|JUJU - MAGAZINE COVERS|
|JUJU - INTERVIEWS/ARTICLES|
|RECORD MIRROR 07/03/81|
|SMASH HITS 1981|
Enter The Dragon
It’s an off-the-cuff observation, you understand, but Siouxsie and I spent our childhood living about a mile from each other, on opposite sides of a large wood on the border between Kent and London (my claim to fame!).
A 94 bus, if I’m correct, took her into the legendary Bromley contingent, and some hacks have tried to ascribe historical importance to her suburb of origin, Chiselhurst.
I can now reveal the place is only noted for it’s caves, ponds and a wood named after William Pett, who invented British Summer Time for the benefit of the working classes. Still, it’s a start, and en route to her PR’s North London office I envisioned some sort of reunion; she looks the type who’d have joined a particular gang of infant school Amazons who made Gill Junior’s life an absolute misery.
But we even fail to connect on that. Having read her talkative interview with Pomeranian courtier, Herr Veene, I dismissed the ‘difficult’ tag - and walked straight into a brick wall. She croaks hello and sits in a forties armchair across from Steve Severin. A rowdy chorus of PRs bellows and gibbers from a neighbouring room. When he talks, Severin is so quiet it’s barely audible. Siouxsie speaks in single sentences as though they were Famous Last Words. Maybe she was away from school the day they did photographs.
The press release for their upcoming tour says it’ll be the "last Siouxsie and the Banshees tour". Are they giving up completely?
Severin: "No, we want to re-think how we tour. Every time we tour, we try to think of a new place to play. Like just London, we don’t particularly like to play the Odeon all the time."
So have they thought of any new ways to play live?
Siouxsie: "Yes! No guitars!" They both giggle.
Severin: "Last year, with John McGeoch's situation it was difficult. But now we’re a real band again, everything’s sorted out. Now we’re a band again, we thought we’d tour as much as we could until the end of the year and then just think it out."
So you won’t disappear after this tour?
Siouxsie: "No, we’ve all been doing other things on our own, as well as what we do together. Steve’s been producing Altered Images, I think their album’s out in June, and Budgie and me have put together some songs. Just drums and voice."
Siouxsie: "Oh yeah, we’ll treat it as a very viable, commercial product!"
The current single, ‘Spellbound’, isn’t indicative of the material on the new album, ‘Ju Ju’, they say. Is the album more inshore or mainstream than the last two?
Miming incomprehension, Siouxsie deigns, "I think it’s more direct. Much straighter." And smiles, as if to say who let this klutz in here.
At this point there are a number of optional explanations for their attitude: they’re cautious, or tired, or lazy, or suspicious, or snide, or wilful, or they don’t have an original thought in their heads. Which is it to be, viewers?
We listen to the album on a battered stereo, and Siouxsie seems to warm when it becomes obvious I like it (perhaps I should have worn a badge). Its strength and soul burn through the murk and fuzz of the hi-fi, and it seems a heavier/darker album than ‘Kaleidoscope’.
Siouxsie: "Well, I, um, I mean, we didn’t think of ‘Kaleidoscope’ as being, ‘this is the direction we’re going in'. It’s just ‘Kaleidoscope’, full stop."
Something like, say, ‘Voodoo Dolly’ (the album’s finale and possibly their ‘Horse Latitudes’) sounds very sexual.
Siouxsie: "Sexual? Hah!"
Well it seemed so to me.
Siouxsie: "Each to his own."
Severin: "I disagree, but I disagree with the ‘Ice Queen of Punk’. I’ve disagreed with that for the last five years."
Siouxsie repeats that she just thinks it’s more direct. Let’s try another track.
From ‘Hong Kong Garden’ onwards, it seems as though they’ve been able to get away with much more than their peers, taking singles with experimental touches up to the top of the charts. Few, if any, other bands have swung that.
Severin: "That was always the intention. We didn’t want a cult following, we didn’t want ‘here we are on Factory Records...’"
Siouxsie: "We didn’t want to be a shallow pop group, either."
Would they agree that their music has an avant-garde edge to it?
Siouxsie demurs, but Severin says, "Well, nearly all our influences come from that."
Any names? Such ghosts as the Velvets and Doors?
Siouxsie: "Yeah, but I don’t think - I think most groups who are talked about in comparison with the Velvets or the Doors, they lack somewhat in imagination, or are just being totally derivative of those groups. Which I despise, to be quite honest. I dunno, all those people are influences plus, I dunno, James Brown or Aretha Franklin, the Jackson Five!"
Do they consider they walk a thin line between the grim and the populist?
Severin: "I don’t think it’s something that you think about, consciously."
Siouxsie: "I dunno, I just like it."
What I managed to catch of the lyrics on ‘Ju Ju’ seem to be more similar to the unwholesome psychology of ‘Join Hands’ than ‘Kaleidoscope’.
Siouxsie: "I just think... the way things come across can affect you, very much on one hearing. Like ‘Kaleidoscope’, I think that was very light and airy, a lot of the subjects were light and airy."
Yet dark at the same time?
Is that controversial aspect intentional - zooming in on religion, madness, dangerous role games?
Siouxsie: "Well, I’ve never thought that, as a rule, you should talk about something odd and come across that way (odd)."
Siouxsie: "It’s too obvious. It sensationalises, it’s overdramatic. Very theatrical."
Yet something like ‘Mother’ is like that.
Is any of this material autobiographical, or just received information?
Severin: "I think a lot of it’s autobiographical."
Siouxsie: "Whether it’s things that strike you or things that happen to you, a personal account, it still affects you."
How does their audience react to such subjects as destructive relationships, incest etc.?
Severin: "On a one-to-one basis, backstage, it’s just one of those things that don’t come up when you talk with fans."
Yet there must be some point being put across in those songs - do you get any feedback that says it’s being received?
Siouxsie: "Yeah, but also it’s just as good that people can hear something they can enjoy and dance to as well."
Are there any personal betes noir on ‘Ju Ju’?
Siouxsie: "That makes it sound very much like, ‘What are we talking about this year?’ Y’know, what politics or what’s in the news that’s topical to talk about. It’s not as flippant as that."
What about ‘Voodoo Dolly’, its intensity sounds almost personal. What’s it about?
Siouxsie: "I suppose everyone has their own personal voodoo dolly which is capable of destroying them. A bad habit, or something they like but shouldn’t. A vice, most vices; one that’s hard to control, hard to kick. It’s the same for men with certain girls, they’re like voodoo dollies, always winding them up, and they destroy them."
You seem to have a borderline obsession with the darker aspects of humanity. Have you ever written a song with a ‘happy ending’?
After a minute or two, she profers, "I suppose ‘Playground Twist', is quite happy at the end, because the baddies are swinging in the gallows."
Couldn’t it be seen as depressive, that you only have that side on view?
Siouxsie: "Well, did you get depressed listening to that album?"
No, but I couldn’t hear all the lyrics.
Severin: "I don’t like people using the word depressing. It’s demanding, if anything at all. You have to sit down and get involved with it."
(Diplomatically) Do you think it’s a case that people don’t want to deal with certain subjects?
Siouxsie: "It depends on what depresses you. A superficial gaiety... or an interest in the wicked things that are done to people."
And you’d line up alongside the latter?
Siouxsie: "That makes it sound like a message!"
It doesn’t have to be. You can still be concerned.
Siouxsie: "I like to know if countries are being wiped off the face of the earth and it’s being kept hush, like Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I want to know about those things."
Would you say, then, that you’re a concerned person whose concern is reflected in your work?
Siouxsie: "But not as do-gooders. I ain't no do-gooder!"
Just like Julie Christie in McCabe and Mrs Miller - and perhaps intentionally so.
Don’t you think you’re taking a risk, taking that stand in a business devoid of any principles?
Siouxsie: "I don’t care... I mean, how do you mean a risk? A risk to myself or a risk to our gaining a bigger record-buying audience?"
Siouxsie: "I’m aware that it’s probably a risk to our being successful." She doesn’t qualify this further.
Can you define where you stand? You don’t want to produce pop, you don’t want to go grim. You want your lyrics to have depth yet not be intellectual. How do you draw the line?
Siouxsie: "I think if you’re convinced in what you’re doing, I think you’re convincing to others. it’s the strongest thing anyone has."
Have you always been convinced, or did you gradually acquire it?
Siouxsie: "I’ve always been convinced... not about how things turn out, but convinced about what I’m doing."
Do you think the band’s present image is ideal for you?
Severin: "Our image has altered. Our idea of our image has altered quite a bit over the last five years. The media just can’t see beyond this, or don’t want to see beyond this stereotyped bracket they’ve put us into."
Severin: "The ice queen of punk thing. Depression. Bleak outlook. Punk, as well. The spirit of 1977."
