CHAIRMAN RALPH (CR): Yeah, let's talk about some of the tunes that are on video at the moment – “The False Heart”, I thought, was interesting. You've got the ethereal folk sound going, and some of the dub elements that were always present in your music. Where did that one come from?
VIV ALBERTINE (VA): Well, “False Heart” is based on a four-line English poem by Hilaire Belloc: “I said to Heart, 'How goes it?' And Heart replied, 'Right as a Ribstone Pippin!' But it lied...'” A ribstone pippin is a very old English type of apple.
It's a very old English four-line poem which I was told, when I was eight years old, by my mum. And even though I knew nothing about love then, I utterly understood, the moment she told me that poem, the pain is love – I don't know why.
And it never left me, and I've always wanted to do something with it. And I did my own lines after it, as well, and just made that very simple, bleak song out of it. Actually, when I do it live, it's much bleaker, and simpler, really stripped down (laughs).
CR: And there's “I Don't Believe In Love,” which does exactly what it says on the tin.
VA: Yeah, I don't believe in love anymore -- honestly, again, since I was eight or nine, I've been looking for this great love. You know, girls are brought up to believe it's gonna happen. You're gonna meet this soulmate, this twin soul, or whatever.
I really think, this year, for the first time, I'm gonna give up on love – which is, in a way, sad, but liberating, as well. Maybe it's just a confection, and a construction, and I can be brave enough to let go of that idea, you know?
A few sad things have happened in the last year and a half to make me feel more cynical about relationships. At the same time, my dad died a year ago – we'd never been close, it'd all been messed up, due to childhood stuff. So it's quite an angry song, as well.
CR: I can definitely hear that. Tell me about “If Love”...where did that come about?
VA: “If Love” -- it's just a checklist of things, and I think, if you can tick them, then it is love. You can't just enjoy being in love anymore. It's just pulled apart, condemned, analyzed...
CR: There are too many conditions.
VA: Too many conditions -- it's all been explained away as if it doesn't matter, it doesn't exist: “You made it up, you fool.” It's a shame that it's so condemned, really, and analyzed. So, you can see, I'm actually in two minds, whether I believe in it, or not.
CR: So, when you started out – as you said, it wasn't because it [music] was a great career?
VA: No way! Don't forget, '74, '75, '76, there was not the same thought of career as there is nowadays, especially not in England. England in the '70s was so gray and bleak. The summer we started to get our band together, you couldn't work more than three days a week, because there was such a recession. The rubbish was piled high all through London, because the rubbish men were on strike. There were blackouts every night to save electricity.
CR: It was very much like a Third World country, wasn't it?
VA: We were living in a Third World country! There was nothing on TV, nothing to stay in and watch, but some of us didn't even have telephone land lines. You know, it was a whole different world. And we were like the weeds coming out the cracks in the pavement, really.
It was a natter of like-minded people coming together – people like Vivienne Westwood, who, I think, is really more intellectual than [Sex Pistols manager] Malcolm McLaren – and a couple of the Pistols, like [singer] John [Lydon], and [bassist] Glen [Matlock]. They were people with a sort of similar mindset. It was nothing to do with money at all, maybe a thought in Malcolm's mind.
CR: So I imagine you were probably as surprised as anybody else, when people started turning up to these gigs, and they connected with what you had to say...
VA: Well, in a way, not surprised, because we did think we were great (laughs). Not in terms of, “We are great musicians,” or, “We are great songwriters.” But we thought, “We are great fucking people. We are people who've got out at our age, and done something, and said something, and shouted something, in a way that hasn't been done and said and shouted before.” And that, we felt, you know, was worthy of people coming to see us.
We looked totally different to everyone else in London – there were only a few of us.. We were like pioneers, and we knew we were pioneers. We used to get interviewed in bars, me and Sid, just because of how we looked, and we thought it was perfectly normal: “Yeah, you should come and talk to us. We are different, we have something to pull ourselves out of this bleak, Godforsaken hole”...that was London, at the time.
CR: In some ways, it was difficult being in the Slits, wasn't it? Because you seemed to have a very adversarial kind of relationship with people in the music business, and the journalists...
VA: Yeah, because, again – in the [pre-punk] music industry, it was about prettiness, and selling your girliness, and singing in high little voices. There was Fanny, there was the Runaways, but nothing for an ordinary girl who didn't feel that different to a boy.
CR: To connect to...
VA: No! So there we were – half-dressed in fetish gear, literally, from proper adult sex shops, half-dressed in construction worker boots -- and the men on the streets, the men in the industry, just didn't know how to react to us. They're one minute, attracted, one minute, repulsed, and couldn't really define where they thought. We were attacked verbally and physically many, many times -- every time we walked out, more or less.
CR: But, of course, you had your patrons from, the beginning – most notably, the Clash, with whom you went on tour. What's your most abiding memory of the “White Riot” tour experience?
VA: Firstly, that we were the rebel band on the tour, which was quite funny, and a bit upsetting to the Clash (laughs)! The bus driver had to be bribed every morning to take us on the bus.
Every time we went to the hotel, the hotels used to say, “Those girls must walk straight from the door, to the lift, to the elevator – they must not talk to anyone, and we do not want to see them again, until they leave again in the morning. Otherwise, we won't have them in the hotel”...because we looked so weird, and we had such an abundance of energy!
They were used to seeing guys in tight leather trousers, and long hour – but they weren't used to seeing girls [acting] so sexual, so provocative, so wild, you know? It just absolutely shook everyone, everywhere we went. So that was a strong memory.
And then, of course, me and [Clash guitarist] Mick [Jones] were on-off dating through that year – we'd been [dating] a couple of years before that, anyway. And that was very passionate. There was one gig, right at the end, where he's standing onstage, and it's so moving – I had a tape of it for awhile. He was shouting into the mike, “Where are you, where are you? over the music, the song. It's incredibly moving, actually.
CR: Indeed – and, I guess, you had an influence on inspiring “Train In Vain,” to read some of the accounts, right?
VA: Yeah -- [in] “Typical Girls,” there's a line: “Typical girls stand by their man,” and he's saying, “You didn't stand by me.” I [also] wrote “Ping Pong Affair” about him, which is on CUT.
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