Paloma Romero grew up in Malaga in the south of Spain. The future drummer of The Slits admitted to being rebellious at school, and so looking for adventure and tired of the restrictions on art and books imposed by the Franco government she packed her bags and left for London in 1972.
“I had no money, and I didn’t really know anybody, but I was full of excitement and expectations.” she told punk77.com in an interview that you can read in full HERE.
Squatting was the hippy housing choice of the mid-70s; not only a rent free option but it also combined those pre-punk ethics of self-rule, free expression and self reliance. Her sister Esperanza, also in London, was dating Richard Dudanski the drummer of a West London band called the 101-ers, and Paloma soon moved into their squat at 101 Walterton Road as Joe Strummer’s girlfriend.“It was a perfect breeding ground for dropouts and lovers of the counterculture revolution, a place to explore our dreams without the inconvenience of paying rent or utility bills”.
By 1976, the squat hippy culture was giving way to Punk, Palmolive remembers “I was so tired and disgusted with the hippy thing, sitting around smoking dope and I thought this is great this is what I need…it sounds good. And it went along with my temperament, my aggressiveness, like the whole in your face attitude and writing songs, not having to be perfectly correct musically. I thought I’ll start a group”.
Loosely connected with the ever shifting line up of The Flowers of Romance, Paloma met 14 year old vocalist Ari-Up at a Patti Smith gig, and changing Paloma to the more Punk friendly Palmolive, they decided to form their own band.
Much of The Slits charm, if that’s the right word, came from their attitude, plus their over-powering presentation as a self-contained gang, easily as potent as any one of their male counter-parts, even The uber-gangy Clash. Before releasing any records, the Slits immediately attracted the attention of the press; they were girls, mouthy and unpredictable, with a squat punk style of their own. In a way, their admitted lack of musicianship worked in their favour, because by not knowing “the rules”, it made not following them even easier. Palmolive’s off-beat, tribal toms, tied the band together and became an instantly recognisable part of their sound. In the same interview with punk77.com Palmolive recalls the early days of The Slits;
“We sounded very bad! We didn’t know how to play. We were no good but in our mind we were very good. We despised people like the Rolling Stones or disco music or people who played an instrument. We despised them because it was very self-centred or egotistical. It wasn’t just the musical thing so we considered ourselves a group in our own right and we were making something totally new that people hadn’t seen before. So were not ashamed of our lack of instrument knowledge. We did practice. We wanted to get better at that but we wanted to create a new sound, our own sound . We felt that a lot of bands all sounded the same. A lot of the punk groups sounded the same”.
“Of course we would get harassed but we did ask for it too. I remember thinking afterwards, there we were with mini skirts up to our crotches you know, so what did you expect?”
The Slits sound was abrasive, fronted by Ari-Up’s screeching vocals, complimented by Palmolive’s tom heavy drumming, Albertine’s scratchy guitar, and Pollitt’s almost sub-sonic bass. The songs can often trip the listener up with their unexpected rhythms, sudden outbursts or unusual chord progressions, but it was these same qualities which gave them their power. This became the band’s signature style, unpredictable chaos, super-sized with a power surge of raging girl energy. The Slits often played with The Sex Pistols and The Clash, who they supported across the UK on the White Riot Tour in 1977, and according to legend The Slits proved themselves more than capable of provoking audiences, engineers, drivers, managers and anyone else that they came in contact with. This was The Slits, confrontational, manager-less and with the ability to polarize every new listener into either a lover or a hater.
Their first Peel session, recorded on September 27th 1977 and featuring all four of the original line-up, is probably still the best testament to just what they were capable of at their best. Also worth noting is that out of the four tracks recorded, Palmolive is credited with writing both “Shoplifting” and “New Town”.
“We argued on stage. One of our gigs was with the Sex Pistols. Ari was yelling at me so I ended up throwing my drumsticks at her. We used to argue in the interviews. It wasn’t like that all the time though, we did used to get on as well. At the beginning we had a lot of fun as well. But definitely the relationship got worse towards the end”.
By the fall of 1978, tensions within the group had escalated to such a degree that by the time the group signed to Island records and were about to record the debut LP “Cut”, Palmolive had left the group and another drummer was drafted in to fill the void at the back, a move that immediately tightened The Slits live sound, but also lost something along the way.
Palmolive’s next step was to join The Raincoats another influential girl band, again from the more avant-garde end of the Punk spectrum, although altogether more accessible. The Raincoats were more laid back than The Slits – still naive and self-taught, though no less compromising in their approach to the music.
“I have to say that the Raincoats and Slits sounded different. They didn’t sound like regular groups like the Jam or someone like that. We were trying to be experimental with it. Almost like a little kids painting. Its naïve but it has a charm and we did have that”.
After six months in The Raincoats, Palmolive was itchy for something else entirely, this time not another band, but a yearning to find more meaning in her life. She de-camped to India, seeking answers to the big questions,”I realised that there was something really wrong with my life, and I had brought myself there. I needed to think, to change, so I stopped smoking, stopped doing dope and stopped drinking.”
Paloma’s spiritual quest led her from India, back to Europe, and finally to Cape Cod in the USA. Along the way Paloma found God and she now lives as a fully committed Christian, occasionally playing the drums in a Christian band with her husband. Paloma retired from the punk music scene after The Raincoats, and yet her influence, both as a songwriter, a bon-vivant, and a slightly wobbly drummer can still be felt, and heard in girl bands today.
Sometime during the mid-’90s, John Peel rated the first two Slits broadcasts among his all-time favourite sessions.
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