X-Ray Spex and Black Slate gig in an abortion benefit, as reviewed in Spare Rib, issue 68, March, 1978.
National Abortion Campaign benefit
Girls in pink stilettos with pink plastic specs in their hair; clumps of boys pogo, shooting up and crashing heads together, staking out territory in front of the stage; a smattering of feminists commiserate “I feel about 70 – they all look so young.”
London’s Roundhouse was crammed on January 15 for NACPUNK – a benefit concert for the National Abortion Campaign, an amazing mixture of people and bands, with X-Ray Spex ‘top of the bill’. (New wave and women’s movement may resist stars, but Poly Styrene is quite a name!)
Sadista Sisters, on first, really piss me off – I suppose they’re sending up sexism with charades of musical entrepreneurs fucking queues of young hopefuls, but their anti-sexism is ambiguous, and so clumsy and slow. Between acts they alternate tough liberated songs with sweetening slush. Only the slapstick made me laugh, making grotesque tomato sandwiches to throw at the audience. And that’s been done before.
Dead Fingers Talk I did like, but some people had the same problems about the ambiguity of what they were doing. I’d been told in advance they were a gay men’s band, so I saw their song There’s Something Not Quite Right About Harry as strong satire. People round me seemed clear what it was about; one black leather heavy jeering ‘wankers’ and ‘queens’ at the band knew what he was afraid of. Only later I heard left-wing indignation that NAC had booked a queer-bashing band.
Black Slate played polished but predictable reggae, then X-Ray Spex bounced on – Poly Styrene in fifties suit, silver blue and knee-clinging, with a ribbon in her frizzy hair. “I don’t know about aborrrtions…” she drawled, ripping into her latest single Oh Bondage Up Yours. She’s got fantastic stage presence and witty lyrics:
When I put on my make-up
The pretty little mask, not me
That’s the way a girl should be
In a consumer society
The concert made loads of money – £2350 to get NAC out of the red (the bands all played for nothing) – and it drew a huge crowd. Politically it was a wasted opportunity – a few leaflets and posters would have helped, some badges for sale, a lurex ‘Woman’s Right To Choose’ banner over the stage. There were no clues it was a benefit, let alone what for, until one woman tried to make a speech near the end and got booed off – inevitably: speeches are boring. Only Rock Against Racism were at work outside, selling their paper Temporary Hoarding, complete with Poly Styrene interview.
Many feminists felt the event was out of their control: the Roundhouse ruled, men guarded the doors, put on the records, brought on the bands. I felt that too, but would have been glad that the music wasn’t just ‘ours’, the audience not just ‘us’ – if only we’d made clear who ‘we’ were.