Music Preview: The Slits are back with a Pistols daughter
March 20, 2008 4:00 AM
When The Slits reunited, its members were, clockwise from left, Adele Wilson, Anna Schulte, NO, Hollie Cook, Ari-Up and Tessa Pollitt. When the punk band hits The Warhol Friday night, it will be without Wilson, who is no longer with the group, and NO, who is not on tour at this time.
By Scott Mervis Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Formed in London 1976. Check.
Related to the Sex Pistols. Check.
Toured with the Clash. Check.
If they gave out licenses for punk-rock cred, the Slits would be among the first in line to get theirs.
The girl group formed in 1976 fronted by Ari-Up, daughter of Nora Forster and stepdaughter of Johnny Rotten. Arianna Forster (her real name) got her first guitar lesson from Joe Strummer, formed the band when she was only 14 and then took off on the famed White Riot Tour in 1977 with the Clash, the Buzzcocks, Subway Sect and the Jam.
Where: Andy Warhol Museum, North Side.
When: 8 p.m. Friday.
More information: 412-237-8300.
Now, the reunion version of the Slits is on the road bolstered with new member Hollie Cook, who arrives with her own pedigree -- she's the daughter of former Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook.
For Ari-Up, rebelling against the family as a kid would have meant being a Girl Scout or student council president.
"I didn't get into [punk], I was born into it," she says. "We were born into a revolution and we just took part in it. We created it. It was just part of life. My mom was already hanging out with everybody and everybody came to my mom's house. All the groups. They're all brothers and family."
But being so close to the Pistols and Clash didn't mean you had to sound like them, she says.
"If you listen to the John Peel session [from 1977] you can hear how unique we were. We had our own tribal Celtic punky sound with heavy bass. ... Punk means you express yourself any way you can and want and don't give a [expletive], really, what anyone tells you how you're supposed to sound. It's part of being experimental. Punk came because of attitude even more than music."
Obviously, the Slits had a smooth entry into the British punk scene. "It was a tight-knit circle of people -- they were all into the Slits before we even hit the stage," she says.
Getting the rest of the world on board was a little tougher. The new book "Pretty Vacant: A History of UK Punk" calls that White Riot Tour (which was not racist, despite what it sounds like) the first UK punk tour to actually be completed. Author Phil Strongman describes a scene of "football yobs" jeering and throwing rotten fruit at the bands and "wolf-whistling" at the scantily clad Slits.
"We were attacked physically on the street," Ari-Up says. "I was stabbed for just being in a group, walking on the street looking the way we did. And, immediately, we were banned just for having that name."
The Slits debuted with the dub-heavy album "Cut" in 1979, topless, muddy and wearing loincloths on the cover, and followed that with the more avant-garde "Return of the Giant Slits" in 1981 before splitting. Ari-Up turned her attention to the New Age Steppers, before exiting the music scene.
Then in 2005, during a solo show, Ari-Up ran into Slits bassist Tessa Pollitt and they decided to reform the Slits. They cut a new EP, "Revenge of the Killer Slits," with Paul Cook helping on drums and guitarist Marco Pirroni (Adam & the Ants, Siouxsie and the Banshees).
"We mix it up with the old school and the new," Ari-Up says of the new band. "We like to be updated. We're not retro or vintage. We sound new but true to the roots of the Slits."
For the touring version of the band, they enlisted Hollie on keyboards. On the phone from the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin, Hollie says in a thick accent, "I left school to join this band, which is something most people wouldn't advise to a young 19-year-old girl, but some things are supposed to be done and I think being in the Slits is definitely one of them."
What does her father think?
"He thinks it's great. He's finding it hard to get his head around it because obviously it was something completely unforeseen because he's known Ari-Up since he was younger than I am now and now I'm in a band with her. Being in the Slits is the last thing he ever expected to happen. Me, too, actually."
As for what it's like to be raised in England by one of the Sex Pistols, Hollie says, "Really cool and really normal. He's like the most normal, down-to-earth man in the world and he kept my feet firmly on the ground."