This much I know: Viv Albertine, writer and musician, former guitarist with The Slits

I cleaved onto music as an escape. It was my way out of an unpleasant childhood, says Viv Albertine.

Viv Albertine

I was obsessed with it from far too young an age.

The first record I heard was round my baby-sitters house. The Beatles ‘You Can’t Do That’ the B side to ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’. 

That song burned into me. It opened up another world. The jealousy, the power it gave the girl. I was about nine. I started going to gigs across London when I was 12.

I was an excruciatingly shy child. I’m probably on the spectrum. People thought I was a bit odd. I was a thinker and I questioned everything, including authority. That was my saving.

There were no girl musicians so it never crossed my mind that I could be one.

In those days you didn’t have career plans. Nobody took much notice of young people. I decided to go to art school to give me three more years before having to engage in adult work.

Art and music were all mixed up. You’d go to a Warhol film and on to see a band with projections and a light show.

I believe in timing. Art school was full of musicians and that’s how I met the Sex Pistols and Mick Jones who formed The Clash. Punk inspired me.

It gave me the bridge to form a band myself, copying the boys, who were just ordinary comprehensive school kids like me.

I was not a natural performer. I’m not an outgoing person so there was no way I was going to be the singer. The guitar became my instrument.

One of my faults is a big mouth. I tend to say the wrong thing, without meaning to.

I don’t believe in an after life. You live on in the people you influence during your lifetime. I used to wonder why I don’t miss my mother more, but I realise it’s because she’s already in me — in my gestures, in the way I move.

I was traumatised when The Slits split up in 1981. I trained to be an aerobics teacher and then I went back and did a degree in filmmaking and worked in television for 15 years. 

Directing taught me how to run a team and turn up on time — things you don’t really learn when you’re in a band. But I have no real memory of that work as it didn’t come from my heart and soul. It was just a job.

You’d think cancer would have been my biggest challenge, but actually it was trying to conceive by IVF. It took seven awful years. I had to have a child. I had to hold a baby. Thank god for my daughter. She’s 17 now and plays bass but plans to read English at university.

I never in a million years thought I’d ever play again. I thought, I’ve done that, it’s passed. Then this thing happened where I just felt a shift. The Slits were reforming, but I didn’t want to join them, so I started performing solo.

I feel as if I’ve been reborn. I finally have the courage to think of myself as a creative person. All that shyness is gone.

I spent three years sitting at my kitchen table writing what became my memoir. [Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys]

I’d never written anything longer than a song. Whenever I got bored, I’d try to think of something entertaining to include, like when I was giving a blowjob and it all went wrong. 

I nearly had a breakdown when the book got published and I realised I’d exposed myself terribly. I dreaded the reaction. But, luckily, it was warmly received.

If I could change one thing in our society, I’d not have Brexit. It’s broken my heart.

My advice is not to care about looking stupid, that is the number one thing.

I actively do not want to be rich. I want to be just big enough for my name to be occasionally recognised and well off enough not to have to continually struggle for money.

Life has taught me to never give up.

  • Writer & Musician Viv Albertine will be at the Home of St Patrick Festival 2017 Memoirs And Confessions event, a series of talks and discussions exploring aspects of spirituality and the relationship between personal and individual privacy, touching upon aspects of Patrick’s life, in Armagh and Down, March 3-19 www.saintpatrickscountry.com 



More From The Irish Examiner