Ian Thomson

The punk who inspired a generation of British woman to pick up a guitar

A review of <em>Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys</em>, by Viv Albertine. A funny, rude, tender, and superbly written memoir

The punk who inspired a generation of British woman to pick up a guitar
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Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys

Viv Albertine

Faber, pp. 421, £

Viv Albertine is deservedly famous as the guitarist of the tumultuous, all-female English punk band The Slits. Their debut album, Cut, released in 1979, combined jangly Captain Beefheart-style guitarwork with reggae rhythms and sardonic social commentary. Ariane ‘Ari Up’ Forster, the vocalist, added an element of wild-child abandon to Tessa Pollitt’s infectiously heavy bass lines. The album is a masterpiece.

Albertine’s memoir takes its title from her mother’s routine complaint to her: ‘Clothes, clothes, clothes, music, music, music, boys, boys, boys — that’s all you ever think about!’ Albertine came to Britain from her native Australia in 1958, aged four. She lived in some poverty with her sister, French father and Swiss mother in the north London suburb of Muswell Hill, home of the Kinks pop band. She went to the same Muswell Hill state school as the Kinks (my children currently go there) and idolised Marc Bolan.

After attending the Chelsea School of Art, Albertine embraced London’s burgeoning punk rock scene, and the rest is history. Musically inventive, The Slits offered hope of deliverance to young women singers and musicians ‘downpressed’ by the music business. Without Albertine & Co, it’s safe to say, a generation of British women may not have been emboldened to pick up the guitar and give it a go.

Albertine’s book, a ‘scrapbook of memories’, is funny, rude, tender, and superbly written throughout. All life seems to be in her burning pages, from divorce to bereavement to motherhood. By her own account, she is prone to bouts of melancholy and lacking in confidence. Why? Yerrokay, Viv!

Available from the Spectator Bookshop, £13.49. Tel: 08430 600033.