The Slits
The Slits.

The following document was written in the company of Tessa Pollit (bass) during the summer of 2003 for a proposed live release, "The Slits - Live From The Gebus Club, Paris".

I had been contacted earlier in 2003 by Phil Strongman who had advised me that Dave Goodman was about to leave the UK & was looking to realise the maximum financial potential of several archive recordings he held in his possession. At the time, I was working in a freelance capacity for Sanctuary Music, & I contacted John Reed who gave me the go-ahead to pursue the inquiry & acquire the tapes if the quality was evident.

I duly met with Goodman & Strongman in a West End boozer where I was given a Walkman & sent out onto the pavement to listen to the merchandise. The Slits exerts were superb. The tapes were recorded during a residency at the Gebus using a very expensive state of the art mobile recording suite. I immediately agreed to acquire the tapes on Sanctuary's behalf & my label manager, Norman Joplin took over negotiations whilst I contacted Ari, Tessa, Don Letts & Palmolive - Viv never responded to my calls (& is still rumoured to be the hold up in the mooted reformation stakes).

Malcolm Mclaren was managing The Slits at the time of the recordings & it was claimed the tapes were bequeathed to Goodman in lieu of recording services provided at an earlier date. This was eventually disputed by Christine Robertson, The Slits manager, & subsequent negotiations have been long & drawn out - the upshot being: The Slits have now finally agreed terms & are rumoured to be reforming. The release will go ahead on Sanctuary Music but trakMARX will NOT now be co-ordinating the project after all.

slits plus don letts

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 Korus (aka Korris - who originally named the band) on guitar, Suzi Gutsy on bass, Ari on vocals & Palmolive (so named when Paul Simonon of The Clash misheard her name) on drums. The Slits were one of the few female Punk bands to surf the 1st wave of UK Punk Rock.

The Slits & another female Punk 3 piece, The Castrators, were the subjects of a News Of The World feature as early as January 1977 entitled: "Here Come The Punkesses".

"Fasten your seatbelts! The all girl rock shockers who make those Sex Pistols look like choir boys are ready to land"

At this time The Slits line up featured Ari, Paloma, Suzy Gutsy & Kate Korus (aka Korris), whilst The Castrators featured Tessa Pollit, Budgie (not to be confused with later Slits drummer, Budgie) & Angela Risner. Shortly after the feature appeared, Suzy Gutsy left The Slits to from The Flicks. Almost immediately, Tessa Pollit put down the guitar she had been strumming for The Castrators & picked up the bass for The Slits (literally 2 weeks before her stage debut with the group).

The Slits made their first live appearance on March 11th 1977 in Harlesdon, West London. 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 female Punks were even more dangerous than their male counterparts. Their image was exciting & uncompromising, their attitude was confrontational & threatening & their songs were short, sharp & extremely spikey: "So Tough", "Shoplifting", "Split", "Vaseline", "New Town":

"Ten quid for the lot - we payed fuck all. Do a runner, do a runner" - "Shoplifting"

Following The Slits debut live performance, Kate also left the band to form The Modettes & was replaced by Viv Albertine on guitar (Viv & Paloma had earlier been sacked from The Flowers Of Romance for an alleged lack of talent!!). The classic early Slits line was now complete.

This new line-up soon joined The Clash's White Riot tour in early '77, along with The Buzzcocks & Subway Sect. The tour was filmed by Don Letts (Roxy Club DJ & entrepreneur) for his feature, "The Punk Rock Movie". By this stage Letts was also managing The Slits.

The word on The Slits spread rapidly during the 1st 6 months of 1977 concluding with the band recording their first John Peel session on 19/9/77. The Slits laid down 4 tracks:

"Love Und Romance", "Vindictive", "New Town" & "Shoplifting".

"Newtown, where everyone goes around sniffing televisionino or taking footballino" - "Newtown".

These recordings are still available today (along with the band's other 2 BBC radio sessions) as "The Slits - The Peel Sessions" (Strange Fruit - SFRSCD052) & dramatically capture the early power & menace of The Slits performance. "Vindictive" & "Shoplifting" in particular provide ample evidence of the sense of impending danger The Slits often conveyed.