Some chicken-and-the-egg banter ensues over whether it's the band, media or audience who most contribute to the construction of an image.
Siouxsie: "I can see a lot of people getting confused about us."
And how do you get rid of that confusion?
"It’s amusing," is all she says.
Would they line up with all the other conceptualists who intentionally keep their audience in suspense?
"Yeah!" she laughs. "Keep ‘em in suspenders!"
Listening back to their earlier albums, it seems to me as though they predate a number of current fashionable avant-totems (no names, although one of the ‘died for you’). Contact!
Severin: "WHOOOH! I’ve been waiting for a journalist to say that for years!"
Fab! I grin voraciously at him, hands cupped to catch the verbal torrent.
Severin: "I’ve been hearing ‘The Scream’ in different people’s music for the past two years. Now they’re getting into ‘Join Hands’. But it’s not something we want to come out and say..."
Have the others had to go through anything strange, like being considered as your backing band?
Siouxsie: "I suppose so, more than with most groups. With other groups it’s more apparent that they’re a band."
"It’s just the little things that are most annoying," she adds.
Like her picture being used all the time, her name being tagged onto quotes (especially when they’ve come from someone else). So does her persona unbalance people’s perception of the band?
Siouxsie: "We sound very strong together, live, so I don’t think the fact that they’re watching me will affect the rest of the group. They’re taking it all in through their ears."
She cracks another bad one-liner when asked about band ‘growth’. But Severin takes the cue.
"That’s one of the reasons we’re going to take time off after the tour and sit down and think."
"This album feels like the first one with a new band, so we don’t want to rush into another one. We’d just like a rest, go off to Jamaica... or Surrey."
Is this an aversion to touring?
Siouxsie: "No, I like touring. It’s rather we want to assess it before we start regretting anything, if you know what I mean."
I dunno. You’re going to re-assess the future of the band?
Siouxsie: "Yes. It’d be terrible if next year we thought we should never tour again, or that we shouldn’t be doing this. Nothing’s happened, we still want to tour, but we’re just saying it before it happens."
You’ve spotted some blackspot up ahead?
Siouxsie: "Yeah, and we want to re-assess it before that happens. It’d be a disaster if it did happen."
Banshees Split Shock Horror Gurgle?
Siouxsie: "We’re not splitting up. It’s just that if we carried on blindly, possibly it might happen."
Severin: "I’d like to think we’ve done things in a very unusual way, but it could get to the point where it stops being unusual. And we don’t want it to end up like Genesis."
They haven’t found an alternative as yet, but feel a growing distrust for the rock’n’roll touring circuit/circus. Maybe, just maybe, the likes of Cabaret Futura point the way. They and we will find out late this year or next.
They’ve obviously thawed a little (if he didn’t speak so quietly, Severin would be more in evidence here) but by now my brain is wheezing towards a seizure. Any pearls of wisdom they’d like to impart?
Siouxsie: "I hate talking about what we will be doing, because we just don’t know."
Severin: "...I hate all this jive... what sort of books you should read with our music..."
Steve thinks Janet and John would be more apt. But why this fear or dislike of intellectuals?
Severin: "When they want to slag us off, that’s when they start intellectualising it. The good reviews are usually emotional."
Siouxsie: "I don’t like people who go through the ritual of being intellectual. They really show up their stupidity. I like clever people but the people who have a reputation for being intellectual are just very boring." And fixes me with a ‘Watch It’ stare.
But don’t you think you’ve given people enough ammo to start writing theses on the Banshees?
Siouxsie: "Well, they can go and do their homework."
Severin: "You could also write a 10,000 word thesis on the effect of Marc Bolan on the popular consciousness. We don’t want to steer it into that, neither do we want to steer people away from it."
Perhaps they’re in two minds about it or, more likely, don’t like talking about it for fear it might go pop! in their faces.
I’ve no fear the Banshees will go pop!, but I am in two minds. I came away still admiring their music and respecting them as individuals, but angry to the extent of wanting to slag them off for putting me through this preposterous ritual of put-ons, petulance and deity/supplicant role playing.
You can only allow The Artist so much leeway before you might as well give up and ask what they eat for breakfast.
Their PR says they’re extremely shy, unsure of the media and - quite probably - modest. But in my book you get as good as you give. I’m prepared to put myself on the line, Siouxsie.
John Gill 20/06/81
shoulders with pop stars and they're
getting pretty pissed off with it.
The pre-recorded tape of Iggy/Bolan/Glitter draws to a close. The house lights dim and the Banshees intro number rings out, a crescendo of tubular bells...
The crowd greets them and the band dive unceremoniously into New Material.
Everybody is 'spellbound' (so to speak - Ed), both literally and lyrically. It becomes crystal clear, in no time at all, that it has at last gelled. The Banshees are no longer in limbo, but are back with a vengeance. My clouds of depression are launched thru the Palais ceiling.
I don't think John McGeoch has transformed the band though - more like him and Budgie have become an essential part. Budgie has now taken over from Dave Barbe as my fave drummer.
Après gig, we follow the harsh and chilling group of ghouls into their hotel bar... I think Budgie's pissed already and talks for most of the night about the Red Admiral at Hammersmith. After a short while, the absolutely wrecked-looking Steve makes his way to bed. As the tour proceeded, we began to realise that Steve always looks wrecked (in an elegant sort of way).
As the Banshees troupe take over one corner of the bar. John gets the drinks in and were quite taken aback by Sioux's almost instantaneous friendliness. Sioux: "Would you like to sing or do nursery rhymes?" John: "Yes, I'd like to sing... if you conduct, I'll sing".
This sort of dialogue continues until with true journalistic rapport I totally change the subject.
What sort of audiences would you sooner play for (did I say that?)
Sioux: "Transvestites. We did a great gig in San Francisco, when we were playing to transvestites. They're so hot-blooded!"
John: "I'll say".
Sioux: "Is there any transvestism in Poole?"
Club: "I think Tom's the only one".
John: "He's pretty fucking tasty" (I had this same problem with Ian Tolhurst of the Cure).
Some order now comes into the proceedings. Conversation gets round to charity gigs.
Sioux: "I don't give a damn about community things. It's got to be more... personal, closer to your heart. It's too undefined. The most personal thing we've ever done was the gig for the mentally handicapped, for people who couldn't help themselves. Like, there was a big trend to do RAR, but we found that patronising - an insult to the blacks. It was saying that they couldn't do anything for themselves."
Tom: Do you actually like doing tours?
Sioux: "Yeah, we do, but we don't enjoy touring when it's over a few months and you can't tell one town from the next. You don't enjoy it, you're just doing a job. I'd sooner do a short series of dates over a year, rather than waiting for a whole year then...farting all over two months!"
John: "If you lose the ability to be discretionary between gigs then it just becomes like mashed potato!"
It comes to light they can tour whenever they want, they don't have much association with Polydor.
Sioux: "As far as r 'n' r's concerned, I hate what it's become but I think the people that made it are great. People like Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison, Little Richard and the Rolling Stones. Now a lot of their imitators are corpses as well!"
I have some difficulty getting thru to Budgie with my next question, but what I'm trying to get at is how much his style's changed since the Slits.
Budgie: "On the "Join Hands" tour it was very weird - it was like a challenge. There was a very vacant drumkit. That was the time when I decided I was gonna be a...
Sioux: "Baby Banshee!
Budgie: "...baby... banshee. On that "Join Hands" tour I had to adopt those beats from Kenny, like with Palmolive with the Slits. I had to adapt and change and eventually re-arrange and re-write!"
Sioux: "Kenny Morris had to adapt to Sid Vicious. His favourite drummers were Sid Vicious and Mo Tucker. He's a general influence of us all. Sid was very impressed by Mo Tucker. He was a much better drummer than bass player!"
Budgie: "I had to step into what Kenny was doing and then adapt. Like Palmolive I knew, the same as Kenny knew Sid. It was a very weird time."
Sioux: "Kenny was going to be in Sid's band "The Flowers Of Romance" - more searching for where Budgie's at... I think he's found himself now. I think what he's trying to say is whatever's happened has fitted into how the songs should sound. When we had the auditions, they all wanted to make it a career. That's what we didn't want".
Budgie: "After the arguments in Ireland, they arrived in Aberdeen and that was it. I got a phone call before they left".
Sioux: "There was a record shop incident but that wasn't the reason for the split. I don't know what it was, they haven't been strong enough to confront me."
Budgie: The thing that everybody misses out is the way the tour DID NOT STOP. It just kind of picked up. When we're touring we build up a momentum that cannot stop anywhere. To me the instigation was Sioux and Steve who did not want to stop. Also the dogmatism of the Cure to carry on. Robert had to play two parts every night cos he was the only guy we could find who fitted it. What everybody misses is the dogmatism of the band. That's a good word that is".
