A brief history of The Slits

It’s difficult to describe the impact the The Slits had on the music scene twenty years ago, as now it’s difficult to imagine a pre-punk world with few female artists…

They came out of the heart of London’s punk scene: Viv Albertine and Palmolive were members of Flowers Of Romance along with Sid Vicious and Keith Levine, rehearsing in Joe Strummer’s squat. Meanwhile an all-girl group were rehearsing as The Castrators, including Kate Korus and Tessa Pollitt. Palmolive then teamed up with 14-year old Ari, the wildly brattish, precocious daughter of a former rock chick, German heiress Nora. Kate Korus joined The Slits as guitarist, before moving on to form The Modettes. Tessa and Viv then joined the ranks, completing the definitive early line-up.

After a few gigs they were invited by the Clash to support them on the ‘White Riot’ tour. The band quickly acquired a violent, chaotic image, attacking bands like Sore Throat and Throbbing Gristle on stage, and chosen by Derek Jarman to trash cars in his 1977 film ‘Jubilee’. Their music fitted the image - shambolic and loud, with abrasive guitar, shouted choruses, and crazy Ari’s screeched vocals over Palmolive’s hammered, stuttering drums.

Their uncompromising attitude, combined with gleefully subverting any and every notion of traditional female behaviour - skirts raised over heads, obscene and aggressive gestures, indeed anything to put the shits up people - scared the A&R men away. Peel Sessions in ’77 and ’78 was all the public got to hear, apart from gigs, which included tours with the Buzzcocks and Rich Kids. Other punk bands who’d taken their time - Siouxsie & The Banshees, Adam & The Ants - eventually got signed in 1978, but not the unpredictable, unmanageable Slits.

Record companies telling them they ‘weren’t tight enough’ led them to part company with Palmolive and her trademark drum style. Her replacement was Budgie from seminal Liverpool group Big In Japan (later a Banshee and Creature). But by the time of their long-awaited debut album ‘Cut’ on Island in 1979, they had become bored with punk. They embraced reggae, working with producer Dennis Bovell, who pared down their songs and gave them a dubby mix. The sleeve, showing them proudly and defiantly naked and covered in mud, guaranteed them attention.

Budgie was replaced by Bruce Smith of The Pop Group, with which group grew an association with both a shared single and managers Christine Robertson and Dick O’Dell. In 1980 indie singles ‘In The Beginning There Was Rhythm’, ‘Man Next Door’ and ‘Animal Space’ followed. Musicianship became more of a priority, with Steve Beresford accompanying them, and a more experimental, world music spirit permeated their work. Then a new contract with CBS produced the ‘Return Of The Giant Slits’ album in October 1981. Two months later, they held their final gig at Hammersmith Palais, announcing that they had no more plans as a group.

Although not commercially successful, The Slits are often cited as trail-blazing a path where others - from Riot Grrrls to perhaps Madonna and Spice Girls - could later tread.

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