3 weeks ago
Saturday, November 22, 2008
Chapter 5 TRIBAL REVIVAL The Pop Group and the Slits
(Chapter 3 in American edition)
>Bristol Funk Army
Bruce Smith: “There was this strong connection between Bristol and these towns in Wales that were really close. Some weeks we’d go to clubs in Newport and Cardiff, and some weeks the Welsh guys would come to Bristol.” The Welsh contingent included Steve Strange and Chris Sullivan, later leading figures in the New Romantic movement (as frontmen of Visage and of Blue Rondo A La Turk respectively). Steve Strange was actually a member of The Pop Group for a few minutes, says Smith. “I think maybe it was a Damned gig, we were telling people about the Pop Group, which was just beginning to exist, and somebody took a photo of us, standing in the toilet. Steve was there and for the duration of that photograph, he was ‘in’ the group!”
> Fifties clothes
Stewart recalls going up to London to buy clothes at Let It Rock--Malcolm McLaren’s retro-rock’n’roll store that became the punk boutique Sex.
>Bristol and the slave trade
At one point Bristol was so wealthy and important it was considered the nation’s #2 city after London. Until the industrial revolution it was in fact the United Kingdom’s second largest city. Alongside London and Liverpool, Bristol was the big slave trade port, with some 155 slave merchant companies by the 1750s. But even when slavery was abolished, the city benefited through compensation to traders and owners. There were also other industries and imported luxuries like sherry, chocolate, and tobacco. The legacy of this era persists in the town’s aura of slightly-faded gentility---the grand houses and crescents lined with Georgian terraces. They were also less savory reminders of an ignoble mercantile seafaring past. “Maybe they’ve been changed now, but when I lived in Bristol there were street names like Whiteladies Road and Blackboy Hill,” says Smith. “And at the top of Blackboy hill there was a market.”
More information on Bristol’s slaving past, http://www.hotwells.freeserve.co.uk/slavetrade.html
The St. Paul’s riots started on April 2nd 1980 and involved looting, arson, and the destruction of local amenities. It was triggered by a police raid on a café--the Black and White Café, Grosvenor Road-- where patrons openly smoked cannabis.
“The spirit of free jazz was worshipped,” says Vivien Goldman (see below). “I remember us making a mass big exodus to the North Sea Jazz Festival, the band and all their friends.”
>“beatniks of tomorrow”--unattributed Pop Group quote, ZIGZAG No. 83, April 1978.
>Impressive book and record collections
Steve Walsh, in a brilliant profile of the group for ZigZag (No. 83, April/May 1978), noted Stewart’s library (Wilhelm Reich, Allen Ginsberg, Kerouac, Antonin Artaud, Michael McChlure. Cage’s 'Silence') and album collection (Miles Davis, Booker T., Tom Waits, Charlie Parker, dub, Pierre Henry. Ornette Coleman, La Monte Young, Gavin Briars, and other releases on Eno’s Obscure label).
Journalist friend of the band and a girlfriend of Stewart’s (she says he told her she was the “she” in “Beyond Good and Evil”--“but then maybe he told that to all the girls!”). Initially reknowned as a reggae specialist, interviewing Bob Marley and the rest, she became one of the main postpunk journalists, her ‘beat’ focused on the Slits/Pop Group/Raincoats cluster. She managed to do a hat-trick of all three big weekly music papers, starting out at Sounds (where she was one of the team behind the New Musick specials in late 1977), moving to Melody Maker, and then settling at NME. She was also a recording artist, solo (see Postpunk Esoteric Discography re. her single “Launderette” b/w/ “Private Armies”) and writing and singing songs with The Flying Lizards.
>a new way of doing everything
As Bruce Smith told the NME, September 30 1978, "we want people to question as much as possible. All the rules, conceptions, everything.... It's a question of setting yourself free and not worrying about inhibitions and people saying you can or can't do that."
>Romantic idea of going through nihilism
This came out of reading de Nerval and Baudelaire
>"Our creating… internal pressure."--Stewart, ZIGZAG April 1978.
> Patti Smith
I get the sense that Smiths’ poet-rock image (her “Rimbaud’n’roll” fusions of poetic incantations, semi-improvised, over electric guitar noise), her literariness, and especially the abstraction of “Radio Ethiopia” were influences on The Pop Group, or at least on Mark Stewart and on Gareth Sager, who described the Pop Group as “teenage Rimbauds dedicated to creating hell on stage” (in England’s Dreaming). Pop Group’s “Thief Of Fire” may or may not have come from Rimbaud’s concept of the artist as Promethean: “the poet therefore is truly the thief of fire”.
>Pere Ubu tour
At the very zenith of their repute and mystique, the Cleveland group were a magnet for all those across the U.K. seeking a way forward after punk’s failure: exactly the audience the Pop Group needed to find, in other words. The Pere Ubu/Pop Group double-bill left a trail of freshly germinated bands in its wake, formatively shaped by the ideas those groups were putting into action. One key example: A Certain Ratio, who witnessed the Manchester appearance of the two groups.
See the Pere Ubu/Devo footnotes. Pop Group manager Dick O’Dell* had hooked them up with Radar, a label that had the look of independent label but the muscle of a major. It was funded by WEA but had a separate office and staff. Thanks to the graphic design of Barney Bubbles and Malcolm Garrett, Radar also developed a striking and distinctive “look” as seen on the record sleeves and a series of full page ads in the music press. The label was the brainchild of Andrew Lauder, a veteran A&R whose impressive CV at United Artists included Can, Neu!, Amon Duul II, Hawkwind, Motorhead, Dr. Feelgood, The Stranglers, and Buzzcocks.