Sioux: "We tried Marco again. I really like Marco. It was really weird. We did this one rehearsal with Budgie, Marco, me and Steve. Budgie fitted in really well but Marco just wasn't right. He just wasn't a Banshee". (is he an Ant?) There's a bit more on this subject but its drowned by hysterical roadcrew (not literally).
TOM: "A lot of people - like Adam - get a kick out of kids copying them. Do you like to see girls going around dressed like you?
SIOUX: "I'm not gonna start wearing purple dresses and yellow polo neck jumpers. I'm vain. It's flattering but it's not what I want."
Budgie: "It was a weird situation with the Slits, where they would not do interviews and they would not sign autographs and they would not even meet anybody, because they were saying "we're not special". It's quite a valid point and then again, it's not. If somebody wants your name on a bit of paper it's OK. You can explain this until the cows come home and we'd still disagree."
Sioux: "It's such a petty business. It's not a hard thing to do. I've never asked anyone for an autograph, I've never wanted to."
Budgie: "I got Alan Balls once."
Sioux: "It's not important, that's why I don't take a stance against it, but it is for the person who comes up to you. But getting back to the point I'd rather they tried to look like me than Angela Rippon! IF IT MEANS THAT MUCH TO SOMEONE TO HAVE SOME INK ON A BIT OF PAPER, I'LL DO IT - THEY SHOULDN'T NEED IT BUT THEY DO."
Talk moves on to the live material.
Sioux: "It's really shitty to know that people have walked out then walk back into the auditorium when they hear a single they recognise. I hope that's not the majority but I've got a feeling that it is".
As the argument rages, Sioux can be heard to sing "Is That All There Is?" She continues "I think it probably is a losing battle but I'm gonna accommodate for them. It's the same with the music press, there's a set amount of journalists who hate us - and there's a set amount of people who go along to hear the singles, but sometimes don't hear the singles".
Sioux goes on to say that listening booths ought to be brought back in record shops so that people don't buy what journalists say is hip to like. Also "it's a misconception that there's got to be good timing, you've got to be snapped up quick. It doesn't work like that. I don't want to time when we're gonna have a hit single. I think it'll just happen cos it'll be right without us knowing it, cos I think if we ever got a No. 1 single in the future, it will be really unfair that none of the other singles were No.1".
Tom: "Can you see that happening?"
Sioux: "I could but I don't really care. I'm afraid I didn't do the Banshees much good when I appeared on Radio 1 live once. They banned me (ref: Sioux's appearance on 'Roundtable' reviewing Blondie single - "have they got to release every fucking single off the album, oops, sorry!")
We nearly lost order then back to my (t)rusty questionnaire.
Are you disillusioned with what's going on at the moment?
Sioux: "NO! I'm not, I think Suicide are fucking great and I think the Cramps are fucking great and Altered Images are very good as well. What I'm saying is Suicide and the Cramps aren't big in England or America and they should be. They should be bigger than Blondie, they should be bigger than the Police. They are really important".
Argument develops about whether or not music is becoming retrogressive, how much influence the Velvets and Bolan really had and so on.
Sioux: "Take Malcolm McLaren. He's a wanker. He's taken from Andy Warhol completely. For example the 'tit' t-shirts, that was Andy Warhol. All these people that have become mentors in the 70s have taken from the 60s."
Budgie: "I think it's very superficial, its very shallow. That's good in a way, in that it doesn't lie within groups but within individuals like yourself. The new thing doesn't lie in bands. Bands are extinct!"
Sioux: "Everything's getting quicker though. It's not necessarily healthier, its just circling much quicker. I'll tell you about the future, whether its synthesisers or what, so long as its convincing it'll be strong".
Sioux was talking so naturally though, unlike some "pop stars" that with the mere mention of an interview reel off nothing but bullshit. How wrong the media-created image of an austere ice goddess is. It would be cruel except things like that don't bother young Sioux. No songs of "press darlings" here, but the press have deliberately created their own image of her to compensate for their own journalistic inadequacies. In actual fact they are the friendliest, most charming people I have ever met that are in a band. To sum her up, the next morning, Sioux, personally recommended Charlie the hotel porter to the manager. He had been bringing us bottles of wine all thru the night.
The Banshees still create a reaction. They make people feel uncomfortable, uneasy, it's a gut reaction, some hate it, some love it, but none can ignore it - that is what punk was all about. So long as somebody is doing this to us, we wont sink into the oblivion of pop drivel.
Tom Vague 05/81
SOMETIMES I DON’T enjoy the music of the Banshees. It upsets, breaks up and intrudes on my lifestyle. It subtly says, listen. Any Banshees record distracts, and in the right circumstances induces feelings to the point of pain. The ‘ritual’ implodes, shattering mirrors of rock introversion. A new feeling. The unashamed baring of imperfect youth - the way we are but daren’t admit. That’s why there’s pain. Ritual - an interview.
If you don’t feel the Banshees there’s no point in reading this. I didn’t interview. Before I held a party/wake. Invited were friends who loved the music. Love as in the awareness of innocence, love in the sharing of sorrows - not the blasé voyeurism of ‘The Journalist’. We listened to the records and I asked my friends - ‘If you met Siouxsie, what would you say?’ With their questions nestling in neat order on my notepad, we went to Sioux and talked.
The conversation developed in a back-room somewhere in Kilburn. I’d been warned of ‘ice’, ‘no reaction’, ‘the usual answers’ and (of course) ‘they hate the Press’. Instead - warmth, fun, joy and honesty from Siouxsie. Steve Severin merely mouthed into my microphone, leaving me to guess intuitive answers. His sneer said ’go home and work it out.’ He talks quietly and leads you up cul-de-sacs. This reticence conceals the ’grandeur’ of a collection of individuals who market pure emotion. This is what we talked about a few nights after my party...
What don’t you want to talk about?
"Boyfriends and girlfriends. I heard nobody from Sounds wanted to talk to me"
Well, you’ve got this reputation of being the ’Ice Goddess Of Punk’.
"People who write things like that...should be just..." soft growls and hisses to convey the point. So, the icy one breathes fire? I change to another topic, like what have you been up to for the last few months?
"Just writing and rehearsing."
Now there must be more to being a Banshee than that?
"Steve has some wonderful parties. Last week we had a Robbie Burns night at the flat - I’d like to be rich enough to collect masks, head masks - Japanese and African busts and heads. My brother and sister were born on the Congo and they’ve these fantastic ebony tribal masks collected by my mother."
Writing, and most Rock Persons treat that very seriously. They evolve a particular lifestyle where the germs of inspirations can be entombed on tape immediately, or they ring up their band and ’get it together’.
It doesn’t work like that with Sioux - "My time clock’s screwed up. I don’t get to sleep much before four or five, don’t get up before two - so all my ‘inspirations’ happen when there’s no one around. Sometimes a whole song can be sparked off by just one word (’Icon’) - or it comes just out of the blue, or from a specific thing I’ve seen or felt. I never toil over lyrics. I write in a kind of disorganised dribble. If it stops I don’t force it ’cause there are usually several other things I want to get down into different songs."
‘ICON’ AND ’The Lord’s Prayer’. Listening to the records, a pervasive ’religious’ intonation, in sound and words, could be interpreted as an attempt at pre-Christian Pagan ritualism, perhaps an attempt to exorcise the memory of religious conservatism as shown in the paradoxes of the Catholic and Protestant Church? So many people had commented on the monk/trancelike quality of the Banshees sound. Was there perhaps a dominant religious background for Sioux to rebel against?
"I remember my sister was sent to a Convent, remember how cruelly they treated her, how cruel and cold they were. Religion’s fine if it brings people together, if it can stop them feeling alone. The warmth in people should be brought out. When dogma’s included that’s when I’ve no use for admiring anything religious."
Dogma in my vocabulary means Laws instead of Love. I think of possible the most obscene display of paraphernalia for torture and sexual debasement on view in this country. It’s in the Christian section of the Victoria and Albert Museum. It’s sickening. Steve and Sioux tell me of ideas for their first gig.
We wanted to take a lectern on stage for Siouxsie to preach from. The decision to do ’The Lord’s Prayer’ was impulsive - we decided it within 24 hours."
"I would have got up there and read the thing - don’t know the words anyway - see, it’s serious but at the same time humorous (we hope). Of course we don’t want to be treated like a religion or idolised. What we’d like is for people to come to the concerts and feel they’ve something in common. There shouldn’t be fights or sections in the audience which split up and divide everyone. We’ve come across it quite a bit - so it’s unnecessary."
And the split, a subject I didn’t want to raise - but what of the emotions behind that professional facade (mask)?
Steve..."There’s so many quotes on that particular subject I just don’t want to talk about it."
Agreed, but you’re looking at it with the benefit of a few months to soften the blow. You must see it with a new objectivity surely - now it’s in the past?
