Iconoclastic songwriter and musician Viv Albertine was the guitarist in cult post-punk band The Slits, before moving into a career in TV and film directing.
In recent years, she returned to music, releasing her first solo album The Vermilion Border in 2012, and penning a pair of acclaimed memoirs, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys, and To Throw Away Unopened.
She is speaking on 9th and 10th of March at the National Concert Hall, Dublin, as part of the NCH's Words + Ideas series .
I enjoyed Colette recently. I was obsessed with her when I was a teenager. She was a country girl with no formal education who became France’s most famous writer. Her trajectory gave me hope. Not that I had any formed ambitions at the time, I didn’t even dare to dream, but something in my subconscious must have been yearning to break out of the prescribed life that lay ahead for me. Living through men was one of the only ways a working class girl or woman got to do anything interesting or out of the norm, right through to the 1970s. That’s how Colette started to change her course, through a man, but eventually she broke free of heterosexual relationships and forged her own path. I read a lot of biographies of women throughout my youth, desperately looking for role models.
I’ve lost my ability to enjoy listening to music the way I used to. Music used to be my religion, it was my saviour. Having been through the extremely patriarchal ’music industry’ and all that that entails, I’ve been burned, and I’m burnt out. I question everything I hear; Who is the person making the music? Do they have anything to say? Are they contributing something new or rehashing old cliches? I certainly do not want to listen to a group of young men playing and saying the same old thing. It’s not radical. I listen to the sounds around me. I enjoy the rhythms and tunes of the city, I’m always tapping out beats to the sounds around me.
The Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer is the last book I read. Written in the 1960s on the cusp of huge change for women in the UK, it is full of pain and confusion. The heroine (semi autobiographical) caught between free-love and motherhood. Between having no independence and yet catching glimpses of the possibility of a fulfilling life. It’s very honest, which was not how people wrote back then, unlike today. Also it was a revolutionary concept, giving the subject of the domestic sphere intellectual weight. The book is still relevant today. I’m also looking forward to reading Sinead Gleeson’s new book, Constellations, she’s such an interesting woman and writer. She writes about the female body and illness, both fascinating subjects to me.
I find plays difficult. The way actors have to project their voices can give plays a sort of pompous air. I’m not the person to ask about plays.
5. Television Programme
I like TV. I watch loads of ITV3 detective programmes. I know it sounds pathetic and all the ads in between the shows are for Stannah stair lifts and funeral plans, but I like the slowness of the pace and the format. The programmes are often two hours long. That’s interesting to me in such a fast-paced, click hungry world. I’m into the slow movement a bit. Also, I’ve heard Patti Smith and Maggi Hambling watch ITV3 too. It’s a thing.
6. Gig (upcoming, also last one you attended)
The last gig I attended was a couple of weeks ago, a young female band called Big Joanie. Occasionally I get a feeling about a band and make the effort to go and see them (only if there’s a woman in the band though). I wasn’t disappointed, they were great. I even bought their album at the gig. Big Joanie are three black women, DIY punk, minimal, edgy - got something to say. On Thurston Moore’s The Daydream Library Record label.
7. Art (either an artist or an exhibition)
Saw Don McCullin’s retrospective at Tate Britain last weekend. It was like walking back through my life. We weren’t bombarded with images back in my day, so when you saw a photograph, especially one as powerful as McCullin’s, you never forgot it. I remembered every Sunday Times cover in the show, even though I never got the Sunday Times. Every war he covered charted points in my adolescence. Wars around the world were just as present in our lives then as now, even without the internet. The room on 1970s East London brought back what very different times people over 50 years old led in London, compared to young people today. Young and old here tend to dress the same and listen to the same music, but we were a post World War generation, our parents traumatised, our grandparents still heavily influenced by Victorian values.
I can’t listen to music stations for the reasons I said above. I listen to BBC World Service, they have more women presenters and more different accents than Radio4. It’s a more global view. I like Business Matters, on about 1.00 am. It gives a perspective on what is driving political decisions around the world. They aways have two live guests from different parts of the world, often female economists. It’s not dry, it’s really good.
9. Tech (an App, a website etc)
I’m not very into technical stuff. Cutting down in fact. Just stopped twitter. I’m easily overwhelmed.
10. The Next Big Thing (can be a person or a thing, anything you fancy)
Can’t think of anything worse than the next big thing. In the arts it takes decades to understand who has made work that is relevant. Often after the artist is dead. Anyone aiming to be the next big thing will be irrelevant. But possibly rich.