The Slits’ Ari Up and Prince Mohamed dancing to LKJ in a fabulous bit of film, shot by Don Letts in 1979.
The Clash and the Slits live, Sounds, 6 January, 1979.
A love that burns
White, red, yellow, black. The Clash straddled the Music Machine stage like they meant it.
A white shirted Jones, a red shirted Strummer, a yellow clad Headon and a black shirted Simenon. The place was packed fairly solid and the atmosphere was good and friendly, which is pretty unusual for the Mornington Crescent Cool Club.
The Slits had just trudged off stage. I only saw two numbers, both impressive in a loose and spontaneous way, the new(ish) drummer Budgie providing the guts and gruel playing that was perhaps missing in the past. Their version of ‘Femme Fatale’ was particularly memorable. Ari Up doing the dizzy dervish but ruining her performance slightly, I thought, by playing the sex cat at times. They’ll be up among the leaders in ’79.
The Clashers were obviously out to improve on their rather lacklustre and clinical performance at Harlesden the last time they played London. White, red, yellow, black, the three frontmen still shaking with the threat they felt in, uh, the past. Really, there’s very little to say about The Clash when they’re on this sort of level of live excellence.
‘Safe European Home’ exploded the set to action; the sound crisp and fresh, if slightly unco-ordinated, with Jones’ lead receiving particularly unsympathetic treatment in the mix. ‘I Fought The Law’ again featured a magnificent band performance in terms of their sheer determination to overcome or, at the very least, to compensate for the shortcomings of the sound. But it was the presence of these technical errors early on in the set that enhanced and emphasised the band’s gradual acclimatisation to the conditions they faced.
The turning point came about mid-way through the set with the rousing ‘Tommy Gun’, Strummer spitting out the words like an angry sergeant-major, the left leg pumping up and down like an angry piston. It’s The Clash’s standard approach to the rock and roll live chore these days that is the predominant aspect of their stage performances; they feel and generate rock and roll energy in the same way that the Stones did (I assume: they were before my time) and in that sense the band has moved out of the New Wave theory of the shock, anti-establishment steam. What we have now is steam replaced by an attitude of total attack. The jet-fighters are still sitting ominously on the runway. Only now they take with more assurety and less uneasy resolution.
It’s a wonderful progression and it’s conveyed most vividly in the moving ‘Stay Free’, where the band veritably shine and sparkle with the experience and maturity they’ve accumulated. And then they can burst in into the stinging stock-Clash stamped ‘Guns On The Roof'(it burns live, whereas it doesn’t quite come off on record) and the hilarious “hi man!” relief of “Judy”. And so, a stunning gig. A gig with real atmosphere (a rarity these days). A gig where I pogoed for the first time since joining Sounds.
Punk bands at the Roxy in Sounds, 16 April, 1977
Running With The Ratpack
Buzzcocks/Johnny Moped/Wire/X-Ray Spex/Smak
ROXY RATPACK, Saturday night
Find a friend and stick close: sink or swim. Tony and Julie were right: a club full of ‘Wild Boys’ outtakes and budding SS officers – (Sunday Times headline, Sunday, April 3: ‘National Front Woos the Young’) – plenty of new faces as the music, fashion and attitude is spread by word of mouth and publicity. The soundtrack for this B-movie tonite is five bands, all of which use as a base Punk Rhythm 1 – the drill-Ramones variant.
First on are Smak. They are so goddam awful that they’re hardly worth writing about, except that the main motive for their formation seems to have been to cash in. No style, no music, no presence, and lyrics half-digested platitudes. And they try to ‘shock’ – Yecch.
X-Ray Spex, of all the bands on tonite, seem to have the most potential for mass appeal. The sound is basic, but full and driving and, best of all, well mixed. (The Sax sound gives them an edge of difference). I suppose they’re fashion ‘n’ fun more than anything – Poly buzzes round stage taking hecklers in her stride (Roxy test 1 is how the bands deal with exploratory barracking) and forestalling most obvious criticism with her songs: ‘I Am A Cliché’, ‘I Can’t Do Anything’, ‘Bondage, Up Yours’. She needs an audience and projects … most are converted, even Ari from the Slits , who came to pull mike wires.
