As the mother of The Slits vocalist Ari Up, and the wife of John Lydon, Nora Forster, holds a unique place in Punk’s family history.
Famously publicity shy, she’s something of an enigma to write about, and even here on the all-knowing web there is very little first hand information to draw from. However, by piecing together what we do know, along with quotes from both Ari and John, we can start to unravel Nora’s role in the fledgling Punk era.
Born into a wealthy German newspaper family, Nora was involved in promoting major rock groups in her native Germany, even finding time to date a pre-disco Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, before moving to London in the early 1970s.
Ari described their move to London, in the Telegraph by saying,
“In Munich, the police were knocking at the door every night because of the loud acid parties,” she said. “She [my mother] was fed up with it. You have to go to London to live that lifestyle.”
By the mid 1970s, Nora was again working as a promoter, but this time within the London music scene, and had turned her romantic attentions to the celebrated session guitarist and producer Chris Spedding. By May 1976 Chris had started work on the first Sex Pistols demos, and so via Chris, Nora was introduced to the people and the scene, that both herself and her daughter were about to become a part of, albeit for very different reasons.
Ari in Trebuchet magazine 2004
“So my Mom got introduced to the Pistols by none other but Chris. He went and saw the Pistols, and then he came back to my mom and said, “You’ve got to see this band. You’ve got to know about this band.” So in a funny way I go introduced to the Pistols and to the whole punk scene just because of Chris”.
“What I found interesting is that he [Chris] was always cutting edge, he kept up with the times, the modern music, all the modern shit that was going on at the time. Roxy Music, a huge fan of Roxy Music [of which he later became a member]. Him and my mother. He looked like Bryan Ferry for a while, and my mom definitely looked like all the [Roxy Music album cover] chicks!”
When Nora and Chris’ relationship came to an end, Nora’s home became something of a refuge to London’s emerging punk musicians, including members of the Pistols and The Clash, with Joe Strummer even giving Ari her first guitar lessons.
“He was like a guiding star, he was like a brother to me. He never tried to come on to me, but was very protective and natural.” and “The Clash and the Pistols all became extended family to me. They were all like my brothers”.
Within a year, and against the backdrop of Punk Rock at full tilt, Nora and John would become a couple. John Lydon talks about their first meeting (from The Guardian)…
‘Now there’s a saucy girl,’ he grins. ‘It’s love, you know. I’ve always loved that woman. And she knows it. When we met we didn’t expect to get on. We’d both been told the other was a bad ‘un. But blimey. Sparks flew. It was instant attraction. And that’s never gone. I never expected to feel like that. I never thought I was in any way attractive. Or anyone’s idea of a good date”.
John and Nora now live in a beach front suburb of Los Angeles, and have been married since 1978 when John also became Ari’s step-father. With a 15 year age gap, and their radically different backgrounds, to some their relationship seemed like an unlikely combination, and doomed to burn-out, but 40 years later they are still together, and, since 2010 have been the guardians of Ari’s twin boys.
“I can’t think of a better woman on God’s earth than Nora. If we ceased to function as a couple tomorrow there would be no one else. Not ever. I mean it.’
UPDATE MARCH 2019
In an interview with New York classic rock radio station Q104.3 that was posted on You Tube in October 2018, John mentions that Nora is now in the “mid stages of Alzheimers”. Interview posted below. Punkgirldiaries send them both lots of love.
Thanks to fellow blogger wanpointtwomilligram for alerting us to this.
19 thoughts on “Nora Forster”
It’s a rather late posting..but I would assume Ari & her lack of treatment was because she ‘ was a Rastafarian ‘ & would eschew ‘ traditional medicine & accepted practice ‘. Before her cancer she had problems with her children’s education- hence her mother Nora & John had to ‘step in’
All I can really add is…i think Nora’s 12 years older than John.
Theres a good picture of them together in Lydons ‘No Blacks, No Dogs, No Irish ‘ biog..
