John Robb recalls his interview with the wild teenager fronting The Slits who, he says, was not only right at the heart of the 1976 London punk scene but rewriting the rule book back then
With a flurry of proto dreads and high decibel rat’s nest wild hair, inside out clothes, wild eyes and even wilder spirit; and armed with that hypnotic, yelping voice that poured out in a myriad of accents, the late Ari Up was like nothing else.
In 1977, she was a wild teenage presence, even younger than the youthful audience who would sometimes be hurling abuse and yet she always stood her ground - the youthful punk rock version of the lioness warrior that she would become decades later.
Punk was full of charismatic forces of nature of all shapes and sizes. The 14-year-old Ari Up who pitched up fronting The Slits and their feminine rhythms was rewriting the rule book. She had a teenage fearlessness combined with a wild wisdom that was way beyond her years. With the rest off the band she took a groundbreaking trip into the punky reggae party, criss- crossing the two key rebel musics of the time into a groundbreaking whole.
In the next three years the band went on an unfettered wild trip that people are still unravelling to this day with them being even more influential now than they were at the time as their music has criss-crossed generations and become part of the inspiration DNA for bands to this day.
Ari was right at the heart of the 1976 London punk scene. Her mother was Nora who would later became John Lydon’s partner and she was friends with the Sex Pistols and also the Clash who she toured with in 1977 as part of the White Riot tour check.
The Slits may have been the right place at the right time but they transcended all of this with their genius knack of being right on the musical button with an inventive feral energy and a wild abandon that perfectly caught the spirit of the moment.
In this interview you can hear the Ari Up talk in that collection of accents that underline her eclectic spirit from her German roots c/o her mother, her patois from years of living in Jamaica and her punk rock cockney and it’s always full of a unique force and power and the certainty of the Lioness.
She talks about her musical adventures, her influences, her wild creative spirit and her memories of that hectic, revolutionary wild period that is so ingrained in our popular culture. Ari Up’s whole life was full of instinct and wild creativity.
She was on a trip and nothing would stop her - the late period reformed Slits were still a thrill to watch with Ari being a blur of long dreads and untamed charisma still commanding the stage - empowering and inspiring woman - even if meant dragging them onto the stage to join her untarnished and wild freedom still dancing eternally in the eternal punky reggae party.
Ari Up, who died from breast cancer at the age of 48 in 2010, was a total one off and this interview is a fascinating snapshot of an inspiring woman.
John Robb films In Conversations for Lush’s Gorilla channel, fronts his acclaimed post punk band The Membranes and is also a music writer who wrote many groundbreaking features the late Sounds music paper
'The John Robb Tapes' is a podcast series which unearths the incredible archive of old interviews that music journalist John Robb has amassed over the years. Listen on the Lush Player here.