The Update: Tessa Pollitt
The Update is our monthly feature where we check in with our favourite artists to talk side-projects, new endeavours and works-in-progress.
Pioneering punk group The Slits were a force to be reckoned. First forming in 1976 in London, the all-women crew had all the components of a raw, punk attitude – they were loud, fearlessly confrontational and there was an emphasis on creative integrity in their sound. As they gear up to release a new film on their history this year, we caught up with bassist Tessa Pollitt on forgoing commercial success, paving the way for female artists and the violence they faced.
What can you reveal about Here to be Heard: The Story of The Slits?
It has been a labour of love on a shoestring budget. We relied on unique archive super 8 footage from the infamous Don Letts who filmed everything from 1976 onwards. Bill [director William E. Badgley] has worked tirelessly for five years – he told me at one point it was like “wrestling bears”. I totally got it; there have been battles along the way, but we defeated them. Initially, our US tour manager [six-week reformation tour 2006] and friend Jennifer Shagawhat [producer] upon Ari Up’s request filmed us using DV cassettes. It was Ari’s wish to film everything. We could not predict that Ari would come to her untimely death five years later. Jennifer and I could not rest until we completed this doc. The film is honest, brutal and full of raw emotion.
Why does now feel the right time to release the film?
We were not given the credibility back in the day, constantly receiving negative reviews. Now perhaps in hindsight, people may finally recognise the influence we have had on future female artists, although to me it seems a more commercial, watered down version.
How did The Slits influence punk culture for women and what challenges did you face?
As young girls (Ari was at the tender age of 14 when I joined), we did not behave like girls were brought up to behave. We had fire in our bellies, we could not be labelled, and we relied on our instinct. We were not about to accept what society had demanded of our gender, to be perfect housewives or secretaries. We were a feral, non-manufactured, unstyled, honest, comical, fearless group of four very different creative girls who faced violence verbally and physically as a band and individually on a daily basis. Those were violent times indeed and we were not alone in our experiences.
The film’s tagline is ‘hidden from history’ – why?
This is a quote from the prolific writer and Punk Professor, Vivien Goldman. For me this refers to all the creative females over the centuries, for example the fabulous unique artist and writer Leonora Carrington, the Black American blues singer and electric guitar player from the 1930’s Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who influenced the likes of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley, and the highly individual classical cellist Jaqueline Dupree. And what about the Bronte sisters, who hadto publish their writings under a male name to get recognised as talented writers of their time… Do you get my drift?!
Things are changing for women in the music industry. What’s left to change?
There is still a lot to change. To me, it is all about how you carry yourself, what you write about, how much control you have creatively. It is so different now, the whole music business. I am sure there are numerous talented female artists and musicians that do not break through because they are not commercial enough. Hang on to your creative integrity. I would not enter this music world now, but if I did I would avoid dealing with corporate, greedy companies, ripping the artists off, same as it ever was.
Here to be Heard: The Story of The Slits will be screened across the UK from 25 March – 14 May.
The documentary will be released on DVD on 20 April.