17 Seconds is 10! Part 3, The Raincoats interview

Kurt Cobain maintained that re-acquiring the Raincoats 1979 debut meant more to him than making his first million. Thirty years since the release of their sophomore album, Odyshape, in 2011 I got to interview The Raincoats about their legacy, working with Robert Wyatt and clear up about their involvement – or not -in Ten Things I Hate About You.


17 Seconds: You’re just about to re-issue your sophomore album Odyshape. What are your thoughts and memories of the album thirty years on?

Gina: What I do remember is Robert Wyatt coming to the studio and playing drums along to our very oddly timed playing of ‘And Then It’s OK’, which we had recorded drummerless, speeding up and slowing down as the mood took us. Robert slipped seamlessly into the plan, and played as if he knew exactly where it was going, where it had come from and tuning in totally to its intention. Amazingly he made it all sound so much more focused than it had been. We had played for a while with Ingrid Weiss, a drummer, who was a 17 year old girl. She was very musical. She played drums on Odyshape and came up with the origins of the music for Shouting Out Loud. Sadly it didn’t work out with her for reasons I can’t even remember. Ingrid now is in Daisy Kitty and Lewis (their Mum) playing a mean double bass, still fabulous, musical and beautiful as ever.
We were still rehearsing some of the time in the squat basement at the end of Monmouth Road, and then later in Vicky’s squat in Brixton. I had no hot running water at the time, and was at Hornsey art school in Alexandra Palace. I remember turning up to a rehearsal one day, to say I was leaving the band to concentrate on my studies at art school, then burst into tears and decided to I take time out of school to concentrate on The Raincoats. I did go back and finish my degree after two years out, and I made super 8 films and videos for my graduation.

Ana: When we did the first album, we just went into Berry St studios and recorded the songs live, as we had done them on the tour we had just finished, and only added the vocals afterwards, plus a couple of other bits. It was quite clear what was happening. (Also we knew Palmolive was leaving.)
When we did Odyshape, as we didn’t have a drummer in the band, everything seemed more vague and on the other hand more open to possibilities, so we asked different people to play drums according to what we thought was best for each particular song. Richard Dudanski had already played with us before Palmolive, so we asked him to contribute. We also asked Charles Hayward, whose rehearsal studio we had used for a while and who ended up playing with us after the release of Odyshape. He is a great and sensitive musician and contributed a lot to the sound we had at the time he played with us, between projects he had with This Heat.
It was very interesting to have other people come in and see how personal music really is.

17 Seconds: What does the album title mean? It comes from the song (track five on the album) but what was the concept behind the title?

Gina: The title was a pun on the odyssey of a body. The idea that a body could have an ideal shape and it if did, what happens when a body doesn’t live up to that ideal. it was at a time, when (as probably now) there seemed to be a body fascism. It was important for women to be this shape or that shape. Thanks to people like Beth Ditto, and hopefully The Raincoats, things have been broken down a little. Hair can be crazy, messy, outfits can be baggy or tight, inside out or upside down, we can be fat or thin, creative, playful, stylish and beautiful without having to subscribe to some fashion mag ideal.

17 Seconds: You’re going to be playing your debut album at All Tomorrow’s Parties this December. How did this come about -and was this something that you had to think about, given that you have done this before?

Gina: It seems a thing that bands are doing nowadays, playing whole albums, songs in the order of the album. We have performed The Raincoatsat the Scala once before and it was fun. Shirley walked across the stage with the vinyl album for side two and turned it over and then we played all the songs from the second side onwards.

Ana: This ATP is curated by Jeff Mangum (Neutral Milk Hotel) and, apparently, he requested we play the first album. When we did this at the Scala, at the end we came back to do another set of songs. We’ll also do this at the festival.
We’ve done ATP twice before and I really enjoyed the experience. Thanks Jeff for having us.

17 Seconds: Who will the live band be? And who are the fulltime members of the Raincoats in 2011?

Gina: Ana and I will be there, along with Anne Wood who has played with us
for over a decade on violin and guitar and often we will play with Jean Marc Butty on drums, who has also played with us for many years. In the US we have sometimes had Vice Cooler playing drums with us, instead of JM Butty.

