The reborn drummer girl speaks about her past antics, present happiness and future plans.
by Mike Appelstein
Cape Cod, Massachusetts, late on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Jen, Jeremy and I are sitting at a table outside of a D'Angelo's Sandwich Shop in a suburban strip mall. We are waiting for Paloma McLardy to arrive.
At one point in her life, Paloma was a London punk rocker who went by the nickname "Palmolive." She formed The Slits with Ari Up, a friend of hers from the local scene, and later joined the Raincoats for their first single and album. Her stuttering, shambling drumwork with these two bands is among the most recognizable drum sounds in punk history, influencing many a later musician. Now she is a wife and mother of three, active in her church and happily living an anonymous life serving God.
When Paloma shows up, we will ask her about her punk days and the directions that her life has taken since. Then we will attend her church's Saturday-night coffeehouse, where she and her husband Dave are playing with their cover band called Hi-Fi. They've been playing there every week since last October, but this is to be a particularly special night as they are adding a new song, a cover of The Slits' "FM," to their live repertoire. It will be the first time Paloma has ever sung live while playing drums.
If you think I could see this one coming, dear reader, you must be kidding.
It is only through a serendipitous combination of fortune and circumstance that we were here in the first place. One day a woman came into the Boston record store where Jeremy works asking for a copy of The Slits' Peel Sessions CD. The Tower Records down the street didn't have it in stock, she explained, and she really wanted a copy "because I used to play in the band." This was not bragging, Jeremy explained later: if anything, she had only a faint clue as to how influential her two former bands had become. She did not know about Kurt Cobain's infatuation with the Raincoats' records or the CD reissues; she did not know that the Raincoats had reunited, or about the live show they played in Cambridge last spring. She and Jeremy talked for awhile, and she ended up inviting him to come see her new band play in Cape Cod. He and Jen first went in May, bearing copies of the Slits CD and a couple of the Raincoats reissues. Apparently Paloma's friends and fellow churchgoers were more than a little surprised to see her name and likeness on a major-label CD ("I didn't know you were famous, Paloma!"). She was more than happy to tell Jen and Jeremy old punk rock stories, though, and consented to an interview. So we set up a return visit and brought tape recorders.
Paloma and her husband Dave showed up about 20 minutes after we did. They had just come from a Little League game on Martha's Vineyard. They looked like, well, a couple in their early 40s. Paloma had two big scrapbooks in hand. We had a quick round of introductions, and then Dave headed off to the church to meet the rest of the band. The four of us ducked into Dunkin' Donuts for coffee (where Paloma and the guy at the counter exchanged conversation in Spanish), and we sat on the patio and began looking through the scrapbooks.
Caught in Flux questions and comments in boldface;
Paloma's comments in regular type.
Mike asked most of the questions, so CIF=Mike unless otherwise noted.
(looking at a picture of Ari Up circa 1977) How old was she then?
Fifteen, 16. Me and Viv [Albertine] were older. We were 22. Tessa was like 18. I think Ari was taking her shirt off [in this picture], just going onstage and flashing. Anything we could do to shock people, we were into. We couldn't play, we didn't pretend that we played. The first show we had, we had never got together to practice or anything. I was gonna get together a group with Sid Vicious; it was gonna be the Flowers of Romance. They were in England's Dreaming; they talked about the Flowers of Romance. That was just an idea; it never really happened. Then I got Vivian. First it was Ari and me. I found Ari and she was very crazy and I loved it, you know. She was just a brat, and I thought, "Oh, that's great." Then Vivian and then Tessa -- she played the bass. She was with the Castrators. (looking at a flyer) That's where we used to practice. At the Oaks. I don't even remember; we used to play at the university a lot.
(reading from a gig flying in the scrapbook) "The Slits: The All-Girl Controversial / Infamous / Rude / Exciting / Stimulating New Wave Band. On Thursday, July 7, 1977." So basically you were playing up the controversy, trying to shock the audience?
