Miranda Sawyer meets some of the key female figures of the punk era to look at how they radically changed the cultural landscape and inspired a generation of young women.
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This programme contains strong language.
At the height of the punk explosion
of women redefined what it was to be a female artist and performer.
They forced their way on to a largely male-dominated music
scene and became part of a movement that radically changed the artistic
They came from the squats and suburbs of London
and inspired a generation of ordinary young women to believe
Along with Siouxsie Sioux, Chrissie Hynde, Poly Styrene, and
the Raincoats, the Slits were among punk?s most important figures and
Viv Albertine, their guitarist, has just brought out her brilliantly
titled memoir ?Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys,
It charts her life as part of this cultural revolution.
These were female musicians doing it on their own terms.
And in doing it their way, they set the
The great thing about punk was the fact that I was a girl was no
It was a 6 month window where you could sneak in and see
You never heard girls until then absolutely bursting with
We were trying to cause a bit of mayhem.
It was a call for arms for the girls - Amazonian punk women.
These women were breaking taboos, shaking up the establishment.
But did their revolution last longer than a three minute pop song?
Almost 40 years on now, the mainstream has absorbed the shock
of these outsiders, can the punk female rebellion still survive?
They say little girls should be seen and not heard.
But I say ?Oh Bondage! Up Yours!?
Honey and Jackie magazines are packed with girls with perfect
Charlie?s Angels flicks wearing flares, pinning posters of
Legs and Co sashay mumsily to the latest disco hit on Top of the Pops.
And lovely David Soul tops the charts.
The backpages of the NME sells ?I choked Linda Lovelace? T-Shirts
in reference to the famous porn star from ?Deep Throat?.
Despite the birth of feminism, for many young women,
Seventies Britain isn?t exactly the land of opportunity.
But some young women are looking for something more underground.
Something that they can make their own.
And it?s in small venues like this one all over the country
that they get to take centre stage for the very first time.
So it was here at the Harlesden Coliseum in London that the Slits,
the first all-girl punk band, played their debut gig on March 11 1977.
Their chaotic performance and in your face irreverence made
a huge impact on many of those who were in the audience that night.
What they sang and how they behaved, just spoke to me.
Palmolive is beating the crap out of the drums.
Tessa all in black. She looks amazing.
Ari, more than any of the female performers and maybe even the men
It was complete revelation to see them as they were so energetic.
It is pretty amazing, No woman had ever done this before.
The Slits were at the heart of a fledgling London punk scene
which emerged from the clubs and squats of West London.
These squats were crash pads and rehearsal rooms where
manifestos were thrashed out and punk bands were formed.
Punk was a howl of frustration, a visceral reaction to the tedious
British establishment and 1970s pop music's overblown pretensions.
And anyone could be involved. Initially attention fixed
on male bands but women soon elbowed their way to the forefront.
Not just as vocalists but as guitarists, bass-players,
Viv Albertine, who was also part of this closely knit punk fraternity,
Let's talk about the atmosphere around punk.
I didn?t know there was this way of being yourself on stage,
not caring about your accent, how poor you were where you came from
until I saw Johnny Rotten play. That was it.
He was as near a girl like me as a boy could be.
I got left ?200, the only money I had ever been left
in my life, by my grandmother and I thought, I'm going to buy a guitar.
Mick Jones was my boyfriend at the time, he said ?great?.
I literally couldn't play. I couldn?t hold down one bar chord.
And then about a week later I met Sid Vicious in the street and I
hadn?t met him before and said ?I?m going to make a band?.
He said, ?I?ll be in a band with you?.
You were practicing for quite a while with Sid?
We did spend the whole summer of ?76, the hottest on record,
in Joe Strummer?s basement trying to get a band together.
We got used to how it felt to rehearse and turn up every day
and then Sid decided I couldn?t play the guitar well enough to be
in a band anymore. Even though it was my band.
So you joined the Slits. Did you get a confidence
When you joined the Slits, it was an all-girl group?
I didn't like it being an all girl group.
Everyone at the time was against being labelled.
Cos we had been labelled all our lives.
We were just these useless, poor comprehensive school-educated kids.
I said to Chrissie Hynde, who was a friend of mine,
"Oh Chrissie, I don?t want to be in an all girl band, it?s tokenistic".
And Chrissie said to me, ?Oh shut up Viv, get on with it,
It was fun, we were all on the same sort of level.
I can?t believe how we found each other because even to this day I
have never met any other women like the other three Slits.
Ari and I especially could write together, which me and Sid couldn?t.
He was really crippling to work with.
He wanted to write songs about S M and concentration camps.
With the girls, I could write a song like Typical Girls and they all
understood exactly what I was on about and the pressures of what?s
She had an extraordinary mind very different.
She pissed on stage, not to be shocking, but because she
And she completely liberated me about my body.
