The darling of the alternative scene and punk pioneer talks ahead of her Book Festival appearance
When Cosey Fanni Tutti's autobiography, Art Sex Music, was published earlier this year, it provided a remarkable account of life on the frontline of a very English counter-cultural underground. Over its 500 pages, Art Sex Music also lays bare a deeply personal account of how a smart and fiercely individual working class teenager from Hull called Christine Newby landed in the thick of an alternative artistic firmament. All of which should make for an electrifying conversation between Tutti and author Ian Rankin as part of a List-sponsored Edinburgh International Book Festival event.
'I'd been planning to do a book for years,' says Tutti of the motivation behind Art Sex Music. 'A lot of my work in music and in exhibitions is very autobiographical anyway, so it made sense to try and get it all down in the one place.'
The first part of the book relates how, after falling in with a bad crowd led by future partner-in-crime Genesis P-Orridge, Newby/Tutti became part of live art troupe, COUM Transmissions, which eventually morphed into industrial music auteurs, Throbbing Gristle. When COUM's Prostitution exhibition, which included images of Tutti posing in pornographic magazines, appeared at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1976, Tutti, COUM and TG were famously denounced by Scottish Conservative MP Nicholas Fairbairn as 'wreckers of civilisation'. It was a badge of honour that stuck, and provided the title for Simon Ford's soon-to-be-republished 1999 COUM/TG biography.
Where Ford's book put P-Orridge at its centre, Art Sex Music exposes a fuller and at times bleaker picture of a relationship that saw Tutti at the beck and call of P-Orridge's manipulations, offset by her increasingly independent personal and artistic emancipation. Tutti's later adventures with life partner and fellow TG member Chris Carter, first as Chris and Cosey, then Carter Tutti, are also recounted.
As with her book, Tutti talks with a matter of fact directness that belies the extremes of some of the things she relates, with much of the material drawn from revisiting her diaries.
'I read about all the troubles I had during those times,' she says. 'I never buried any of it, but because I'm in such a happy place now, looking back, I suppose I was surprised at how relentless it all was.'
This year saw Tutti return to Hull for a COUM Transmissions retrospective shown as part of her home town's year as UK City of Culture.
'It was a fantastic thing to do,' she says. 'At the time we were doing these things – and it was the same with Chris and Cosey – nobody was really interested, and we had no idea how we were influencing people. It's as if we've found our place in the culture, and for that to happen in our lifetime is really rewarding.'
Beyond Art Sex Music, a solo exhibition at Cabinet in London is planned, as are various re-releases of Chris and Cosey albums and new work with Carter. Last month saw a 7'' vinyl release of a chugging Chris and Cosey remix of the title track from the Charlatans' Different Days album, featuring a vocal by actress Sharon Horgan.
Also guesting on the album was Ian Rankin, who in interviews has related how he first heard Throbbing Gristle while at university. Tutti is looking forward to the forthcoming meeting of minds. 'I started reading his stuff when I was doing my Open University degree,' she says, 'so it will be nice to finally meet him.'
Cosey Fanni Tutti with Ian Rankin: Ruffling Feathers, Charlotte Square Gardens, 27 Aug, 8.45pm.