'Here to Be Heard', the documentary film about the Slits, directed by William Badgley was released late last year. It’s touring cinemas in the UK with a Q&A session after the film and will be heading off to the States to do something similar. It should be out on DVD soon too.

I had the option of reviewing it by watching online, but decided I’d prefer to see it with an audience and the chance to see band members and the director talk about it.

Good choice.

Sheffield's Showroom cinema crowd on a Friday night is a lively and eclectic one and this was no exception. It wasn’t difficult to spot potential Slits fans, young and older, but it wasn’t so easy to spot the Slits. I identified Tessa Pollitt, but missed Palmolive. More of that later.

The show had sold out. There were no seat allocations, so it could have been anarchy, but it wasn’t. There was a real buzz of anticipation and tribal reunion as we waited for the lights to go down. But first we had a treat. Palmolive’s granddaughter, Tiana Esperanza, performed her song ‘Lewis’ for us. It was a new style, a new generation.

The film’s title comes from a quote from Ari Up. "I’m not here to be loved. I’m here to be heard."

Her inspiration, and her blessing for the project, is part of the story of this documentary. Before her death in 2010. she’d encouraged a film to be made of their tour in the States.

William Badgley has done a fantastic job of bringing together old film footage and up to date interviews to follow the story of the band. There’s wonderful Don Letts’ footage, too. As a friend and follower of the punk scene before the Slits were the Slits, he had a Super 8 camera and he used it. The early film and photos of the people who went on to form the band, and also became part of that late seventies punk music scene are a real treat.

There’s another hook for the film, Tessa Pollitt’s scrapbook of photos and newspaper cuttings. The film shot many years later in the States by tour manager Jennifer Shagawat is also priceless.

These resources are woven together with some fantastic interviews and conversations with those who were there, including Don Letts, Dennis Bovell, Vivien Goldman, Adrian Sherwood, Kate Korus and Neneh Cherry.

Conversations with Palmolive and Tessa pull it all together, and Viv Albertine also contributes.

There’s an honesty and an authenticity about the film, in the way it has been edited and presented, which also came over in the Q & A session afterwards.

It’s revealing and entertaining. It throws up some great connections and memories. It also gives all of us a chance to get some perspective on those times.

Honesty and authenticity was very much what the Slits were about. Rebellious and determined to do things their own way, they forged their own path through the music scene of the late seventies, taking on the punk scene on their own terms as women.

The Slits were also hard to catch. They didn’t record an album until 'Cut' in 1979, so it was all down to a home recording of the Peel Sessions if you wanted to listen to them. They appeared on the White Riot tour, but that’s better known with hindsight. Interestingly only one person in that packed cinema had seen them in Sheffield at that time. This came up at question time.

It was their notoriety in the press that got them noticed. Once the 'News of the World' had caught on to them, there was no turning back. They were feeding some sort of fantasy there, even in the music press. Described as "punkesses", 'The News of the World' said they made the Sex Pistols look like choirboys. I think we all now recognise how the media and press manipulated and manufactured the Pistols and Punk back then.

Back to the film. It takes us beyond those wild and rebellious days and on to reunions and later collaborations. It fills in the gaps and it’s a fascinating story that isn’t over yet.

Ari Up is very present in the film and it’s all the more poignant for this.

She was also "present" in the conversations that followed with Tessa and Palmolive. There was banter, there were compliments on Tessa’s bass playing, there were questions about influences and attitudes towards life now.

Both Tessa and Palmolive are planning to write about their time in the Slits. Viv Albertine is enjoying great success with her second book based on her life experiences. It’s a different and valid way of being creative. Both Tessa and Palmolive acknowledged their age and the stage of life at which they are now. There’s a sense of wisdom and experience that they both carry.

I mentioned that I didn’t recognise Palmolive. She’s been living in Cape Cod, teaching Spanish to juniors. She’s involved with her church. But she still has a drum kit in the basement and she’s about to retire as a teacher.

She talked about the time being ripe for a new movement.

Her message for the young now was to confront your culture and channel your anger through words and lyrics. Tessa talked about keeping your integrity, avoiding the commercial and the contrived, staying brave and honest.

Members of the Slits, original and in the later versions of the band, seemed to have lived true to that spirit, whatever changes life has thrown at them.

I’ve not stopped thinking about this film and the conversations that followed since I left the cinema.

It strikes me that their greatest influence is still to come. There are those of us who have travelled with them and can look back to the music and attitude, but there are going to be those in the future who will be inspired by sharing their story in other ways.

There was a final joke about being inspired to go shoplifting too!













Related Links:

http://www.slitsdoc.com/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Slits
https://en-gb.facebook.com/slitsdoc/


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