"It was just a time of very mixed emotions. On one side a physical, aggressive feeling towards them, there was sadness, confusion, indignation. ‘Drop Dead’ (condemned by one of my mates as ‘a puerile, childish attack’) wasn’t directed solely at them (McKay and Kenny Morris). They were just inspiration.
"We could talk more on this subject if we’d allowed ourselves time to think about it. We stifled or channelled everything into the rest of that tour. Physically and emotionally it was all very extreme - I turned yellow. "Yellow???
"As in hepatitis, you know - dramatic things - vomiting before a gig and not having the strength to get up in the morning. But (jokingly) we soldiered on in true Showbiz tradition - wonderful film it could’ve made!"
"Because of all that, we built up a relationship with Robert (Cure guitarist), John and budgie which wouldn’t otherwise have happened. It sounds like a cliché, at times like that you find who your friends are."
IT COULD be said the whole thing was staged, a manufactured split, all the publicity as a result (looks of incredulity from Steve and Sioux!)
"If that had been the case we’d have had them dead! We hardly made any money from it. If that was a publicity stunt, they should’ve died - everyone buys a corpse these days!"
I start to ask about their feelings now they’re ‘registered’ as being a group. When it started the outlook was slightly different and much less conventionally professional. If it all finished tomorrow what would be the things to remember?
Steve - "You make it sound like an obituary!"
Overseas’ touring is a big commitment, you’re a group..."The things we enjoyed most aren’t necessarily what’s been best for the Banshees. I could tell you the best gig, best LP track..."
"That’s breaking things up," sez Sioux. "I couldn’t say that.
"It’s odd you’re talking about your party, ’cause I did that, all alone. I played all our records in succession. When I heard ’Hong Kong Garden’ and ’The Scream’ I’d forgotten how good it was. I thought the energy and excitement would get lower as the sequence progressed - when I reached ’Israel’ I just didn’t expect it to have escalated like that. There I was with a complete Banshees history, and I shocked myself stupid. Four in the morning and I felt so happy. I’m not on the ’phone so I couldn’t dash out and tell anybody. I live alone."
We slide into a subject I’d never heard of before, but which goes a long way to explain some of her lyrics and ’soul’.
I was affected by death, my fathers death - doesn’t hit you at first. Later in life it can lead to an obsession for a while. The Deceased One. He died in an armchair he always used in the living room. I went though a stage of sitting in it, after it had happened, hoping something would occur - just sitting in the dark. Psychic? I don’t know how to answer that. I’ve no delusions about any feelings I have - so yes, I am to an extent."
I remark on the ’nursery rhyme’ sing-a-long melodies in some of the Banshees material. Sort of clouded childhood memories with a taste of adult bitterness.
"Experts would say (BBC reporter’s voice and laughter) much of it stems from my early childhood - infancy - the first 18 months when things are so much clearer. Childhood is a very black and white world. You get shocks when you’re young, finding out things."
So what especially affected you?
"Sex. Finding out what it involved. I was about eight when I heard graphically what went on! First impression was - fuckin’ hell - me mum and dad have done that three times, and I was comparing them with people with no children who must, by my reasoning, have never done it!"
Sioux has an actress’s gift of placing the listener in her own world for a few minutes. A marvellous capability to explain her childhood with the wide-eyed incredulity of a toddler seeing the World for the first time.
Back to pain... "Death’s a shock as well. When I saw my dad he was in the mortuary with a purple sheet over him."
I only write these intensely personal pieces of conversation to illustrate the power and emotion lurking behind the Banshees. A power strong enough for them to hold their credibility for four years, and enough guts to hang emotional dirty washing on the line for public scrutiny. I confess my admiration grew the more we talked.
I REMEMBER reading you saying you liked ’most good pop songs’. The Ants have several ’pop songs’ in the charts, and you released what could be called a Christmas single’. Neither the Banshees or the Ants could’ve done that three years ago. Public reaction might’ve been a little different then?
"Adam’s always done that. Obviously Peter Powell wasn’t enticed into liking them when it first started (!) Journalists can write wonderful or sneering pieces about a band. The real test is getting heard on the radio enough times. I really enjoy the fact that after all the put-downs, papers like the NME have to put Adam on their front page. With a group like The Jam it’s different. They never stirred up anything controversial, aggressive or extreme."
Steve - "We seem to have whittled our audience down in England. Now it’s just people who’re genuinely into the band. People take a pre and post ’Kaleidoscope’ view of things. They don’t realise things have to change. People who can’t accept changes would never have seen anything in the Siouxsie And The Banshees in the first place."
What other acts do the Banshees regard as ’having strength’? (A favourite expression of Sioux’s.)
"I’m still impressed by the Cramps. Saw them recently and they were great even though the sound was dreadful. Band’s should be able to shine through despite shitty PA’s - they did. So many male singers and front people are just uninteresting to watch, they’re not strong."
Although I’ve never regarded the Banshees as being ’a punk act’ in the accepted sense, how about the ’punk groups’ still going - a retrogressive movement?
"Punk’s just institutionalised now. I don’t respect people who feel forced to carry on in the same musical brackets they made for themselves in the past. There’s no development in that area now. See, music’ll always be exciting as long as it’s convincing and...well, not exactly animal raw? - I’ve been quoted as saying I don’t like synth bands. It’s true with most of them, they’re not emotive enough. Suicide are an example of something good - their presence and rhythm’s so tough you don’t think of it as being synths."
Remember the ’Bromley or Beckenham myth’? You know, when suddenly anyone of any importance magically sprang from a certain area at a certain time - an idea much loved by journalists. Sioux was one of the pioneers of the ’Bromley contingent’, or so the story went...
"Steve went to the same school as Bowie, he went round the place looking for Bowie’s desk, found it and used to sit there hoping to get inspired! That myth, false pride over coming from a certain area - it’s just like telling people what your name is - it just doesn’t matter."
"You might just as well say I’m from the Watford Gap - never ‘eard of anyone from there - probably a thriving arts movement in the Service area!" Severin injects a burst of cynicism.
"For most of the conversation he’s been disturbingly quiet, his voice when he does speak, a barely audible murmur, but his eyes dart everywhere. I detect a reptilian cunning and well concealed strength. Sioux always talks of ‘we’ and again the impression, theirs is a lucky meeting of opposites, a platonic mutually supportive relationship.
THE BANSHEES’ rather pompous press release states ’Severin’s surname comes from a character in Sacher Masoch’s Venus in Furs’. Confessing my ignorance I ask what that’s all about.
"The word Sadism comes from the Marquis de Sade. Masochism’s derived from Masoch, but I relate more to the Velvets track, ’Venus in Furs’ - anyway, that doesn’t matter - it’s only a name like we were talking about..."
But if you consider it important enough to put in your information sheet and people don’t understand...
"Tell ’em to go and get the book - all become Masochists!"
Now none of my dictionaries mention this, but it’s a good line!
Various instruments have crept onto Banshees records apart from the saxes on the first albums, there are now sitars, of all things, on ’Kaleidoscope’. Wasn’t the inclusion of that instrument a return to ’hippydom’ and the early ’70s?
"With the saxes and synths we just used what was available at the time. We’re lazy in that we don’t want to become musical virtuosos! The sitars really an orthodox instrument and as John (McGeoch) played it we used it. It was a standing joke about ’going psychedelic’ (rolls eyes and pulls a dumb expression) but some good things came from that period. The word didn’t just mean droppin’ acid. Listen to some of the music from that time. We used ’Arnold Layne’ (an early Floyd track) and the Stones’ ’Satanic Majesties’ as influences."
"The last LP was a very relaxed period, produced over six months. When John was away, Sioux and I would be writing songs which we’d eventually play to him - and then we got it all down on tape."
Perhaps that’s one of the reasons for the dramatic difference in texture between the first two and the third album.
I wondered how Siouxsie regarded other woman singers who’ve capitalised by treading on ground, perhaps initially paved by the Banshees? Lene Lovich, Toyah and so on.
"There was a review somewhere which accused us of spawning all these terrible bands! I can’t be held as being responsible for Sheena Easton - surely?!" A barely stifled look of absolute shock crosses her face. There’s always gonna be people around willing to make arseholes of themselves for money. Not much around being sung by women that’s really powerful - apart from all those ’nice little tunes’. I rate Aretha Franklin, Nico, really like Yoko Ono’s voice...I have to hark back. Still think Jim Morrison’s got the best ’singing corpse’ voice.
"I want our gigs, records or whatever - to stand out as an event, to be remembered, talked about - or affect somebody after they’ve heard or seen us. I met a girl from France yesterday who told me how listening to our records released her from the negative trap she was in. She’d been a cartoonist, gave up, but hearing our sound got her back into being proud of what she was doing. She said she could now work with greater conviction. That’s not meant to sound boastful. You can’t listen to it as background music...it needs involvement from the listener to work properly, and that involvement sometimes brings out good things in people."
