Clothes, Music, Boys – A Memoir by Viv Albertine – book review

Clothes, Music, Boys - A Memoir by Viv Albertine – book review
Clothes, Music, Boys - A Memoir by Viv Albertine

In 1976 I was a young teenager already turned on and pretty passionate about music. Like many young people that witnessed the arrival of The Sex Pistols and punk rock, I was bowled over.  The music was raw, powerful and aggressive.  But most of all I was mesmerised by Johnny Rotten; his manor, his voice and his style, looking the epitome of cool in the Pretty Vacant video with his long-sleeved Destroy t-shirt and bright ginger hair.

Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys is a book by Viv Albertine.  In “Side One” she recounts growing up in London, the separation of her parents, teenage rebellion, art school, sex, drugs, abortion, punk rock and The Slits.

Johnny Rotten & the Sex Pistols changed my life, but only from afar.  Viv Albertine was also struck by Rotten & the Pistols, but she was in touching distance.  Albertine was one of a small inner circle, gathered together by their love of music and fashion; and in Viv Albertine’s eyes, boys too. Vivienne Westwood & Malcolm McLaren’s shop Sex provided the clothes (to those who could afford them) and The Roxy, 100 Club & Louise’s gay club became punk-friendly haunts where infamous gigs and happenings happened.

Like members of The Clash, Buzzcocks, Joy Division and Siouxsie & The Banshees, Viv Albertine decided she wanted to form a band after witnessing an early Sex Pistols gig.  She bought a guitar and began learning to play. But it didn’t come easily and she struggled with traditional chords and rhythms while forming a band with close friend, Sid ViciousFlowers Of Romance was a great name, suggested by Johnny Rotten and later used as an album title by the band he formed with Keith Levine, Public Image Limited. But when Sid was asked to play drums for Siouxsie & The Banshees, the band disbanded and Viv Albertine was left to find her own destiny.

The band she joined was The Slits.  At times shambolic and loose but always uncompromising and exciting in both their music and fashion.  The Slits embodied the true meaning and energy of punk as much as The Sex Pistols, themselves.  By being the last rock ‘n’ roll band, The Pistols opened the doors to a whole spectrum of acceptance and possibilities. Punk was good for offering the freedom to ‘have a go’ & a ‘do it yourself’ mentality.  It also opened the doors for girls to be in bands without being used for sexuality.

That said, The Slits were very sexy!  But they didn’t use sex to sell records.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GiR9rz3oA9A

The Slits music was ‘punk’ but not ‘rock’; and Viv Albertine was an essential ingredient with her beautiful looks, great mix of retro and new fashion styles, messy wild blonde hair and most of all, her unique guitar style. They took time signatures from dub and reggae. They were feisty and original; and with ‘Cut’ they recorded a classic debut album with legendary reggae producer, Dennis Bovell.

1975 – 1982 was heady days for Viv Albertine as The Slits toured the globe.  In the early days she had an off / on relationship with Mick Jones (The Clash & Big Audio Dynamite) and in her book is very open and honest about her sexuality and flirtatious nature.  Johnny Thunders, Johnny Rotten and a non-sexual but close relationship with Sid Vicious all get a mention. In 1977, The Slits were invited on the White Riot Tour with The Clash, Subway Sect and Johnny Thunders & The Heartbreakers.  The same year they recorded the first of two Radio 1 sessions for John Peel, who since has stated both would be in his Top 10 sessions of all-time!  Not bad for a group who ‘allegedly’ couldn’t play very well!

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hR3LUsnRlgQ

By 1982 the music scene had moved on, and though their contemporaries had decided to play the game, The Slits refused. They were dropped by their record label.  A second album, Return Of The Giant Slits, was released out of time with the 1980s.  Though she recalls the band was already falling apart, Albertine recalls how devastating it was when the band finally split up.

Side Two of Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys is what happened to Viv Albertine after The Slits: teaching aerobics, forging a new career in film and video, getting married, cancer, IVF, parenthood, divorce, and finally, like a Hollywood movie script, a happy ending as Viv Albertine plucks the courage up to return to music, finds her way as a solo performer and releases a great solo album.

Viv Albertine playing solo live in 2012
Viv Albertine playing solo live in 2012

I’d be lying to say I wasn’t looking forward to reading about the heady days of punk and Viv Albertine as ‘guitarist of The Slits’ more than her years ‘in the wilderness’ – settling down and staying away from music altogether.  But the second part of this book is as gripping as the first.  Having turned her back on the music industry altogether, Viv Albertine went about re-inventing herself, first with dance and fitness, then with a new career working behind the camera in video, television and film.  She met and married what she believed to be the man of her dreams, but becoming a housewife and moving to the sleepy coastal town of Hastings didn’t work out as she had planned.  Add to this hospitalised illness, cancer, miscarriages, IVF programmes and divorce – Viv Albertine’s life has been a see-saw of emotion which, I’m glad to say she has survived and written a wonderfully enthralling book about.

The title ‘Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys comes from a saying her mother used to say that it was all she was interested in.  It appears the mature Viv Albertine hasn’t lost her passions one single bit.

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RdBeYG4Ct7E

Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys – A memoir is possibly the most honest and naked biographical account I have ever read.  I smiled, laughed and cried (all in the right places, I hope) and like the heroine of a Hollywood movie, when she decided to pick up her life again and start writing songs, I was willing her on to succeed.

In 2009 Viv Albertine began performing as a solo artist and in March 2010 released a four-track ep called Flesh. In 2014 she followed this with her debut solo album, The Vermillion Border.  If you didn’t already love Viv Albertine, you will after reading her book.

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