Gigs · Memories · Music

Ari Up and The Slits

Ari Up, singer in punk band The Slits, died seven years ago today. May she rest in peace. She and the band had been on my mind in recent weeks, and when starting to draft this piece yesterday I discovered that the anniversary was upon us. Back in 2010 I read the news of her death in an unexpected way, as a headline in London’s free daily paper The Standard. It appeared as something like “Johnny Rotten’s step-daughter dies aged 48”. Ari Up’s mother Nora has been married to John Lydon (as Sex Pistol Johnny Rotten has been known for a long time) for decades.

Before yesterday I had been thinking of two gigs that I went to in the autumn of 2009, first Viv Albertine at the old 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street (a venue I have written about more than once, including here and here) and then the Slits at ULU (University of London Union) nearby.

Viv Albertine had been in the Slits in the late 70s but didn’t perform with them when they toured 30 years later. Her September 2009 show at the 12 Bar Club included an unexpected cover of Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine”. As with many other artists who have lived through interesting times her patter in between numbers was as entertaining as the songs themselves. While introducing the track “Needles” she spoke memorably about her time in the legendary Flowers of Romance, rehearsing with Sid Vicious. The drug scene in London turned much heavier around that time. Johnny Thunders arrived from New York City and then, as well as powder and pills, the city was awash with … needles.

The following month The Slits played at ULU (Friday 16 October) and faced with a choice of lager or cider, in plastic glasses, I opted for soft drinks for the whole show (having had a few pints of Guinness beforehand in a pub on Tottenham Court Road). When it ended, well before midnight, we walked the four hundred yards south to have a few proper drinks at the 12 Bar. The night’s live acts had just finished and we settled in for another late night there. Within 30 minutes The Slits had arrived for their after-show fun and games. We felt, for once, that we were in the right place at the right time. There were no cordoned-off VIP areas, just the band hanging out in the front bar, and the jukebox (which was working at the time, but would be out of action in the club’s later years) providing a selection of favourite tunes. We got talking to some of the band, told them how much we had enjoyed the show. Hollie Cook (daughter of Sex Pistols drummer Paul) was singing with the band. The bass player was from San Francisco. I did chat to Ari herself briefly, but by then neither of us was making much sense. Or maybe it was just me.

We can expect to feel nostalgic for things that happened decades ago, for the places we visited and the people we met when we were much younger, but this autumn I have been feeling nostalgic for more recent events, for things that happened less than ten years ago. There will be no more nights out at the 12 Bar Club, no more Slits gigs, no more drunken conversations with Ari Up. Those times are gone. I miss them already.


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