Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Slits: Up Yours Vocals/Palmolive Percussion

(Left to right: Viv Albertine (guitar), Ari Up (vocals), Tessa Pollitt (bass), and Palmolive (drums)

Long before the under-age sexualia of female rock vocalists such as Bow Wow Wow's Annabella (Lwin), and The Runaways (Cherry Bomb), and long after the pristine pop of the likes of Little Peggy March (I Will Follow Him), or Marcie Blaine (Bobby's Girl), punk princesses Arianna Forster, Paloma Romero (a native of Spain), Viv Albertine, and Tessa Pollitt, collectively known as The Slits, became poster girls for adolescent artistry and aggression.

14-year-old lead vocalist Forster, known as Ari Up, first led the band to infamy on March 11, 1977 in Harlesdan, England. Romero's association with Joe Strummer of The Clash was instrumental in the group's stint as the opening act for the Clash's White Riot tour of 1977. The original lineup, which included Kate Korris on drums, and Suzi Gutsy on bass, brought a feminist sensibility to an otherwise male-dominated (The Sex Pistols, The Buzzcocks) arena. Korris departed the group to form her own female aggregate, The Mo-dettes, and Gutsy joined a group called The Flicks. Owing certain nods to a certain faction of The Sex Pistols, Slits members Forster and Romero (known as Palmolive) had previously collaborated with Sex Pistols badboy Sid Vicious about forming a co-ed band called The Flowers of Romance.

The first primal cries of the band's sound were characterized by what has been termed as "a stuttering, stumbling rhythm pounded out with grim determination by Palmolive and accentuated by Tessa's thudding, reverberating bass; choppy guitar chords on maximum fuzz (and always ever-so-slightly off-key) scratched through the racket at irregular intervals like jagged shards of cut glass; and undulating over the whole live, solid mass came Ari's signature wobbly, screeching wails and yelps."
No doubt the amazonian cacophony was aided and abetted by the fact that band member Pollitt had previously been a member of a band called The Castrators.

Palmolive exited the band before they landed a recording contract with Island records in 1978. Inducting a male member (pun intended) named Budgie (who later joined Siouxsie and The Banshees) the Slits released their first album, Cut recorded at Farm Ridge Studios under the direction of reggae producer Dennis Bovell.

The 1978 documentary film The Punk Rock Movie features super 8 footage of the Slits taken by indie filmmaker Don Letts who later became The Clash's tour manager and eventually graduated to the ranks of a band member in the acclaimed music group Big Audio Dynamite. The Sits appeared in the movie with celebrated performers such as Billy Idol, Sid Vicious, Debbie Juvenile, Wayne County (before his noted sex change), and Siouxsie Sioux (Janet Ballion).

The Slits left the Virgin label after the departure of Budgie who replaced by Pop Group member Bruce Smith in 1979. The unstable, erratic nature of the band brought further personnel changes, inclduing brief interludes with noted jazz musician Don Cherry and reggae musician Prince Hammer. Though their sound was becoming more cohesive and focused, the group was nearing its end. The release of singles such as Man Next Door and a signing to the CBS label which yielded the album Return of the Giant Slits (with a decidedly African musical influence) did not bring total commercial breakthrough.

Interestingly enough, Slits member Paloma Romero, who wrote their songs Shoplifting, Number One Enemey, and New Town, transcended the entire bohemian scene. Leaving both punk music and its screaming psyche for spiritual and religious pursuits in Spain, India, and the United States, Palomive now happily resides in Massachusetts as a Paloma McLardy, a church-going wife and mother of three (Sandy, Marcarena, and Hannah).

The Slits, through their attitude toward music as a form of personal expression, were instrumental in helping to shift public consciousness regarding the freeing of the female ego to act with full license in mainstream society.

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A Boring Life
Love and Romance
Number One Enemy
Number One Enemy (acoustic; guest vocal: Nina Hagen)
In The Beginning
Newtown (Hi-Fi)
Man Next Door
Typical Girls
Fade Away
In The Beginning (Hi-Fi; guest vocal Neneh Cherry)