Formed: London, England, UK
Band Bio / Discography / Lineups
Formed in 1977, The Slits are considered by some as being notable for a) being girls and b) being utterly incompetent, which is only partially true: the group formed as all-female but ended up with a succession of male drummers, but they were untutored rather than incompetent and were truly distinctive and original. With dread locked 14-year-old Ari Up providing the vocals (either shrieked or wobbily melodic), the four-piece toured with The Clash, Subway Sect and Buzzcocks on the White Riot Tour in May '77 and pretty much outraged the more stolid members of the public by daring not only to be loud, obnoxious and hopelessly amateurish but by being women as well. Their early gigs were notable not for the sheer untrained cacophony of their attack, but also for the mix of joy, awe, fear and inspiration they brought to their audiences. As women playing a male-dominated world, they put an entirely new and very feminine spin on the genre. As Mick Mercer put it in the liners notes of liners notes In The Beginning:
To see The Slits was an encounter with something you'd never seen before, and you certainly didn't forget them in a hurry. They had NO role models, so they had to be different. Men everywhere stood rigid, legs like tripods, arms blurred across guitars, or gripping and twisting microphone stands (Oh, the angst!). The Slits specialised in frolicking, because they knew it was enjoyable, mainly in gleeful good humour, but leaving room for an occasional outburst of spite.
ABOVE: Advert for Birmingham rag Market festival, July 1977; and Ari and Viv
From the start they were definitely part of the in-crowd, the punk rock elite. They did not have to face the indignities of Eater or The Damned by being outsiders, never to be accepted into the fold: their first drummer, the Spanish-born Paloma, had a boyfriend in 1976 called John "Woody" Mellor, at the the time leaving the 101'ers and reinventing himself as Joe Strummer with The Clash. Strummer introduced Paloma (who had reinvented herself as Palmolive) to novice bassist Sid Vicious (you've heard of him, right?) and a blonde bombshell guitarist called Viv Albertine, who was a close friend of Strummer and later Mick Jones' girlfriend. Palmolive, Albertine and Vicious (and occasionally Keith Levene) rehearsed together as the mythical Flowers Of Romance. The Slits' singer Ari Up was the 14-year-old daughter of Nora Forster, who later married John Lydon.
ABOVE: Ari Up at Sussex University, Brighton, 1977; The Slits at the Post House Hotel, Cardiff, in June 1977. Both photos by Caroline Coon and from the book 1988: The New Wave Punk Rock Explosion
The band went through numerous lineups between November 1976 and April 1977 before arriving at its classic configuration of Ari Up (vocals), Palmolive (drums), Viv Albertine (rhythm guitar) and Tessa Pollitt (bass): Kate Korus (ex-Castrators, pre-The Mo-Dettes) and bassist Suzy Gutsy (pre-The Flicks) were briefly members. This lineup stayed together until mid 1978 and recorded two legendary Peel Sessions, the first in September 1977 and the second in May 1978 (both subsequently issued numerous times on CD and vinyl). These recordings had them perceived as wildly abrasive shouters, who made an embracing din that was hugely entertaining. (Impressed by their undisciplined music and wild shows Derek Jarman selected them to appear in his so-called "punk movie" Jubilee, in which they were briefly seen gleefully trashing a car but sadly did not contribute to the soundtrack. You can also hear live chaos from this period on the indispensible In The Beginning.)
ABOVE: Music Machine review; and Sounds from July 15 1978 (cover and part of interview)
Following Pal move's sacking because "the musical direction and accomplishment of the band was being restricted by her" (according to a spokesman at the time), Budgie (ex-Spitfire Boys, ex-Big In Japan) joined in time for a November tour with The Clash and their debut album, the classic Cut, which came out on Island Records in late 1979. (Palmolive went on to form another influential band, The Raincoats.)
ABOVE: The Slits in 1980
The Island deal was over and done with after the releases of 'Cut', and the band's next few releases were standalone singles recorded for Y/Rough Trade and Human. The band also formed an alliance with like minded souls The Pop Group and eventually recruited that band's drummer Bruce Smith as their own, which may have been why In The Beginning There Was Rhythm (a lengthy piece of improvised-sounding funky nonsense), Man Next Door (a John Holt cover) and Animal Space were much less fun than their earlier records, full of dubby effects and tribal rhythms but rather lacking in the tunes department. (The Slits 12" EP is US-only release which compiles one songs apiece from each of these three releases).
ABOVE: Press adverts for 'Return Of The Giant Slits' and Sounds article 3rd Oct 1981.
The group's last LP Return Of The Giant Slits was as striking sounding as the band's previous releases, but the proliferation of jamming over-extended tribal rhythms, annoying jazz excursions and avant garde experimentalism at the expense of anything resembling a catchy tune made it a hard sell. The group split in December 1981, and all concerned went onto to various solo endeavours, which you can read about on Wikipedia.
Ari and Tessa reformed The Slits in 2005 without Albertine, going on to record Revenge Of The Killer Slits EP (with assistance from Paul Cook and Marco Pirroni, 2006) and an LP, Trapped Animal (2009). Ari Up died in October 2010.
Singles / Albums
|Cut (LP, 1979)||In The Beginning There Was Rhythm (7", split with The Pop Group, 1980)||Y (Untitled)
|Man Next Door
|The Slits (12", 1980)||Earthbeat
|Return Of The Giant Slits (LP+7", 1981)|
|The Peel Sessions
|Double Peel Sessions (12", 1989)||In The Beginning
|The Peel Sessions
|Live At The Gibus Club (LP/CD, 2005)|
|The John Peel Sessions (CD, 2011)||I Heard It Through The Grapevine (10", 2016)|
|Typical Girls - Live In Cincinnati & San Francisco USA
|Typical Girls Won't Pay More Than $8.00 So Why Should You? Don't
|Girls Next Door
|Girls Next Door
We Do 'Em Our Way UK LP 1980 (Music For Pleasure): I Heard It Through The Grapevine
Wanna Buy A Bridge? UK LP 1980 (Rough Trade): Man Next Door
Humans UK LP 1981 (Human): Animal Space
Pogo A Gogo! UK Tape 1986 (New Musical Express): Typical Girls
Lipstick Traces UK CD 1993 (Rough Trade): A Boring Life
1-2-3-4 Punk & New Wave 1976-1979 UK 5xCD 1999 (Universal): Typical Girls
No Thanks! The '70s Punk Rebellion US 4xCD 2003 (Rhino): Typical Girls
Rough Trade Shops - Post Punk 01 UK 2xCD 2003 (Mute): Shoplifting