Banshees music is a glowing, creative force, life energies flowing from cold veins, and it seems to have a similar effect on many people. What effect did such mind/body music have on the musicians performing it?
"It has the same effect on us, otherwise we wouldn’t do it. This doesn’t feel like a career, just something we want and have to do. ‘Specially live, when you can anticipate a song - feel the excitement building. I can open up without making a fool of myself, don’t have to worry about being misunderstood or care about how others react. The band’s become a very...not lifesaving, but a very necessary function, an outlet. It’s probably one of the most honest things we do."
ALTHOUGH SIOUX seemed quite happy and was getting more expansive by the minute, Steve appeared a little uneasy. The explanation was simple. Our conversation had dwelt on past recorded material, and Steve found it hard to concentrate on questions concerning the old when his mind was full of new songs for the forthcoming tour.
"All these new songs, ‘Voodoo Dolly’, ‘Into The Light’, ‘Conga Conga’ and so on are another departure from ‘Kaleidoscope’. The albums tentatively called ‘JuJu’. One of the things we wanted was to bring more of ‘the animal’ out of John - not let him be lazy. ‘Magazine’ tends to carry him musically. One of the things which attracted him to the Banshees was that he’s placed in a greater position of responsibility."
‘Israel’, the last single, didn’t have a religious or political theme did it?
"No, it’s more general. A disillusioned person, or whole race who’ve ceased to understand or believe in what they held to be the truth. It tries to put across, you shouldn’t cover what you feel inside by teaching or attitudes imposed on you. It emphasises the strength of the individual." And I’d say the strength of the spirit - an emotion captured in the music Siouxsie listens to outside the ‘pop’ area.
"Classics, love them! Don’t know the names of most of the stuff."
We run through our mutually limited knowledge of classical music to dredge up a few names..."You know, the heavy classics - Beethoven, Stravinsky, choral music like the soundtrack on the film ‘The Omen’. Grand and discordant - the atmospheric, mystical and strong..."
Bands tend to bury their heads in musical sand, and it’s always interesting, if not revealing, to discover other burning topics the artist’s worried by. The answer to ‘what do you feel strongly about’ was quite a surprise and even had the photographer dropping lens caps over the floor! One word, after a long pause for though...
"Incest. There was a programme about it recently. Seems there’s many cases which are never reported. It’s just such a weird family violation. Parents inflict their own standards of authority, their own egos onto their kids. Incest is taking that to its most extreme. I find it amazing how childish some adults can be - so personally protective - the aggression of ego, and inflicting it on a kid - I just find it so strange.
"Part of that oppression comes over in our number ‘Christine’. She became a textbook case ‘cause of the traumas she’d been through as a child. She witnessed many violent acts. There was an incident where she witnessed a man gets sliced in half at a local sawmill. Her mother lost a finger, it happened in front of the girl, and she was there when police pulled a drowned body from a lake. That’s when her (22) other personalities took over. She couldn’t cope with seeing all these things...
"In a minor way it’s all part of what I said about the family. When those sort of things occur - the frustrating fact about it is it always creates a vicious circle. Imagine being in a position like that, knowing the same things are just going to keep on repeating themselves."
Valac Van der Veene 28/02/81
ONE STEP BEYOND
At school Siouxsie Sioux's nickname was The Witch. But her interest in the occult has always been academic - until FLEXIPOP took her down to The World's End (the one in Chelsea that is) to meet one of London's top clairvoyants. When the session was over Siouxsie was convinced shed had a fascinating glimpse into the future.
It looked more like a council flat sitting room than a mysterious portal into the deepest recesses of the human mind.
Mind you, that was probably something to do with the fact that it was a council flat sitting room.
Mrs. Josephine Day is definitely not from the gypsy caravans, black cats and broomsticks school of fortune.
She looks more like Meg Richardson than Gypsy Rose Lee. And her second floor flat in Chelsea is about as eerie as Notting Hill Tube Station.
Nevertheless, Josephine Day has the girt.
"The first time I realised it was when I was a child and I saw a neighbour who seemed to have flames all around him. I went and told them that their house was going to burn down. Four days later, it did. They thought I started it."
On a seat facing Mrs. Day sat Siouxsie Sioux, with the mildly amused expression of a skeptic. She'd never been to a clairvoyant before, and it seemed faintly absurd; but she hand an open mind.
Within an hour she would be convinced that Josephine Day was anything but a fake.
The first sign that Siouxsie was in for a surprise came almost instantly...
"Right. Give me something of yours that no-one else has ever worn. Now your date of birth."
Mrs. Day rubbed the tiny object Siouxsie had passed across the table. She deduced from this that Siouxsie had toothache. On the right side of her mouth.
"Yes, that's right!" Siouxsie smiled, taken aback! "On the right side of my mouth."
From that moment on, Mrs. Day didn't hesitate. Speaking low and soft, and at a velocity that gave my pencil friction burns, Mrs. Day mapped out Siouxsie's future.
Although she barked up the wrong tree a number of times, some of the details, says Siouxsie, that she pointed out could never have sprung from coincidence or guesswork.
Mrs. Day never seemed to enter into a trance, but she spoke with a hypnotic quality, flying from one subject to another without pause.
And so it goes on, through handwriting analysis, crystal ball gazing and more Tarot. A forest of facts and predictions. Siouxsie will be very prosperous and own a large amount of property... next year one of the band will end up in prison on a drugs offence... a theft soon... a death in the middle of next year.
These of course are predictions and only the passage of time will reveal just how accurate Mrs. Day's projections were.
But she was rarely completely wrong about anything. And she was surprisingly successful when summing up Siouxsie... "wary... good sense of humour... not a good businessman...easily hurt... prone to weight loss... restless..." All these descriptions brought nods of agreement from Siouxsie, but things started getting really interesting when Mrs. Day started describing Siouxsie's late father, who died when she was a child.
Her utterances were erratic and sometimes inconsistent - but overall they made an uncanny sense.
"What is your full name?"
Susan Janet Dallion.
"Don't ever use the Janet. It will be bad if you do. Someone around you criticises you a lot..." Siouxsie nodded. Mrs. Day took her by the hand and started reading her palm.
"... You are independent and dominant... but you must try and make yourself practical - you're not that wonderful a businessman... and you have a double lifeline which is good.
"You have a spirit guide... an 11th century Abbot... this means that if you have a car crash or a plane crash you will be the sole survivor... two big heartbreaks on your heart line... you suffer from black depressions sometimes... you are going to make a big business mistake when you are 30 years old... I see two children... no three, one daughter and two sons, but you are in control of that destiny."
So far, so vague. Mrs. Day stops momentarily and points to the Tarot cards next to her crystal ball. Siouxsie begins picking them... the third card is the death card.
This, it goes without saying is not what you might call a good sign.
"It's a death of a relationship. You will end one next March."
More cards, Several times she chooses from the pack - the cards always seem to come out more or less the same.
"I have got a symbol for you. Your father's given me this. A symbol, a logo, I will get it ready for you and send it to you."
At regular intervals during the sitting Mrs. Day complained that she couldn't work properly with myself and the photographer in the same room. Siouxsie sympathised - she felt inhibited about asking things that were too personal. So we left for fifteen minutes to see if it would make a difference.
Sure enough when we returned, both clairvoyant and client asserted that the session had gone better. But I saved my questions for Siouxsie until we were away from Mrs. Day.
So - was she convinced?
"I think I am... yes I am. It got much heavier when you had gone. She described my dead father with amazing accuracy. And there were other personal things that I don't want to tell you.
"But she was telling me things about members of the band that were perfect - she described Budgie, the drummer to a T. She knew that I had bought something electrical recently (A T.V.)
"She wasn't a fake. I don't know if I'd go back again though - there are still things I don't want to know. She was maybe too good."
Genuine? Or a clever con. Frankly I'm a skeptic, but Mrs. Day is not the sort of woman to run a racket.
And I can't still work out how she knew about the toothache. Maybe that object Siouxsie gave her to hold was a dental card...
THROUGH A GLASS DARKLY
As one of the original Bromley Contingent punks she formed the Banshees with Sid Vicious and Steve Severin in summer '76. Their first public performance was a ritualised dismemberment of "The Lord's Prayer". Their first single "Hong Kong Garden", went Top Ten and their latest "Israel", treats another religious subject but with less venom.
Just back from their first American tour, and soon to record the Banshees' fourth album, Siouxsie and guitarist John McGeoch seem tired, reserved and on edge. Their first British tour of the eighties is approaching. Could this band have outlived its time?
Let us pray
Your early music was born out of boredom with the early seventies...