It was reported she came from a family of ‘wealthy industrialists’ .
She appears in some ‘notable scenes’ in Andy Blades- ‘Secret life of a teenage punk rocker’ autobiography ( reprinted /re edited in 2019)…..
I’m Not sure if Ari would have needed ‘Guitar Lessons’ from joe Strummer as in Viv Albertines excellent ‘boys..music..clothes..etc’ book she says Ari at one point picks up a (bass) guitar and puts a line down without a second thought due to her being a ‘naturally gifted musician & trained pianist’…Though the Slits did support the clash regularly & Viv was in an on-off relationship with Mick Jones for some time. Palm Olive was a ‘girlfriend’ of Joe Strummers around 1977.
I was 16 when the Sex Pistols stormed the beaches of normalcy here in Lost Angeles. Between the Pistols and The Clash, my world was irreversibly flipped forever. I’m mystified by the fact that I was not head-first into The Slits as well. But then, living in the Pasadena area, if KROQ didn’t play them, we didn’t know them. Now, however, as a punk of a certain age, I can’t not get goosebumps when I listen to Ari and team’s brilliant punky reggae cover of IHITTGV. Marvin smiles warmly, and now Ari sings it with him in Elysian duets. It grieved me to hear that Nora has Alzheimer’s. I’ve always had a great deal of respect for his and Nora’s union. Forty years of marriage is epic. I think he might even agree with with me that it’s his crowning achievement. Like Robert and Mary, as well. It turns out that love is an energy, as well. Thank you for the article.
Thanks for your comments
A very well written and informative story. Thank you!
Thanks for your comment!
In this interview Lydon told that she is now in mid-stage of Alzheimer
video title: Johnny Lydon Once Caused Bruce Springsteen to Storm Out of a Gig
It’s around 3;40
Thanks for alerting us to this. We’ve now updated the post to include this interview.
Nora: “Famously publicity shy, she’s something of an enigma…” ?? Just Google Nora Lydon Groceries and you’ll find a plethora of shots of her and John in attention-grabbing outfits shopping at Vintage Grocers in Malibu.
So you’re suggesting because this woman goes food shopping with her husband, dressed in a way, they are probably comfortable with, she isn’t shy? Maybe even insinuating she’s seeking attention? Is the lady suppose to stay indoors forever to avoid a life? There’s a difference between doing a personal quite thing like getting food as opposed to running down a red carpet and showing up at every celeb party. Come on. I want to say something Johnny would probably say, but I’ll keep it civil.
Hi Sal, we only said she was “publicity shy” which she is, and we said it without any judgement at all!
This is lovely! But what I am really confused about is why Ari let herself die of breast cancer when she had little children? With lot’s of help out there, she was young, she probably would have survived it?
According to John Lydon – “Arianna didn’t need to die – and that’s a very, very tough burden on her mother to know that,” Lydon told Sky News.“She knew she had cancer and she deliberately ignored it and went for lunatic left-wing crackpot theories. And that will kill you stone dead every single time.”
So, Ari seemed to have either ignored her diagnosis, or relied on “natural” remedies. Either way, you’re right, it’s a tragic loss.
Ah, the mysteries of love! Thanks for the posting as I don’t think I’ve ever seen Ms. Forster. I read Lydon’s first autobio and I can’t remember the photos in it depicting her, thought it would make sense. My brain starts to melt down though, when I consider John being the step-father to Ari; one of his peers. And a very outstanding one at that!
Hi Ppm! The whole Nora thing is like a howling feedback loop of wife…mother…no wife, so we thought we’d get in there and try to iron it out a bit. Hard to think of one person as both of these things. If you were writing fiction, editor might suggest making her 2 different people to avoid confusing the readers and make her role more clearly defined. More often than not, life’s editor is not always in the office, and is often a fairly random one at that! Happy weekend- pgd
So well said, pgd!