17 Seconds: It’s been mentioned numerous times how much the Raincoats meant to Kurt Cobain. Do you feel that this opened up an awareness of the band to people or have you felt frustrated that it took his enthusing to make many people aware of what you had achieved as a band?

Gina: We didn’t expect the kind of enthusiasm and praise that we have subsequently got for our work. We did it for ourselves to stretch ourselves, to make the best most creative music we could and then move on. That we are now revisiting that work is strange, but fun and exciting.

Ana: Having someone like Kurt Cobain and others of his generation praising our work definitely made a lot of people aware of it and therefore wanting to see those songs played live. We love playing live so, doing this is such a pleasure. We didn’t feel frustrated at all. We weren’t playing together anymore, so people were interested in other things, which is the natural way –new ideas, new challenges, new enthusiasms. But, in reality, some were actually interested without us knowing. This was a huge and rewarding surprise.

17 Seconds: You covered ‘Lola’ by the Kinks on your first album. Did Ray Davies ever get in touch to tell you what he thought, and to thank you? (It’s one of my favourite cover versions by the way!)

Gina: Ray is reported as saying that he likes people who take an album track and make it a hit, not those who take a hit and make it an album track. A joke I suppose, but I have never heard any reporting that he liked our version!! Perhaps you could ask him yourself!!

Ana: He made that comment when he had his eyes on Chrissie Hynde… she made the album track ’Stop your sobbing’ a hit.
Harry Rag, a German friend of ours who was doing some filming about Ray, was staying at my place and, coming back from meeting him, brought an Italian sweet he had sent. I think that was a nice gesture…

17 Seconds: As well as the Raincoats, what other projects have the members got on the go (musical, or otherwise)?

Gina: Too many to mention. Ana is doing a new solo album and making drawings. I am painting, knitting/felting, filming, editing, writing recording. The Raincoats documentary is coming on and most recently, managed to get an interview with John Lydon which is the last one I really wanted to get, apart from needing to rerecord the one with Beth Ditto as the tape screwed up.

Ana: Yes, I’ve got an album in a very advanced state, but that last leap is taking a while. Maybe I’ll finish it during grim winter. Good time to work, isn’t it? I’ve been also making paintings and lots of drawings, which I’ll be showing together with Shirley’s photographs and Gina’s videos in an exhibition, which is part of Pop Montreal music and arts festival, where we’ll also be playing in September 2011. We’ll be doing a tour in the USA and Canada – New York, Washington, Chicago, Detroit, Toronto and finish in Montreal.

17 Seconds: Interviewing Viv Albertine last year, it’s clear that there was a link between The Slits and The Raincoats. Which other bands (if any!) did The Raincoats feel a kinship with?

Gina: I think we felt a kind of kinship with many of the bands in and around Rough Trade, Swell Maps, Scritti Politti, Young Marble Giants. But we were very shy and didn’t really commune with other bands too much. I was a huge fan of The Slits, because it was them that made it seem possible to pick up a guitar and make a noise, as a girl. People love to go on about how terrible they were, (because on the whole, boys (oh.. vast generalization, I’m sorry!) tend to sit in their bedrooms perfecting their guitar skills till they are ready to ‘go public’) but The Slits were just amazing, brilliant because they were totally in the spirit of punk, fresh, unschooled, and without the preconceptions and boundaries of many bands. They were so feisty, creative, emotional, boisterous and that was such a treat to witness.

Ana: We definitely felt part of something and Rough Trade bands were the ones we felt closest to, partly because we met there but also because we did gigs together. The reason for this was not because we were on the same label but because there was a lot of mutual respect based on the wonderful music they created, and because they were great people too.
We also felt a certain kinship with other female bands, probably because there weren’t that many around and we were all fighting for a bigger female presence. There still aren’t as many as there should be.

17 Seconds: At the end of the nineties, The Raincoats appeared in Ten Things I Hate About You. How did this come about and how was the experience?

Gina: The script writer I think was more ‘indie’ and ‘radical’ than the film turned out to be. We are not actually featured in anyway in the film, except for the namecheck. it would have been brilliant if they had used a Raincoats track on the soundtrack. Shucks!!! Maybe in the indie remake!!