I learnt a hell of a lot and we translated that back
As we very specifically made sure that our voices and backing vocals
Again, just like when you shout across a playground,
You do know there is massive controversy over the internet
Female punks were trailblazers, creating not just
their own space but their own kind of music, their own kind of being.
They took Malcolm McClaren's manifesto :"Be
Be everything that society hates " and created their own style
sometimes even their own cartoonish personas.
There was 19 year-old Siouxsie Sioux, the girl
from the London suburbs whose witch-like look inspired women.
And made men feel all sexy and submissive at the same time.
Siouxsie was a dominatrix with the three pretty boys
She had that whole Clockwork Orange thing going.
There was Poly Styrene with her band X-Ray Spex, sporting braces on her
teeth and challenging the idea that female performers should be passive
Poly Styrene had a major part to play, she was
particularly empowering to women that weren?t about looking girly.
Poly was a sort of anti-sex symbol - she had braces, she wore a bin bag.
It was so liberating for everyone around.
Hey, you can just look how you want to and the songs were
She sang like no woman had done before.
It was a kind of scream, really a scream of desperation.
It was all about not being a slave to your desires.
Most people associate bondage with sexual bondage.
They think it is perverted and think of whips and things like that.
And it is against that, saying ?Oh, bondage, up yours?.
And Gina Birch and Ana da Silva who were so inspired by the Slits? first
gig that they started their own band The Raincoats in November 1977.
Within a few weeks they were playing their first gig.
The Raincoats preferred ideas to proficiency and counted John Lydon
It was all about you putting your own ideas forth
wasn?t copying this guitar player doing this solo and lots
It was about you bringing what you had to the fore.
As well as American Chrissie Hynde, who had dropped out of art school
in Ohio and landed in London at the beginning of the punk scene.
When people talk about this subject, people forget Chrissie Hynde -
you have a woman doing what a woman has never done before, which is
When you play with Chrissie, you have to rock .
Just as tough as anything men could do.
Chrissie?s abilities didn?t go unnoticed by punk impresario
She found herself part of a small pool of musicians who went on to
He was always trying to nurture me and help me out,
which was fantastic because I was always looking up to Malcolm.
I was going to play guitar ? just as a boy in the background.
Vivienne came down and she was so impressed she went,
?Oh Chrissie, you can really squeeze a chord out of that?.
They never called me back and the next week there was a new
These female performers were standing centre stage and that
was very thrilling for young women up and down the country.
Also in from America, now renowned photographer
Sheila Rock was inspired by punk to pick up her camera and document
She was invited to intimate rehearsals and met the artists
Like the punks, she was learning her trade as she went along.
I just went round photographing what I thought was interesting.
I met Siouxsie, Billy Idol and Steve Severin ? the Bromley Contingent.
We?ve got a pic of Siouxsie Sioux performing in 1976, definitely
Well she had that dominatrix look about her.
It is interesting what she is wearing,
Did this kind of clothing get a lot of reaction from people?
I think the audience were as expressive in their clothing,
but because she was very handsome she was just very imposing.
But she brought something else to the scene, I think.
Not a ?50s sexy - it explores very underground roots
and dark deep things young people were wanting to explore.
But Siouxsie brought it out in the open, I think.
This band was called The Moors Murders and that is Chrissie Hynde.
This was Chrissie before she sang, she was writing for the NME.
She was the one that invited me to go down.
It was near London Bridge and it was just in one of the arches.
And I had no idea that she had such an amazing voice.
It is interesting that band as well as it is a mixture
I asked Jordan if we could photograph her.
I thought it would be really good to get this amazing Sex sign.
And I just walked across the street and as I turned around.
There was this guy wearing bell bottom flares who looks
And I thought this was one of those magic moments.
His body language is amazing in this.
She is relaxed and confrontational and he is simultaneously pervy
He is really angry, it is a very interesting reaction to
Female punks played around with notions of desire subverting male
sexual fantasies through what they wore. They refused to be submissive.
They hijacked the perverted. There was something glorious of all these
shapes and sizes of bodies strutting the 70s streets wrapped in rubber.
Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood?s shop ?Sex? on the Kings
Road experimented with the lexicon of pornography. They stocked fetish
wear, slogan T-shirts and the infamous bondage trousers.
I had a few of their things. When I went back to Cleveland, Ohio, I had
a little rubber skirt and a Scum Manifesto T-Shirt. I felt like the
dogs bollocks. I did look cool. Especially in a basement in a Ohio.
I didn?t find it intimidating going into Sex. I wanted a specific kind
of dog collar, she went, "I?ll make you one." and getting some vinyl
trousers from Sex, which was a big deal for me, but they were great and
turned out to be very practical coz you just wiped the spit off.
