“I wanted 10 pence for the dryer/ Yes that was how we met/ My laundry bag was broken/ My clothes were soaking wet.”
So begins Launderette, the one and only solo single by Vivien Goldman, released in 1981. Better known for encapsulating artists in words than actually being one, Goldman was one of the finest and most inspirational music writers of the late-’70s and ’80s. Forming close and lasting bonds with the likes of Bob Marley and Fela Kuti, she blurred the line between reporter and participator, sending missives out from the centre of the storm, most notably throughout the insanely fruitful punk and post-punk eras.
Now known as a professor of punk and reggae at New York University, I was amazed and delighted when a last minute
email asking her to confirm a couple of research queries led
to a fascinating conversation with the lady herself.
Lyrically the song is a tale of doomed love, superbly rendered in that uniquely British everyday fashion that is typified by the likes of Ray Davis, Terry Hall and, these days, Lily Allen. Musically it is built on a devastatingly infectious, wandering elephantine bass line, shards of echo chamber violin and fractured guitar, and Latin, by way of West London, percussion. On the flip, the similarly astounding Private Armies moves deeper into dubwise territory with Goldman mournfully riffing on male violence from “skinheads beating the shit out of a person on the pavement” to the “heavy metal boys or the boys in blue”.