Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Slits / PENS / The Courtesy Group @The Rainbow, Wednesday 14th October 2009

They may be less well known than The Pistols (Sex), The Spex (X-Ray) or…er…The John (Jilted) but The Slits richly deserve their place in punk history, not least of which for being one of the few mainly female punk bands (a good 20 years before an altogether more commercial brand of girl power).

Before getting my Slit fix though (that sounds a little wrong doesn’t it?), another chance to see Al Hutchins, Birmingham’s number one mad shouty genius and his band of merry men, The Courtesy Group. Imagine a mad fire and brimstone preacher trying to convert the unconvertable with a soundtrack provided by Frank Zappa and Acid Mothers Temple and you might get some idea of what they sound like. Then again you may have no idea (in which case it’s probably easier to go and have a listen first, then come back to this review and we’ll all pretend that you got what I was talking about all along). Although I’d seen the band a fair few times before, this was a different line up - the main change being the addition of a certain Fyfe Dangerfield, lead singer of The Guillemots. This ain’t as surprising as you might think (Fyfe is Al’s brother and was, I believe, in The Courtesy Group back in the day). Tonight, face hidden behind that floppy fringe of his, he played a mean guitar but otherwise remained silent, perhaps aware that his somewhat angelic voice might not chime too well with Al’s brand of Brummie street preacher. Line up differences aside it was, as ever, an engaging performance featuring another of Al’s stream of conscious poems, plenty of the classics (Brick House Blues and the New Beef were particularly fine tonight) and his trademark audience face offs. Watch out for their new album, ‘Tradesman’s Entrance’ (cue Kenneth Williams style sniggering) coming soon.

The next band, Pens, were a no show for some reason. Maybe they ran out of ink? So we pretty much dived straight into The Slits (hmmm that sounds even worse than ‘slits fix’), or a couple of them at least. Of the original era band only Ari Up and Tessa Pollitt remain. They’re joined by, amongst others, the rather brilliant Hollie Cook (daughter of Paul ‘Sex Pistols’ Cook) on keyboards and vocals. Like The Clash (who The Slits supported back in 1864) the band’s always been into the dubby reggae side of things and tonight’s set was a little like taking a deep drag on a phat one (not that I’ve ever done such a thing...much). Ari’s dreads look like the result of an over eager child using one of those Play-Doh hairdresser sets and her accent (a cross between German and Rasta) is a little unusual to say the least, but her bubbly enthusiasm (33 years into your career this has to be a pretty rare thing) was heartwarming. It warmed something else too as there was plenty of bumping and grinding going on (mainly between Hollie and Ari) and, for some strange reason, Ari poured half a litre of mineral water down her crotch to cool her ‘pum pum’ (that Little Drummer Boy song will never sound the same again). Mind you, given that one of the songs from the set, ‘Lazy Slam’, was an open invitation to shaft your partner whilst they’re asleep, perhaps her ‘pum pum’ needed a little cooling down. Speaking of songs (oh yes, this is supposed to be about music isn’t?) we got all of the hits, including a bowel shakingly dubby reworking of ‘Heard It Through the Grapevine’ (retitled ‘Heard It Through The Bassline’) and an audience participation version of Typical Girls, plus a selection of new tracks from forthcoming album Trapped Animal. Rather amusingly, before doing one of these new songs, Ari had been playing Tessa’s bass and got it stuck in her Play-Dreads as she tried to lift it over her head, ‘Me ‘air dun wanna le go o mi bass!’ she squealed. It took 16 firemen to cut her free…

After leaving the stage to rapturous applause from the audience (a mix of old punks, trendy young things, curious random folk and me) one of the audience members got on the stage, picked up the microphone and started the traditional call back the band for an encore bit. Ari and Tessa duly returned but, in return for the audience member’s impromptu MC’ing Ari left the vocals up to her and sat down behind the drum kit instead. So the encore was Ari, Tessa and (by her own admission) a slightly drunk girl. Actually she was very good, delivering a ‘hear mi now’ kind of toasting against more of the dubby stuff. A surprisingly endearing ending to a surprisingly endearing night.

The 'set Slit'

PS: All of my photographer chums were there last night so, for proper pictures of the gig, go to Da Snappers list to the left of this and fill yer boots!


Digbeth Slacker said...

Cracking gig, i was a bit worried when i handed over my 14:00 quid that after all this time they wouldn't 'deliver' but they pulled a blinder. (The bit at the end with the girl's sudden promotion to guest vocalist WAS quite sweet.)

Anonymous said...

Spot on review - thanks for the setlist photo and the info re the encore, as I decided to leave as I had a long drive home (from the setlist it looks like they had 3 songs listed after Typical Girls, which was the last song of the main set, so I assume they either didn't do them or played them earlier in the set)

The Baron said...

Cheers both! Yes, the bit at the end had the potential to be awful but it just worked out really well. A cracking end to a gig that greatly surpassed my expectations.

On the subject of the set, I think the band mixed the order slightly...I could be wrong but I think all of the tracks were played, although not exactly as per the list. Typical Girls was certainly the last 'offical' track.

Anonymous said...

The actual setlist was:
Man Next Door
Grown Ups
I Heard It Through The Grapevine
Love Und Romance
Lazy Slam
Fade Away
Cry Baby
Shop Lifting
Partner From Hell
Typical Girls
Improv (encore)

Wayne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wayne said...

Hello Daron,

Thanks for the heads-up and the review. My images are now up:

The Courtesy Group

The Slits

My galleries are always at:


The Baron said...

Hi 'Anonymous',

Thanks for posting the proper set list. At least one of us has a decent memory (either that or you're Ari Up...)

The Baron said...

Cheers Wayne, some cracking shots there (as ever).

Anonymous said...

I know the setlist now because I taped it, which is why I was so pleased to find a photo of the setlist to help me work out the song titles!

Thanks again and for all the excellent links to the photos


The Baron said...

Aha! Good work Paul. Feel free to leave a link here if you're posting the gig up anywhere.

Anonymous said...

Here's The Slits set as 192 kbps mp3s in a zip file. The flacs have been posted at dimeadozen.

At least one other recording exists - it is of similar quality.

Courtesy Group to follow.

Anonymous said...

Courtesy Group mp3s

Davis Jones said...

We captured them on tape here in San Francisco at the The Slits Remix 2006 tour at the Mezzanine. They liked it so much, we made DVD's for each member and shipped them off!

We only had one hour of tape, and of course, they were having such a good time with us San Franciscans that I had to add photos from J Neo Marvin's (my husband) early punk collection from when they were here in 1980 backed up by their recording of Typical Girls to finish it up.

Take a look when you can. We adore them!

You need the flash player to view.

We also have it up at our youtube site at earcandleproductions.


Davis Jones said...

delete the dot after swf

The Baron said...

Hi Paul and Davis Jones,

Much appreciated! Some great recordings and footage there. Ain't the internet great eh? Cheers again.

Modesto Hearing Aid Guy said...

Looks like great fun was had by all.