Extensive gigging throughout 1977 helped to build The Slits a loyal cult following in the UK. The band had drifted away from Don Letts by this stage & had became closely linked to Malcolm McLaren. Malcolm clearly had designs on The Slits & did in fact manage them for a while. McLaren had become obsessed with film as a medium as early as 1976 & was desperate to get one of his celluloid projects off the ground. Mclaren wanted The Slits to act in a film he was planning about an all girl band that were to be chased from Paris to Mexico by evil baddies. The Slits were rightly not over-keen on the project but some sound recordings were made in January 1978 on a mobile recording unit during a 5 night residency at the Gibus Club in Paris. The set that was eventually committed to tape during these sessions was recorded on January 26th 1978. The Slits has included a cover version of the Velvet Underground's "Femme Fatal" in their set as they knew Nico would be present at the show - the fact that the star guest failed to recognise the song when the band performed it on the night is indicative of the way The Slits were ripping things up at the time. Interestingly, the master tape of the recordings you hold in your hand right now even include a tone pulse which would suggest that film footage was intended to be added later.

Following the Paris residency & The Slits decision not take McLaren up on his offer, the "Paris/Mexico" master tapes were given to legendary Sex Pistols producer & Phil Spector of his generation, Dave Goodman, in lieu of undisclosed payments owed to him by McLaren & were buried in the basement of his Gypsy Hill HQ for the ensuing quarter of a century. They were rediscovered during the recent clear out operation that preceded Goodman's move to the Mediterranean.

Meanwhile back at the plot, The Slits returned from Paris to continue their assault on the youth of the UK. They were soon back in the recording studio again, this time laying down their second John Peel session on 17/4/78.

This time The Slits recorded 3 songs: "So Tough", "Instant Hit" & "FM".

"He is a boy - he's very thin - until tomorrow - took heroin. Don't like himself very much, cos he is set to self destruct." - "Instant Hit"

The race to record UK Punk's 1st 45 & 1st LP had been won hands down by The Damned. In the deluge of Punk records that followed, all the bands that would later become known as the 1st wave soon has their debut LPs in the can & on the racks. The Slits initially held back from accepting the 1st deal that came their way. The music industry of the day was still intensely male dominated & the band wanted to be sure they had made the right decision before committing themselves. Creative control was always a major issue with The Slits & they resolutely refused to conform to the usual stereotypical record industry template for a female rock band. By the time they signed to Island Records in late '78 Palmolive had left the band to join The Raincoats & had been replaced with Budgie (later to become a Banshee & eventually, Mr Dallion).

The Slits entered Ridge Farm Studios in spring 1979 to begin work on their debut LP with legendary dub reggae producer, Dennis Bovell. The resultant LP, "Cut" (ILPS9573), 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 had 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.

"Cut" was eventually released in September 1979. The cover was a bone of contention with some - Tessa, Viv & Ari appeared topless, clothed in mud, looking for like 3 warrior priestesses from the Bronze Age. Fledgling practitioners of "political correctness" & so-called "new men" found it all too much to take (one unfortunate male driver at the time considered taking legal action against the band after crashing his car whilst being "distracted" by a massive "Cut" promotional poster): powerful, threatening women, in charge of their own destiny. A limited shrink-wrapped vinyl edition of the LP appeared fully signed by the band in mauve marker pens - copies of this particular Slits collectable change hands for silly money these days.

Sonically "Cut" stands the test of time very well. Even today you can still hear the sound of jaws dropping - new ground was not only being 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, "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 the same year & released a split 7" 45 with The Pop Group on Rough Trade/Y Records ("In The Beginning There Was Rhythm" - RT039/Y-1), a 45 on Rough Trade/Y Records ("Man Next Door" - RT044/Y-4), an "offical" bootleg LP on Rough Trade/Y Records ("Bootleg Retrospective" - (RT/YY 3) & a 45 for Human Records ("Animal Space" - HUM4) before eventually signing to CBS. The Slits next LP, "Return Of The Giant Slits" (CBS85269), 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.

During the latter stages of The Slits's life, the band collaborated with many varied & respected performers including: Flash (Rip Rig & Panic), Neneh Cherry, Don Cherry, Steve Berresford, & Tony Rafter. The Slits enjoyed travelling the world (a pastime not open to everyone in the late 70s) & met many interesting people & fellow artists along the way. They moved as far away from their West London Punk Rock roots as it was possible to do in the late 70s/early 80s (The Slits were even pelted with roses at one show in Italy, which made for a welcome juxtaposition to the phlegm of their native UK) & tore up the rule book for women in rock & roll.

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 "Cut" still sounds eclectic, dangerous & cutting edge today is testament to the legacy of The Slits: original sisters - doing it for themselves.

the slits

Jean Encoule - tMx 15 - 06/04


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