Yes. Because that's what we were. We didn't like the things that people normally liked. I, for instance, came from a background where you had to do things in a certain way. Tradition, with no women behind it. We just basically wanted to be whatever we wanted to be, do the things we wanted to do when we wanted to. (turning to a picture of the Clash) We went on tour with them.
So you and Ari formed the Slits originally?
I met Ari at a gig and asked her if she wanted to play with me, and then together we decided we gonna be a band. She was gonna sing, and I was gonna play the drums. I knew I wanted to play the drums. So then we looked for a guitarist and a bass, and we were just gonna do it, you know?
Had you been in any other bands before you met Ari?
In my life I never thought about doing music.
Had you played drums before?
For three days. It's the funniest story... We used to go and dance, that's what we used to do. We danced to the 101ers' music, basically. My sister and me would go and have a good time. I got tired of it and decided I wanted to do something with my life. So I thought I'd like to do mime and be like a street clown or something like that. I met these people, I had these friends, and they said, "Yeah, you can join us, but we only need someone to play drums when someone does something difficult." I didn't get on with the guy, I didn't like him, so I had a fight with him and left. But I had already kind of played the drums and I thought, "Ahhh! That's not hard! I can do this!" So I started going "mm-cha, mm-mm-cha." It went from there. And I really wanted to change, really wanted to do something different. I was tired. I jumped from one thing to another very easily -- my character, you know. I would do something while it was fun. So that was like a new thing, it was all happening. Joe was into it. I was living with him at the time.
We had been together like two years. I was saying to him, "We have to split, just for a change." Because I didn't know what else to change. When the Sex Pistols were in, there was a club called the Nashville. The Sex Pistols went in and smashed the gear of the Bishops, which was the rival group of the 101ers. So the next Saturday it was the 101ers' turn, and the support was gonna be the Sex Pistols again. And instead of getting afraid or worrying about their equipment getting broken or whatever, Joe was really sad about it. He really wanted to break through; he wanted to get into the music industry. We were just smoking dope and doing not much: "Great! Yeah, let's do it, why not?" We were tired, so we thought a change was good.
Are you from England originally? Because I know you lived in Spain for awhile.
I was born in Spain.
When did you move to England?
When I was 18...I don't know, do you want me to tell you how old I am? (laughs)
That's not a leading question! I was just curious as to why.
I moved because it was too restrictive. I came from a big family. My family wasn't too religious particularly...a bit. but not too much. But they obviously wanted to control me like any teenager. I didn't want anyone to tell me what to do. I wanted to see a different way of life. Franco was in the government. To me there was no freedom; you couldn't think what you wanted, you couldn't read certain books, you couldn't act in certain ways, and I just wanted to break through that. I didn't think that was right.
That's very parallel to what Ana da Silva said about living in Portugal.
It's a similar regime, a similar mentality.
So tell me about the early Slits days, some of the wild, crazy, controversial things that would be part of a typical Slits show.
Here comes the journalist!...I mean, in some ways, I don't know that we were that crazy. We were kind of crazy in the sense that, "OK, let's just do it." We just got there, we started playing...we had fights because things would go wrong. We'd just fight like we were sisters. I was very young. One time -- I think it was Harlen at the beginning -- I didn't know how to fix the drums and the drums were moving. I would try to grab the drums and bring them back, and Ari was just screaming...you couldn't hear nothing. I mean, it's very different to practice in the studio and then get there. And we hadn't done much anyway. So we started a fight on the stage. She started telling me I was off beat and I started throwing the sticks at her. People thought it was a show and we were for real. We wouldn't care, you know, and that was part of the attraction. And also, we were girls, and there wasn't anybody who were girls. I don't know why it came out like that. It just happened, really. I really enjoyed writing the songs: I wrote "Shoplifting," "Number One Enemy" and "New Town."
You wrote "New Town?" Because it's credited to the four of you on the Peel Sessions.
