very young, I'm not sure she was even 20 at that point. It was
hard going. It turned her a bit funny and we'd had enough of her moods and
ups and downs as the rest of us didn't know what it was like to be
pregnant. We knew Ari had to deal with her pregnancy, we'd had enough of
each other and have done two albums so it was a natural end.
After the Slits, you got
into TV and film directing, what took you in that direction?
Slits I went to film school and did a degree in film making. I thought it
was a more interesting arena that music which had become so careerist in
the 1980s and I thought more interesting stuff was being done in film.
It's so expensive and long winded to make though that it's actually easier
to get a song off the ground! The consequence of this was that I became a
jobbing director which was awful and didn't suit me at all but it did make
me some money.
How long did you do this
About 11 or 12 years.
And it's only relatively
recently that you've picked up a guitar again isn't it?
last couple of years really.
Listening to some of your
recent stuff...like 'Confessions of a MILF', quite self explanatory
Obviously referring to where
you are at now....
couple of years ago anyway. [the song is about] I thought it's not
working, I've tried to be this person and it hasn't worked and it isn't
fulfilling and it's a bit of a con really.
It was Sonic Youth's
Thurston Moore who persuaded or encouraged you to get your new material
out wasn't it on that recent EP?
recorded the tracks and didn't know whether to release them or not. I was
talking to Thurston about them and he said you have got to release them as
they were a document of my musical growth. He was right that I should get
it out and I am glad I did.
I agree. When you have
material that good, it shouldn't be locked away. You've been gigging again
under your own name, but you did do a couple of gigs with the reformed
Slits, what happened there?
really into me rejoining and making it 'whole' again but the problem was
by then they had been going three or four years and they had written or
Ari had written songs and I wasn't part of all that, the sounds and the
songs I had no connection to really. So they were doing half old Slits
songs which I found a bit embarrassing and half new songs which I hadn't
been any part of.
I can understand you not
feeling connected with the new songs from Trapped Animal but why do you
refer to the old songs you had a hand in as embarrassing - what do you
mean by that?
were 25 years ago. When I went out with The Slits again, I had already
been gigging for a year and doing open mike spots and that was relevant to
me now. It was still edgy but relevant to me now. It's like a painter
wouldn't go and paint something he did 25 years ago. It was a time and
place but we've all grown up!
Talking of original Slits
material, there was one very last track Coulda Woulda Shoulda which
you recorded in 1981 which I believe is going to see the light of day
is remixing it now. We have one more session on it - it was a very 1980s
sound, funky. It was recorded in Los Angeles.
So is it the very original
track or are you adding to it?
I had the
original 24 track tape and took it took this place it Acton and they
tweaked it and we took it to the studio and it was perfect, the original
24 tracks. It hadn't been opened in 30 years!
When do you think this might
Not sure yet,
maybe a couple of months. We'll probably put it out on vinyl or cassette.
In the way it was intended
for that time rather than download?
vinyl and download.
There a 'funky reggae tribal
gathering' coming up in Bristol soon....
You're a part of this and is a
tribute to Ari Up whose passing last year was tragic....
never had a funeral or a wake for her here, that happened in LA so this is
a little celebration, a little sort of party to say goodbye.
The rest of the band will be
there won't they?
Yes, Tessa, Hollie and me
will be there. It will just be a dance thing. A few words will be said.
Adrian Sherwood will also be
at that gathering - you've done some work with him over the years?
mainly Ari did. I feel close to Adrian now and it will be good meeting up
with people you have a history with.
You've got more solo gigs
coming up this year haven't you?
Yes, but the big thing I
need to get my arse into gear on is the book I am writing.
On The Slits?
Not just The
Slits, but about that time really. I've got a lot of work to do on that.
I'm also doing, I wouldn't call it an album as such, but a collaboration
with bass players.
Any you can mention?
I can mention
(Jah) Wobble, I've done a couple of tracks to start it off. I want to work
with five or six, I have a few in the pipeline. Because my guitar is so 'trebley'
at the top end, its nice to have a collaboration with bass players as it's
opposite to me.
Viv thank you very much for
your time and best wishes from everyone at Friars Aylesbury.
Official Viv Albertine website
This interview and its content are ©
2011 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk
and may not be used in whole or in part without permission.