Indie, revisited

An interview with Hedi Slimane’s Dior Homme SS07 Tambourine Angel, Ronnie Joice
By Alex James Taylor | Fashion | 9 January 2023

Ronnie Joice / Littl’ans, photography by Hedi Slimane, 2006

Bringing Hedi Slimane‘s SS07 Dior Homme to its grand finale – and subsequently the designer’s time at the French fashion house (this was his penultimate collection for the maison) – was Ronnie Joice of 00s UK indie band, Littl’ans. Wearing crystal-studded, full-size angel wings and rattling his signature tambourine as he swayed down the runway, Joice became an enduring image of Slimane’s agenda-defining tenure at Dior. Karl Lagerfeld said Joice’s ‘tambourine angel’ (as Slimane affectionately referred to him) made him cry, while his heavenly silhouette was front-page fashion news across the world.

A self-proclaimed chancer, Joice was a Littl’ans fan before frontman Andrew Aveling brought him on stage one gig and, enamoured by Joice’s vivacious energy, invited him into the band as a tambourine-shaking, effervescent talisman. Tours with Pete Doherty‘s Babyshambles followed, as did police raids, exploding gas canisters, cancelled tours and a 2005 sell-out gig at London’s iconic 100 Club supporting Babyshambles. Hedi Slimane was in the crowd that night photographing the show, and saw something in Joice’s visceral dancing, who, spinning in poetic anarchy, smashed his many beaded necklaces across amps and into the audience as the band played. From there, Slimane asked Littl’ans to soundtrack his SS07 Dior Homme show, and gave Joice the emblematic closing role.

In light of Slimane’s latest Celine show revisiting this seminal era of Indie romanticism, Joice recounts those wild London years, and how he became Hedi Slimane’s tambourine angel.

Alex James Taylor: I’m really pleased this musical era is being revisited and celebrated, especially for the younger generation who didn’t live through it the first time – it was such a joyous, messy, creative period.
Ronnie Joice: I felt this Indie revival was coming. I think there’s a real appetite for hearing these stories again, which is great. I feel like I was like the Forrest Gump of Indie, well maybe the Great Gatsby of Indie – the big blagger. I ended up having this ridiculous role playing tambourine for a band fronted by another Forest Gump of indie, Andrew Aveling, who lived with Jarvis Cocker for ten years, and with Pete [Doherty].

I actually missed The Libertines the first time around, Babyshambles were my band, and we went on tour with Babyshambles for the Down in Albion tour in 2005. Me joining Littl’ans was all just a happy accident. One day Littl’ans were playing the Duke of Clarence and Pete was performing with Kate Moss on stage, Andrew was playing and Adam from Babyshambles. It was all very exciting for me to be around these people. I got chatting to Andrew because someone had sent me his demos and I loved them – I knew all the words – and he was like, “Well, why don’t you come up and sing with me tonight?” We got up on stage and it was these two microphones that had been sellotaped together to make one and they were still falling apart. I was pissed and just kind of mumbled these words with him. It was a really boisterous crowd in this shitty rundown, illegal pub, and all of a sudden the coppers arrive. I looked up and there were these policemen walking down the stairs and, and this African man Tayo was going, “Welcome to the Duke of Clarence! Come in sir, would you like a drink?” [laughs]. The Littl’ans snowball went from there. Because of the Pete single [Pete featured on Littl’ans’ track, Their Way] and his notoriety, he’d just broken up with Kate when we went on tour, he was the most famous person in the country. The gigs were incredible because it was a mix of young, disenfranchised kids and people who would go to see the car crash of Doherty – they wanted to see him die on stage. You could feel it in the room, it was fucked. I remember playing Cardiff Union and it was a really, really horrible atmosphere because people really wanted to see him collapse, they bought the tickets to watch some Victorian fucking freak show.

AJT: Pete at that time really encapsulated the scene – the highs and the lows.
RJ: For me, the birth and death of Indie happened on one day: Glastonbury 2005, that iconic picture of Kate and Pete in the mud. It was the day that put that entire scene into everybody’s front rooms, but it was also the day all the brands got involved, all this stuff that bastardised it in the end, that created the landfill indie scene out of something that at the time in London was raw and incredible. There was no commercial sensibility to it, you know, we had an agent but I never fucking knew who he was. We would show up to gigs and because we played with Babyshambles we learned a few of the tricks of the trade. We saw Babyshambles’ gear get confiscated quite a lot by the police because they were always after Pete, and we couldn’t really afford any gear, so we’d just lie and say that the police had confiscated our gear as well. So we’d drive up to Newcastle or Doncaster, all these kinds of places, and go, “Oh, you know what, we’d love to play this gig, but we haven’t got any equipment.” Imagine that now, music is much more of a well-run industry now.