Jordan the shop assistant was a living advertisement the power of
Sex. She wore rubber clothes, a beehive style and theatrical makeup.
first class for her own protection. British Rail even put Jordan in a
British Rail knew the trouble that I was going through. At Seaford which
is the big terminal where I live they said one day to me they would
let me travel first class with my second class ticket every day from
Lewis to Seaford because they knew the trouble I was having. So they
I used to love PVC and what they used to call in my era 'wet look'. I
used to wear a little mac and gloves that matched. It was wonderful.
And what was it about Sex that attracted you?
I think I was doing a similar thing on my own to what Malcolm and
Vivienne were actually aiming for. We were on a parallel course in a
way, and I felt very very at home there.
I saw myself as a walking work of art. Later on, when I went through
the geometric make-up, that was all to do with Mondrian and People of
A few people that we?ve spoken to have said when they went in to Sex,
they were quite intimated. Why do you think that was?
For Vivienne used to grill people. "Why do you want to buy this?"
What happened if someone gave the wrong answer?
Sometimes, yes. People were passionate about what they made,
what they wore it. Didn?t want twits going out there wearing it for the
Would you say that punk was one of the first pop cultures where women
could appear threatening in that way?
I would say probably yes. It was a time of sexual equality, but also,
women were quite liberated as well. And men and women could look and if
you like outdo each other when they went out. Like sharing each other?s
make-up. It was a great, great thing really.
There is always a kind of ideal woman?s shape that we are given. And
women and other punk women, like yourself, didn?t care. There is
something very refreshing about seeing women in all sorts of shapes,
wrapped in rubber, in ripped T-Shirts walking down the street.
There?s something really beautiful in that.
It didn?t matter what size you were. How tall you were. It was really how
Punk also had its own sexual codes. Despite the rubber clothes and the
provocative way of dressing, it was mostly asexual.
Sex wasn?t really a feature in the punk thing. I never really
got?Some people were getting their end away. You weren?t dressing to
attract the opposite sex. You were dressing to tell everyone to go and
lock themselves basically. It was a real up yours mentality.
As a guy, if you had any intentions, other than intellectual or musical
ones, these girls they would sooner cut short because the women just had
this attitude that kind of knocked that out of the arena. You didn?t
mess with these women. They weren?t girly girls. They would stand eye
to eye with you and give as good as they got.
Nevertheless for many punk women, the streets became a battleground.
Nevertheless for many punk women, Punk invited confrontation and punk
women, in their rubber stockings and DMs, often confused middle-aged men,
who didn?t know if they were coming or going.
Oh, man, did The Slits get hassle. They were physically attacked on the
streets literally. You gotta understand that they deeply freaked
people out on the psychological level. I mean, on the White Riot
Tour we had to bribe the coach driver Norman to allow them on the
bus, not because they did anything to him, but he just couldn?t
compute, you know, women weren?t supposed to be like this.
There were guys just cruising the street, old fashioned, macho guys
who were the norm then, just thinking that how you looked you
were a prostitute. I got spat at and attacked many times and Ari got
stabbed. It was just part of everyday life.
The Slits? appearance sparked controversy whatever they were
wearing or not wearing. But unlike many other female artists at the
time, they remained firmly in control of their image. As they
showed when they appeared topless on the cover of their debut album
'Cut'. And here they are looking fantastic. Bare breasted defiantly
outstaring the camera gaze. This was an amazingly audacious thing to do,
few female artists if any had posed topless on their album covers. It
caused a big controversy. Rough Trade had a massive argument amongst
the staff whether they should stock this album at all. And supposedly
one man tried to sue Island Records for crashing his
Rolls Royce, when he saw the three Slits bare breasted on a big
That just evolved that day. We had a female photographer, Penny Smith,
we just got a bit over relaxed towards the end of the day and we
just started slopped mud onto us and all that sort of thing. But we were
very sure that we had to choose a photo where the look was right,
where we looked confrontational and there was no come hither look or
earthy, its definitely making a statement because they?re naked, but
it is, sort of, not sexy, it?s not objectified.
For every image that went out of us, every word that went out about us,
we fought and fought and fought. It had to be right because we were
redefining how women, girls, were being seen in the media.
The Slits cover of 'Cut' marked the height of punk?s exuberance. By the
early 1980s, many of the first generation of punk women left the
industry as post-punk shifted to new-wave pop.
Artists like Ana da Silva, Gina Birch and Viv Albertine made a
I think anyone who has been confronted and in aggressive
situations for six to seven years non-stop, having to fight and argue
all the time your point of view, whether it is with Rastas or A and R
man, old boyfriends, new boyfriends, friends who thought that you had
changed too much. People in that street, people spitting at you.
Seven years of that, I was exhausted.
Punk, like all youth movements, was of its generation. Its story has
become cultural folklore, so familiar that we forget the shock of
its primary revolutionary drive. We can?t believe it was such a
threat. It?s been a long time since British rock music has had the whiff
Punk attitudes are mainstream now. Even Middle England distrusts the
police and politicians. We?re all anti-establishment these days.
