Good news (for me, and you vicariously), I have once again been given the opportunity to volunteer with The Brighton Festival. The majority of my volunteering won’t be until 17th May onwards, however, back on 4th May I got to sit in on Simon Price talking to Viv Albertine. Albertine was guitarist and singer in 70s punk band The Slits, an all girl Punk group.
“Anyone who wants to write an autobiography is either a twat or broke…. and I’m both.”
Albertine’s autobiography – Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys. – is out on 22nd May (which I have excitedly pre-ordered). Not one to keep a diary, Albertine wrote solely from memory, recording only what she was there to experience. I got the feeling there was no clear plan for structure while writing, “I wanted to blunder on like a horror film.” Albertine was eager to show her fallibility.
She seemed at ease on stage, in her natural habitat amongst an audience of eager listeners. Her tone was refreshing, blunt and without pretence, it surprised me how much I liked her. “I’m going to de-construct legend”, said Albertine. In writing her autobiography she wanted to and push ‘legend’ status it from its pedestal. Desiring to show her mistakes and what goes on when you’re a musician, behind the veil of prestige.
But, what I loved most was that through all this this Albertine wanted to – and still wants to – be a positive role model for women.
“I thought, I’d love young girls to read this.”
Simon Price was a brilliant host, guiding Albertine through her life while effortlessly coaxing interesting stories from her. Price is a music journalist (ex Melody Maker and The Independent) and Author; unmistakably Punk-esc with his red devil horned hair. He managed to find fantastic segments to question, spanning the book without giving too much away.
On being asked by Price whether she intended to be so honest, Albertine replied that she did not, but it ‘just sort of happened’. I think this encapsulates the brilliance of Albertine, she rebels against assimilation. She may not look it but her Punk ideology is still very much a part of her. As Albertine read her first extract we discovered all sorts of details from her Punk days. She dated Mike Jones, was friends with Johnny Rotten and Sid Vicious, and she was in a band with Sid before he kicked her out…. (Sid’s penis tasted stale). The very day he told her she was out she took her first shot of heroine with the gang; there was no elation, just a numbness – she threw up after.
Interestingly for all the drug taking and rebellion they had their own group morality they upheld.
“Sid was pretty moral, we all were, criticising each other’s decisions.”
Punk, Albertine explained, de-constructed everything, from what you wore to who you were. The Slits personal style of clothing was ‘shocking’ to 70s Britain. Wearing the fetish gear was political, they were spat at and stabbed for their dress choices. Albertine’s mum had to meet her from the station with a knife in her pocket to protect Albertine from being attacked. It was a dangerous time to be different. On stage The Slits were grabbed, groped, spat at, and attacked; it wasn’t one-sided, they even attacked the audience. “It was a different time” Albertine said wistfully.
While musical from a young age she described her younger self as, “sanguine, not much moved me. In and out of bed.” Sex was not an exciting experience for her, on orgasms she said: “it felt like a big twitch and then I felt like I didn’t want to do it any more.” This honest discussion of sex was unintentionally refreshing.
Albertine and The Slits were the rebels of the Punk tour, the ones kept from the bar or hidden away and confined to their rooms. This was not a problem their male counterparts encountered. The Slits wanted to write for women, to represent in an industry that was phobic of female autonomy. Their music was authentic and honest, from their own experiences.
Albertine went on to describe how music became careerist in the 80s, it stopped being about the music scene and became about record companies. When The Slits ended she stopped playing for a long time, it was too hard for her. This break from music had its blessings, Albertine loved not being looked at for her difference. She spent years softening her hard Punk expression, moved into film and began reading again. Punk discouraged intellectualism, a rebellion – I assume – against the Prog Rock it succeeded.
It surprised me to learn that Albertine spent 15 years or so married and settled. As she discussed how she spent a year saying yes, and where it took her in life, this felt more akin to what I imagined to be her natural progression. She felt revived by her experiences in that year, it was the “beginning of a rebirth.”
Simon aptly described Albertine’s ability to move from humorous to tragic in a sentence at the beginning of the talk. A statement evident when, at the end of the talk, Albertine describes her first ventures into sex after her marriage collapsed. It begins as a humours tale of sex to make a point rather than for pleasure and ends with a horrible reminder that her cancer may be returning.
I know at a Brighton Festival event, especially a literary one, it would be rare that I would be at any point bored. But I wasn’t expecting to love Viv Albertine as much as I did. She was a delight, open and unguarded in a world where many celebrities feel at threat from exposure. This I expect is the result of being someone in the canon of fame, rather than a current star, which protects her from harsher scrutiny.
I cannot wait to read her book.
The Slits performing Heard it on the Grapevine: