She was scared. But she went anyway

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

published 2014

from regular guest blogger Colm Redmond

[This is the second CiB piece about this book, and deals with the Music Music Music part of the title. The Slits, after only one chaotic warm-up gig with Viv Albertine replacing the old guitarist, are supporting The Clash on their 1977 White Riot tour.]

We arrived too late to soundcheck but I’m not bothered, never done one before, wouldn’t know what to do anyway. I am bothered about my clothes though. I’m wearing silver rubber stockings and black stiletto patent boots from [Vivienne Westwood’s boutique] Sex, a short blue ballet tunic that I’ve had since I was eleven, and loads of ribbons tied in my matted bleached blonde hair. Just as we’re about to go on stage, I look down and see that one of my brand-new rubber stockings has a rip in it, all the way from my knee up to my thigh. … A roadie, seeing my distress, leaps to the rescue and tapes up the slash with a long strip of black gaffer tape. Looks quite cool.

I count in the first song, ‘One two three four!’ and off we go… (Mick [Jones, of The Clash] explains to me later in the tour that when you shout ‘One two three four’ you’re setting the speed of the song. I don’t know this, I’ve copied it off the Ramones LP, I just think it’s a warning to the band that you’re starting and it’s to be shouted as fast as possible, the quicker, the more exciting.) We all play at different speeds.

observations: In the late 80s I was shown an educational film about job-hunting and interview skills. One of the Important Lessons, surprisingly enough, was that people who look different (a male goth, in this case, with monochrome make up, piercings and elaborate hair) may well take much more care over their appearance than the “normals”. Similarly, The Slits may arguably have looked like they’d got dressed in the dark sometimes, but they meant to look how they looked.

However, it’s clear from this book that musically, the chaotic freedom they revelled in was less of a statement and more of a default. They didn’t understand about time signatures and so on, and as a result did strange and wonderful things that only highly trained, esoteric musicians would usually do - people who’d spent years learning the rules and then years learning how to break them.

Nonetheless, even in 1977 at the height of the punk DIY aesthetic, you’d struggle to find someone in a band who didn’t know why musicians do a count-in. Least of all someone like Viv Albertine who had by now been obsessed with music for 13 years – since hearing the Beatles’ Can’t Buy Me Love – and going to gigs for 10, and learning to be a musician for at least two. But I do like the idea that you should count it in faster because you want things to be more exciting. After all, lots of people with “better” skills and notions have never made a creative sound in their lives.

Viv Albertine says in the book that She was scared. But she went anyway could work as a summary of her whole life in the 70s.

The pics are all from The main one (location unknown) shows her in front, with The Slits’ singer Ari Up; in between them is Neneh Cherry, who often appeared with them as an additional vocalist. The second pic is of Viv on stage in 1980. The third is on the cover of the book: her own caption says “17 years old at art school. Biba tights, Terry de Havilland boots, home-made top.”

Thanks again to Faber for the advance copy.

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


  1. Moira - Thanks as ever for hosting Colm.

    Colm - It's interesting isn't it how sometimes not doing things 'the right way' can make music so refreshingly different. And what a great look backstage at those concerts. Oh, and the gaffer tape? Brilliant solution!

    1. Yes, Margot, at least 75% of the music I love is technically imperfect.

      Meanwhile the DIY/thrown-together thing has not extended to Viv Albertine's book launch, which is tonight - she's just tweeted a picture of the new black cuban-heeled alligator-skin effect ankle boots she's BOUGHT for the occasion!!

    2. After reading this, I was thinking of buying some gaffer tape to carry around with me for clothes emergencies - I think it would give that grown-up sophisticated look I'm always hoping for.

  2. I have to say that you have almost convinced me that I would enjoy this book. I know so little about music though. It would all go over my head. I do love that... "She was scared. But she went anyway" as a summary. I guess you would have to be that brave to perform in front of crowds.

    1. Thanks, Tracy; I'm sure you'd enjoy it. And I don't think you need to know anything about music to do so.

      Sadly Viv Albertine's mother was taken ill on 03 June 2014, the day of the long-awaited book launch, and VA missed the event to be with her. She passed away that night.

      The middle pic is the one everyone seems to keep using, of the ones that are in the book. A few months back, while writing it, Viv Albertine tweeted another pic from the same Alexandra Palace show and appealed for people to identify her trainers. (Spalding, it turned out.) Predictably, many people were more interested in the Rickenbacker guitar. But if you like to have all the details on people's outfits in their pics, this is the book for you.


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