SIOUXSIE: I don't agree. A lot of things from then affected a lot of the new bands. Roxy, Bowie, Bolan. A lot of people hadn't heard of the Velvet Underground until Bowie started talking about it. All that West Coast crap didn't affect any good young people.
What about the mid-seventies economic depression?
SIOUXSIE: I dunno. I think what happened was a reaction to the way business was going. People giving money for arms and all that. I know it's naive not to expect a record company to want to make a profit out of you but now groups can get a contract giving them more say in how they're exposed to the media.
When John became your new guitarist, Steve said it was "impossible to have a new, young guitarist in the group. We needed someone who was around in '76 and '77." Does that mean the band now sees itself as an establishment?
SIOUXSIE: It's just a result of things that have always happened around the band. If someone came in cold, purely ambitiously, like 'I wanna be a Banshee.' it would be too joblike. It would defeat the whole thing about the Banshees.
So has the band changed with the times?
SIOUXSIE: No. It's just changed. We've changed as people, not in what we believe, but in the ways we react to different situations. We have totally new ways of looking at things.
WHICH ART IN HEAVEN,
In a curious interview last year, Siouxsie was quoted as saying that her father died an alcoholic, hallucinating spiders on the walls. She always disliked boys, finding them alien. She tried to commit suicide at six and kids at school called her 'The Witch'. She later claimed that much of the interview was untrue.
Bizarre? It certainly was, but then so are many of Siouxsie's lyrics.
SIOUXSIE: The dark side of things is more emotive to put across.
Are you interested in magic?
SIOUXSIE: I'd like to believe that there is magic. I think a lot of real things seem unreal. It's real but dull to read about stocks and shares in the papers. But it seems unreal to learn that someone has a personality split 22 ways.
I hear the new album is called Ju Ju?
SIOUXSIE: Tentatively, yes. There was a TV show recently about people becoming disillusioned with the state of the world and joining cults. Black magic has had a strong underground push. One Christian sect has exorcisms of people wanting to be purified. They want to go through a ritual to be cleansed. When things get too real and too predictable, people revert back. Maybe there's a lot of guilt going around.
Isn't it naive to think in terms of sin and forgiveness?
SIOUXSIE: I'm not talking about right and wrong. I'm talking about the involvement of people, and how life means nothing but doing your job. They want to belong to something that has nothing to do with financial gain or the boring things they read in the papers.
HALLOWED BE THY NAME,
The Lord's Prayer seemed to say something about religion and Israel seems to say something different.
SIOUXSIE: They're different sides of the same coin. The Lord's Prayer was an aggressive thing about religion and tradition, whereas Israel says that religion is good if it brings disillusioned people together, but without the dogma that usually goes with religion.
Are you religious?
SIOUXSIE: No, I wouldn't say I was. Saying 'There is a God' is too specific. I think it's a feeling of something rather than a description of something.
Is the feeling of your music more important than specific lyrics?
SIOUXSIE: You don't necessarily have to delve into every lyric line by line. A lot of it is understood.
Is The Banshees like a religion for you?
SIOUXSIE: It's where I open up. I uninhibitedly open up on stage. Everything today is geared to keeping your lid on. There's more mental strain now. When the lids been on for a long time it results in explosions. I get annoyed if people treat the band as a religion because we're dead against any sort of dogma. We don't won't fights at concerts, or culture clashes. A lot of people won't go to gigs because of the violence underneath. I wish that what we do could break that down.
THY KINGDOM COME,
After almost five years of hard work and critical approval, it seems incredible that the Banshees have not reached the same mass audience as the Police, the Boomtown Rats or even Adam and the Ants.
SIOUXSIE: A lot of people try to find a hit formula. Sometimes they find it, but things become predictable and boring. We're always changing.
JOHN: It's very exciting onstage with the Banshees because you never know what will happen next. At the Christmas gig we did three songs were unrehearsed, virtually unwritten. We had a starting point and then wed' just see what happened next.
Are you a permanent Banshees now?
JOHN: As permanent as I can ever be.
Are all the songs written for the new album?
SIOUXSIE: No. About six of them are done. We start in the studio in March but it won't come out until August.
THY WILL BE DONE,
Possibly more than any other band, the Banshees proved it was not necessary to court favours from record companies. Despite sneers from A & R men they followed their own course and succeeded with it.
Are you happy with the way things went after you signed with Polygram?
SIOUXSIE: You have to work hard to be ahead of them, so they won't start telling you what to do. We have good control at Polygram. We just do it and present them with it. At first we shied away from what was being offered and in the end we got a bad reputation. People stopped offering us anything. I hated the whole attitude that you had to be grateful for being given a break.
Did Polygram try to mould you into a sex symbol?
SIOUXSIE: No. They only try that with people who'll play along. I helps if you've got something better to offer. I don't like talking about the music business...
Can you keep in touch with old friends still?
SIOUXSIE: I see Marco Perroni now and again, but much less since his success in Adam and the Ants. Most of the old Bromley Contingent have gone their separate ways or... when things part, I usually accept it. I like bumping into people I haven't seen in ages.
How do you visualise yourself in thirty years time? Still a punk?
SIOUXSIE: Well, I never wore any bondage trousers anyway. If it feels good I'll continue to do it. If not, I'll stop. I don't want us just to peter out. If we can't go forwards I'd rather it just stopped.
The Bob Harris Question. How was America?
SIOUXSIE: We were shocked by how well it went.
JOHN: They were very receptive, especially if you remember that Polygram have only released one single and one album of ours in America. A lot of the kids haven't heard much of our material.
Were you expecting a good reaction?
SIOUXSIE: We damn well were. When we played the Palladium in New York it was a straight punk audience, into stuff like 999. Put-Your-Hands-Together-Punk. We surprised them. A lot of them go along because they bought the Knack's record and think it's punk. Some of them get pulled in and some of them don't.
ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN,
Their early image was negative and destructive but for the countless disenchanted and displaced souls they heralded a new age. "We'd rather be decadent than responsible." said Severin. It was an image of heaven on earth.
Outside of music, what made you the way you are?
SIOUXSIE: A lot of films. Media. Comedians like Lenny Bruce. Even Alf Garnett, because 'Til Death Do Us Part' showed a typical with its prejudices. It offended people, as Lenny Bruce did, but it breaks down barriers to laugh at something like that. I loved Bette Davis in Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? I enjoy frightening films. They're quite safe, like fairy stories. Tension is important. I like the humour in Psycho, the way the bloke talked to his dead mother. Eraserhead was very funny. I hate cynical people who shout out and make jokes at the scary bits. There's a great Japanese film, Onibaba, about a woman who kills a Samurai warrior and steals his mask. In the end the mask sticks to her face and when they rip it off, it tears away her flesh so that her own face is a mask.
I've got a real passion for masks. Everything from Japanese masks to voodoo masks and New Year's Eve Party masks.
FOR THINE IS THE GLORY,
The band starts a three week tour of the United Kingdom on February 16, after which they have no plans for live appearances in 1981 except the recently announced matinee gigs in April for under-16s and a special fan club event at the time of the new album.
I hear you'll be doing some shows for under-16s?
SIOUXSIE: Oh. Will we? I hadn't heard that.
THE POWER AND THE GLORY,
The Banshees may have power over Polygram, but there's a communication breakdown somewhere, when they haven't heard of gigs the papers say they're playing. But that's the story of, that's the glory of... art. John McGeoch used to be an artist.
JOHN: Circumstances doesn't allow it now. I live in one tiny room. When I get a decent sized place, I'll start painting again. I still take a lot of photographs.
A lot of people come out of Art School scarred, but I enjoyed it. Being the only punk in college. I wasn't liked at first, but I don't think it did me any real harm.
SIOUXSIE: I wanted to go to Art School but I didn't have enough 'O' levels. At school I skived off academic things and went to the art room. I tried to con myself into Art School, but when I didn't get in I reacted against it. I had about twenty jobs in two years. In the end I'm glad I didn't go. I might have got sucked into that pseud, arty way of living. Talking about Dada all the time.
FOR EVER AND EVER
Thank God I hadn't mentioned Dada.
The cassette ended, the machine clicked off. I picked up my little Sony, said my goodbyes and climbed the stairs up to Kilburn street level.
Outside, I started to relax. Siouxsie had spend the entire interview on the edge of her seat, hands thrust protectively between her legs, like a child in strange company. Had I scared her?
I wondered if maybe everything scares Siouxsie until she gets to know it.
The last word belongs to Lou Reed.
"I know where the razors edge is,
"You don't look like Martha and the Vandellas."
Johnny Black 17/02/81
MAGIC OF TRANCE
The fetish speaks - part one. MARK COOPER goes ghost walking in the enchanted, perverted world of Siouxsie and the Banshees.