Next are Wire, they short-circuit the audience totally, playing about 20 numbers, most around one minute long. The audience doesn’t know when one has finished and other is beginning. I like the band for that … good theatre. Image wise they look convincingly bug-eyed, flash speed automatons caught in a ’64 mod time-warp. As to songs: I’m really not sure – there seems to be some scheme of things, but this is buried in poor sound and the limitations of the format. I caught the words to two songs, which I knew already: ‘Three Girl Rhumba’, and ‘One, Two, X, U’, which was the best of their set. There were glimpses of genuine originality: I’ll hold. The audience only really got interested when the bass player blew his stack at a heckler.
By the time Johnny Moped came on, one riff was beginning to merge into another … Wire’s poor sound and pretension had me blanked out. So Moped didn’t grab my attention too much – watching, I could really take it or leave it. In fact, he’s fun; one of nature’s loons, he prowls round like a shabby tiger, sawn-off leather jacket and forehead full of hair. He’s one of the audience up on stage – the distance between them is minimal – and they love it. The band drives nicely – a solid rock sound. Best are a falsetto ‘Little Queenie’ and a version of ‘Hard Driving Man’. I think he’ll remain a minor cult figure.
Four bands on into the punkathon: numb-out. All the better that the Buzzcocks are so good. Since the release of their EP, they’ve lost lead singer Howard Devoto, apparently pissed at the media monster that ‘punk’ has become – they’ve recruited a new bassist, Garth, switched the vocals to the Starway guitarist, Pete Shelley, and rehearsed.
The last is manifest: they excel at tight band work – no posing, no gobbing, no half-baked ideas of punkismo, just energy, presence and commitment. They sing and play because they have something to say. It isn’t particularly high-flown, brief jottings of everyday small incidents of boredom, frustration and despair, as the supermarkets and motorways spread. The titles tell: ‘Orgasm Addict’ – ‘Fast Cars’ – ‘Oh Shit’ – ‘Friends Of Mine’ – ‘What Do I Get’. Their image/music mesh is good too – the flat Mancunian accent and laconic dryness fitting the lyrics and the cheap as a siren guitar sound.
As befits a band with Product, they get an encore (deserved): interestingly, they don’t do their most obviously anthemic song, ‘Boredom’, but a new one – ‘Love Battery’. Showing that they’ve transcended Devoto’s loss.
So – simply – hard driving speeded up rock, felt and meant and real, a reminder (after so much wretched excess) of how good ‘new wave’ music can be. Let’s hope the audience comes to them. – Jon Savage
The Slits and Subway Sect reviewed live in the NME, 8 October, 1977. Spizz gets a mention too.
The Cavortings Of Creative People
“The music business is open to experiment. No-one should treat it too seriously,” says Clash manager and promoter of this gig, Bernard Rhodes.
He watches with interest the onstage antics of the Ramones-esque Southampton band who arrived in London last night, slept in their van and then approached him to see if they could play tonight.
Rhodes put them on after official billtoppers, Subway Sect.
A reasonable underground hype had ensured that the Music Machine was sold out for tonight’s show. Neither The Sex Pistols nor The Clash appeared to have any intention whatsoever of playing.
In between The Slits and Subway Sect, however, a punk comedian (ex-art school, natch) from Birmingham called Spizz did his “thing” to such a weary extent that cans and bottles narrowly missed his head.
First on was Model Mania. Apart from a few interesting touches – like phasing the chorus line vocals on the final line of “Sweet Jane” without assistance from the mixing desk – they were largely undistinguished.
Ari Peat (nee Up), vocalist with The Slits, voices the opinion that the Music Machine is “like a TV set”.
Does she mean a TV set as in the corner of the room? Or is she referring to a TV set as in Dr Who TV set? Or is it a subliminal McLuhanite reference to the very nature of our hopeless existences?
Whether they are on TV or not, The Slits are most upset with their set.
And it is true that for their first three numbers – “Shine”, “What A Boring Life” and “New Town” – their sound is appalling. However, this is at least compensated for by the ferocity of the energy output, which is often so vicious as to achieve an almost surreal edge. One of the songs – I think it’s “What A Boring Life”, in fact – is structured so as to recall flashes of an amphetamine (rather than acid) driven “Tommy”.
