The Raincoats: Unacceptable in the 80s

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of The Raincoats' seminal debut with its first commercial issue in 10 years this month, founding member Gina Birch recalls a world of possibilities during the formative years of the cult all-female post-punk outfit.

Feature by Gina Birch | 28 Oct 2009

I had just arrived in London in September 1976 to study Fine Art at Hornsey School of Art, where I met Ana. It was an amazing, exciting time. Punk was happening and we went to see loads of shows, particularly at the Roxy Club in Neal Street when it opened.

I was living in a squat, with no hot water and plaster falling off the crumbling walls, but life was good. It felt like we were part of something, we walked our own streets in our own way. I lived next door to Palmolive's sister Esperanza and her partner Richard who had been in the 101'ers with Joe Strummer. In the street where I lived, there were lots of artists and musicians. The houses have all been done up and now when somewhere becomes vacant, usually someone working in banking moves in.

Rough Trade record shop was open and it was a great meeting place with tables and chairs and magazines and people happy to talk about music. Ana worked in the shop for a while.

In early '77, The Slits formed and I went to all their early shows. I was completely blown away and realised that something was happening for us girls. Possibilities were opening up. Maybe I could be in a band too. Ana and I discussed it, and eventually one day I bought a bass guitar. Ana was from Madeira and had spent the summer of '77 there. When she came back to London and heard I had bought the bass, we immediately got together and tried to write a song, with Nick Turner on drums and Ross Crighton also on guitar.

Eventually we found a perfect combination of Ana, myself, Palmolive, the best drummer in the world, who had just been evicted from the Slits, and Vicky Aspinall on violin. Geoff from Rough Trade decided the time was right for us to make a single and Mayo Thompson came and worked with us on ideas and arrangements. We then went to record the three tracks: Fairytale in the Supermarket, In Love and Adventures Close to Home. After the single release we did a tour with Kleenex and Spizz Energie, and came back to London to record the LP. By this time, we were as rehearsed as we could be, after 28 live dates, and we made the record very quickly. It was still a very exciting time.

The major cloud on the horizon was that Margaret Thatcher had come to power as Prime Minister, and was about to change the climate in Britain quite extensively. The creative period of punk was soon hijacked. In '81, MTV began, and awful bands like Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran took up the 'creative' challenge. I was very disillusioned in this period and we became more interested in how we could stretch things and make our own music in our own way. From being at the centre of something, things all started to fragment.

Scritti Politti eventually signed to a major, as did the Gang of Four, and tried to head for the charts, with some success. But things seemed to become more and more about appearance and surface sheen, shoulder pads and power dressing. God I hated aspects of the 80s!!

- Gina Birch - October, 2009

The Raincoats is reissued via We ThRee on 9 Nov.