Viv Albertine is the second guest selected by Ian Rankin. Guitarist for The Slits, she has now written an autobiography. She begins by reading a section focusing on the White Riot tour when the Slits were supporting The Clash, often playing at different speeds and hoping to end at the same time. At one concert a skinhead jumped up onto to stage and starting grabbing for the singer, Ari, so Albertine hit him over the head with her guitar. She explains that as an all girl punk rock band the Slits were a radical threat to the status quo. It was such an new idea that it took a combination of things including her boyfriend Mick Jones taking her to buy a guitar, seeing Kokomo play with a girl on percussion, and discovering Patti Smith before Albertine even thought she could be in a band.
She tells the story of how she met Sid Vicious, walking down the street with Mick Jones and meeting Johnnie Rotten and his friend (Sid). She said she wanted to start a band and Sid said he would join her on saxophone. Their band never quite managed to do a new song or a gig but for a short while they were the exciting new thing in London. It was after that period that she became involved in The Slits and discovered that she and Ari could write and work well together, a precious thing to have after her struggle to work with Sid.
Albertine discusses the fact that she’s always been more wedded to the message than the medium. She’s always looked for the interesting, radical things happening at that moment and put herself in the middle of it. The leap from punk rock band to second aerobics instructor in Britain seems like an odd one, until you look at the context. At the time there was absolutely no sports culture for women, girls didn’t do anything physical and they did not get sweaty. There weren’t exercise clothes available for girls in Britain, when she became an instructor she had to order some from America. She started in a room next door to a ballet class and eventually she was teaching in clubs with ten other girls to help her. It had gone from ‘girls don’t exercise’ to a large club packed with happy bouncing women. When she decided to stop she went to evening classes and then to film school before working as a director for most of the 80s and 90s.
She says she would not be in a band now, explaining that it’s too business orientated and it’s no longer a radical way to express yourself. She is impressed by the younger generation however, and feels that the lines of cultural binaries are being blurred. She sees young people as diligent and conscious and rejects the assumption of poor work ethic some people make. They’re working hard, she says, just less obviously. The world is louder so individuals have become quieter but they’re still there and working and she’s interested to see what will be built in the future.
She speaks with the casual ease of someone used to being in front of an audience. It’s clear she is comfortable in herself and her experiences. Before she signed with the publisher she made sure to explain that there would be contentious things brought up in her book and that they had to promise not to try and censor her life afterwards. If she was there when it happened, she was going to write about it. Thankfully the publisher agreed, clearly they understood that you can’t ask a radical feminist and punk rock band member for an autobiography and expect it to be filled with shiny mainstream stories. Just from the small sections she discussed it’s clear that her life has taken some fascinating twists and turns.