Sunday, 6 March 2016

Guilty Pleasures (Part 10)


As a teenager full of the joys of youth, I rather liked the Anarcho Punk band Crass and would always go out of my way to catch them live. They would lay on what can only be described as a roadshow, with banks of televisions stacked alongside stages bedecked in anarchist and peace banners. It was all very un-rock'n'roll.
They were always supported by bands and poets such as Flux Of Pink Indians, Poison Girls, Dirt, Andy T, and Annie Anxiety. Except these bands and poets weren't really support acts because they were all very brilliant in their own right; Poison Girls in particular, who on a variety of levels may even have been actually better than Crass.
Yes, I used to like Poison Girls.

Their lead vocalist was a woman in her mid-forties who went by the name of Vi Subversa and she was unconventional to say the least. That is, unconventional in terms of who might typically be regaling audiences of volatile, angry young Punk rockers in an Anarcho Punk band.
Her voice was cracked and smoke-ravaged in a Marianne Faithfull kind of way, and her age lent her lyrics a conviction that shone with a truthfulness that was rare. When she sang - or declared - for example, a line such as "I denounce the system that murders my children," you just knew she really meant it.
All of Poison Girls' songs were exceptionally good but there was one in particular that for me was inspirational. A song from their d├ębut album Chappaquiddick Bridge, entitled Daughters and Sons. It was a song that demanded no explanation. You either understood it or you didn't and if you didn't then you probably never would.

I saw Poison Girls live on a number of occasions over the years, one such time being at the Treworgey Festival, in 1989. There's a school of thought that says the Castlemorton free festival of 1992 was the last major free festival before the Criminal Justice Bill took hold but I'd argue it was Treworgey even though it was actually (or meant to be) a ticket festival.
Like the Glastonbury festival at that time, there was the pay-to-enter site and the free Convoy site adjacent to it but very quickly all the fences came down and it merged into one gigantic free-for-all with no policing, no rules and no infrastructure.

Along with Hawkwind, the Levellers, Misty In Roots, Gaye Bykers On Acid, Chaos UK and all kinds of strange and wonderful bands, Poison Girls played a set and later on that evening I saw Vi out on site and on a whim I approached her and said "Hey! Thank you, Vi, for just being alive!"
She gave me a bemused look and asked why I said this so I replied "For being so good, for being so brilliant, for being so inspirational."
I found myself babbling and Vi probably thought I was just drug-addled (as most people at that festival were) but I wasn't really. Well, I made my excuses and continued on my merry way, leaving me feeling as though I'd just embarrassed myself and Vi probably wondering what the fuck was all that about?

A few months later I went to see Poison Girls again when they played at the Thekla showboat in Bristol, and I saw Vi walking around in the venue so, like an idiot, I approached her again and with a smile said "Thank you, Vi." And once again she gave me a bemused look as if to say 'What for?'. And once again I began babbling: "For everything. For being so good. For being so inspirational. For just being alive." I was embarrassing myself again.

Vi Subversa passed away last month, which made me remember these two occasions I met her, both times (though she was on both occasions lovely with me) leaving me thinking I'd made a fool of myself. With the news of her passing, I once again pondered just how brilliant Poison Girls were and how very special and inspirational they were. And it made me think I'm glad I said those things to her on those two occasions rather than trying to be cool or trying to discuss politics or whatever with her. I'm glad I said what I said because I meant it and now there'll never be an opportunity to say such a thing again - except for here on the Internet.
So, thank you, Vi, for everything. For being so good. For being so brilliant. For being so inspirational.
Thank you for just having lived.
                                                                                                                                                                               John Serpico


  1. I think what you said was absolutely lovely, so genuine and from the heart, real - people trying to be cool or to discuss politics with her was something she'd probably had more than enough of, I'd imagine! She was a true one-off.

    1. Thank you, C. I appreciate what you say.