Ari Up by Caroline Coon
This weekend I read Zoe Street Howe’s newly published biography of The Slits, Typical Girls? (Omnibus Press) and quite enjoyed it. My main criticism of the book is that 95% of it is taken up with the formation of the band and the recording of their debut album, Cut and there is precious little about the recording of their equally amazing second LP, Return of the Giant Slits. Still, if you are a Slits fan, Typical Girls? is a credible history and the author interviewed all of the Slits and key members of their circle including one-time Slit, Budgie (better known as the drummer in Siouxsie and the Banshees), PiL guitarist Keith Levene, journalist/professor Vivien Goldman and producers Dennis Bovell and Adrian Sherwood.
I pulled both Slits albums out this weekend and played each all the way through twice. I’ve owned Cut since came out and its punky reggae sound was very, very appealing to me straight off the bat. I’d read about the Slits, in books like Caroline Coon’s 1988, but they were the last of the formative punk bands to put a record out. When I did finally hear them, Cut was a bolt from the blue to my 14 year-old brain. Reading Typical Girls? brought me back to that time when it seemed like there would be no end to the parade of innovation that was the post punk era. There was so much good music coming out every week that it seemed inexhaustible. It was a terribly exciting time, musically speaking, to come of age. (Simon Reynold’s book Rip It Up and Start Again captures the feeling of the era well, I think).
The Slits were, to my ears, amongst the most sonically “far out” and experimental of the post-punk groups, in the same category as Public Image Ltd. in terms of the astonishing originality of their music. The Slits sound was like no other, a perfectly melded hybrid of punk, dub-drenched reggae and Afro-pop with the riotous, white Rastafarian cum St Trinian’s girl run amok front woman of Ari Up (who was all of 14 when she joined the group) . Truly the unruly, inspired, nearly uncategorizable sound of the Slits deserves a better place in the history of punk than it’s been accorded thus far. Hopefully Zoe Street Howe’s Typical Girls? will go some distance in redressing this grievous oversight.
Here’s the Don Lett’s directed promo for Typical Girls:
This extended clip from the German movie Girls Bite Back includes performances of Animal Space, I Heard It Through the Grapevine and a dubbed out cover of Dennis Brown’s Man Next Door. How I wish there was more of this!
Audio only link to the Slits covering Marvin Gaye’s I Heard It Through the Grapevine
Audio only YouTube clip of one of my top favorite Slits tunes: Earthbeat