Rough Trade hosts the launch of the 33 1/3 book on the eponymous debut album by The Raincoats. Author Jenn Pelly was joined by band members Ana da Silva and Gina Birch and friend of the band Shirley O'Loughlin who was at Rough Trade when they released the album...
Gina is actually from Nottingham, although when Jenn asked her what she did growing up, her answer is "I did drugs". She went to Trent Polytechnic where she engaged with art for the first time and when she looked around an art school in London, she saw The Sex Pistols' first gig. Of course, she moved there. Ana was born in Portugal and came to London after finishing her studies. She hadn't planned to stay in London long to the point where her suitcase was so small compared to the others on the carousel at the airport that it surprised even Ana. She stayed in London where she liked the sense of freedom compared to fascist ran Portugal and she went to the same art school as Mick Jones from The Clash. Shirley grew up in the Lake District and, after studying at art school in Liverpool and Manchester, she moved to London as it was "the place to be". She got a job teaching and it turned out that one of her students was drumming in The Raincoats. Then Shirley saw Patti Smith and her life was never the same again. Ana was working in Rough Trade at the time and she was at the same gig.
Gina was living with some drug dealers from Nottingham in a flat in Islington before she moved into a squat in Bayswater with the rest of the band. They lived next door to Palmolive's sister (Palmolive would join the band after leaving The Slits) and they had a basement, which they used as a rehearsal space. Gina also explains how Vicky Aspinall had to "unlearn" the violin - "we loved the sounds that she made that violin players wouldn't normally make." She goes onto describe the band as a tapestry where everyone gave each other room. Ana says that they found a lot of common ground because they weren't striving for perfection - imperfections are the edge of things. The band were open about their idiosyncrasies and democracy brought out the best of the members. Palmolive described democracy as non-negotiable.
Talking about the song writing process, everyone brought in their own lyrics, Gina wrote No-one's Little Girl as a protest song against that feeling in the 1960s and 1970s that girls were just appendages to their boyfriends. It was the first song that Gina wrote but when Kate joined the band from The Slits, she felt that it was corny and they didn't play it for a long time. It was the sound of a shy girl from the midlands trying to negotiate life in the big city. The songs for the first album were very much written in the rehearsal room and playing live - a tour that included Gina getting drunk at The Sandpiper Club in Nottingham (formally located on Broadway). Ana said that she wrote The Void when she felt alone. She didn't want to just play chords on it but things that the solo at the end is quite melodic and hopeful. Gina adds that oppositions create something beautiful and deep - "that's what we did with the music". When Ana played some harsh chords, Gina would sweeten it with her bass, adding something that broadened the sound.
After reading Jenn's book and talking about the album, Shirley reminisces about those times at Rough Trade where there were only three people working. No-one had a telephone and people would have to come into the shop to actually talk to people. They had a photocopier, which everyone used to make their artwork. Back then, the plan was never to open a store in Nottingham, it was to encourage people to open their own record shops and to start their own bands.
Jenn Pelley's 33 1/3 book on The Raincoats by The Raincoats is out now.
33 1/3 books website