Up And The True Warriors
It was supposed to be The Slits, but it's not The Slits. The posters, adverts and tickets for this gig all bear the name of Ari Up's femme-punky-reggae noisemakers, now back in action after several years in the wilderness. But, upon arrival at the venue, the word is that we're going to get Ari Up's other band, The True Warriors, a combo with which Ms Up is wont to perform...well, anything she fancies, Slits material and beyond. That's fine by me, but there are a few disgruntled fans in the crowd who've come along specifically for a Slits gig, and now find they're not going to get one. Well, the London gig circuit is often a bit of a lucky dip. You pay your money and take your chances. Let's see if we scoop out a prize tonight.
Although Ari Up began her musical adventures in the punk zone, she soon moved on. The Slits became better known for their excursions into dub than their early punkzoid clatterings, but it seems whoever booked the bands for this show wasn't thinking in that direction. It's a full punk line-up tonight, and our first bunch-o-punks are on stage right now. The Duel are old schoolers with plenty of Clash albums in their record collections. I don't know this because I've broken into their house and rifled through their personal posessions, of course, but it's pretty clear from the first song that The Duel are heavily influenced by the Clash's early recordings. They've got that punchy, staccato, riff-heavy, under-the-Westway sound well and truly sorted, while the lyrics cover the kind of don't-let-the-bastards-grind-you-down personal politics territory that I didn't think anyone sang about any more. At a time when much modern punk sounds like airbrushed American radio rock (at least to me), it's good to find a band which still does the rough old stuff. But The Duel's secret weapon is their singer, for instead of a Strummer-alike barking hoarsely into the mic the band is fronted by a cheery but feisty punk chyk, who sings with a bluesey holler that provides a neat focal point for the band's stripped-down riffing. The Duel might be self-consciously retro in some ways, but they do their stuff with a certain swagger that shows they mean it, man.
Chelsea are class of '76 survivors, a band that's been bumming around the British punk scene ever since the early days. In that time they've had approximately four million line-up changes (Billy Idol was once in the band: now whatever happened to him?) but main man Gene October is still up front, and still as cartoonishly belligerent as ever. Shamelessly throwing rock shapes - even to the point of playing air guitar in every musical break - he hams it up so outrageously you know he's having fun. It has to be said that Chelsea don't sound massively distinctive: they do that bashed-up fast 'n' furious rock noise that sounds pretty much akin to any other punk band out there. Which, in a nutshell, probably explains why they're still around, still holding down middle-of-the-bill slots like this one, while their early-scene contemporaries went on to greater (or at least different) things. But if it's an unpretentious bout of boisterous punking and rocking you're after, Chelsea certainly deliver, and if there's something faintly ridiculous about a bunch of middle-aged men singing a song entitled 'Urban Kids' nobody in the Underworld tonight is in any mood to raise objections.
and flustered, wearing a bizarrely sculpted pink dress that makes her
look like the inside of a lava lamp, Ari Up arrives on stage clutching
a bunch of carrier bags, as if she's just interrupted a shopping expedition
to sing us a few songs. Her band of dressed-down, heads-down musos conjure
a loping reggae groove from the ether, and we're away. The stoic professionalism
of the band, who look like they would probably keep plugging away at
the music even if someone detonated a small nuclear device nearby, contrasts
bizarrely with Ari Up's own hyperactivity. Relentlessly upbeat and cheery,
she bounds around the stage, striking up conversations with the audience
about life, The Slits, and everything.
Then she launches into the songs themselves with an effortless verve
that's downright astonishing if you recall all those stories about The
Slits being shameless non-musicians getting by on attitude and noise.
Well, those days have certainly gone. The early Slits songs in the set
- 'Typical Girls', 'Instant Hit', and even 'Love And Romance' (which,
if you've ever heard the first recording on the Peel Session EP, you'll
know started out sounding like a party in a scrap yard) - are disconcertingly
slick in their new incarnations, but somehow that old punk rock panache
is still in there. The groove never gives up, but the attitude remains.
The later Slits stuff, and some selections from Ari Up's sojourn in
the New Age Steppers - the space-age reggae material, as it were - allows
the band to really hit their stride, while Ari herself, although her
demeanour of hyped-up eccentricity never falters, is absolutely spot-on
with the vocals throughout. A couple of bemused punks are hauled on
stage to supply backing vocals; and then sundry members of The (new)
Slits, who are present in the audience, are summoned to get behind the
mics. One of the new musicians (Ari introduces her to us as the keyboard
player, although no keyboards are in evidence) looks downright terrified
by the whole experience, notwithstanding the boundless enthusiasm and
encouragement from her lead singer. We even get a special big-up for
Ari's mum (that's Mrs Lydon to the likes of us) who appears in the audience,
endearingly beaming with pride. The entire performance is a madcap romp,
and yet there's a sense that Ari Up knows exactly what she's doing,
and exactly how far she can push the randomness, before it's time to
rein it all in and get serious to those churning rhythms. The highlight
is 'Heard It Through The Grapevine' - not, of course, a Slits original,
although they certainly made the song their own. 'This won't be as good
as The Slits,' warns Ari, 'but it'll be better than Marvin Gaye!'
For more photos from this gig, find the bands by name here.