A gig on Wednesday 19th December 1979 at High Wycombe Town Hall involving a diverse mixture of bands brought a reaction from a significant number of the audience whose ‘punk’ spirit did not extend to welcoming anything beyond the stereotypical image that ‘punk’ had become by the close of the 1970’s.
The main attraction of the night were The Slits, a female dominant band that had sprung out of the 1976 ‘punk’ scene but who had evolved from their early chaotic gigs to a relatively more slicker hybrid of reggae and garage punk delivered in an unique style by their charismatic band members.
The gig had been put together by local promoter Ron Watts but also with the help of local DJ Adrian Sherwood. The latter’s influence added reggae bands Creation Rebel and Moa Ambassa to the bill, while local ‘punk’ band The Xtraverts also appeared on the bill – perhaps in an attempt to draw in more local punters to the Wednesday night gig?
The early days of The Xtraverts are well documented elsewhere on wycombegigs.co.uk – playing their first gigs in early 1977, splitting up in 1978 and then reforming in 1979 on the back of what some describe as the ‘second wave of punk’. Their followers had disrupted a Lurkers gig at The Town Hall in June 1979 and their sometimes tribal following were in evidence at The Slits gig too.
The Slits had been formed in London in 1976 during the initial outbreak of what would be wider described as ‘punk’ in the following years. Their early line-up consisted of Ari Up, real name Ariane Forster, (vocals), Viv Albertine (guitar), Tessa Pollitt (bass) and Palmolive, real name Paloma Romero, (drums). During their initial years they toured with several of the iconic ‘punk’ bands, including The Clash and Buzzcocks.
In the summer of 1979 they recorded their debut album ‘Cut’, by which time drummer Palmolive had left the band and been replaced with ‘Budgie’, real name Peter Clarke. However, ‘Budgie’s time with the band would be sort-lived after being called in an emergency drummer for Siouxsie and The Banshees in September 1979 due to the sudden departure of Kenny Morris.
The timing of the High Wycombe gigs comes after ‘Budgie’ had helped out the Banshees so it’s my understanding that Bruce Smith (of The Pop Group) drummed for The Slits at The Town Hall. Smith, in his early 20’s at the time of the gig, would join Ari (aged 17), Viv (aged 25) and Tessa (aged 20) to face the crowd at High Wycombe.
I became a fan of The Slits via their John Peel sessions recorded in 1977 and 1978 but for whatever reason I was unable to make it to the gig in December 1979. Looking at the dates, I believe I must have opted for seeing XTC at Aylesbury Friars the following Saturday (22nd December 1979). However, I did get to see The Slits when they visited Aylesbury in April 1980 (with Creation Rebel and The Nightingales support). By most accounts, I opted for the more pleasant evening.
I’m grateful to a gig review, published in early 1980 in local Wycombe fanzine ‘Issue’, for a first-hand reaction to the December 1979 gig in High Wycombe. The review was written by Gary Quelch, a member at the time of local ‘punk’ band Plastic People. I’ve reproduced the entire review below rather than pick out any ‘soundbites’ that may appear out of context.
Promoter Ron Watts doesn’t recall the gig with fond memories either, although for different reasons. In his 100 Watts autobiography, he said:
“The Slits were without doubt the weakest band I ever put on at the Town Hall. They drew a good crowd but the music was so bad. Singer Ari Up said as she walked on stage ‘Do you like reggae? Well you won’t like us then’. I didn’t.”
The gig has also sat in the memories of other people who attended. In an interview with Martin James in April 2018 for an academic piece, Adrian Sherwood (later famous for the creation of On-U Sound records) recalls the evening by commenting:
“I really disliked the Xtraverts crowd at that time. We put on the Slits with Creation Rebel and Moa Ambassa at the Town Hall in 1979. I don’t know, but maybe we were worried about tickets sales, so we decided to book the Xtraverts too. We thought they’d bring in a few more people, but the kind of people they brought were just so different from the punks we’d become used to at the blues parties. These were more like Sham 69 yobs and a bunch of racist skins. They chanted and sieg heiled all through the Slits. I just didn’t recognise that version of punk”
Sadly that was very much the pattern of many gigs in High Wycombe at the time. Gigs would be attended by a few idiots that hated anything that didn’t sound like 2nd rate version of Sex Pistols songs and who would pick on anybody who didn’t dress in the expected ‘uniform’ that punk had become. Ironically, this was just the sort of treatment that the original punks had experienced two years previous. Cynics may suggest they were just the same old ‘Hippies’ and ‘Teds’ with their hair cut and died pink or green.
For the record, I discovered the actual set-list for The Slits gig at High Wycombe via social media and include this below:
- Instant Hit
- Ping Pong Affair
- Improperly Dressed
- Walk About
- Typical Girls
- Man Next Door
- Or What Is It?
- Adventures Close to Home
- Spend, Spend, Spend
- In The Beginning There Was Rhythm
‘Heard it through the Grapevine’ was a cover of the Motown classic made famous by Gladys Knight and The Pips and Marvin Gaye and released by The Slits in September 1979 as the ‘B’ side of their ‘Typical Girls’ single. I was sure it would be their big break – it reached No.60 in the UK charts and faded away.
References and further reading
For your listening and viewing pleasure
Xtraverts – Police State -1979 audio of single being introduced by John Peel
Creation Rebel – Creation Rebel – 1979 audio via YouTube
The Slits –Typical Girls – 1979 full length video
The Slits –Heard it through the Grapevine – 1979 audio