This is compounded by the highly primal Daltry-esque quality, underlined by her Gorgon locks, that is Ari’s own. In fact. with her Rumanian gypsy looks she probably bears a closer resemblance to Alice Cooper.
The Slits also remind me more than a little of the Dolls.
The found is far improved by the time they get to “Vaseline”. Palm Olive’s drum sound is by now utterly overbearing, definitely the lead instrument, juxtaposed as it is against all-in-black Viv’s scratchy chords and flashed of lead breaks, and leopard-skin jacketed Tessa’s bass.
Once again indicating the influence of reggae on punk – superb reggae fills the intervals between acts – Palm goes in for phased drum breaks. Their mixer is said to be a bit out of it, however, so maybe none of this is meant to sound like it does.
It does, though, seem pretty anarchic stuff. Parts of it, like the monstrously bizarre ending of “Enemy”, the final number, are impressive indeed.
A friend of mine complained that Subway Sect were a very obvious case of punk form over content.
Me, I’m not so sure. Alright, I couldn’t make out any of the lyrics, but get some of these titles: “The Ambition (Of Man)”, “Eastern Europe”, “Forgotten Weakness”.
I was also impressed by the manner in which vocalist Victor Goddard, bassist Paul Myers, and guitarist Robert Symmons frequently, utilising almost Hollies-esque harmonies, perform with the vocals as lead instrument. Indeed, there is also a touch of The Clash about those harmonies.
To be noted also are the strengths of the songs’ melody lines, as well as the thunderingly self-controlled aggression that new drummer Robert Ward – who, in keeping with the Sect’s preferences rarely uses cymbals – injects.
Also to be noted is Goddard’s most adept harp abilities.
Also to be noted is that two people sat on a couch reading newspapers onstage throughout the Sect’s set. (Maybe they saw two poets eating a pie on a Slow Dive Dancer gig some years ago. – Ex-SDD Ed.)
1980 documentary made by Wolfgang Büld, who these days drinks in the Trotwood. The Slits, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Girlschool, Zaza, Mania D, LiLiPUT (who started out as Kleenex), and Nina Hagen all feature. There’s some great live footage and choice words.
The Slits reviewed live in the NME, 12 December. 1981.
Ari was rapping about the sometimes contradictory nature (to put it mildly) of the relation between ‘reality’ and the appearance thereof. “You see I could laughing, but I might not be having fun… and we need the fun all the mnore now that Christmas is coming…”
An illusion emphasised the point: from where I was standing, at first sight Neneh Cherry looked the spitting image of Annabella. Annabella!?? Let off McLaren’s Bow Wow Wow fantasy leash for the night? Now that would be interesting.
The Palais was half-empty, which was a suprise to me, having experienced full houses recently for execrable Bauhaus and the tremendous, though tremendously limited, Level 42. And with The Slits lately having signed to CBS too, on the understanding, on one side and/or the other, that rapidly multiplying sales units were just a kiss away…But for our pleasure…there was more space to dance in, more space to move into. “Clap, clap, kiss kiss, waht a relief it is…” The Slits are wonderful.
A great big welcoming, joyous sound. So inviting, so enticing. A friendly funked-up jazzed reggae soulbeat…er, you know what I mean? Well…a sound that utilised and borrowed from a lot of diverse sources/influences, and paid them all back, with interest. A vivid contrast to the sucking up and spitting out of half-digested fads which has been passing for creativity, energy, soul, funk, blah, blah, blah, these days.
“A long time I see no true warrior.”
Bruce was up, up and always on, over, under and around the beat. And everything he doesn’t play is brilliant. A perfect rhythm and just about the greatest tone I’ve ever heard.
Everything was just about right; slick, even. Ari is a top league rapper who puts some of the chinless chart wonders – talking loud, saying nothing – in their places at the depths of the lower divisions. She has the playful fascination and virtuosity with language often characteristic of people expressing themselves in other than their native tongue. (Which could apply to a lot of people, on reflection). The strangeness seems to increase the attention and leads to picking up chances missed by those who may be taking the medium for granted.