* Bruce Smith on Dick O’Dell: “Dick was an old hippie, and he is very pro artist. Not an entrepreneurial type manager, not about selling one thing to another. He was genuinely into the idea of us as ‘here’s these young guys trying to do something really exciting and I want to be part of it’. We got on well with him. He would probably have been in his late twenties or early thirties at that time. He’s a funny ageless character.”
I was all set to interview O’Dell but he failed to materialize at our assignation on Portobello Road in the summer of 2002! At that point he was the manager of Ed Harcourt. At the very beginning, he worked on Pink Floyd’s lightshow in the early Seventies, as well as doing theatre lighting, whence he graduated to helping with the staging of The Sensational Alex Harvey Band’s theatrical rock. Y, the label he founded with The Slits and Pop Group and ran on their behalf, would also put out releases by Pigbag, Diamanda Galas, Tesco Bombers, Pulsalamma, Steve Beresford & Tristan Honinger, and Shriekback.
1978's Strictly Dub Wize, probably the most famous of Dennis Bovell's solo excursions into dub, under the name Blackbeard
>splurge of disco-funk bass
Bruce Smith: “When PiL released ‘Death Disco’ [a few months after ‘She is Beyond Good and Evil’] I remember hearing that and thinking this is pretty good. And also, we were thinking, ‘maybe they’re biting our style’. I don’t know if they were consciously or not, maybe they’d heard our record. And then we did one gig in Manchester with PiL headlining. [Creation for Liberation Concert, a benefit for the Race Today monthly journals]. It was them and us and Linton Kwesi Johnson and a reggae band called Merger, and it was in a big place, an auditorium that was part of a deserted fairground in Bellevue in Manchester--a very wacky scene, a big interior arena and then outside all these empty cages like a deserted zoo. A very strange location. The Slits were with us and they bridged between the two bands, but what I remember is that in the dressing room, it was like people were lined up on opposed sides of the room.”
>love as a revolutionary force
lyrics to “She Is Beyond Good and Evil”:
My little girl was born on a ray of sound
My little girl was born on a ray of sound
Sleeps on water walks on ice
Sleeps on water walks on ice
Got no father, immortal wife
I'd exchange my soul for her
There's no antidote for her
I'd exchange my soul for her
There's no antidote for her
My little girl was born on a ray of sound
My little girl was born on a ray of sound
Like a dancing flame on a bed of nails
She is one thing that you cannot buy
With zero reasons for living
With zero reasons for living
My little girl was born on a ray of sound
Our only defence is together as an army
I'll hold you like a gun
Western values mean nothing to her”
>Linton Kwesi Johnson
Not a Rastafarian at all, but closer to a Marxist, Johnson called what he did ‘dialect poetry’ and “dub poetry”. Bovell was and is the leader of the Linton Kwesi Johnson band and producer of its records. More on LKJ later in this chapter
Alongside Hendrix, Bovell’s favorite group was Spooky Tooth; he also loved Free, The Who, and Osibisa
>Some semblance of cohesion
Or perhaps it went vice versa, with Bovell becoming intoxicated by the reckless spirit of adventure of the Pop Group and deciding to go in a “3rd Stone From The Sun” direction.
Prior to working with Bovell, it was first mooted that they be produced by John Cale (Stewart was a fan of his mid-70s solo records) but he proved incompatible owing to problems of self-abuse. Smith: “We wanted him to produce it, he came to Bristol with Dick [O’Dell], on the train, and he came to Simon’s house and we were there to talk about stuff, and he basically fell asleep in a very short space of time, caved in on the couch. There he was, John Cale, completely crashed out.” In one interview, Simon Underwood was more blunt, describing Cale as “a totally self-indulgent pig”.
>"a brave… exasperating"--NME, 4/28/79. Pop Group album review by Paul Rambali.
Ten photocopied sheets, illustrated with hand-drawn graphics, the prose style conjuring a straight-from-the-gob-onto-the-page immediacy.
>”important that punk identify itself, musically”
Like fingers clenching into a fist, punk had constricted itself musically for maximum impact. Its faux-philistine mentality and crude sound required a Year Zero myth that reduced rock history to a few isolated moments of rampaging aggression (early Who, Sixties garage bands, The Stooges, New York Dolls) and dismissed the early Seventies as a wasteland. Before the Ramones’ debut album hit the scene, Perry’s taste had been as wide as John Lydon. His own version of “The Punk and His Music” Capital Show was the front cover of Alternative TV’s debut album The Image Has Cracked, which outed him as the record-collecting fiend/omnivorous music lover he truly was: he was pictured sprawled on the carpet surrounded by the sleeves of his favorite albums, which included hippy-era classics by Love, The Byrds, The Grateful Dead, Mothers of Invention, Van Dyke Parks, and The Flying Burrito Brothers. Perry has said that even a few months before punk happened, he wasn’t especially dissatisfied with rock, recalling going to see The Who in the 1975/76 period and enjoying the show, and generally finding plenty of music to be into.
>after twelve issues
Alternative TV’s “Love Lies Limp”--a crestfallen punk-reggae ditty about impotence, at the time totally groundbreaking stuff lyrically --featured as a free flexi in Sniffin Glue #12.
>The Image is Cracked
The title, a curious advance echo of Public Image Ltd. And at this point, from his reggae rhythms to his form-bending games, Perry had the edge on Lydon, especially given that PiL had yet to release a note.