Ana: There was no experience to speak of. The boy mentioned us to the girl so he would appear cool and when the film came out someone told us there was this mention.

17 Seconds: As well as Nirvana and Sonic Youth, who else do you see as being indebted to the Raincoats?

Gina: I have no idea!!!!

Ana: Lots of people say that, especially female bands, but I think they would have done it anyway. You don’t only get inspiration from one thing or person.
But if we have inspired anyone to do anything, then that is one mission accomplished.

17 Seconds: You make reference in the sleevenotes to friends using their vinyl copies of Odyshape to make fruit bowls out of. This is just as joke, right…?

Gina: In some ways yes it is a joke, but I think Odyshape was a bit out on a
limb for some of my friends and they just didn’t get it. I don’t think Ana or I ever envisaged ourselves having a group, playing live or making records and when we got the opportunity we took the bull by the horns and stretched ourselves creatively as much as we could. Historically this has proved to be a good thing, but some of the time I felt quite vulnerable and was unsure that what we were doing was of any value. I am proud that we stuck to our guns and did not try to please others, just ourselves. There are obviously moments on all our records I think could be better or different, but they are a testament to where we were at the time.

Ana: My experience is different from Gina’s. I think a lot of people, specially in other European countries, appreciated the quirkiness, guts, risk, variety and challenge of that album. We were in a different place as people and musicians and we let the new music reflect that. The first album is more punky but punk was all about challenge and thinking for yourself, about looking around and to yourself, about feeling free to find your own path, and Odyshape was as part of our path as the first album.

17 Seconds: As this is for a Scots-based blog, Is there ANY chance of Scottish dates any time in the future?

Gina: Invite us, (and if it makes sense financially!!) Ana and I will be there, bearing in mind our drummer comes from France and Anne from tippy top of Scotland!!

Ana: Anne wouldn’t be that far then!
I remember one of the times we played in Scotland, it was Summer and we came back after the gig in a van, late, and soon after it got dark, it got light again. I’d never experience such a short night before the day broke.

17 Seconds is 10! Part 2, Viv Albertine interview

One of my favourite eras of music is 1976-1982, the period that gave us punk and its even more interesting fall-outs. One of the key players in the scene was Viv Albertine. At the point of this interview, she had started recording again after a gap of many years. She had just released an EP, Flesh, which would be followed by an album, The Vermilion Border, and her autobiography Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys. Last year, I even got to meet her at the Edinburgh Book Festival, where she signed my copy of The Slits’ debut album, Cut.


“1979 and 2010 actually seem to have a fair bit in common, thirty or so years apart as they may be. A Labour government struggling to run the country -and as with then, the scary as hell prospect that there could be a Tory Government making it even worse, just around the corner. Yet despite that, healthy DIY music scenes, people taking the ethos of punk and making their own, far more exciting records, people publishing their own written work and setting up their own labels. Oh, and Viv Albertine being behind some of the most amazing recorded work of the year.

In 1979, that work was the seminal album Cut and one of the most wonderful cover versions ever, when the Slits totally transformed Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard It Through The Grapevine.’ In 2010, it’s her first recorded work in twenty-five years the wonderful ‘Flesh’ EP.

When I call her at her home on the south coast of England, she’s wonderfully warm, and it’s quite clear that I’m not the only man on earth rather in awe of her. I’m in the company of non other than one Thurston Moore, alternative rock icon, Sonic Youth guitarist -and most significantly for our story today, the man behind the Ecstatic Peace record label.

Viv met Thurston when she went to see Sonic Youth with none other than Gina from the Raincoats, the fabulous band who were the Slits’ contemporaries (and made one of 1979?s other phenomenal records with their self-titled debut.) As Viv puts it, she and Thurston ‘hit it off and hung out for the rest of the evening.’ She let him hear some of the songs that she’d been working on. ‘They weren’t ready [for releasing] I thought,’ she says, however ‘he liked them and thought they should be recorded as part of my musical progress.’