The way we worked, someone would go write a song -- like Ari wrote "Slime" and Viv wrote "Typical Girls" -- and then we'd work. For the royalties and the business side of things, there was an understanding between us that if everyone worked on the music, it belonged to everyone. But I actually wrote those songs. I really enjoyed that; it was exploring something we had never done. And that kind of momentum lasted for a certain amount of time. Then it wore old. The songs I started writing...the last two I wrote there were "FM" and "Adventures Close To Home." And they have a very different tone. The first three songs were like, "Who cares? 'Shoplifting,' let's just take it!" The other ones were more, "What's going on? What is happening in my life around me?" Because I was really questioning things, you know? I started feeling very dissatisfied being like that, and I started getting into a spiritual thing. Like astral traveling...I mean, my mind, I would just go. That's how I am. I would be into something while there was something I was interested in, and if it didn't seem right I would lose interest very quickly. So I became very fascinated: I started throwing the I Ching, like divination things. I started contacting spirits...I sound weird, but that's what was happening. I didn't have any control over it, but it was very powerful if you can imagine yourself going out of your body. And all that was happening with the gigs. We kept practicing, we still functioned on that level, but my life started taking a turn. I started going to the gigs...the noise started bothering me, so I started putting in earplugs.
Gina mentioned that during the first Raincoats tour, you wore earplugs in the van.
(laughing hysterically) At certain times it was so much...even for the drumming, it was so loud sometimes! One time, I just remember I had my earplugs, so you get a bit detached...it's kind of fun to do sometimes, you get removed and can observe what's going on. I saw these kids coming up. And they all looked so empty and trash. And we just played and saw these guys coming up drunk. I started becoming very sensitive to what was happening around me, not just doing it but thinking about what I was doing. I didn't have any answer, but I started realizing that nobody around me had any answers. We were expressing the crisis we were going through, but there had to be something. That's what I felt. There has to be something beyond this, you know? I guess it's like growing up: I still wanted to be creative, I still wanted to be myself and all those things, but to me to go...on Spanish television on an interview, I would just stick my tongue out at them and walk off. There had to be more.
Did you leave the Slits? How did you make the transition between them and the Raincoats?
They kicked me out. In a way, I provoked it in the sense that, as I say, I started losing interest. But there were issues that, as a group, you have to deal with: OK, let's do a record, what are we gonna put on the cover, I didn't want to that cover.
The Cut cover? (ed. note: featuring Ari, Viv and Tessa all topless and covered in mud)
Yeah. I mean, I wasn't a saint or anything, I just didn't want to do it. They wanted to go with Malcolm, I didn't want to go with Malcolm McLaren. I had talked to the guy, and I could see that I just didn't agree. We talked to him, he said "I want to work with you because you're girls and you play music. I hate music and I hate girls. I thrive on hate. I wanna work with you." I said, "No thank you."
"Tempting offer, but..."
Right! They couldn't see. They just saw that Malcolm had a big name, he was the initiator of the whole scene...he was like a guru to the punks. But I am not like that, thank God, because I would have been swept along. It just became very crazy, the problems we had. We couldn't sort them out. To begin with we got on, we were friends, and then we couldn't. So my reaction was to withdraw. I wasn't writing the same kind of songs. And they came out with this thing that I couldn't play the drums, which I think was not true. At the time I believed them. That was their reason: that they really liked me but I couldn't play the drums. None of us could really play our instruments; I don't think that was the issue. By that time, I could play much better. Something had to happen. In some ways, I was kind of relieved. And on the other hand, you don't like to be fired.
So did you play on the Cut album?
Only the Peel Sessions. Apart from the bootleg album. (ed. note: Budgie from Siouxsie & Banshees drummed on the Cut album.)
How did you join the Raincoats?
I don't remember exactly, but I guess they must have asked me. I played a few shows with Spizz Oil; they needed a drummer in a hurry so I said I'd do it. I was thinking of getting out, believing I couldn't play the drums. I really wasn't sure. I knew Gina, she was a friend of mine, my sister and my brother-in-law. So they asked me, and at first I thought "Well, yes. The problem was the people. I like Gina and I like Ana. This is gonna work." And then...I just knew it was the whole thing, there was something wrong in it. I didn't know what it was; I knew what it wasn't, I knew what I didn't want. We were together about six months. I liked the ideas more, their approach to how to create. In theory, it was more humanistic.
