I arrive at Focus Wales at the Wynstay Hotel in Wrexham on thursday 12th May at around 4:45pm, just in time to hear the Slits’ guitarist and vocalist Viv Albertine give a keynote talk. She has a book out called Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys. She later signs me a copy as I tell her about singing on stage with Ari Up and how Ari gave me her autograph in Liverpool and asked me to audition for her on drums a few years before she died. Viv tells me that Ari’s autograph is now worth something. But as I arrive, I see if I can avoid paying 20 quid for a day wristband when I am only here for this one talk. I try to get a media pass for this zine, but they’re having none of it. I happily pay the 20 quid anyway and excitedly make my way upstairs to the conference room. Jessica Ball is playing the end of her set and I catch her beautiful voice singing a Joni Mitchel cover. We all applaud Jess. I go and say hello. Then we get ushered through for the Viv Albertine talk to begin. It’s like a press conference you see on TV. I sit right at the front opposite Viv and next to Wrexham music scene photographer Brent Jones.
Musician Sophie McKeand enthusiastically interviews Viv about her childhood and background, her time in the Slits and about being a woman and punk in the Seventies as well as more recent musical adventures via unaccommodating open mic nights. I film some clips for my YouTube channel and revel in the delight of being in a room with an icon and likeminded person. I guess Viv Albertine and the trailblazers like her are my heroines in life. She speaks my mind. I feel invigorated to hear of a woman like me sharing her life experiences. I guess I don’t often come across such a pleasure. The interview covers a brutally honest sexual encounter with Johnny Rotten and the context under which such things happened, serving to render an impression of the time and the people. Viv tells us that it was thanks to her wayward mother that she picked up a guitar and joined a band- an unthinkable occupation for a woman in the Seventies. All too soon, the interview comes to an end and I have some questions.
Sophie McKeand: Shall we open it up to the floor? Does anyone have any questions? [Gestures to HG] Yes?
Hannah Golightly: Hiya, I totally relate to everything you just said about playing live and being tragically bad [All laugh] but um, just wanting to do it really badly. Have you got any advice for people like me who keep getting told they’re shit, even though they’ve got great songs, who are maybe not a classically good singer and stuff like that?
Viv Albertine: Well they’re wrong of course, and you’re right.
HG: Thank you.
VA: Yep. Well the good thing about so-called punk was to be shit was to be great. Y’know, everything I was embarrassed about and I must say this about Johnny Rotten, everything I was embarrassed about, he was proud of. [Impersonates Johnny Rotten] You can’t sing and play? Fools who can sing and play! …Plus he made what they did wrong. To be a virtuoso musician, you know, wanking off on the guitar, indulging yourself, showing off how fast you can play- they were wrong! You were right!
HG: I prefer my songs, to be, not to be an arrogant twat, but, I do prefer my songs, but I just… yeah.
VA: I mean, you know, also there’s that David Bowie quote which is “The better someone sings, the less you believe them.” And I think that’s so right. You just look at some at how great these singers are, I mean it’s crushing, I was learning at the same time as watching X Factor, when it first started and I thought “Oh my God, these seventeen year olds and fourteen year olds are a million times better than me but, you know, an honest voice, you think of people you like, like Bob Dylan or…
HG: They’re all my sort of favourites…
VA: …John Lennon, or you know, Pete Doherty, I don’t know, whoever they are. I think, the more out of tune, the better.
HG: Yeah. [Laughs]
VA: And er…
HG: [interrupts] I’ll quote you on that one then! [Laughs] At my next performance.
VA: Even the jazz improvisers, used to say you know, “singing in tune is overrated”… I don’t really think it… Who’s to say that that rigid little y’know, bunch of notes, is where you’re supposed to sing?
HG: Yeah. Rebel!
VA: If you listen to sort of Mogul music or Eastern music or Yodelling it goes all between the tone and the semi-tone, y’know and it…
HG: [interrupts] So I’m just playing in semi-tones. [All laugh]
VA: Yeah or some… tones… [laughs] Just, ‘they’ don’t get it. They’ll get it in ten years’ time.
HG: So people either get it, or they don’t get it. Oh so that one just doesn’t get it. Oh thank you!
VA: Just don’t be clichéd with what you do.
HG: Well, I couldn’t if I tried.
VA: Good. [Smiles and nods enthusiastically]
HG: I’m not good enough at that. [Laughs]
VA: That’s what I think. I think, y’know, like you say, you’re not good enough to be clichéd and I think to be good at… and I don’t mean to be good as in to be technically good, but to be good at inventing new ways of speaking to… or writing poetry or whatever… You’re better off just getting the gist of what’s around you. You have your antennae up and you get a gist of what’s in the air and what’s gone before that might work with it. But these people like anoraks, they know every band, every person in the band, they can name every record, you know, they’re like collecting them like cards, like those boys of what’s it erm, The Big Bang Theory.
[Camera runs out of storage at this point but it’s more or less the end of the interview anyway.]
You can buy the Slits’ back catalogue of records and Viv Albertine’s book Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys from Amazon.