For now the EP is the only thing that’s available, but she says ‘I’ve got so many songs I’m desperate to record. Like with the Slits, I’m getting into my head how I want them to sound.’ She’s playing live and adds that ‘when I play live, the people there are often moved. [The songs] resonate for people.’

This EP is nakedly personal. I have to confess that I find myself desperate to ask about some of the lyrics, yet they feel so nakedly personal that it feels rather like quizzing someone on something that you read when you stole their diary, slipped it back and are desperate to ask them. Yet despite this, I can play it on repeat for several listens, several months after it dropped on the doormat.

I also can’t resist myself from asking about the punk-era that the Slits came through. It’s clear that the Slits found the times they were living in difficult. More than thirty years later, even John Lydon (AKA Rotten) has said that he feels it’s been talked up into something it wasn’t. How does Viv feel about it all, looking back?

‘It [the punk movement] was important to us at the time. We lived in London – and still there was nothing going on! It’s amazing how lacklustre things were.’ But when punk started ‘that small punk movement did attract like-minded people.’ Did it change things for people? ‘Everything was picked to pieces – it was like ground zero.’ And Viv found herself in with some of the people who changed the musical shape of Britain in the late seventies, in a way that despite challenges, still reverberates over thirty years later. Amongst those she knew were people like Sid Vicious and John Lydon -’we were all mates or cohorts.’ The Slits’ original drummer Palmolive (born Paloma Romera) would go onto join the Raincoats, being replaced by one Peter Clarke, better known as Budgie, who drummed on Cut and then went onto join Souxsie and the Banshees and marry Siouxsie Sioux. He in turn was replaced by Bruce Smith, who also played with Bristol’s The Pop Group.

Not that this should give an impression of some kind of punk happy family. Because it’s clear that being in the Slits meant being under attack from a lot of sides. ‘People were so antagonistic,’ she recalls. ‘We were smuggled out of hotels. We were attacked physically.’ The clothes they wore -and this at a time when Vivienne Westwood was laying the ground for what would happen- seems to have shocked people to their very core. As Viv describes it ‘We dressed like something out of a porn mag and bovver boys.’ A tough time, then? ‘It was extremely tough for us. The only person who was kind and open to us was John Peel,’ she says referring to the legendary Radio 1 DJ. The Banshees may have been refusing to sign to anyone -or at least giving the impression that they were, but the Slits had recorded two sessions for Peel before they were signed by Island Records in 1979.

The album Cut still sounds ahead of its’ time even now. The cover with the three girls – Viv, singer Ari Up and bassist Tessa Pollitt covered in mud was not designed to titillate but unnerved many. The only question I ask her about the cover, I tell her, is whether she’s heard the rumour that the Rough Trade Record shop had a meeting about whether or not to stock the album because of the cover. [N.B. This is mentioned in the sleeve notes to the Rough Trade Shops Post Punk 01 compilation]. Viv laughs and says she hasn’t heard this rumour but it wouldn’t surprise her. Though the Slits were later signed to the Rough Trade label, then linked with the shop, Viv says that head honcho Geoff Travis ‘didn’t think we were PC enough! We weren’t considered feminists.’

As the seventies became the eighties, so the scenes shifted and times got tougher. ‘ Punk was so wonderful…and then the eighties happened.’ The Slits played a final gig at the Hammersmith Palais and split up in November 1981. Viv’s unquestionably influenced many people over the years -’I’d be flattered if Madonna took influences from us’ – but it’s not all moved her. The 1990s saw the emergence of the Riot Girl movement, but ‘the riot girl movement didn’t grab me.’ She reflects that ‘After the Slits…after a year, I felt the whole music scene was dead. I started to make films and literally downed the guitar.’ She went to film school and proudly states on her website that ‘she didn’t drop out.’

Not involved in the recent Slits reformation for either the ‘Return Of the Killer Slits’ EP or the Trapped Animal album, Viv is still continuing to persue her own path. I hope there’ll be more albums. She’s playing live and tells me that she’s planning to come to Scotland towards the end of the year, and we round off our conversation by discussing venues in Scotland.

Check out the EP – there’s more ideas and better songs there than on some people’s entire careers. Viv Albertine continues to make her presence felt -and it’s great to have her back.”

