“The big question in the new book is what on earth made me that girl who picked up a guitar in 1976”
I was working class and had no culture at home, so I have to trace it back to the way my mother brought me up. She was so determined, as I think a lot of women of that generation were, that her daughter wouldn’t live the constrained life that she did – so that generation of mothers after the war bore a generation of feminist, militant girls. She encouraged me to take risks all the time, which girls just didn’t do then, so she was always standing up for me and pushing me, and I failed and I failed and I failed and it’s not like I was a clever kid or a very artistic kid, but she never gave me the sense that I couldn’t reach for anything.
She gave me this drive for things – that’s her drive. It’s her generation’s frustration. I’m trying to do the things that she was never able to do. There’s a Gloria Steinem quote, which is, “I’m living my mother’s unlived life,” and I think yeah, that’s me. Left to my own devices, I would be much more boring and lazy, but she pushed me to live the life that she couldn’t, she stripped the fear out of me. And she rewarded me with love every time I took a risk, until in the end it felt normal, which was very unusual for girls at that time. She passed away in 2014, so I’m still processing it to a degree.
“When my daughter was 14, I thought back to Ari [Up] being 14, when she was in the band, and it was just so young”
Looking back, I think almost everyone who was attracted to what is called ‘punk’ now had personality disorders, but we had no words for it then – no one bandied the word ‘autism’ around; there was no ADHD or Aspergers – so we just thought Ari was incredibly annoying, and the others in the band just thought I was anal. But we were all just on the spectrum in one way or another.
Modern psychoanalysis and giving conditions names dilutes the intensity of that. It makes you less individual, in a way. In a way that’s a relief – for me it’s a relief to learn that I’m on the autistic spectrum, as it makes sense of my social difficulties in life – but at the same time it stops you being that strange peculiar person that you were. I mean, maybe if Ari knew that she was this or that, and was diagnosed and sent around to different doctors, things would’ve been different. But she wasn’t sent anywhere except the 100 Club, and expelled from school, as I was, which forced us into an alternative path. If we’d had a path that was medical, then that might’ve calmed us down.
“London felt utterly lawless in the ’70s”
It was like the Wild West. It felt particularly terrifying for us girls to be dressed the way we were: police couldn’t care less about us – their take was that we had it coming and we looked like aliens – and the skinheads’ take was that if you’re not going to dress like ‘a woman’, we’re not going to treat you like a woman.
The men in suits thought that if you want to look like that we can treat you like shit, and it was as if all the misogyny that was inside them could come out because we weren’t playing the game of looking like ‘a woman’ so now they could put all their hate onto us. The whole music business was run by men, whether it was DJs, A&R men, PR people, and the streets, the businesses, the schools, dentists, doctors, everything was run by men, and so we were hated. Hated.
I never feel nostalgic for that time, because my daughter can walk down the street and be safer than I ever was. My mother used to have to come and meet me off the bus with a knife in her pocket, it was terrifying.
“I’m not a legend, but I do feel like a survivor”
I mean, I’m exhausted, I’m absolutely shattered. It’s all very well saying live the dream, grab this and take risks, but there are consequences to living alternatively, or going against the grain. There is loneliness, there is illness, there are times when you’ve got no security.
I mean, surviving cancer is one thing, but I’ve survived all the knocks too. Everyone has knocks in life, but I’ve put myself in the way of trouble non-stop. I still do it, I can’t help it. The new book looks at that, at how I’m still setting myself up for being knocked down: I think I’m slightly addicted to it. It’s something that started quite young. In the sixties, everything was about rebelling – the counterculture was about rebelling against authority, about making unrest, and that’s sort of all I know, and I’m surprised by how much of a punk I still am – it just hasn’t gone away. I still adhere to the ethos of truth-telling, minimalism, using your own authentic voice, not becoming Americanised or whatever, questioning yourself, questioning everything around you, questioning authority, no heroes. My daughter finds it all very old-fashioned!
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