So did punk women win? After all, it?s no longer shocking to see a
woman on stage. But as the mainstream has absorbed these
outsiders, the revolution has become commodified. Fetish gear is on sale
in the high street, bovver boots are a commercial concern, a sneer in
fishnets is a way to make money. When everyone?s selling punk
attitude, can it mean anything at all?
Now people want the goods. Now people want to be on the cover of a
fashion magazine. My policy is if Lemmy wouldn?t do it, don?t ask me
If you are a young woman now, dressed in fetish gear, you just
think that is sexy, or I am trying to please my man, trying to get
attention in the music industry. When we were dressing in fetish
gear, it was a political statement. It had never been seen before
outside of sleazy bedrooms or magazines.
Still, the impact of that brief revolutionary period continues to
reverberate. You can see punk in the pioneering artists who came later,
rewriting the musical rules and doing what they want.
You can see it in the Riot Grrls, who explicitly brought punk and
feminism together. And its hiding in Lily Allen?s cheeky lyrics and
bursting out of Pussy Riot protests against Putin. Punk even lives on in
emerging bands such as Skinny Girl Diet, the excellently named young
If you want to say something that?s provocative, if you want to look
different, if you want to say something different about sex and
gender, then punk is a pretty good place to start.
And punk really isn?t dead. It keeps on evolving. Just as the original
wild girls of punk themselves, who continue to break new ground.
Although kids and life may have taken them away for a time in the
last couple of years, tired of being cut off from music, many of the
original women have started to write, play and record again.
Gina Birch and Ana da Silva are working on their own material and
making a documentary about the band. As well as releasing a solo album
and writing her memoir. Viv Albertine has made her acting debut
in the film 'Exhibition'. And Chrissie Hynde is currently touring
the UK with her first solo album, 'Stockholm'.
Anyone can start when they?re young and they?re beautiful and they have
their youthful exuberance and they don?t have anything else to do, they
don?t have to get through the real part of life, which is having a
family, paying the bills, getting on with it.
To me, life is like challenge, challenge, challenge. Stretch,
stretch, stretch. I did have a period where I couldn?t do it. I
didn?t have the energy. I was ill. I had my daughter, it all went from
me. But it is back now, and that is what I am after.
I find that when we?re on stage, that we are kind of ageless or
something like that. We have our songs and we go and perform them.
If I can see Yoko Ono perform when she?s 82, 83, 84 and think 20 more
years! 30 more years, you know, it?s perhaps the time of the older woman.
These are grown women, performing and creating as they please. Not
just playing the old hits, but writing new songs, about how they
see the world, as older women, ex-wives, mothers, artists, humans.
And just by doing that, they are breaking some of society?s age and
gender phobias. That?s pretty punk to me.
# Home sweet home # Home sweet home
# I've peeled the potatoes # There's not much left to do
# Lovely lemon drizzle cake # Heat the fondue
# Tastive quiche with a nice, crispy top
# 100 grams of biscuits in a fancy box.
# Never try to rule another person's life
# You will only lose your lovely fragrant wife
# And don't let a guy go changing who he is
# You are not a God and it is not your biz
# Home sweet home, home sweet home # There's such a thing as lust
# There's such a thing as friends # But romantic love was made up way
back when # In another century things were not
so great # Same thing with marriage, it's an
unnatural state # I chose being an artist over being
a wife # Now I'm going to lead a lovely
life, life, life # Wife, wife, wife
# Life, life, life # Wife, wife, wife
# I hate my beautiful, clean, white, pristine, minimal
# Home sweet home # Home sweet home
# Home sweet home # Mummy, mummy
# Baking, rubbing, chopping, baking, running, shop, chop, clean, bake...
# When Barbara and I
started the Review, we were seeking to examine
the workings and the truthfulness
of establishments. Albatross?
There it is. The albatross. The albatross is going to need
a hair-styling. A thrilling tale of double agents
and a man on the run.
At the height of the punk explosion almost 40 years ago, a handful of women completely redefined what a woman in music could do. Through sheer talent and fearlessness they pushed themselves on to a male dominated music scene and became part of a movement that radically changed the cultural landscape.
Along with Siouxsie Sioux, Poly Styrene and Chrissie Hynde, the Slits were among punk's most important figures and Viv Albertine, their guitarist, has just brought out her memoir 'Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys' which chronicles her life as part of this revolutionary vanguard.
Miranda Sawyer meets up with Viv Albertine and some of the other key female figures of the era including Chrissie Hynde, The Raincoats, and punk anti-heroine Jordan to look at how they inspired a generation of young women with the notion that anyone could do anything if they wanted to. Plus she explores whether the punk spirit still survives today.