Viv Albertine: ‘Most women I know in bands are lonely’

Viv Albertine.
Viv Albertine.

Famous women in rock bands are ‘lonely and single’ because men struggle to take on a supportive role in relationships, the former guitarist with post-punk group The Slits told a book festival in Sheffield.

Viv Albertine, who was a member of The Slits’ original line-up from 1976 to 1982 and is now a writer with two memoirs to her name, was speaking at the Off The Shelf festival last night.

Albertine's latest book, To Throw Away Unopened, documents a series of disastrous dates she has endured later in life, as well as ructions within her family. Her band was influential but controversial, famously posing topless smeared in mud on the front cover of their debut album, Cut, which contained some of their best-known songs including ‘Typical Girls’ and ‘Love und Romance’.

“There are consequences to being a rebel," she said during a talk and Q&A session hosted by Auriel Majumdar at Sheffield University's drama studio. “There are consequences, whoever you are, if you stick your head above the parapet, if you're a woman especially. Most women I know who are in bands, even young women now I know in bands, are lonely. So still guys haven't been brought up to be the muse, or the appeaser, or the one who supports the girl in the band.”

She continued: “I know loads of female artists, really successful artists - they're all single. I can't name them, they're so famous. They're all lonely. And I think there a lot of women out there who've realised that and didn't take that path for that reason. It is an awkward, lonely, aggressive path to take, especially as a female artist I think.”

Albertine – who claimed to have given up on dating entirely – credited her late mother, Kath, with instilling her with defiance from a young age.

“She made me a punk. When that crack opened in 1975-6, and it didn't matter if you could sing, play, what you looked like, your gender, whether you were able-bodied – you could pick up a guitar, and consider yourself even in with a chance of standing on a stage and being in front of an audience. I could take that opportunity because of what my mother had made me. For all the difficulties she filled me with – a lot of hate, a lot of anger – it also means I've wrung every drop out of my life.”

Albertine, now 63 and with a teenage daughter, said she intends to pen a third book, but has no plans to record music again. She released a solo album, The Vermilion Border, in 2012.

“I'm not into music,” she said. “It was so stressful, what we did – so exhausting, violent, such a fight. All the Slits have been quite traumatised by that time, because of so much prejudice against us in so many ways. It's almost taken something I loved and ruined it. It's a bit like divorce, in a way. I can hardly bear to listen to music.”

She added: “I love the long form of writing. There is something bubbling in my head that I want to put down. I know it's not going to end up being about that, but it's a way in.”

Albertine described the process of writing as ‘utter agony and self-doubt’ for ‘at least two years and 10 months’. “All through that last book I was thinking, how can I earn the money to pay back the advance. It was only eight grand, but I'd spent it. There was no way I thought I could finish that book. Only because I'd spent that eight grand did I get to the end of that book.”

Off The Shelf continues until October 30. Visit www.offtheshelf.org.uk for details.