17 Seconds is 10! Part 1, Roy Harper interview

Who would have thought it? 17 Seconds is 10 years old this month. It’s been a labour of love, but I’ve loved labouring over it. So, for what it’s worth, I’m going to share some of the things that I’ve enjoyed doing most over the years.

Interviewing Roy Harper in 2011 was pretty damn cool. He was absolutely lovely to talk to, and kind enough that when my son, then six months old, could be heard crying whilst we talked, Harper was kind enough to ask ‘Do you need to deal with that?’


When I call Roy Harper at home for this interview, it’s the great man himself who answers the ‘phone. Having grown up in Manchester, and lived in London and the US, he now calls Ireland home. ‘I feel incredibly at home here,’ he says, affably. They [the Irish] are great people. But,’ he adds, ‘I miss England a lot, I miss London, particularly.’

Not that he doesn’t go back occasionally. In fact, this year on November 5, Roy Harper will play his seventieth birthday concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall. His profile has been helped along of late by endorsements from a younger generation of musicians, including Joanna Newsom and Fleet Foxes, amongst others. I ask him if he can hear his influence in the new generation of acts.

‘You can [hear yourself] in there,’ he says, clearly touched by the tributes that have been paid to his work. ‘The way Joanna arranges things symphonically; she sets things out in a way that’s very familiar to me. If someone [covers] a song of mine, I nearly always enjoy it.’ He adds: ‘I’ve got a lot of kudos from these guys. All they’ve ever had to go on is the music, not the jaded British music press or tabloid version of ‘Harper’s Life’. A new group of people en masse taking my work on its own merit. It’s so refreshing!’

As well as his seventieth Birthday concert, he is re-issuing his back catalogue and is also set to release a new compilation, entitled Songs of Love and Loss, Volumes 1 & 2. Given the back catalogue that he has amassed, over the course of over forty years of recording, how did he go about selecting which songs made the cut?

‘It started off as an idea in the mid to late nineties,’ he explains. ‘I could have made any number of records, the Political Roy, the Social Commentary Roy – but thought it would be good to do love songs and laments.’ The laments record never got off the ground, he says, but ‘with the advent of digital download, a decade later, we decided it was time for this kind of a record. We got in touch with three or four different companies, rather than just go straight to iTunes. That way, if you get piracy problems [when you’re with a distribution company] you’ve got their company lawyers to sort it.’

Over the years, he has worked with a number of different record labels, and it’s clear that he isn’t entirely enamoured of the process in the digital download age either. ‘iTunes is a dump,’ he says firmly. He wonderfully evokes iTunes as being a place where ‘you can imagine ten thousand trolls in a satanic mill!’ dumping tracks into the massive iTunes machine. The new compilation has ‘gone up on iTunes and one or two others with no identity! They didn’t – until recently – split it the way it’s meant to be.’ However help was at hand: ‘When some guys who release physical product [Union Square] got in touch. The physical release is a good piece of product, exactly the way I intended it to be!’

I tell him I’m sympathetic to this, and say that I feel that the digital age hasn’t really come to grips with some of the peripheries of albums, particularly with regards to sleeve notes; that googling the information really isn’t the same thing as reading the artists’ notes. ‘Digital releases are a product of the modern age,’ he says. ‘All that’s wanted right now is sound bites -and even then that’s too much! Whereas, we’ve tried to make records that are thematic, where the songs are related to each other, and you have a multi-faceted record. Sleeve notes are a genuine thing from the artist or record company, straight from the source. Not a possibly jaundiced view from some unconnected critic that’s been dragged from another location in the ether. That’s as lamentable as criticism was in the eighties, when I couldn’t move without someone saying ‘Isn’t he dead, yet?’

‘Ouch,’ I say, somewhat involuntarily. I ask him about some of the musical collaborations he’s been involved in over the years. Famously, Led Zeppelin III closes with the track ‘Hats Off to (Roy) Harper.’ Although he wasn’t involved with the track, he did collaborate with the band members, and clearly has a lot of time for both Robert Plant and Jimmy Page on not just musical, but personal levels as well.

