Pastels are weak, unless you wear them ironically

the book: Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys by Viv Albertine

published 2014

from regular guest blogger Colm Redmond

[Viv Albertine was involved from the word go in the London music scene that started up in 1975 and produced The Sex Pistols, The Clash and eventually The Slits. They were not hugely successful, commercially, but are one of those bands - and she’s one of those guitarists - endlessly named as an influence by much more famous musicians. The extract must be set in 1968, though she doesn’t say so.]

When I was fourteen I heard there was going to be an anti-war demonstration with famous people giving speeches in Trafalgar Square. It was the thing to go to, as exciting as a rock concert. I hoped there’d be lots of handsome boys there. I spent all Saturday morning before the demo tie-dyeing a white T-shirt black, stirring it round and round with an old wooden spoon in a large aluminium pot on the stove. Mum said, ‘Hurry up, you’ll miss it! Just wear any old thing, it doesn’t matter.’ But I had to look right. The T-shirt came out great, dark grey rather than black, with a white tie-dyed circle in the middle, a bit like the CND peace sign. I sewed black fringes down the side of my black cord jeans and washed my hair by kneeling over the bath, drying it in front of the open oven with my head upside down so it would look full and wild. Then off me and my friend Judie went to the demo, chanting, ‘Hey hey, LBJ, how many kids have you killed today?’ at the top of our voices. We got off the bus and ran down Haymarket towards Trafalgar Square. When we got there it was completely deserted. The paving stones were covered in litter, empty bottles rolled around, leaflets were blowing in the wind. No people, just pigeons. We’d been so long messing around with our clothes that we’d missed the whole thing.

observations: This is such a great evocation of time, place, fashion and being a teenager that it could come from a novel. (It’s just the kind of thing that would happen in Hilary McKay’s Casson Family series. The same ebullience, the same attention to detail.) Albertine only talks about things she was involved in or witnessed first hand, and this is a good example of how that keeps your attention locked on her. You might think she’d use hindsight and research, tell you whose speeches she missed or which famous people were in the crowd; but no: she and her friend start messing around in the fountain, get warned off by a policeman, and meekly head home.

Sitting on the top deck of the bus, the fringes on my jeans all straggly, my hair damp and flat and the dye from my wet T-shirt leaving grey streaks across my arms, I thought, What a great day!
At times this rigid rule can have odd, claustrophobic side effects. Sid Vicious was a major part of her life, but one day she sees him for what turned out to be the last time, and he’s never mentioned again. There’s just his and Nancy Spungen’s names and dates of birth and death, with no context. She either takes it for granted that you will know all about the lives of the other people she knew, or doesn’t think you need to. To be fair, most of the people in the first part of the book are famous enough that you know at least the basics about them, and in many cases a lot more - but only if, like me, you come from roughly the same generation and the same musical background (before during and after punk) as she does.

There will be at least one more piece about the book. This one is meant to cover the Clothes Clothes Clothes part of the title. There are many detailed descriptions of outfits, including some interesting stuff about men’s clothes as well as her own. The line “Pastels are weak, unless you wear them ironically” comes from Viv Albertine’s description of the unwritten rules of fashion, among the core of innovators who originated what we now think of as punk.

The main photo, taken last year, shows Viv Albertine bringing two of my passions together by wearing a PINS - my favourite new band - t-shirt. It’s not in the book. The other was taken in 2012 and a b&w version is on the back of the book.

CiB was lucky enough to get an advance copy of this memoir, so thank you to the kind people at Faber. It was an easy decision as to who got to read it, between the real blogger and me: after all, only one of us has been in love with Viv Albertine for 35 years, since I first saw her in the flesh – in a tutu and sheer baby blue polka-dot tights – at Eric’s club in Liverpool.

For more from the guest blogger, click on his name below. 


  1. Moira - Thanks as ever for hosting Colm.

    Colm - What an interesting memoir! One of the things I like about the snippet you shared is that it doesn't sound too self-serving. Memoirs sometimes fall into that trap. And those late '60's clothes - priceless! As you say, such an influence in the music world too. Sounds a really good read.

    1. Thanks, Margot. Yes, self-serving is definitely one thing this book is not. Lots of the stories present at the very least one person in a bad light, and that often includes the writer. One tends to assume therefore that it must be honest and truthful... this may be totally wrong, but you certainly feel as though it's true.

      Speaking of the late 60s: I've seen a spurious claim that Viv Albertine is reticent about her exact age. She clearly states she was 15 in July 1969 [when she went to the famous Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park] - how much more exact do people want her to be? Mind you, it is true that the markers she gives in the book mean either that the date of birth shown on Wiki is wrong or Viv is very bad at sums.

  2. I am very, very ignorant in the area of music and musicians, so I would be totally in the dark reading this... but it is still interesting. I will say that she must have been in her late fifties when both photos were taken and she looks exceptionally good... I am envious. So will you cover both Music Music Music AND Boys Boys Boys?

    1. I saw Viv Albertine up close in real life, exactly a year ago, and she did indeed look stunning by any standards and truly amazing for her age.

      There's enough tempting passages in the book to make me want to do lots more pieces, so at least one more will follow.

  3. Seems more interesting than Morrissey's book, but I doubt I'll be reading wither TBH.


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