And you said they were nicer.
They were nicer than the Slits. I liked qualities in Ari; it was more fun in the Slits, to be honest in the beginning, the formation of it. It was just very different. I think each group has their own thing.
I didn't realize their first recordings were so early on in their career. So you just jumped right into it, playing on their recordings immediately?
Yes. It didn't take long.
Did you play on either bands' American tours?
Which version of "Adventures Close To Home" do you prefer?
I never heard about it! I tell you, I left the thing, walked off, I think we went to India for six months...I didn't want nothing to do with it. A friend of mine told me that this guy in India was a god, so I thought, let's go and check him out. And I didn't think he was God. So we left and came back to Europe. Then I was together with my husband, and we left it alone. Then I became a Christian, right, and something happened in my heart that God had to heal. God really touched me. I mean, at first, I thought, "Who cares?" I didn't even think about this stuff. But now I don't feel like that. I feel like these people in that place, where I was, with the same controversy, with the same problems, and I really feel I have found the answer. I really feel Jesus is the answer. You know, that's why we're unsatisfied, because we're not meant to be satisfied like that. It's like a hole in our hearts. So that's why I started being interested in these things, because I wanted to reach out to those people and say my experience. And if someone wants it, you know, great.
Well, I know after you played in the Raincoats, that the first album was the last recording you were on. Did you continue with music after that? When did you put that whole period of your life aside?
After the first Raincoats album, I remember we went on a tour. Before the tour I wanted to quit, but we had made arrangements already so I didn't want to let them down. So I said I'd do the tour and then I'm done. So I gave my drum kit to Richard Dudanski and said, "Here, you can have it." And then [recently] I was hearing a preaching of a sermon, and God told me to start playing the drums. And I didn't want to. I didn't think I could do it. I didn't feel like doing it. And God told me I needed to do it. Since I learned to hear him, I said, "OK, I'll do it and see if it works." So I tried with some people and it didn't work out. And then the second time around, he said, "I want you to do it." It's very funny if you've never heard God's voice, but you have a certainty about it. So I said, "OK, I'm gonna do it and I'm not gonna moan about it." And since we'd been like a few months together, what kind of music wasn't an issue. The fact that we were just doing it and were gonna write about Jesus was. And now I just rewrote "FM." Some of the words are the same, we changed it a little bit, and we're doing it tonight.
Tell me some of the other things you've been doing over the past 15 years...maybe that's too broad of a timeline...
OK. I'm married and I have three kids. Sandy, Macarena and Hannah. Sandy's 14 and Hannah is 6. (ed note: Macarena is 12) So that's kind of taken some time. First of all, we had gone to India. We were just looking for an answer and we found this other group. We got involved in them for a time, which mixes Hindu ideas with Christian ideas. It was all phony. The High Priest tried to kiss me when I went to ask him about some spiritual issues.
Sounds like the Beatles and the Maharishi or something.
I mean, I didn't leave because of that. Someone came and told me about Jesus while I was in that thing, and how the Bible is the word of God. I was brought up Catholic in Spain; you never hear the Bible much. Because I was so angry inside, I started thinking, "Is it true?" So I just opened the Bible and God really used it to talk to me. I had a living Bible. One day I was going for this walk and I had the Bible with me, and he said I was really mad...I don't know if you get mad, you probably don't, right? (laughter)
I am the picture of placidity and calm all the time.
I'm very emotional, so when I get mad I get really mad. Like I remember in one of the interviews, I was saying, "I just want to master my emotions." I wanted to project them, express them -- I have a bit of artist in me -- but I didn't want to be run by them. Someone had already witnessed to me about Jesus, and I opened the Bible and he said, "You've been saying these people are really bad, right? But you're just as bad! And I've been so patient with you." I tell you, that was the voice of God at that right time. I knew he was around, and something in me just said, "Yeah. I acknowledge you. It wasn't in the words or anything, but He really told me that He was the answer. When I was sick, there was healing in Him. So then I just started reading the Bible and became very alive. And it related to the things were happening to me. Because I had been having the astral travelings, I could feel a spiritual presence at time. I could actually feel him, and I knew that he was real. That was nine years ago. I have never lasted with anything like that. Because I still know he's real, that what he said was real.
