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The Slits

+ {Ari Up} + {Viv Albertine}

Nowadays, getting semi-naked/topless on an LP sleeve shot (or a video promo) is almost par for the course for any of today’s lap-dance pop stars, but back in the post-punk halcyon days of 1979, The SLITS got down ’n’ dirty ’n’ muddy – quite literally – on the cover of their classic debut album, “Cut”. Yes, daring and, as always, adventurous for the all-female punk/reggae jungle-friendly group (and one drumming Budgie!), as lead-girl Ari Up cursed and quavered above all the resultant commotion.
Formed late 1976 in London, the fun-loving but acerbic SLITS were on the fringes of the punk movement until The CLASH invited them on their “White Riot” tour the following spring. The original line-up of Ari/Ariane Forster (vocals), Spanish-born Palmolive/Paloma Romero (drums), Kate Korus (guitar) and Suzy Gutsy (bass) had already shuffled to suit their bolshie, hard-line feminist attitude, and the latter two had duly been superseded by Viv Albertine and Tessa Pollitt respectively. Although the feisty girls had two John Peel sessions under their belts (they also turned up in punk film, Jubilee), coming-of-age Ari Up – now 16! – and Co didn’t actually sign a record deal until ‘79, having turned down the Real imprint; then home to The HEARTBREAKERS and The PRETENDERS. In the event, and with male drummer Budgie/Peter Clarke in place of Palmolive, the not-so “Typical Girls” – the name of their inaugural 45 – signed with Island Records and set to work on their seminal debut album with top reggae producer, Dennis Bovell. Incidentally, the B-side of the single featured a non-LP rendition of the MARVIN GAYE hit, `I Heard It Through The Grapevine’.
A Top 30 gate-crasher upon its release in September 1979, the seminal CUT {*10} showcased Ari’s distinctive vocal phrasing, and er… language, against a compelling backdrop of unorthodox tribal rhythms and raw guitar abrasion. Penned by all four girls prior to Palm significantly taking off to join The RAINCOATS (a punningly-titled moniker that suggested a cover-up of sorts), the half-hour or so was awash with geeky gleeful tunes, incorporating femme fatale libertarianism, The SLITS managed to spike a carefree cocktail of confrontational cuts courtesy of `Instant Hit’ (probably should’ve been), `So Tough’, `Spend, Spend, Spend’, `Shoplifting’ and `FM’ – and that was just side one. `Newtown’, `Ping Pong Affair’, `Love Und Romance’ (referring to a PATTI SMITH line “spread your wings and let me come inside”), the aforementioned `Typical Girls’ (a Top 60 minor hit) and `Adventures Close To Home’.
With Budgie decamping to SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, The POP GROUP’s Bruce Smith was recruited in his place, and despite the presence of respected jazz trumpeter, DON CHERRY (father of NENEH CHERRY), a dreadful untitled {*1} retrospective bootleg/demo/jam affair, did the oft-experimental SLITS no favours. Much more enjoyable was the subsequent cover of JOHN HOLT’s `Man Next Door’, released as a single a couple of months later in the summer of 1980. A further single, `Animal Space’ followed on the Human label, before the SLITS trio signed to C.B.S. for the almost overlooked RETURN OF THE GIANT SLITS (1981) {*6}. Produced by a young pre-TACKHEAD dub-meister, Adrian Sherwood (Britain’s answer to LEE PERRY), the girls were at times bogged-down by the suffocating rhythms surrounding their squeaky-clean vocal chants. While one can’t guarantee an easy listening, the punk-y dub set served up a few daring numbers in `Earthbeat’, `Face Place’ and `Or What It Is?’. Indie and alternative had caught up with The SLITS self-indulgent wanderings, and with Ari, Viv and Bruce already in place as part of Adrian’s colossus NEW AGE STEPPERS ensemble, the group duly disbanding in early ‘82. While Smith joined Bristolite avant-funk collective RIP, RIG & PANIC, the girls disappeared in domesticity and other un-played projects.
Then, in 2004, Rastafarian ARI UP opened her solo account with an independent single, `True Warrior’ (b/w the punk-y `I’m Allergic’), while a dancehall/Jamaican-addled parent album came by way of DREAD MORE DAN DEAD (2005) {*7}. A million miles from her SLITS salad days, Ari rattled off several tongue-twisting, London-via-the Caribbean warbles, none more culturally conscience than `Baby Mother’, `Me Done’ and `Kill Em With Love’; her gender-exchanging `Young Boy’ was a certain re-vamped ditty from GARY PUCKETT & THE UNION GAP.
With punk and dub-reggae stars gratefully singing the praises of the once giant SLITS, it was only a matter of time before the band would reunite, albeit at first with tentative steps. Ari Up, Tessa Pollitt and new-girl-on-the-block, Hollie Cook on keyboards (daughter of accompanying SEX PISTOLS drummer Paul Cook) and with ex-ADAM AND THE ANTS guitarist Marco Pirroni on the guest list, `Revenge Of The Killer Slits EP’ was served up in 2006.
For the first time since their formative days some three decades ago, the all-girl SLITS – now a 5-piece with the addition of guitarist Adele Wilson and drummer Anna Schulte – delivered their comeback set, TRAPPED ANIMAL (2009) {*6}. Possibly a bit too close to an AMAZULU record of the mid-80s (check out `Cry Baby’), The SLITS’ reggae/punk ethos was still, however, in tact, as they strolled through the likes of feminist grooves like `Ask Ma’, `Lazy Slam’ and `Pay Rent’, while it was indeed brave to tackle the theme of child abuse in `Issues’.
Subsequent personnel changes led to Michelle Hill replacing Adele, but that was of little consequence when Ari/Ariane (step-daughter of JOHN LYDON) died of cancer in Los Angeles on the 20th October 2010 – she was 48. A “punk-y reggae tribute to Ari Up” was attended by all her friends the world over when held at Bristol the following July.
Absent from the music biz since her time with The 49 Americans (two sets released in the early 80s), former SLITS riot grrrl-cum-director VIV ALBERTINE escaped her mundane day-to-day life by issuing a THURSTON MOORE-endorsed EP, `Flesh’, in 2010. Subsequently supporting The RAINCOATS, it would be a couple of years before the release of her long-awaited debut album, THE VERMILION BORDER (2012) {*8}. In this feisty record she’d plenty graphic gossip and tales to tell about the inner sanctum of the bored housewife, albeit in third-person reference. Not that far removed from The SLITS, but put in the perspective of a 50-something lady of leisure, `Confessions of a MILF’, `I Want More’, `The False Heart’ and `Hookup Girl’, gave her music a modern twist. While she’d be the first to tell anyone she isn’t the greatest singer at the karaoke party, her squeaky vox is effective and, when it needs to be – strong and upstanding. Spun more than a few times (the hypno-antireligious, `Don’t Believe’, a perfect example), Viv’s charms shine through on the set, reminding her stalwart fanbase of a time, somewhere at the turn of the 80s, when it was cool but dangerous to be a teen punk.
© MC Strong 1994-2006 / rev-up MCS Mar2013

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