“Why Don’t You Do Me Right”
>Pushed even further out
Cracked, the debut album, had been sufficiently accessible such that a conventional career path beckoned for Perry: a big tour, a role as working-class-hero and punk spokesman. Instead, he took a total swerve and committed ATV to a free tour that summer, organized by the hippy band Here and Now, about as unfashionable an entity as then imaginable. Popular on the free festival circuit and linked to outfits like Hawkwind and Gong (Here and Now had formed originally to back up Daevid Allen, post-Gong), this gaggle of long-hairs, Perry decided, represented real independence, unlike his former peers in punk rock, who almost without exception were now indentured to major labels and slogging their way to success via the most conventional music-biz channels. “Here and Now focused on ATV and The Fall [whom Perry had signed to Step Forward, the label he ran with financial backing from Miles Copeland]. Here and Now saw this attitude that me and Mark E. Smith had, and they suggested doing a Punks and Hippies Unite Tour. I was like, ‘free gigs? This is exactly what we should be doing!. It was a real experience, a totally different world. When we went on tour and I had to sleep in a tent, I was terrified. Everyone walking around stark bollock naked, people pissing everywhere! While most punks were sitting in the Speakeasy talking about record deals, I was in a field at Stonehenge with a bunch of hippies. And thinking, 'maybe this is the real alternative?'” A joint album of live recordings from festivals was released, Here And Now/Alternative TV’s What You See Is What You Are.
Alternative TV and Here and Now communing at Stonehenge, 1978
and another picture of Here and Now and Alternative TV hanging out, at some point on the Free Tour of 1978
both these pics borrowed from Green Galloway blog, a great source for theoretical musings and meditational memories of anarcho-punk and other countercultural strains of the postpunk diaspora - http://greengalloway.blogspot.com/2007/05/rip-up-footnotes.html
>Here and Now
more info on them, via the sharity blog Lost-In-Tyme:
Here & Now are an English Psychedelic/progressive/space rock band formed in early 1974. They have close connections with the band Gong and in 1977/1978 worked with Gong's Daevid Allen and Gilli Smyth under the name Planet Gong, which released one (live) album "Floating Anarchy 1977" and one single "Opium for the People" Guitarist Steffy Sharpstrings' Highly individual sound developed from many early influences including Steve Hackett of Genesis and former Gong lead-guitarist Steve Hillage. Both Steffy and bassist Keith the Bass have featured in later incarnations of Gong. The first version of Here & Now, co-founded by drummer Kif Kif Le Batter (or Batteur, as it is commonly mis-spelt) in 1974, were known for jamming (free musical improvisation), which they did exclusively, as they believed in the purity of creating music "in the moment" and didn't have rehearsals or songs. They would only play their music at free shows and free festivals. One other part of their manifesto was never to compromise the "in the moment" ethos by releasing, or even making, sound recordings. Consequently no recordings of the 1974 version of the band exist. There have been many changes of personnel over the years, yet the defining moments in the formation of the band's musical character came with the 1975 - 1977 line up of Kif Kif (Drums and Vocals), Twink (Synthesiser, and not the same Twink who was in the Pink Fairies) , Steffe (Guitar and Vocals) and Keith the Bass (Bass Guitar). Keith the Bass and Steffe still perform as Here & Now with Joie Hinton from Ozric Tentacles/Eat Static on keyboards and Steve Cassidy on drums. A line-up featuring Kif Kif, Twink and Steffe currently perform improvised music, a la mid-seventies Here & Now, under the name "Ici Maintenants".
Kif Kif is the same Kif Kif behind Fuck Off Rekords the ultra-DIY cassette label in the Autonomy in the UK chapter, also known as the great Keith Dobson, guitarist/lead yowler of World Domination Enterprises, the awesome Eighties Ladbroke Grove squatnoiseabilly trio, in many ways a late post-punk group.
>People thought I’d flipped my lid.
Sounds magazine awarded it an almost unprecedented zero stars out of five. Reviewers Garry Bushell and Dave McCullough accused Perry of morphing from working-class-hero into arty bourgeois-bohemian zero making irrelevant and inaccessible music. “It doesn’t provoke thought, it’s shallow, ignorant, pseudo-arty. In place of rock, it raises the standard of 1969 Hippydom, it’s music for the new elite, thesis-ego-go, breaking down the barriers between ‘alternative culture’ circa the LSE ‘red bases’ and 1979’s colour supplement ineffectual intellectual coffee table nothing. Perry plays W/C hero and comes over as middle class dilettante.” A defiant Perry, responding to the common perception that he’d somehow “let punk down,” told NME that punk now consisted of The Clash’s blandly Americanized Give ‘Em Enough Rope and ”I consider that to have let me down, let all of us down… That whole sound … the Thin Lizzy wall of guitars, it's a strained form of rock'n'roll that should have been discarded."
Full name, Anno Wombat, she also appears on the totally mad “Force is Blind” single--meant to be the last Alternative TV single, “we called it the ATV Memorial Single” says Perry--which captures the proto-Good Missionaries state of the group, being totally improvised in the studio at the very start of 1979: “Dennis Burns on bass, me on anything I could find: saxes, violins, a bit of guitar but detuned”.
The ATV-turning-into-Good-Missionaries performances of the Animal Instincts tour were documented on Fire From Heaven (a live album released in April/May 1979), including a version of the Pop Group’s “Thief of Fire”, and on the Vibing Up The Senile World EP (released May 1979). Kif Kif from Here and Now did sound for the band on tour; a “Kif Kif Freakout” appears on the Senile World EP.