When did you move to America? How long have you been here?
It's gonna be six years in July.
What brought you to Cape Cod?
I came for a vacation with my swimsuit and that, and decided to stay. My mother-in-law lived here. We came to visit her and God told me to stay here. And it's been great. We love it.
And you're playing drums again.
Is the time just right now?
Well, as I said, God told me to do it. And I like to do what He says. He knows better than me, and when I do what He says, it works. Now, it's not like I'm not myself; I don't feel that. He doesn't overrule you; you're still a person. I feel myself more now than ever.
What do your children think of your scrapbook and your past?
They think it's great! They think it's funny. A lot of people can't imagine it, you know?
Did you keep in touch with any of your former bandmates?
With Tessa; I went to visit her. With Gina...I mean, Gina was close. In the Raincoats, Gina was the person I knew most. I would ask my sister, who was still living in London for time, about them.
Was your sister a musician as well?
No. She did ceramics. She is an artist.
I understand you didn't know the Raincoats reunited last year and played in Boston.
I had no idea. And that Vicky lives in Rhode Island? I was blown away!
Sara Bishop Valentine is what she calls herself now. How did you feel when you found out that there's been a resurgence of sorts in the Raincoats?
Great, you know? I don't have a problem. It gives me an opportunity to speak about Jesus. If nobody was interested...I would speak about Jesus anyway!
Well, I'm curious about the rest of this scrapbook.
That's Siouxsie & The Banshees...and here's this guy, that transvestite...
There's Paul Simonon, Johnny Rotten...we would hang around together, you know. This poll is from a magazine called Zig Zag...kind of like the magazine you have.
(Mike, reading from the 1979 poll): Best Group: The Slits #7. Unknown Unsigned Band: The Slits #1, The Raincoats #2. Kleenex at #7, the Swell Maps #9... (Jen): We like all these bands.
You do? (laughs)
Hot Tip For The Top, once again the Slits and the Raincoats top the bill, followed by Gang Of Four and the Undertones. #1 Record Label, Rough Trade. #5 TV show, Mork & Mindy. Favorite person, Palmolive #10. Where did you get the nickname Palmolive, by the way?
From Paul Simonon. We were just hanging around somewhere, just joking: "What's your name?" "My name is Paloma." Because it was a Spanish name and he couldn't pronounce it, he was just being wise and said, "PALMOLIVE??" And I thought that was funny, you know, so I kept the name.
Best Dressed, The Slits at #5.
You should have seen us, man! I had this red miniskirt, fishnet tights...in England they had these laundry bags in blue and red, so we used to make a hole and stick things from them, I mean, anything could be clothes.
(Mike): Best Female Singer: Ari Up. Sexiest #10: Palmolive. Not on the charts the year before, it says. Wayne County's at #7, and Viv is at #4. (Jeremy): How could Wayne County beat you??
I don't know. I contest that!
Here's an interview with the Slits: "We are feminists in a way. We don't want to tell anyone how to act. We just want to show them what we're doing, what girls can do."
The way we felt about feminists...we were aware that we were women, but I never liked the feminst movement, like the political side of it. I liked that women are people and that you don't just put someone down because of that,. There is a dignity. But we weren't feminists in that same sense.
(Jen): Do you think in Spain it was more difficult to be treated as a woman? Was that part of the freedom in England?
Yeah. But what I saw -- and what I see now too -- is that women are trying to be men, and that there is a difference and that it's a good difference. It's good to be a woman, and that there is a dignity.
What do your children listen to?
They listen to...well, my son is playing the drums. They listen to Nirvana.
(Jen): Kurt Cobain was very influenced by the Raincoats. His wife's band, Hole, covered "The Void." He's really the reason why all the albums were reissued on CD.
Well, before he died, didn't he want the Raincoats to go on tour with them?
Right. They were going to open for his band in Europe.