1. A fetish is any natural object believed to possess magical or spiritual power. "Following the footsteps of a rag doll dance we are entranced" (‘Spellbound’ Siouxsie and the Banshees).
SIOUXSIE moves across the stage at the Manchester Apollo like a siren possessed. The lights follow her as she moves back and forth, her hands stretching out and then returning to her sides.
She’s dressed in black except for a glittering sash that surrounds her waist and she’s lit up like Cleopatra, an Egyptian priestess commanding her slaves, her subjects. She puts one foot upon a monitor and gazes into the front few rows... the only ones she can see.
"I stand to one side so that I can see into the audience. Usually all you can see is the 20 at the front. When we put the lights on the audience, there’s suddenly 2000 more people out there. It makes you feel very good to know that there’s all those people out there, but it always comes as a bit of a shock.
"I try to move around a bit to let them know that I’m there," John McGeoch, the Banshees’ guitarist.
"We don’t want to be manufactured and I don’t think we are. At the same time, we take a lot of care with what we do. When we play now, it’s a show and not a gig. The lights now are brilliant; the guy who does it has been with the band a long time and when we change the order of the songs he gets a little nervous because the whole order of the lighting arrangement has to change." Budgie, the Banshees’ drummer.
"A beautiful mask in plaster cast" (from ‘Headcut’ on ‘Juju’).
Siouxsie in the lights is perfectly framed. Her face commands the audience who stare up, transfixed. This is live, magic, and yet a ritual. The crowd shakes to the music which rises and drones like an Indian raga and the faces are enchanted, sucked into the music and the show, the live world of Siouxsie and the Banshees.
This is a spectacle and a sense of awe descends on the crowds like a mist. Siouxsie commands and she almost terrifies, the music sucks you in and yet there’s unease in the songs, a sense of disturbance, of a rising panic drowned in the notes but rising as the music marches forward.
2. A fetish is any object or person that comes to be regarded with total belief, with a kind of devotion.
"To be quite honest, I don’t really have any specific idea as to why we do anything... there’s a load of groups who can sum themselves up and package themselves with some kind of slogan. It’s real neat.
"We’ve never been able to do that and it’s a problem sometimes in interviews. But that’s what’s special about this group." Siouxsie, singer.
"I think there’s an interest in our work that goes right back to ‘Join Hands’ and it’s an interest in devotion. There’s a song we have called ‘Icon’ that was inspired by Dervishes getting themselves into such a state that they could put needles through their heads. Our interest in that state is a theme that runs through our work.
"And that’s because playing on stage can sometimes bring me into that state and we’re trying to share that because it’s really good.
"A song like ‘Jigsaw’ when we play it well can put me into a trance and that’s something we’re trying to project into an audience. ‘Juju’ explores that a bit more coherently. But our interest in religious magic comes naturally, it’s nothing as crass as Talking Heads getting books out of the library and swotting it up, giving you a bibliography of African music and religion." Steve Severin, bass guitar.
AFTER the show, the band come out into the foyer and sit behind a desk for half an hour and sign autographs. A good 50 fans are waiting to meet them, clutching programmes to be signed, many of them punks, many of them dressed in Banshees’ style.
"The gap between the entertainer and the audience is something we try to narrow onstage without going out and singing ’No More Heroes’ or anything as obvious as that. At the same time, some of our music requires a certain distance - a song like ‘Nightshift’ has to be massive.
"That’s why we’re doing these autograph sessions but sometimes they upset Siouxsie because people just freeze up." Steve gives a nod over at Siouxsie, sitting at a bed in a hotel room in Manchester, a few hours after the show. Siouxsie is disturbed by the autograph session.
First we’ve talked about repetition, about the difficulty of a long tour, of shows that follow, one after the other. "You can go self-conscious. You remember that you walked over to this side of the stage the night before. Sometimes when I feel this is happening too much I just go to pieces at night and I do things like turn the bed upside down. It’s probably healthy that I do react.
"I suppose these feeling come when we do a gig and it feels like a ’show’ with all the worst connotations of that word.
"I don’t think for one moment that what we’re doing now is like the Pink Floyd or something really boring. We don’t need the lights because there’s no movement or anything else happening onstage. But the people who put this together have been with us a long time and we’ve worked toward this together. It’s a very natural meeting of music and lighting.
"Music has to be real and not just a show. ("But there has to be theatre in it," Steve adds.) There’s a thin, intangible line between good and bad, and if it works, if it’s good, you don’t sit down and wonder - was it acting? I know it’s good when I’m transfixed in what I’m doing but not looking at what I’m doing. Very involved and very intense, but not noticing myself."
THE autographs force Siouxsie to notice as the fans notice her, watch her and wait for her. Close up, much closer than on the stage. Close enough to frighten with the nature and the form of their interest.
"I do want to have contact with the people who come to see us and an autograph session is an excuse for that but I’d rather they were interested in saying something or asking about a song or something rather than having a flimsy excuse like a piece of paper to sign or hoping maybe that you’ll look up at them."
A flimsy kind of contact. "There’s nobody’s autograph I’d value. Oh, there’s a few people it’d be nice to happen to bump into and find something in common with but I’d never force myself into that situation.
"When they do treasure a signature or a piece of paper it upsets me."
And the look-alikes, the women who dress like Siouxsie, the punks in uniform, Crass badges complete?
"It’s the opposite of how I think. I’ve never once wanted to get someone else’s autograph or try to look like them. It’s not that you feel superior, you start to wonder why wasn’t I like that?"
3. Psychologists explain a fetish as any object or part of the body that is fixed upon, separated from the rest, regarded as an exclusive source of attraction, of pleasure.
And the image that they see?
"They see you right but they only see part of you, they take that part for the whole in a possessive kind of way."
Wait a minute, back to that autograph session. And Siouxsie talking: "It’s the only opportunity in which the right people can take the initiative and actually come up and talk to us but the fans make it into a session situation. Sometimes. And people at the front of the stage try to touch you."
Siouxsie shrinks back on the bed.
"Standing in the light I never wanted to be right. Now I’m attracted by the light and blinded by the sight." (from ’Into The Light’.)
"This is all happening more on this tour, more because this is the first tour they’ve really come to see us and us alone."
While Steve continues: "The fact that we’ve placed ourselves in a popular market means that all this has got more exaggerated. Now it’s our audience and nobody else comes; they’re virtually all fans of ours before they come to the gigs. Before John joined they were all different factions and so playing was more of a fight."
Siouxsie agrees: "This is the first time we’re not fighting something in the audience and it’s an odd twist that we should end up fighting the adulation. Elements of what we’ve just said, when they do creep in (and it’s not every night by any means), scare me.
"I know that people strive to get to the kind of position we’re just beginning to reach. But when it’s the kind of situation we’re describing, I don’t like it."
"Sit back and enjoy the real McCoy, our new air of authority, our sentinel of misery." (from ’Monitor’.)
SIOUXSIE and the Banshees now play shows before large audiences. They have hit singles and albums and Siouxsie stares out of a lot of photographs composed, made up, her hair a shock, her face graven in a permanent punk pallor.
Is this a long way from 1976? Steve says no. "We always wanted to be accessible. After that first gig at the 100 Club we didn’t perform again for six months. We used to sit around every day and discuss what we wanted the band to be. We’ve always known what was valid to achieve those aims and what wasn’t."
And so to the show, to Siouxsie the witch and Voodoo Dolly. And Siouxsie the cat? For Siouxsie a way of being herself and, sometimes, autograph sessions and elsewhere, a way of succumbing, of fear, a way of becoming the audience’s creature. A star. An icon. Their fetish.
But the Banshees have no doubt that what they do is best realised here with these lights, with this music.
They beam out: "The total opposite of our show is PIL playing behind a video in New York. When I was younger and I went to a show I loved it when I was presented with a total experience."
This is Steve explaining and Siouxsie continues. Both of them seem often to return to their childhoods, to growing up, to explain why they do as they do.
"I think it’s to do with something really basic like rubbing your scent all over the place. You want to say: ’This is me and you’re going to have to spend a lot of time washing the place down after we’ve left’.
"It’s a away of making that place your own so there’s no way anyone will be thinking of any other band or any other memory from the past."
Siouxsie and the Banshees insist upon their style and their show. Enter the Apollo and you’ve entered totally into the Banshees’ world, so totally that you can lose yourself in it, lose yourself so that you can be amazed or terrified, swamped or released.
And Siouxsie is your leader, a siren to be feared, perhaps. And perhaps even a suitable object of surrender. The music invites, invited. Let’s go, churches and dance.
LAST WEEK Siouxsie and the Banshees discussed how to reach a trance state in their music and then convey that state to their audience.
And we saw how Siouxsie - as star and image - is always in danger of being turned into a fetish by her fans and into a commodity by the business in which she works.
Fans create stars and stars create fans.