>A hurled bottle knocked Perry unconscious
Perry: “This was 1979 and you were starting to get this hardcore of people who used to go to gigs just for a punch-up--the kind of audience that used to follow Sham 69 and cause trouble.” Perry had put Sham 69 on the cover of Sniffin’ Glue #12 and released their debut single “I Don't Wanna/Ulster/Red London” on Step Forward in 1977. But by early 1979 a massive gulf had opened up between the arty and aggressive sides of punk, and Alternative TV found themselves on the wrong side. Writing in Melody Maker in April 1979 in a column entitled “A Different Drum’, Simon Frith used The Pop Group and Sham 69 to dramatise precisely this post-punk schism between progressives and populists. On one side, the boho art students with “their dungarees and ascetic hair, left ear-rings and nervous fingers,” who talked of deconstructing rock language and discarding all assumptions. “Their mission: to break the regime of rock and roll truth. Their tools: new structures, new textures, a new discourse.” On the other side, the working class authenticists, who valued accessibility and whose disdain for “difference and difficulty” verges on outright philistinism. “The populist/progressive debate has no conclusion,” Frith, er, concluded. “Its terms were held together in the punk movement, but only because punk was originally incoherent.” He ultimately sides with the progressives, “if only because I’ve been writing about rock for 10 years now, and faced by the Pop Group my words sound wrong.” Frith’s colleague at Melody Maker, Richard Williams, saw in The Pop Group (in a March 24 1979 cover story, the week before Frith’s column) the possible return of the early seventies “progressive” music culture of albums and college audiences, something he’d have been well familiar with having been an A&R at Island Records and dealt with the likes of Eno, Cale, and Nico. He also noted how the group’s most abstract material, like “Don’t Sell Your Dreams” elicited shouts of “what a load of crap” from the Sham-style punx at a gig in Portsmouth, while the group fared much better playing to a bohemian in-crowd at St Paul’s Church, Covent Garden (the very same show that partly inspired Frith’s column in MM, part of his essential Consuming Passions series).
>The Good Missionaries
Like The Pop Group, Perry's mob "were actually saying something through the music: this is how we believed people should conduct themselves. 'Let's break down barriers, let's discover our creativity'. Punk, we felt, had become a straitjacket. For us, the way forward was total freedom."
>Slits and Clash
Very close early on. Ari Up met drummer Palmolive through the latter’s boyfriend Joe Strummer. Palmolive got her nickname (a brand of dish-washing liquid) from Clash bassist Paul Simonon, who had trouble pronouncing her real name Paloma Romero. Romero lived in the same Westbourne Grove squat as Strummer’s pre-Clash band the 101-ers (whose Richard Dudanski was later a great mate of The Raincoats, hence Palmolive joining the ‘Coats). Guitarist Viv Albertine had two other original Clash members clashing in competition for her affections, Mick Jones and Keith Levene. The future PiL guitarist coached Albertine in guitar-playing, helping her develop a sound
“like a buzz-saw crossed with a wasp” as she told Jon Savage. Levene also did sound for The Slits, at gigs and mixing a John Peel radio session for the band, although this might have been later on when he was in PiL.
>“I want to work… thrive on hate”--McLaren, quoted in Nonstop Pop webzine, http://www.nstop.com/paloma/intervw.html. Interview with Palmolive.
The Slits’ “offensive” name--possibly the single largest this-is-what-held-them-back aspect of their career--being the concave mirror to the convex phallic innuendo of Sex Pistols.
I vividly recall hearing tracks from Cut for the first time on John Peel's BBC radio show: I was sixteen, on vacation at my aunt's in the Yorkshire Dales, and they had this tiny, crappy transistor radio, which made the songs from Cut sounded wonderfully eerie, like this scratchy, insectile toy-music from far far away. They also just sounded incongruous, being very much London inner-city music, and I was hearing them in the midst of this wild,mountainous area in the rural North of the UK.
inner sleeve to Cut -- doodles by... Ari? Viv? Tessa?
>”Instant Hit”… junkie bandmates
“That was about Keith and Sid, but mostly Keith,” Ari Up confirms. “Viv wrote the words”
“He is a boy
He's very thin
Don't like himself very much
Cos he has set his self to self destruct”
In “FM”, radio waves are “frequent mutilation” that “transmits over the air”, “serving for the purpose/of those who want you to fear”. Not sure if this is about counselling shows and phone-ins that inculcate anxiety and female self-doubt, or about news programmes with alarmist stories. “I can’t help wondering what’s feeding my screams” Ari wails in this wonderfully mysterious and foreboding song.
>“Love Und Romance”
Starting with the irresistible war-cry “Babylon lovers are Babylon-lovers”, this song
scorns the very lovey-dovey intimacy that “Ping Pong Affair”, the preceding track, yearns for and mourns the passing of. It’s a witheringly sardonic and anti-sentimental piss-take of smotherlove-as-braindeath, with Ari Up gloating to her boyfriend “oh my darling, who wants to be free.” Bruce Smith appears in a brief vocal cameo as the Boyfriend.
>photograph of the Mud People of Papua New Guinea.
By Don McCullin
>“based on cities”--Sager, NME 6/30/79.
More Sager nonsense: Sager: "Culture is work and duty in the west, and anything natural is a crime. Western civilisations are based on cities which, being outside nature, ignore the rest of the cycle. But in countless African tribes, where there is no urban repression, there is
also no concept of crime and punishment; they have sexual liberation; sexual
intercourse is practised from puberty. All we did was colonialise, make them put clothes on. We should be educating ourselves; abolish schooling. All the money that's wasted in schools should be spent helping people get rid of ambition and indoctrination." He has not a clue about the highly structured, hierarchical, oppressive/repressive nature of most tribal societies.
>speak the unspoken/first words of a child…. naïve idealization of noble savagery
Vivien Goldman recalls the Pop Group making a film "where they were dancing naked around this fire in the forest. Well, it was very cold, so maybe they weren't literally naked--but they were naked in spirit! It was all part of their whole bohemian-political-pagan thing.”
Viv Albertine and Ari Up both cited as a favorite movie Walkabout (Nic Roeg’s film about an aborigine whose heart is literally broken by his encounter with “civilized” Australians--a small boy and his teenage sister who have got lost in the bush and are dying of thirst). Well, it’s one of my favourite movies actually (in combination with the John Barry soundtrack, it always makes me tear up). The film is based around the entwined tropes of childhood and uncivilisation/primitivism, both representing innocence and purity; in a coda at the end of the movie, the girl (played by Jenny Agutter) is now grown up, married to an ambitious, thrusting young corporate executive, and we see her preparing meat for their dinner, chopping up the raw flesh in between puffs on a cigarette. The husband returns and starts prattling about an immiment promotion, about how they’ll be holidaying on the Gold Coast, etc. Suddenly she has a Proustian flashback to idyllic moments after the young aborigine boy has rescued them but before they’ve returned to civilization and left the bush; she and her brother splashing and skinny-dipping in a swimming hole. A voice-over comes up reading the famous poem by A. E. Housman about the blue remembered hills of childhood.