AJT: The Their way video was filmed after that Duke of Clarence gig, right? Can you tell me about that?
RJ: Yeah, the police raid seemed to encourage an impromptu performance of Their Way between Andrew and Doherty, with everyone walking down the street away from the pub alongside them… including said coppers! Our pal Guy [Nisbett] is a filmmaker and captured everything as it unfolded into this fun climax of a sing-a-long.

I went on tour with the band after that Duke of Clarence gig thinking I was just going as a sort of roadie. Then the first night in Sheffield, Andrew goes, “Ronnie, why don’t you come on stage?” And I walk on and the whole crowd starts chanting my name – what a buzz. I remember our manager being like, “Right, Ron, you had your five minutes of fame, that’s you done now. The Pete single’s coming out next week, don’t fuck this up for us.” And Andrew’s in the dressing room saying, “No, do you want to be in the band?” And me going, “Yeah, alright. I’ll come on tour.” So the next week was Manchester Academy and again I saunter on stage and I was just like a duck to water playing this tambourine. I remember our bass player at the time was this girl called Pato and she couldn’t hear a single thing she was playing. I’d never played the tambourine, so I’m just rattling this thing out of tune, but the crowd are lapping it up and we’re having this amazing rapport with them.

Then we played the 100 Club as part of the Club NME tour, which again is total fucking mayhem, our car explodes halfway along the fucking M1, we get double-booked with the Echo and the Bunnymen one night in Liverpool – we were like, “Can we support you?” and they were like, “Fuck off!” [laughs] Then our drummer quits mid-tour because he just can’t hack living in the back of a Ford Escort driving up and down the motorway and Adam [Ficek] from Babyshambles says “Right, fuck it. I’ll come and fill in for this one gig for you.” But yeah, basically the 100 Club gig is the start of the Hedi story. So we get to the 100 Club and again by this point, I’m very much… through the migration of band members quitting I think I’m now like the second longest-serving member


AJT: Within a year?
RJ: Within six weeks [both laugh]. That’s how transient the Indie scene was. The first time I ever met Hedi… well I didn’t even meet him at that point, it was at the 100 Club and this really important gig. So we’d done the Babyshambles tour, we’d done a couple more gigs, and I’m very much a member of the Littl’ans by this point – almost a kind of frontman, as it were. I was wearing these girls’ jeans and winklepickers from Office. I used to wear a lot of girls’ clothes, most of my wardrobe was girls’ clothes, because I was so skinny. I had on this girls’ top that was all stripey and had a safety pin fastened between my top and jeans because it didn’t really fit my midriff properly. Then I had all these beads around my neck that I must have just collected. I got on stage and I remember picking up the beads and just smashing them across the speaker stack and them just exploding everywhere like this massive confetti cannon of life. It was this really bold performance, the crowd was going crazy and it was all really rock and roll, really cool. Then this woman who was a very low key fashion designer came up to me and was like, “Hedi Slimane was here tonight.” And I’d only really heard of him because he did that book about the London scene. I was just like, “Oh that’s cool, that’s alright.” Not realising it’s like, Hedi Slimane.

