The SLITS
Slits rock nu york
The Slits

Ari Up (aka Arianna Forster) – Vocals
Viv Albertine – Gtr
Tessa Pollit – Bass
Palmolive (aka Paloma Romero) – Drums

The Slits formed in London in 1976. The original line up featured Kate Chorus (aka Korris) on Gtr & Suzi Gutsy on Bass, with Ari on vocals & Palmolive on drums. They were the only all girl Punk band to surf the first wave.

Interesting Slits Fact 1: Palmolive was so named when Paul Simonon of The Clash asked her what her name was.

“Paloma”, she replied.

“Palmolive?”, said Simonon.

The name stuck.

Interesting Slits Fact 2: Kate had previously played alongside Tessa in The Castrators.

This early Slits line up did not last - Suzi soon quit the band to join The Flicks, whilst Kate departed to form The Mo-dettes. Tessa & Viv were drafted in to replace them on Bass & Gtr respectively. The new line-up joined the bill on The Clash’s White Riot tour in early ‘77, along with The Buzzcocks & Subway Sect.

Interesting Slits Fact 3: The White Riot tour was filmed by Don Letts for “The Punk Rock Movie”. Letts would eventually manage The Slits.

Interesting Slits Fact 4: Viv & Palmolive were fired from The Flowers Of Romance by Sid Vicious for an alleged lack of talent (which coming from Sid, is very fucking amusing).

The Slits made their live debut on March 11th 1977 in Harlesdon. The sight of four girls smashing the hell out of their equipment & screaming into the microphones was a very intimidating one indeed. From a young male perspective, these girl Punks were even more scary than their male counterparts. Slits songs were short, sharp & extremely spikey: “So Tough”, “Shoplifting”, “Split”, “Vaseline”, “New Town” – get the picture?

“Ten quid for the lot – we payed fuck all” – “Shoplifting”

The Slits recorded their first John Peel session on 19/9/77: “Love Und Romance”, “Vindictive”, “New Town” & “Shoplifting”.

“Newtown, where everyone goes around sniffing televisionino or taking footballino” – “Newtown”.

The Slits gigged extensively throughout 1977 & became closely linked to Malcolm McLaren. Malcolm had designs on the girls & loosely managed them for a while. He wanted them to act in a film he was planning about a foxy all girl band that are chased from Paris to Mexico by evil baddies. The Slits were rightly not over-keen on the project. Some sound recordings were made in Paris in January 1978 – the master tapes of which include a tone pulse which would suggest that film footage was intended to be added later – but a deal was never formally struck & the tapes still remain unreleased.

The Slits recorded their second John Peel session on 17/4/78: “So Tough”, “Instant Hit” & “FM”.

“He is a boy – he’s very thin – until tomorrow – took heroin” – “Instant Hit”

The Slits struggled to score a record deal. By the time they signed to Island Records in late ’78 Palmolive had left the band to form The Raincoats & had been replaced with Budgie (later to become a Banshee & eventually, Mr Dallion). The band entered Farm Ridge Studios in spring 1979 to begin work on their debut LP with legendary dub reggae producer, Dennis Bovell. The resultant LP, “The Cut”, was so markedly different in sound & approach to the John Peel sessions that it really could have been made by an entirely different band. The Punk rock squall of The Slits earlier material was dubbed to Babylon & back by Bovell. Older material was drastically reworked & newer material skanked off into a new space all of its own – this music screamed sonic sophistication.

Punk rock (& in particular Punk rock according to The Clash & The Ruts) had been big mates with reggae almost from the kick off. In the early days at the Roxy Club, DJ Don Letts relied heavily on dub sides for his stints behind the decks simply because there just weren’t enough Punk records available to fill a set.

“The Cut” was eventually released in the September 1979. The cover was a bone of contention with some – Tessa, Viv & Ari appeared topless, smeared in mud, looking for all the world like 3 warrior priestesses from the Bronze Age. Fledgling practitioners of “political correctness” & so-called “new men” found it all too much to take: powerful, slightly threatening women, in charge of their own destiny – surely not. A limited shrink-wrapped vinyl edition of the LP appeared fully signed by the girls in mauve marker pens – copies of this particular Slits collectable change hands for silly money these days.

Sonically “The Cut” stands the test of time very well. Even today you can still hear the sound of jaws dropping – new ground was not only be broken, it was being tilled, prepared & planted with radical new ideas. Bovell’s production pushed the very boundaries of convention to their limits. Of the thousands of LPs released worldwide in 1979, “The Cut” sounded like no other then & sounds like nothing else today.

By the end of 1979, Budgie was replaced on the drum stool by Bruce Smith (The Pop Group). The Slits parted company with Island Records & signed to CBS. Their next LP, “Return Of The Giant Slits”, mined African & tribal influences many moons before this practice became commonplace. Again The Slits were pushing envelopes – this time ambassadors for what we would eventually refer to as World Music.

The Slits finally broke up at the end of 1981, still largely a cult band. Looking back with the benefit of hindsight it is not difficult to see why. The Slits were always way ahead of their time. When you consider the differences between being a woman in rock & roll in the late 70s & doing the same job today, the goal-post have not only been moved, the whole damn ball game has changed beyond all recognition. The fact that “The Cut” still sounds eclectic, dangerous & cutting edge today is testament to the legacy of The Slits: original sisters - doing it for themselves.

Jungle Records have recently issued “The Slits – In The Beginning” on CD featuring live recordings from the band’s Punk & Dub eras. The full track listing is:

Punk Era (in Lo-Fi): Vindictive; A Boring Life; Slime; Newtown; Love and Romance; Shoplifting; Number One Enemy; Number One Enemy (acoustic). guest vocal: Nina Hagen
Dub Era (in High-Fi): In The Beginning; Newtown; Man Next Dorr; Grapevine; Typical Girls; Fade Away; In The Beginning. guest vocal Neneh Cherry


Guy Debored – trakMARX.com – Sept 2002
Links
Check it: www.jungle-records.com


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