All this of course fits the classic syndrome of the anti-intellectual intellectual who valorizes instinct, intuition, un-mediated perceptions and sensations that go beyond logic and linear thought to achieve a “pure”--meaning pre-socialized and unfiltered--response. C.f.
Simon Underwood’s declaration “each performance is our first”, or these unattributed comments from the early Steve Walsh profile in ZigZag:
"We're really not that interested in explaining ourselves... We like to think of ourselves as intellects tempered by instinct (a reversal of the conventional idiom). Our music is 'primal', the result of very intense emotions... the process whereby the emotions are revealed in
words/music is purely automatic... that's certainly the case with the lyrics...". And “I think we want to inspire people... unnerve them, bring about some form of reorientation to help in the release of the 'child' in man... Creatively speaking we're experimental primitives... our approach to the creative process is aleatoric, speculative, disruptive... we tend to think in lateral terms, tangential... whereas the conventional mode of approach is along horizontal lines... we want to produce something that is capable of being simple and complex, both good and evil simultaneously... Can you understand that?"
One byproduct of this phase of spontaneist/cult-of-naivete was The Slits’ “official ten track track bootleg”, released in March 1980, and called Retrospective. It was a collection of early tracks, in some accounts live recordings although having heard them they sound more like incredibly rudimentary demos recorded at home (indeed one of the tunes is called “Once Upon a Time in A Living Room”). It was reluctantly released by Rough Trade at the bargain price of two pounds and fifty pence ( legend has it the store clerks in the Rough Trade shop actively warned customers off buying it!). Speaking in Sounds in April 26th 1980, Viv Albertine defended it as their going-back-to-punk album: “I think it’s unusual to listen to and it doesn’t clutter up the air. So much music just fills the air with ugly sound just for the hell of it, bungs a loads of chords together to sound like something you’ve heard before and doesn’t frighten you too much. And this is really simple, this LP. I like the way there’s not much drumming on it, there’s acoustic stuff which is unusual for a so-called punk group.”
Here's a counter-view of the Slits that sees this LP and the Peel Session era Slits of "Boring Life" etc as the true Slits and Cut as the cleaned-up version:
"[...] All the Slits really left behind is an object screaming with muteness: a nameless lp in a blank bootleg sleeve. I like to think the disc is called 'Once upon a time in a living room,' but there's no way to be sure; with phrases scrawled at random across the label in lieu of titles, you have to decide the names of the songs from the choices offered. 'A Boring Life,' then: once the music starts I've never tried to understand a word.
One Slit giggles; a second asks, 'You ready?,' another answers 'Ready?' as if she never could be, then the fourth returns the giggle like Alice diving down the rabbit hole: 'Ah, ah, OH NOOOOO -' It's the last sound you hear at the crest of a roller coaster, and in the dead pause that follows you have time to remember Elvis in Sam Phillip's Sun studios in 1955, setting up 'Milkcow Blue Boogie' with a little rehearsed dialogue ('Hold it, fellas! That don't move me! Let's get real, real gone for a change!'), except that the Slits' dialogue is too trivial to have been rehearsed, let alone lead anywhere, and then the silence is collapsed by an unyielding noise. This compressed drama - embarrassment to anticipiation, hesitation to panic, silence to sound - is what punk was all about.
"The Slits were Ari Up, lead singer; Palmolive, drums; Viv Albertine, guitar; Tessa, bass. The Rolling Stone Rock Almanac entry for 11 March 1977: 'The Slits make their stage debut, opening for the Clash at the Roxy in London... [They] will have to bear the double curse of their sex and their style, which takes the concept of enlightened amateurism to an extreme... The Slits will respond to charges of incompetence by inviting members of the audience on stage to play while the four women take to the floor to dance.' A line from an old Jamaican 45 comes to mind - from Prince Buster's 'Barrister Pardon,' the finale to his Judge Dread trilogy, the tale of an avenger come from Ethiopia to rid the Kindston slums of its rude-boy holligans. Across three singles he sentences teenage murderers to hundreds of years in prison, jails their lawyers when they have the tmerity to appeal, reduces everyone in the courtroom to tears, then sets everyone free and highsteps down from the bench to lead the crowd in a cakewalk: 'I am the judge, but I know how to dance.' With 'A Boring Life,' the Slits judged every other version of rock 'n' roll: 'Milkow Blues Boogie,' 'Barrister Pardon,' the crummy official records they themselves would make after their moment had passed.
"Nothing could keep up with it. Shouting and shrieking, out of guitar flailings the group finds a beat, makes a rhythm, begins to shape it; the rhythm gets away and they chase it down, overtake it, and keep going. Squeaks, squeals, snarls, and whines - unmediated female noises never before heard as pop music - course through the air as the Slits march hand in hand through a storm they themselves have created. It's a performance of joy and revenge, an armed playground chant; every musical chance is taken, and for these women playing the simplest chord was taking a chance: their amateurism was not enlightened.
