Viv Albertine – NCH – 9-3-19
Part of the Words+Ideas series at the NCH
Viv Albertine has lived a fascinating life. Born in Sydney, Australia in 1954 she later moved to London where she went to Muswell Hill comprehensive school before she enrolled in Hornsey School of Art and eventually the Chelsea School of Art. There she fell in love with the punk movement and became a member of the Slits, who were a seminal female punk band. Later in life, she worked in film and has recently published two books, the first of which “Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys,” was published in 2014 and won the Sunday Times, Mojo, Rough Trade, and NME Book of the Year. Her second memoir “To Throw Away Unopened” was published in May of last year. On Saturday night, she talked to Sinéad Gleeson as part of the Words + Ideas series at the National Concert Hall.
Sinéad Gleeson had a remarkably easy job on the night. The only task she had was to set Viv in motion as she could talk endlessly on any topic. She talked of her time in school and an art teacher that inspired her. He did simple things like telling the students to draw the space between the objects rather than the objects themselves and these new ideas resonated with Viv. She attended the same school as the Kinks and saw them as an inspiration. She knew she could not follow a conventional path and saw punk music as a way out. She said a lot of the people in punk were ‘somewhere on the spectrum’ and that she was no different.
She talked of the clothes of Vivienne Westwood and the reaction she would get from people on the streets when she wore these clothes. There was a sense that she was constantly battling to be accepted. At many of the gigs they played, the audience would spit at them for the full performance, but they were unwilling to leave the stage.
There was a discussion on the lack of female role models in rock music at the time. In 1978, Kate Bush became the first female singer to have a number one with a self-written song. Viv said there were no females in rock/ punk music at the time and they were making it up as they went.
While the career of the Slits was relatively short-lived, they made a huge impact. Their début album is a classic and is still mentioned as one of the best albums released by Island Records. Many modern female musicians name Vivian as an inspiration and she is certainly a feminist icon. One of the most fascinating things Vivian said on the night was about her mother, who gave her the confidence to do what she wanted in life. Her mother lived in a time where women had to fulfil certain roles as a mother or a wife. In a sense, Vivian was living a life her mother couldn’t!
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