And none of The Slits onstage was taking anything for granted. Whatever the degree of refinement and deliberation, technique and contrivance, a personal commitment is always essential to the creation of the greatest, most righteous music – with zest, skill, confidence – which is what The Slits played. A righteous quality music. A defiance of categorisations. Good times!
The Slits, and Rich Kids, reviewed live by NME editor, Neil Spencer, 12 August, 1978. An interesting comment, given the cover they’d use for their essential album Cut, about how they’d ‘evolved a long way clear of the primal punk mud of ’76.’
Some Girls Do It Pretty Good … and some blokes don’t
Music Machine, London
The wettest of London nights couldn’t dampen the resolve of the capital’s punters to sensure a sell-out for Rich Kids and The Slits in the Gothic splendour of Camden Town.
Were the people in this enormous queue really all here to see Rich Kids? I dunno, but certainly a sizeable portion of the crowd were still left wet when the real stars of the evening took the stage.
It was my first (and admittedly) late Slits gig, and I was expecting some trashy 3-chord dole queue ramalam dressed in shocking pink guise – something out of the same stuck in ’76 rut as the throwback likes of Adam And The Ants. This expectation had been modified only by the received opinions of one or two of London’s more thoughtful new musician and critics that The Slits were “Among the most radical bands playing today”. They were right. It’s true that the quartet are still in possession of only the most rudimentary musical technique, but they’ve already evolved a long way clear of the primal punk mud of ’76.In fact, their musical naivety perhaps encourages a refreshingly willingness to explore new forms.
Their songs are full of suprising but unforced changes – none of the current vogue among ‘inyelligent’ new bands for stops and starts for their own sake – and while any lyrical power was largely discharged in the rather messy PA system, practically every number bristled with hooklines and enticing verbal bait.
Visually, The Slits put most of their contemporaries to shame. It’s not a matter of their being an all-girl group (the UK’s first proper female rock group) but that they have their own sartorial style and, more important, that they really work on stage.
Ari Upp is the real visual mainstay, of course. She crackles with electricity, looks like Salvador dali’s moustache aerials, her stage prance and dance a curious and highly individual blend of dubwise stepping (what Sid Vicious would probably call “Wop skanking”) and earthy Germanic bopping, hands out front like paws and arse wiggling in the rear like a mischievous Technicolor rodent.
They were well received and encored with Marvin Gaye’s “Grapevine”. I was expecting some hell-for-leather up-tempo bash – the usual punk conception of a version, like The Dickies thinking if they play “Sounds Of Silence” fast enough it will sound great, when it doesn’t – but they delivered the song real straight, like they meant it. Just no doubt about it, these girls got soul as well as originality.
It’s been several months since I saw Rich Kids and they’ve got worse.
They’re apparently pitching for the same area as mid-period Mott The Hoople, but all their professionalism confidence, technical virtuosity and noise (far too much of that), and silly clothes couldn’t disguise their basic lack of direction and purpose. More, their lack of real character.
The top drawer punk rock Shangri Las reviewed in the NME, 29 January, 1983.
Hagar The Womb
Look Mummy Clowns
Pied Bull, Islington
The anarcho-punk carnival plunders on, avoiding the twin pits of bankruptcy and ‘more committed than thou’ attitudes while evolving its cheap and accesible ethos. Tonight’s camp is in aid of the Animal Liberation Front, with the hard core out in force to see the newer bands and wave the flag.
Onstage the tattered and mohicaned frontman chides his equally well-dressed audiences as Look Mummy Clowns launch into yet another vibrant melody. Sparks of powerful musical inspiration shower the excited crowd as unremitting fanzine peddlers vie for your attention.
“I don’t wanna be today’s Miss World,” comes the cry from Hagar The Womb’s twin female vocalists, leaving blustering leaflets discarded in the anticipation of their brash feminist brand of kitsch’n’cliche. Formerly in the vanguard of the Can’t Play Won’t Care brigade, their appealing fallabout optimism has survived the metamporphosis into sprightly, early Slits type melodies, and the crowd dances its approval.
They are bright and light-heartedly serious, grasping the whole unashamed spirit which stops these affairs being merely alternative party political broadcasts.
As they finish and the site is cleared, everything seems somehow happier.