So that all dies down and I’m at Andrew’s house, and he goes, “Oh, I’ve got an email from Dior Homme here asking if Hedi could meet you.” And I was like, “Who is he? Why does he want to meet me?” And he was like, “Ronnie, do you know who this is? You have to meet him.” I told my girlfriend and she was like, “Oh my god.” I had no idea, like now at 35 if someone like Hedi Slimane asked to meet me, I’d make sure I had my suit on, I’d get my hair cut, my beard done. It was the complete opposite. When I showed up, like half my sole was falling off my fucking Winklepickers, I had to borrow money from my girlfriend to get the tube. I walk in and Hedi is just sat there. I remember we met for lunch, we must have gone to The Diner on Curtain Road or somewhere because I would have chosen somewhere shit, probably worried in case he wasn’t paying [laughs]. I sit down and he’s like, “I loved your show.” And he starts telling me about this street performer in Paris in the 1900s who used to stand on a wooden block and perform this dancing act, to no music at all. Hedi said that he’d been asked to make a project for the Grand Palais for this big initiative for the Culture of France and he said, “I want you to be the model. I’ve got a studio on Curtain Road, if you can come back next week we’ll get an iPod and hide it in your ears… we’ll get you in your full Littl’ans outfit…” I used to wear these big boots where you could hear the heels tapping on the wood… He said, “Make sure you wear lots of beads because we like the beads, and I’m going to film you.” So I show up again and this time there’s about five or six people there and to anyone else this would be very bizarre, but the way life just seemed to be going was like, this is what happens to me now. He films and it’s literally just this camera straight on me, he asked me to do a 60 minute performance three times of all our songs, but you couldn’t hear these songs, all you can hear is my foot tapping. And that was that, done.

So I get another email a few weeks later and he’s inviting us to Paris to come and see the finished video at the opening event at the Grand Palais. I’d never been abroad and didn’t have a passport. I’ve got some pictures of Dior having to buy my tickets and my passport and all this stuff, they had to call up the passport office and get me a fast-track passport. I went with Andrew and I remember we got into the hotel room, and I’ve never done this before or after, but I got a permanent marker and wrote Littl’ans on the wall. Obviously Dior heard about it and they called me up and said, “Ronnie, we’ve heard about this, the hotel has charged us, we’re not gonna tell Hedi.” Then we get to the Grand Palais, and I can hear the sound of my tambourine rattling somewhere in the room. It’s this huge exhibition, the French Prime Minister is there. I find the video and it’s in a small, understated part of the exhibition. I just stood there watching myself performing on this little video screen and thought how utterly surreal it all was. I haven’t got a copy of the video, but I’ve got some stills because I’ve got this magazine Hedi made. The whole exhibition was called Portrait of a Performer.

AJT: Which he’s still doing to this day.
RJ: Wow, so I don’t know if I was the first. I’m not sure. So I thought that was it, the end of these three incredible weeks of my life. We go for a bit of lunch the next day with Hedi and he said to Andrew, “Will you do the music for the show?” I felt very detached from that because I didn’t really work on the music, that was Andrew’s thing. I didn’t understand how that was going to change our lives. I mean, it was only a short time it did change our lives, but the next six months became more and more surreal. Hedi then turned around during lunch and said, “And Ronnie, I want you to be in the show.” I was like, what the fuck? I mean, I didn’t have a girlfriend until I was like seventeen – I never considered myself a model. So again they booked me tickets for Paris and I go on my own this time. I get to Paris, and there’s a guy with a sign: ‘Mr. Ronnie’. I jump in the car and we get to get to this huge aircraft hangar on the outskirts of Paris. Inside was this huge catwalk.

Hedi’s one of most inspirational people I’ve ever worked with, because how he saw that space, and how he turned it into what the show eventually became, I have no idea how he did that. He literally walked into an empty aircraft hangar and could see exactly where he wanted his lights, where the catwalk needed to be. Then he has the idea that he wants this motorised harness flying back and forth across the catwalk, which made me instantly think of Frank Spencer in Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em – that scene when he crashes through the church [laughs]. And Hedi goes, “You’re gonna be up there.” I’m like, “You fucking what?” [laughs] So he disappears and these French builders put me up in this harness.

One day Littl’ans were playing the Duke of Clarence and Pete was performing with Kate Moss on stage…”

AJT: And what did Hedi’s team say to you? What do they want you to do?
RJ: They pulled out these diamond-encrusted angel wings, which were under lock and key because they were clearly very valuable. Originally, I got up there just to check it, and then as the day went on, I would then have the wings on. Then the harness isn’t moving quick enough for Hedi’s liking, because you know the pace the models walk. He brings me down and goes, “This does not work.” And I’m like, fuck yes [laughs]. Then Hedi says, “Don’t worry Ronnie, you will walk as my tambourine angel, you will close the show.” So that was all very surreal. I hadn’t even considered that I’m going to be the finale of a Dior show.