They couldn't believe it. They said, "What, our band?"...My children are Christians, too. They change their words. They listen to anything that's coming around...I don't remember the names.
You mean they do songs they listen to and change the words? Jeremy was telling me they're in their own band.
Oh, you should see him! He's a riot! One time they were playing, and (the band) was saying, "Sandy, slow down!" from the back. And his friends said, "He said speed up!" So he sped up. He's standing up and running like mad...I was cracking up as I heard about it...(looking at another picture) This is near where I lived. You see that graffiti there? I did a lot of graffiti, so we got very well-known because of that. And I used to love it; I used to like climbing places. They never caught me; I'm kind of a snake, you know?
Here's Nina Hagen photos.
She wanted us to get rid of Ari and be her backup, but we turned it down. We had a sense of commitment to each other, really. To begin with, we were all getting on in a sense. We were doing something togehter, and it was happening. And [Nina] was too straight for us too, you know? She was rich, wealthy...she wasn't like us. I mean, we liked her and everything; she invited us to Europe...
"What Happens When A Punk Rocker Meets Jesus?" What's this from?
From my children's school. They did a Christian club. You wouldn't believe the problems...as the Slits, we played in the schools, no problem. Now you're a Christian, and you try to get in the schools. One year I'd been fighting with those guys in the superintendent's office. They don't like the fact that if you're a Christian, to talk about things that are Christian...you can say anything today in the schools but you can't talk about Jesus.
How'd it go?
Great. I had a film I'd just gotten that day from Boston (The Punk Rock Movie video, courtesy of Jeremy). We went there, we ran it, and the kids were blown away. It was good.
So did Malcolm McLaren ever get involved in the Slits at all? You said he was interested.
We did some things, yeah. He took us to...like, a gay club, he took us there (giggling). We were a riot; we didn't care. He was trying to break us. That was the day he told me he really liked "Shoplifting." He had this ring on his finger, like a black magic thing.
What is Richard Dudanski up to these days?
He has a group in Spain. He's an excellent drummer.
(Mike): The Slits with Steel Pulse...this is all just a whole other era. (Jen): There are a lot of people in our circles that really like music from this era: you, the Fall, the Swell Maps, Essential Logic. All these bands are actually a very big influence on a lot of what we listen to. I bet you didn't even know that.
I didn't. I had no clue, no idea. I knew that the Slits were gonna do a record because we were working on it, and we had gone to the studio and discussed the cover. And I had the Raincoats' little thing. And I knew that they had been going on, but I had no idea.
(Mike): This is a flyer from a show with the Clash, the Buzzcocks, the Slits and Subway Sect. (Jen): Did you know that Vic Godard [of the Subway Sect] is still going? He recently put out an album of new solo album. He's now very smooth pop. Very different.
I have a picture of him...here it is. Vic Godard and Don Letts. And Palmolive. Getting drunk. (flipping to a picture of Joe Strummer kneeling down onstage in front of a fist-pumping audience) I picked this picture because we broke up, so I wasn't supposed to like him. But I thought that picture is very...look at his expression and look at the [audience's hands]. Doesn't that convey something. That is exactly the feeling I got out of it, that these people were reaching out to him, and he's saying, "I don't have the answer."
He looks perplexed.
Totally. "What am I gonna do? I don't even know how to fix my own life!"
And underneath, in your handwriting, it says, "It's hard for a man to have people look up to you and not to have an answer for your own life!"
And I'm not saying just him. I didn't have it.
Before we turn off the tape recorder, is there anything else you want to add?
I guess what I really have to say is, if someone out there is searching, to give Jesus a chance. To really read the Bible and say, "Are you real?" That's what I did, and my life has changed for the better. My life is based on something that is real. It's very good to be creative, but that in itself is not an end.
Actually, one more question. Who's in your band now, the one we're going to see tonight?
My husband is singing. Steve Jefferson is playing the bass. Dan DePric plays the sax. Susie Peaze plays the piano. And I play the drums, and tonight I'm gonna sing! Oh, the other thing I wanted to say is we are going to write a book about it. I don't know when and how, but this isn't the only thing I do, you know?
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