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The New Review: Books: AUTOBIOGRAPHY: 1-2-3-4... it's the thrill of being a Slit: The all-girl punk band's guitarist confesses all - with searing honesty, writes Sean O'Hagan: Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys Viv Albertine Faber pounds 14.99, pp432

June 1, 2014

Sean O'Hagan



"I count in the first song and off we go. . ." writes Vivienne Albertine of an early performance by the Slits. "We all play at different speeds. Ari screams as loud as she can, I thrash at my guitar, Palmolive smashes the drums - the stage is so big and Tessa's so far away, I can't hear what she's doing. . . We all play the song separately, we know we should play together, but we can't. I hope that if I remember my part, and the others remember theirs, with a bit of luck we'll end at the same time. This doesn't happen."

In retrospect, the Slits were perhaps the most subversive punk group of all: four unruly girls - Ari, Tessa, Viv and Palmolive - high on attitude and a shared sense of possibility. Their adventures, musical and otherwise, are at the heart of this searingly honest memoir by their lead guitarist.

Albertine writes well about the fledgling London punk scene, a community of like-minded misfits. She recounts her friendship with Sid Vicious, her on-off relationship with Mick Jones of the Clash and the one time she took heroin while under the spell of the charismatic but amoral Johnny Thunders. At times, her honesty is excruciating. "After a while of licking away," she writes of a sexual encounter with Johnny Rotten, "I hear an imperious voice from on high, like Quentin Crisp and Kenneth Williams mixed with the Artful Dodger. . . 'Stop it, Viv! You're trying too hard'."

But Albertine's writing really comes alive when she describes the thrill of being a Slit. Their very presence antagonised male roadies, promoters and hoteliers wherever they went. At the centre of the mayhem was untamable lead singer, the late Ariane Daniela Forster, aka Ari Up, who was just 14 when she formed the Slits with Paloma "Palmolive" Romero. Ari was much the same off stage as on: loud, attention-seeking and utterly unselfconscious. "Being attacked, spat at, sworn at and laughed at is all part of our lives," writes Albertine, recounting how Ari was stabbed twice during the anti-punk hysteria of the late 1970s.

The book takes an even more confessional turn as Albertine leaves the Slits behind. Unlike many of her contemporaries, she did adapt to life after punk, attending film school and working as a promo video producer. Her struggle to conceive through IVF treatment is rendered powerfully, as is the diagnosis of cervical cancer that came soon after her daughter was born: "I can't ever go back to the well side. And I'm glad. . . People who haven't seen the other side, or aren't close to someone who has - they seem a bit half-baked to me. Lifeless."

When the Slits reformed in 2006, Albertine instead moved to Hastings to recover and raise her child. Then, as her marriage floundered, she started writing songs again. A series of solo albums followed and, as I write, she is being acclaimed for her role in Joanna Hogg's film, Exhibition, where her raw honesty finds another form. It is the bedrock of this illuminating memoir.

To buy Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys for pounds 11.99 with free UK p&p call 0330 333 6846 or go to guardianbookshop.co.uk

Captions:

Pretty in pink: Viv Albertine, Palmolive, Tessa Pollitt

and Ari Up were the Slits.

Photograph by Ray Stevenson/Rex Features



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Source: Observer (UK)


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