Monday, 9 July 2018

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Here to be heard: the Slits documentary

Before punkettes, there were punkesses: that’s how the Slits were described in their early press coverage, according to this new documentary about the band. As a linguist I like that word a lot more. “Punkettes” is a diminutive – mini-punks, not the real thing – but “punkesses” is just female. And potentially, like lionesses, fierce.

As the film shows, a  lot of people found the band scary. But a lot of people found them inspiring, too. And I’m one of them, which is why I wanted to see the film.

There were lots of inspirational quotes in the film – about not giving a fuck, about not being invisible: things that still matter. But there was also a problem.

The film feels like a TV documentary rather than one made for the cinema. And like most TV music documentaries, it starts off with various voices summarising the themes of the film. Some female voices and some male ones. It made me cross from the start. Couldn’t we just have had women, to start off with? Surely  you can tell viewers why the Slits were important without them having to be validated by men? Even the flyer for the screening has two quotes from men and just one from a woman.

“I don’t hate men,” said Slits bassist Tessa Pollitt when I raised this at the Q&A afterwards. I don’t either – I’m married to one and he even came along to the film (although he didn’t like it). But I hate being told by men what to think (and I really don’t want to watch another music documentary that’s got Don Letts mansplaining punk). All the other music documentaries have men being “experts”. It would be nice seeing as this is about women not to do that, just for once.

There was lots to like though: the atmosphere of fun and fearlessness, being a gang, daring to be different. The enormous “WTF” effect of women doing what the Slits did in the context of the sexist 70s and the sexist music business. The outrageousness of their sound, their look, their behaviour: defying any kind of convention including those of the punk movement itself. If you didn’t know about the band before, it would be  real eye-opener: you just have to watch the trailer to be amazed.

The film is a mixture of band footage – bad quality footage of the punk days, better quality from the reunion tours – and current-day interviews with Tessa Pollitt, Viv Albertine and Palmolive. There are also contributions from previous members of the band – the female founders, the men who joined later – and other people (like Don Letts, Dennis Bovell and Vivien Goldman) who were also part of the story.

Sadly there are no interviews with singer Ari Up, whose death dominates the latter part of the story and whose personality dominates throughout.  But her presence is very much there. And her attitude – being brave, being yourself, not caring what people think – typifies the reasons the Slits still matter. Forty years ago, I wanted to be in their gang. I still want to be in it now.

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Women at the BBC

Annie Nightingale on The Old Grey Whistle Test
Ten years ago, I wrote this in my blog:

“A group of middle-aged men are discussing 70s pop music and how good it was and I’m wondering why there are no middle-aged women there.”

Nothing has changed since then.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Book review: Untypical Girls

Me being untypical, many years ago.
When I was a teenager and I wanted to learn how to look like a punk, I didn’t have much to go on apart from the newspapers and the back cover of the New Wave compilation LP. I’d have loved a book like this.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Turning 60 (part 2): Not giving up

I've been thinking a lot about the fact that I turn 60 this year, and what it means. If anything.

I can’t at the moment think of anything good about being 60. We don’t even get a bus pass where I live. In spite of that, I don’t think my 60th birthday will feel as bad as my 50th.