‘I’m in the Band’ Ep. 9: Palmolive
Paloma Romero McLardy, a.k.a. Palmolive, split from the repressive, Franco-era Spain of her upbringing and landed in a London squat, where she started going out with Joe Strummer of the 101-ers and the Clash. A free spirit not to be contained, Palmolive wasn’t content with being a band boy’s girlfriend, so she started the first all-girl punk band, the Slits. A girl gang to be reckoned with, the Slits smashed society’s expectations of women on stage and in the streets and are now the subject of a documentary, Here to Be Heard: The Story of the Slits.
After leaving the Slits, Palmolive joined another groundbreaking feminist band, the Raincoats, and played on their seminal first album, The Raincoats, also documented in a 33 1/3 book by Jenn Pelly. In this episode, Palmolive talks about learning to drum in a street mime troupe, clashing with Sid Vicious, and playing in two of punk’s most influential and irreverent all-girl bands.
On growing up in Spain… I grew up in Malaga, a very beautiful, warm place in the south of Spain. I came from a big family of nine brothers and sisters; I was number eight. We were very wild and crazy, and as the numbers went down, we’d get more and more wild, and my parents had less control over us.
I remember a lot of conversations in the kitchen about life, what is important, why we are here — very philosophical, about justice. Spain, at the time, was under the dictatorship of Franco, which lasted like 40 years. People here in America don’t realize what living in a dictatorship is. You complain about someone being obnoxious. Well, you had someone being obnoxious, and that was [against] the law, too. You could think it, but you could not share it. We were young and we didn’t accept it.
On running off to London… London, to me, represented freedom. I borrowed £100 from someone to cross customs. Right when I got through, I sent it to my friend so he could come. I didn’t know anybody. I had an address of someone, went to their house, and said, ‘I’m friends of So-and-So. Can you please help me find a job?’ They were shocked. I got a job in Piccadilly Circus doing dishes. I was so excited. I didn’t understand the language. People would say, ‘How are you?’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my god, what the heck are they saying?’ Eventually I landed in the squats. Suddenly I’m on my own, making my own life, writing home and saying, ‘Mama, I’m in a commune!’
On learning to play drums… I wanted to be a street artist. I wanted to do mime. I had to start juggling to get myself in the mood and get the skills. There was this Belgian guy who thought he was Francisco Franco Bahamonde, because he was such a tyrant. He had a girlfriend, and he’d say, ‘Do this and do that!’ So I lasted three days. But in those three days, he said, ‘We don’t need someone to do mime. We need someone to play the drums.’ So, I picked the drums to do rolls while his girlfriend did the splits and whatever he told her to do. Obviously, that didn’t last, but I touched the drums. I never felt like melody was a strong skill that I had, so I felt like rhythm was my thing. I loved dancing, and to me, the drums were more like dancing.
On playing in the Flowers of Romance with Sid Vicious… We were practicing in my squat, and then we’re done and the other girls have gone. And Sid Vicious is really coming onto me in a punkish prince kind of way, kicking the cat, looking rough and so tough. And he said to me, ‘I hate Blacks.’ And I looked at him and said, ‘I hate people that hate Blacks.’ So of course the conversation wasn’t going very far. But he still didn’t leave. I didn’t find him sexy or attractive, and I wanted my space. But I didn’t say, ‘Get out.’ I was young, and I didn’t know what to do. Next time we had band practice, he says, ‘You’re out. You’re just not right.’ And I said, ‘You need to leave. You’re not practicing here anymore. See you later!’ But I’m determined I’m gonna do it, and I’m gonna do it with girls, because I don’t wanna deal with that.
On making music without being professional musicians… When I encountered the drums, I’m like, ‘Oh, this sounds really cool.’ So I just started, like a little kid painting. A little kid is not inhibited by rules at the beginning. You give them paint, and they put these amazing colors together, and it’s beautiful. But then, I had to deal with the criticism: ‘You’re no good. You guys stink. You’re not musicians, blah blah blah.’ No, no — we’re enjoying this. This is alive in me right now, and I’m having fun. I’m sharing it with other people, and they like it. So I’m gonna keep doing it, even if you don’t think it’s good.
(Photo credit: Ian Dickson)
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