But to skip back to that crazy time during the recording process of the song. It was in 2006, Hedi would travel to London and spend days with us. We go to this lovely spot in Hampstead Heath by Parliament Hill, and got bottles of wine and pizzas. It was a beautiful summer or early spring and we’d just sit there and read. We got ice cream at one point and I had to explain to Hedi what a 99 was [laughs]. He just took these amazing photographs of us, the way he shoots and edits is beautiful, the way he works with black and white especially. He would come to the studio for the day while the band recorded the track, and I’d be hung over probably in bed somewhere. We did that for about a month, maybe two months up until that rehearsal time when we were flown to Paris together.

AJT: How much did Hedi get involved with the track?
RJ: I wasn’t there for the actual nuts and bolts, but there were a lot of conversations about the song. He obviously had a real vision for it. It was fascinating because he sat there and stitched two of our songs together, Chelsea and this other song, We Look Good Together. So we get to the rehearsal and it’s a very different vibe now because all the other models are there. I was only the finale, so they were working on their looks, the fittings, all the kind of stuff that you’d expect. I was wearing this kind of black Dior sleeveless shirt, Dior trousers, Dior shoes, the wings, and my tambourine. Again, it was the same as my Portrait of a Performer video, I had this iPod hidden up my back and the headphones in my ears.

I just stood there watching myself performing on this little video screen and thought how utterly surreal it all was.

“Mick Jagger’s there, Karl Lagerfeld is there – supposedly he burst into tears saying my angel was so beautiful.”

AJT: You had earphones in while you walked?
RJ: Yeah, but there’s a funny story to go with that. So it’s the day of the show and I remember I had this huge curly hair that was straightened by two women. It was like dreadlocks, matted almost, and they had to straighten it, straighten it, straighten it. I was sat there and could hear all the excitement up front. And Andrew was sat on the front row next to Mick Jagger – he’s a massive Rolling Stones fan and said they were chatting away, which is crazy. Then the show happens, the models finish walking and all the lights go down. The doors open. There’s me – tambourine, wings. Then as the doors open, I get this prompt to hit play on my iPod, and my hands are shaking so much that I turn it on, and then immediately turn it off again by accident. So I walk into no music. And it’s this never-ending catwalk.

AJT: The finale was silent, right?
RJ: Exactly, so I had the iPod to try and keep some time, especially with the tambourine, which I never really played in time anyway. There’s an amazing picture I’ve saved from a French newspaper and I think they suggested it was Hedi’s last show because it was like an angel ascending, you know, in a very symbolic way. So there’s no music, doors open, lights up, you know, fucking floodlights, and boom – go! I’m just trying to keep my game face on and the only person I saw in the wings was Andrew, who was like, “Come on, my son!” Mick Jagger’s there, Karl Lagerfeld is there – supposedly he burst into tears saying my angel was so beautiful. Then I get to the end and there’s the paparazzi scrum, cameras going bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, I get to the end and I’m meant to do a little rattle and then head back, and as I do that all the other models follow me, topless with black sashes across their chests, and there’s me leading the troops out, I’m all over the place, wobbling everywhere.

I remember picking up the beads and just smashing them across the speaker stack and them just exploding everywhere like this massive confetti cannon of life.

Then we get backstage and it’s done. I remember being backstage and having the wings quickly taken off me. Andrew came through and there was a bloke in my way – it was Elton John. It was this huge, A-lister event. Then I go into a room with Hedi and some others and Hedi was like, “You were amazing…” it was Hedi’s birthday that day and he’d hired this pub called The Highlander in Paris by the river and he said, “Would you come and play for my birthday party?” I ended up DJing beforehand with Andrew and I remember Mick Jagger was in the crowd and Andrew asked him if he’d come up and play a song with us. Jagger was like, “What song?” And Andrew said, “19th Nervous Breakdown.” I missed all this because I was DJing. Then we got on stage to play and during our set Andrew was like, “I think we’ve got a special guest in the room if he’d like to come up?” And Jagger had left by this point [both laugh]. It was so much to take in. It was just like did you see the stylish kids in a riot, it really did encapsulate that lyric. I saw Hedi maybe one more time after that, he came to a club night I put on in Soho, we had a big hug and he called me his tambourine angel. He’s so selfless in the way he operates. He must be aware of the impact he makes, but he never ever drives it home. Just imagine the pool of bands and people he had to pull from who were a lot more professional and reliable than Littl’ans, we were a mess, but Hedi took us and gave us a stage.

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