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Friars Interviews

Viv Albertine
The Slits

friars appearances 28/12/78  19/04/80

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.

After the 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.

We spoke 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 the tour!

I can see why you remember that gig!

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...

He stripped 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 recorded yesterday.

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?

Oh yeah. 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?

After The 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 for?

About 11 or 12 years.

And it's only relatively recently that you've picked up a guitar again isn't it?

Yeah..the last couple of years really.

Listening to some of your recent 'Confessions of a MILF', quite self explanatory really!

Yeah! (laughs)

Obviously referring to where you are at now....

Well, a 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?

I had 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?

Tessa was 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?

Well, these 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 soon?

Dennis Bovell 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 get released?

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?

Probably vinyl and download.

There a 'funky reggae tribal gathering' coming up in Bristol soon....

Oh yeah!

You're a part of this and is a tribute to Ari Up whose passing last year was tragic....

Yeah. We 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?

Yes, but 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/ and may not be used in whole or in part without permission.


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