‘Jimmy secretly, and Robert as well are both acoustic music fans,’ he reveals. Anyone who seems taken aback by this should listen to Harper’s astonishing 1971 album Stormcock which sounds like it set the basis for much of what Led Zeppelin would do. ‘What they’ve built their [heavy rock] sound on is a love of acoustic music. Robert Plant is a great man,’ he states, firmly. ‘I don’t give out accolades like that easily. First and last he’s a music man. He gets a great deal of satisfaction from music.’ I say that I admire Plant because of the way that he continues to explore many different types of music, thinking of his collaboration with Alison Krauss and the way he has investigated what might -for want of a better description – be termed world music. ‘Exactly!’ says Roy down the ‘phone. ‘You’ve hit the nail on the head.’

As well as collaborating with the Zeppelin boys, he also worked with Pink Floyd. I ask him about his contribution to Floyd’s 1975 album, Wish You Were Here. Harper sang lead vocals on the track ‘Have A Cigar.’ He is, politely, rather guarded, about his work on this album, the only time during our conversation I sense some reluctance on his part.

‘Roger [Waters, Floyd singer, songwriter and bassist] wrote a song he couldn’t sing, basically,’ he states. ‘It was two semitones too high for either of them [Waters and Floyd guitarist David Gilmour] to sing. They were going to shelve it.’ Harper however contributed his vocals to the track about the record exec who’s purely out to make money, and it’s gone on to be performed by Floyd’s members since then. ‘Roger’s been singing it ever since -or trying to!’ he chuckles. Of course, the reason why he was asked to perform on Wish You Were Here was that he was recording his own album, HQ, in the next door studio at Abbey Road. Known in the US and Canada under the title of the final, closing track ‘When An Old Cricketer Leaves The Crease’ which is probably the best known song in a very impressive catalogue. I ask him if he’s comfortable with this being seen as his epitaph.

‘There’s plenty of songs that rival it, but it happens to ring a bell for people -and it’s a bell I purposely rang.’ It’s a hugely affecting song, from its’ deceptively simple melody, beautiful David Bedford arrangement and brass from the Grimethorpe Colliery band. ‘Its’ message is of someone looking back at these Islands, at this peculiar little corner of England. He adds: ‘You say that there was some sort of perception that cricket was played by a certain class, but in your perfect Eleven [the number of players on a side in cricket] it’s the blacksmith who traditionally gets the job as the fast bowler! He’s the player who has to come in!’ He is still a cricket fan -as well as being a lifelong supporter of Manchester City.

Earlier in the conversation he had spoken about his shared earlier influences in common with the Floyd and Zeppelin boys being Skiffle. But -and if you’ve heard his music you should know this – it’s revealing that his early influences were the romantic poets, particularly Keats and Shelley. I tell him that his comment about ‘iTunes and the dark satanic mills’ reminded me of another poet who blew me away as a teenager: William Blake.

Not surprisingly, the man who wrote Songs of Innocence and Experience and ‘Jerusalem’ was a huge influence on Roy Harper. Partly, this is to do with Harper’s well-documented distrust of organised religion. ‘Blake’s sensibilities told him other things, in an age when it was impossible not to be a Christian,’ he states firmly. ‘This was the age of reason, things were being discussed on a broader scale than ever before. I think of Blake as a hugely important figure. There’s some kind of alternative ghost in the background – I love him because of that. You could see him struggling with that, and knowing that it was going to be discussed by people like me. He was a man worthy of being lauded in any age,’ he says, decisively.

Back to the present day, and we discuss his upcoming gig at the Royal Festival Hall on London’s South Bank. The concert’s going to be ‘Roy singing his favourite songs” with ‘half of Stormcock, perhaps.’ He says that there are going to be ‘one or two favourite guests, but no names to say,’ though he does hint that there’s ‘a lot to do with the American contingent.’

The interview’s drawing to a close. As a final question, knowing that he and Kate Bush collaborated together several times in the 1980s, I ask if he was one of the people in the ‘Breathing’ video – he sung backing vocals on the track. Yes, it turns out: ‘It was bloody freezing in that water -and some of those people went under!’