"'No more rock 'n' roll for you / No more rock 'n' roll for me,' goes a drunken moan elsewhere on the record, echoing the Sex Pistols' chorus for no-future - some unidentified man was singing, maybe a guy running the tape recorder, but it was the Slits' affirmation that whatever they were doing, they wouldn't call it rock 'n' roll. This was music that refused its own name, which meant it also refused its history - from this moment, no one knew what rock 'n' roll was, and so almost anything became possible, or impossible, as rock 'n' roll: random noise was rock 'n' roll, and the Beatles were not. Save for the buried productions of a few cult prophets - such American avatars as Captain Beefheart, mid-1960s garage bands like Count Five or the Shadows of Knight, the Velvet Underground and the Stooges of the late 1960s, the New York Dolls and Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers of the early 1970s, and the reggae voice of gnostic exile - punk immediately discredited the music that preceded it; punk denied the legitimacy of anyone who'd ever had a hit, or played as if he knew how to play. Destroying one tradition, punk revealed a new one.
"Looking back, it remains possible to take this version of the rock 'n' roll story for the truth, as the whole story - not because the music punk discredited was worthless, but because what little remains of the Slits' music allows you to imagine that the sound they made communicated more completely and more mysteriously than the most carefully crafted work of anyone who came before or after. 'A Boring Life,' heard as it was made in 1977 or heard a decade later, rewrites the history of rock 'n' roll. [...]"
--Grail Marcus, in "Lipstick Traces: a secret history of the twentieth century", 1990
In addition to dating Albertine, Sager also played keyboards onstage with the Slits for a while, before being replaced by Steve Beresford of London Musicians Collective fame
A 19 year old mixed-race punkette, born Neneh Mariann Karlssson on March 10, 1964, in Stockholm, Sweden, the daughter of West African percussionist Amadu Jah and artist Moki Cherry, and then raised by her mum with free-jazz trumpeter/Ornette Coleman alumni Don Cherry, a figure much admired by the PG/Slits tribe, and who shared their interest in panglobal ethnic musics. Neneh Cherry developed an inseperable teengirl friendship with Ari Up, moving into her squat. After singing as back up singer with the Slits late in their career she went on to do stuff with the post-PG groups Rip Rip and Panic and Float Up C.P. Later came her solo career with Raw Like Sushi and UK hits like “Buffalo Stance” and “Manchild” .
>Severed links with Radar
Bruce Smith: “We’d never signed a contract with Radar. We’d got an advance, bought equipment, made the whole album, did a tour, and all without signing a fucking thing! That was all down to Andrew Lauder”. But as Stewart learned more about Radar’s parent company WEA, the latter’s parent company Kinney, and the arms trade, he became distressed, something made worse by the recording experience during Y’s making: the contradictions between what The Pop Group espoused and recording at a top flight studio, where people brought them meals with cigars and brandy to follow. "We were so fucked up when we made it, you have to be in a weird, tense frame of mind to listen to it. We were making the record and having people bring us our meals, do the washing up. Cigars and brandy afterwards, living like millionaires, it was revolting.” (NME, 30 June 1979)
>first post-Radar release
“We Are All Prostitutes” was on Rough Trade. Then Y got going and was distributed by Rough Trade. This diatribe against “consumer fascism” describes “department stores” as “our new cathedrals”.
ultra-austere front cover of "We Are All Prostitutes" single -- just pure text, just to make sure the message is loud and clear
> external things
Examples of the Pop Group’s “no escapism” stance, as voiced by Sager in the June 30th 1979 NME feature: "I don't see the point in entertaining just now, it's pure escapism. People have this ridiculous conception that rock and roll is teen rebellion. It's pathetic, you might as well watch Les Dawson. Rock and roll is taking your mind off reality, it's thinking that Elton John playing in Russia is important. I'm more interested in art and its social function than art for art's sake. It's good that Linton Kwesi Johnson used his music to promote his work, rather than vice versa.” And, “I don't know how much of this interview we can use talking about music or production. We want to talk about external things. They make more sense to people. The producer was only there to help us get our attitude across."
See also the anti-entertainment polemic on the label of "We Are All Prostitutes"'s B-side, "Amnesty International Report on British Army Torture of Irish Prisoners"
>Rock Against Thatcher
A 1980 concert series for unemployed youth organized in association with the TUC (Trade Union Congress). They also played rallies for Blair Peach, the anti-fascist protester killed by police a few years earlier during the Anti-Nazi League’s counter-demonstration against the National Front’s march through Lewisham.
>benefit for themselves
The Pop Group got into debt and held a Bankruptcy Benefit at Notre Dame Hall (in Leicester Square) on July 18th 1980.
>the Pop Group.... "Where There's A Will"
The Pop Group side of the split single with the Slits.
“Bristol Baezes”--Penman, NME 3/15/80. Singles Column.
A week later, March 22 1980, Penman’s comrade-in-arms Paul Morley obliterated How Much Longer Do We Tolerate Mass Murder, accusing the Pop Group of “astronomical conceit, extravagant linguistic inadequacy and an anti-sentimentality of a peculiarly self-deluding and unpleasant kind, with a record of constant sternness, kitschy excess and fanatical stubborness, the Pop Group shout. Hysterically…. They could be the consequence of a failed revolution. (Punk)…. Un-Pop groups like The Pop Group give a bad-drab name to the attempts of such as Gang of Four and Joy Divison to establish and develop a responsible, accessible new rock form…. No one is denying ‘reality’. All that is being acknowledged is that trying to relate one’s position within the rock world with the crushingly colossal problems of The World is futile. Rock’s own corruption and idiocy are worth fighting. Results can be achieved. This may or may not be important.” Many other former admirers of the band concurred with Morley’s view. By the end of 1980, the group had become a byword of everything self-defeatingly hairshirt and negative about postpunk. In Morley’s New Pop manifesto of that year, Bristol pop group Essential Bop described The Pop Group as “beatnik fascists” and Morley writes “The Pop Group, maybe, contaminated Bristol.”
>”No one is innocent”
“To wash your hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means you are taking sides with the oppressors”, “we are all accessories to murder”, “there is guilt and there is action”--quite possibly true, but these don’t scan very well as lines in a song.
