The first concert I ever went to was in Wolverhampton Civic Hall on May 22 1977. It was part of the Clash’s White Riot tour and the first major Punk gig ever to be held in Wolverhampton. Three days before the gig, The Jam who were supposed to be one of the supports, pulled out. Not that that mattered too much because The Buzzcocks, Subway Sect and The Slits were still on the bill and anyway it was The Clash that everyone really wanted to see.
So the bottom-of-the-bill Slits turned out to be the first group I ever saw play live.
Back in 1977 the Slits were ridiculed by many for being too amateur even at a time when amateur was hip. Being girls in a still largely male world (despite Punk’s year zero view on most other issues), being so young (Ari Up, the lead singer was only just 15 at the time of the gig), being unable to tune their instruments (apparently a Radio 1 producer secretly retuned their guitars later in 1977 at their first John Peel session when the girls weren’t looking) and being only just able to play their instruments in anything like an accepted manner seemed to confirm the suspicions that they might be incompetent also-rans there just to make up the numbers and provide a bit of a spectacle.
Spectacle they certainly provided. But as they launched into their first number on that Sunday evening in 1977 it became apparent that they were much more than that.
If Punk was about iconoclasm and ripping up the turgid and lazy awfulness of what Rock had become and creating something new, fresh, revolutionary and less convoluted and pretentious then The Slits were more Punk than anyone else in 1977 - including Subway Sect, The Buzzcocks and The Clash.
If it felt like that on that Sunday evening in May 1977, then in hindsight - from the perspective of 2010 - it feels even more true now. As much as I still love The Clash, The Buzzcocks and Subway Sect, in comparison to The Slits they were effectively re-packaging Rock, albeit in a new and fresh way. The Slits in contrast seem to have arrived literally in Year Zero with no past and no apparent influences of any kind. In their first incarnation - the incarnation that created their first 2 John Peel Sessions in 1977 and 1978 – The Slits created a music that was completely original, completely new and - in the original and true creative sense of Punk - completely Punk.
‘Vindictive’ from the first Peel Session (recorded 4 months after the May 22nd gig) is about as close as The Slits ever got to recreating the absolutely explosive and only just controlled mess of noise that they produced live on stage. Even then it does not get near to doing justice to the complete shock and awe that the shrieking banshee that was Ari Up back then managed to instill in her audiences. I have never forgotten a second of that first gig and I’ve never forgotten how completely intimidated and frankly, scared shitless she made me feel.
Ari Up died on 20 October 2010.
Recorded 1977 and initially broadcast on the Radio 1 John Peel Show.
Available on the ‘Peel Sessions’ cd that contains all three of the Slits Radio 1 sessions: Amazon. ‘Vindictive’ was also re-recorded for their first proper studio album - ‘Cut’ – in 1979, but by then The Slits had moved on to a less Punky and more Dub Reggae inspired sound. Equally wonderful but different.