Or how about this one, “Blind Faith”:
We are lemmings
We are sheep
Let's kill their reason
We're controlled heroes
I don't believe
I can't believe
I don't believe
I can't believe
Tongue removed at birth
I had my tongue removed at birth
>1980’s apocalyptic atmosphere
The more paranoid people saw a remake of the 1930s script--economic depression>>>>mass unemployment>>>>> racial tension>>>>>fascism>>>>>World War--as what the Eighties would be like..
>The Last Poets
The vocal from “E - PLURIBUS - UNUM”, a track off Chastisement, was “sampled” on the How Much Longer tune “One Out Of Many”
>Radical Alliance of Black Poets and Players
RABPP’s Archie Poole co-wrote the lyric to How Much Longer’s “Forces of Oppression’
>“Fite Dem Back”
From his Forces of Victory album, which was a massive record among a certain community--Peel listeners, student radical RAR types--in 1979, the year of its release. More info on LKJ at http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth58
>Linton Kwesi Johnson
In “Reality Poem”, he hailed “the age of science and technology” and criticised those who believe in “mythology” and “antiquity”. In an interview of the time he explicitly dissed Jah’s disciples as ostriches with their heads in History’s sand.
>”My hairs stand on end”
Dick Hebdige, theorist of punk as a longing for a sense of “white ethnicity” equivalent to Rasta, beautifully captures roots reggae’s messianic intensity in this passage from Subculture: The Meaning of Style:
“To a community hemmed in on all sides by discrimination, hostility, suspicion and blank incomprehension, the sound-system came to represent… a precious inner sanctum, uncontaminated by alien influences, a black heart beating back to Africa on a steady pulse of dub… Power was at home here--just beyond the finger tips. It hung on the air--invisible, electric--channeled through a battery of home-made speakers. It was present in every ‘toasted’ incantation. In an atmosphere shaking with sound, charged with smoke and nemesis, it was easy to imagine that the ‘Day of Reckoning’ was at hand…”
Shaking with sound---love it, love it!
>The roots worldview
Roots reggae had other credentials that made it the preferred soundtrack for white militancy. Rasta was anti-imperialist and Pan-Africanist at time when post-colonial struggle still ravaged the Dark Continent, from the communist MPLA in Angola resisting an invasion from apartheid South Africa (who had the covert support of the USA, who feared the spread of communism across Africa) to the Patriotic Front liberation movement in white-controlled Rhodesia. And it was anti-capitalist: Rasta's rhetoric of judgement day for Babylon's plutocrats was harnessed by Jamaican Prime Minister Michael Manley, whose socialist government had cultivated a relationship with Castro’s Cuba. America, in response, had tried to destabilize Jamaica via an International Monetary Fund cash-squeeze, smuggling guns into the country to fuel warfare between politically affiliated gangs, and, rumor had it, CIA assistance in an assassination attempt against Bob Marley. As a result, all through the late Seventies, posters and album sleeves of Jamaican “roots rock rebels”--Pete Tosh, a Che Guevera with natty dreads and black beret, or Black Uhuru, Medusa-headed spiritual warriors--brought radical chic to countless student digs.
The big CND rally was on October 26th 1980. Killing Joke, another bunch of apocalypticians critiqued by Morley for similar reasons to How Much Longer, ie. simply presenting a mirror to the ugliness and horror of the world, also played at the rally (despite the fact that Jaz Coleman talked of looking forward to Armageddon and the new savage uncivilisation that would emerge from the ruins!). Tony Benn and Neil Kinnock appeared, and the slogans of the day were ‘grow up or blow up’ and ‘don’t Cruise to oblivion”
“I just see… everything”--Ari Up . NME 12/20/80.
“Every sound… go together"--Ari Up. NME 9/8/79.
“Rhythm and life go together” -- I was surprised to see this exact same sentiment voiced by Sir George Martin on a TV music programme called Rhythm of Life; the venerable silver-haired Beatles producer opined that “everything, from the smallest atom to the largest star, vibrates… Because in the end, rhythm is the difference between life…. and death”
The Slits's side of the split single with the Pop Group.
>Adrian Sherwood….distributed reggae records and selling them out of the back of his van
Sherwood, apparently, was the, or one of the, guys who did the van trips to Bristol with the reggae pre-releases, as eagerly awaited by the young Stewart and other Pop Group members, when they arrived at the record store Revolver.
This meek-shall-inherit-the-Earth-when-Babylon-shall-fall song was originally made famous by Junior Byles some five years earlier as a Channel One tune
He who seeks only vanity
And no love for humanity
Shall fade away
The men who checks for only in wealth
And never never force physical health
You gotta fade away
Though some believe in diamond and pearl
And think they should be on top of the world
Shall fade away
Hear what I say
The rich is getting richer everyday
And the little that the poor man got
It shall be taken away
So hear what I say yeah
Hear what I say
It shall be taken away
Hear what I say
The man who worships silver and gold
Shall surely surely surely
Lose his own....soul
And fade away
The one who's always acting smart
But do not carry no love in his heart
Shall fade away
God is here and there
And he knows when you play the game unfair
Or else you fade away yeah
Or else you fade away
Can't you see you gotta fade away
Ya gotta fade gotta fade gotta fade
Everyday is getting nearer and nearer
>Return of the Giant Slits… CBS
Curious that the Slits would return to the heart of the record-biz Babylon, after their time on Y, but then they always had an ambitious, popstar-wannabe side. Curious, also, that CBS would want them, given that Return of the Giants Slits in its own way is as odd and uncommercial as Odyshape by the Raincoats. “Face Place” was all elastic meters, eerie vocal stuff, diffuse textures. Ari: “That one, Viv sang. And it was so out-there. That was the jazz influence we got from touring with Don Cherry. We were friendly with Don and went to a lot of Sun Ra gigs. That album has the reggae influence and the jazz and the African too, with ‘Earthbeat’, while ‘Difficult Fun’ is very lover’s rock.”
>Rhythms of resistance… the new roots reggae… WOMAD…
WOMAD = World of Music and Dance. It was started by Bristol folk involved with the local music/alternative-culture magazine the Bristol Recorder, a bi-monthly affair that came out with a compilation record attached. The magazine covered local musicians, including Peter Hammill and Peter Gabriel. Co-founder Thomas Brooman (who had drummed in a band called The Media) struck up a friendship with Gabriel, and together they came up with the idea of WOMAD, which debuted at Shepton Mallet in 1982. Right from the start there was a mix of world music artists and postpunk bands (Echo & The Bunnymen headlined the first one and were joined onstage by the Burundi Drummers; 23 Skidoo also played and their performance became one side of The Culling Is Coming--see industrial chapter footnotes). The one time I went to WOMAD, 1986, it was accompanying Amrik Rai, the manager of second-wave Sheffield avant-funksters Chakk, to see the band play there.
One reason for the shift from Jamaica to Africa and the wider world was changes in Jamaican music itself, away from roots era consciousness and militancy towards dancehall “slackness” (ultra-raunchy lyrics), materialism and glamour. The Manley/Marley era in JA was ending; the Seaga as friend/stooge to America/Reagan era was starting. It's no coincidence that Island, who had pushed the Wailers, Burning Spear, Black Uhuru, etc led the way with trying to mass market African music with Soweto pop, King Sunny Ade; the whole world music idea of “rhythms of resistance” had the same appeal as roots reggae, a kind of anti-colonialist-militancy-by-proxy. Vivien Goldman, who’d started her career as an Island Records press officer in 1975, actually moved to Paris in the early Eighties because of its vibrant African/world music scene, and made an African music influenced single. Later she co-produced and conceived the groundbreaking 1980s TV show, 'Big World Café,' combining world and Western music.
A Cecil Taylor soundalike
>cat, dig and out there
In one interview (NME. 9/25/81), Sager described God with the words, “she’s a good cat”
“It’s definitely time… the same time”--Sager. NME. 9/25/81
Full quote: “They probably won’t play the record much ‘cos it hasn’t got whining on it. It’s definitely time to give the moaners the elbow. I like the cats who are… they’re complaining but they’re saying ‘yeah’ at the same time….. We hate whiners”
And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England's mountains green?
And was the holy Lamb of God
On England's pleasant pastures seen?
And did the Countenance Divine
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here
Among these dark Satanic mills?
Bring me my bow of burning gold:
Bring me my arrows of desire:
Bring me my spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my chariot of fire.
I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England's green and pleasant land.
Here is Viv Albertine's tribute to Ari Up who died in October 2010. From Viv's MySpace
" My relationship with Ari is up there in the top 5 most difficult relationships of my life. It was also the most productive and creative relationship I have ever had.
Ari was 14 when I met her. She was a feral child. I watched her become an extraordinary woman.
Ari came to London from German boarding school when she had just turned 14. English was her second language. In those first few years she did not have one friend her own age. It was not easy for her and she had to fight to be taken seriously as an equal person.
Ari was a sponge, she soaked up the ideologies, the speech patterns, the vocabulary of the groups we mixed with. From Finsbury Park lads, through to The Bromley Contingent and Rastas. She was a fantastic mimic too.
She was totally unselfconscious about her body and remained so throughout her life. Ari’s biggest gift to me was she made The Slits a safe place for a woman of any shape or size to be relaxed and free with her body. She celebrated womanliness, she reveled in it. She was so sensual on and off stage it was empowering to any girl who saw her. I’m not kidding. The way she carried herself was a revolution.
Stage was Ari’s home. She was in her element there. That is where she could let go completely. She was at her best there. She pissed there. Stage is one of the only places a woman with that much energy, power and self belief can show off and sometimes get away with it.
The singing voice that Ari developed, that has been so copied and referenced over the years came very quickly. That is because she was true to herself. She used sounds that she heard around her from animals, birds, playground chants, accents and melded them all together. It happened without thinking. She was as unselfconscious about her voice as she was about her body.
Ari had a very exacting ear. She could hear every nuance in a drum beat, a guitar riff, a vocal harmony and a bassline. She played a huge part in creating The Slits’ sound.
Throughout the last 30 years there were many people who tried to suppress and squash Ari. No one succeeded. She was reviled, mocked and criticised for daring to be herself. She could not and would not be tamed. It scared people. It scared men. She was stabbed and attacked in the street so many times. For just emanating too much WILD STUFF.
Ari was the most dynamic woman I have ever known."
Bristol Archive Records -- very in-depth website / reissue label / database on Bristol punk and postpunk, with music, interviews, and lashings of info on fanzines, venues, releases
a fan site for The Pop Group with lots of scanned flyers, posters, booklets and such like
(sadly the guy who built this site, Dixon Coulbourn, died in the summer of 2005)
The Pop Group Jukebox, a blog featuring MP3s (for "evaluative purposes only") of The Pop Group and their offshoots. Probably all expired but some cool scans of Pop Group and offshoots sleeves and lyric sheets.
site about the Bristol club The Dug Out, as frequented by Pop Group but also future members of Massive Attack and the whole Bristol tr** h*p nexus
Triffic K-punk piece on the reissue of Y
Mark Perry’s Sniffin’ Glue and Alternative TV site
The Slits site
Ari Up official site
Tessa Pollitt interview
New Age Steppers history
Article on Mark Stewart’s post-Pop Group activities with the Maffia
and Stewart’s post-PG discography
and K-punk article on Stewart’s work
Pigbag fan site
On U Sound fan site
Adrian Sherwood interview
All non-pictorial contents copyright Simon Reynolds unless otherwise indicated