"Idols are the works of man’s own hands - they are things and man bows down and worships things, worships that which he has created himself. In doing so, he transforms himself into a thing." (Eric Fromm).
‘Juju’ is a celebration, but it is also a warning.
Siouxsie explains the old show: "On the ’Join Hands’ tour we had stained glass windows and black drapes. It was like taking your own miniature church with you. And that’s carried on. We take our own set and show into a theatre and make it our own."
Steve continues: "The idea we had for taking the stainless windows with us was almost like our little joke that those people have come to worship us."
Now hold on. Isn’t this a bit total? Siouxsie and the Banshees play fearful devotional music and compose their show and suck you in. Who’s controlling who here? And who’s the fetish? And is there room to breathe?
I plead occasional claustrophobia in the world of the Banshees, its colours so black, its dance so unrelenting, so constantly, droningly black.
"We have got a very definite style and that’s something we’re criticised for but it’s not something we conjure up, it’s what comes out. The whole base of rock and roll is people with very definite styles, people who manufacture those styles into myths, hideous people like Bruce Springsteen."
Ah yes, the million dollar question. Don’t the Banshees manufacture a myth, from the perfect lighting to Siouxsie’s staring face, to the rushing black tones of McGeoch’s choppy guitar? A total complete, made-up world, perhaps even a fetish?
"No," says Steve. "Maybe," says Siouxsie.
"We want to put on a show and we do but we don’t want to be manufactured," says Budgie.
But Siouxsie explains: "You see we’re not really conscious in that way onstage. The consciousness is of what you can do when you’re not playing, things like the lights, but the gig itself isn’t choreographed, it’s real, live."
"Some people think it’s hammed up, that ’Juju’ is an exploitation of magic, of ideas that are used to impress, to sound impressive, heavy maaaan. We knew people would react to the album by saying: ’Boogie, boogie, it’s the boogie man’," Siouxsie puts on her most sarcastic voice.
Steve explains: "We tried to play the artwork down, not to be crass and obvious. We tried to play down the black magic side of things and make it as relevant to what we are actually saying as possible. I can just visualise how Toyah or Jimmy Pursey would have done it.
"We avoided all the sword and sorcery stuff, the Roger Dean side of it."
THEY succeeded. ’Juju’ is a dark world, a complete atmosphere and the whole record works as a style, a form of hypnosis. And as an examination of control, of the power of performance when the band transfixes the audience and themselves and works a dance-dark magic. A magic in which the audience becomes the band’s puppet and sometimes the band belongs to the audience, becomes their puppet. A great metaphor for the band’s hypnotism.
And for the more sinister side of things when the mixture overbalances and instead of devotion and religious union, the entertained turn the entertainer into a puppet on a string, spellbound.
"When you think your toys have gone berserk, it’s an illusion you cannot shirk. You hear laughter cracking through the walls, it sends you spinning, you have no choice." (from ‘Spellbound’).
Siouxsie and the Banshees explore this dark world with a devotion and relentlessness that makes some find them narrow, claustrophobic, one-sided. But the truth is that this is their commitment and the source of their dark strength.
Steve explains the commitment: "I’m always intrigued by those things that you really have to delve into... if you got totally into black magic or something you’d have to become a totally different person; you couldn’t live the same way. You’d just have to cut yourself off and maybe it’s because you have to have such commitment that people consider you evil.
"I’m interested in discovering whether those things actually are evil or whether it’s the fact that you have to isolate yourself from society and the normal way of doing things that people consider it evil."
And get punished as being evil for their difference, for the depth of their commitment? Who are more committed to their way of seeing than rock musicians living out a style of life that seems like magic, like freedom to those trapped in the everyday of the nine-to-five or the dole?
Siouxsie follows up what Steve has already said: "It’s like going back to the Dark Ages; witches were the ones who kept themselves to themselves apart, nothing to do with anything, being a bit eccentric. It’s just their character wasn’t as bland and open as everyone else’s and so they were branded as something unsavoury and punished for it.
"And people are punished now for being different - but in subtler ways."
There’s two kinds of difference and both are sinister. The first is when you lose touch with the world, lose the devotion and become separate, outside the music.
Steve explains his song ’Halloween’ on ’Juju’. "My source for that is something that happened to me when I was very young, understanding reality for the first time, if that doesn’t sound too... (pause) I suddenly realised when I was about six that I was a separate person. Suddenly I knew I was around instead of just being a part of things. And once that happens you realise that you’ve lost something like an innocence."
The other kind of difference is the difference of trying to be yourself and being stopped. Siouxsie has always tried and always felt resisted, and she fights back: "Society tries to make people live out a clichéd existence, to conform. If you’ve got a Hotpoint washing machine then you’re alright because you’re like the others.
"People are pressured to live out lives of conformity and I want to live my life differently and to have the freedom to be able to do it in front of others without being stopped."
Siouxsie has always fought for control, to speak it and live it as she sees it. Take it back to when she was growing up at home: "A lot of children do hate their parents and that relationship is a very powerful influence. I used to really hate may mother, both my parents, sometimes I used to really despise them. Sometimes I used to want to kill them or kill myself just to teach them a lesson. Now I’ve done a complete turnaround since I’ve left home. Now I don’t see my parents so much and we get on very well.
"I remember admitting this to a few girls at school and they thought I was a monster or something but I always felt they were holding out in not admitting to having that feeling.
"When you’re an adolescent you always think what a misfit you are and you try to stifle those kind of things. I always found it very hard to stifle myself. I’d blurt them out and people would think I was weird."
WE discuss Phil Oakey and his changes of costume, going the whole hog and dressing as Brian Eno and, later, Lou Reed, and later still (now) as himself. We all admire his commitment; as Steve says, he admires those who take a total change: "It was really different before because you knew if you did it, you were completely on your own whereas these girls who come to see Siouxsie, they know there’ll be at least twenty others like them there."
And Siouxsie leans forward, the Juju priestess who made her followers "so... unaware" and delivers her creed: "I think what’s vital is people with character. There’s something about certain people, it’s just in there character, they have something that’s theirs.
"Maybe it’s something to do with their humour, but they have something that’s theirs, even when they’re trying to find themselves, they’re trying to find themselves rather than just being a bit lazy and just getting lost."
And there you have it. It’s four o’clock in the morning and the three of us decide it’s time to go off and sleep. Siouxsie and the Banshees are a big band now, surrounded by lights and equipment and a host of fans. As far as they’re concerned their show and their way of acting is the way they need to act.
"I don’t think you can do something and try to cater for other people’s tastes, you just have to do what you want."
No, they’re not breaking up but this is their last major British tour in this style for the near future: "We want to stay in control, we’ve held onto it this far and we want to continue to do so. People always think there’s some huge story in it when you make an announcement like that.
"But this show is a precedent and we’re very proud of it. We just don’t want to repeat ourselves."
So there’ll be a new single, an EP made by Siouxsie on voice and Budgie on drums and the tour will continue round much of the world. Meanwhile, listen to ’Juju’. The record transfixes, enchants, hypnotises, scares. Leaves you spellbound.
And it’s also the best examination of what happens when that magic goes wrong, turns black out on the sinister night shift and the performer/magician becomes a doll in the grasp of her fans.
I remember Siouxsie after an autograph session, looking so worried at the fans dressed like her, as if she’d been cloned...
"then the victim stared up, looked strangely at the screen as if her pain was our fault, but that’s entertainment, what we crave for inside." (from ’Monitor’)
It’s a devil’s bargain, brothers and sisters, careful how you crave.
Mark Cooper 07/03/81
Good evening and let’s welcome chartbusting popsters Siouxsie And The Banshees as they celebrate three years of continuous commercial success with the release of an album of their greatest hits entitled "Once Upon A Time". Trumpeters, a fanfare if you please!
I’m sorry, unfortunate this, but the trumpeters just did a runner. One look at Siouxsie Sioux all in black with her hair like a nest of snakes and Steve Severin all in black with his neat blond hair apparently moulded from sheet metal and they fled, medals, knees and teeth a-clatter. So much for our Banshees jolly-up. Somehow Sioux, Severin and celebration don’t seem to go together.
Well, I know how those stout soldiers felt. The eyes of the Banshees fell on me too and I checked the shortest route to the door. When Siouxsie let the elegant incline of her cigarette point my way I ducked as if it were a pearl-handled pistol. The thing is quite simply they have a great talent for psyching people out and over the five years The Banshees have been in business it’s proved very useful to them.
The only difference is that now they’re willing to talk about it - with small, dry smiles - whereas in less secure days it was a weapon they kept strictly under wraps to preserve its mystique. A hard instinct must have told them that even the lost rugged old pro from the record company or press is undermined if he’s constantly wondering "Why do they hate me?" and "What have I done to deserve this?" - and then, probably, "What can I do to win them over?"
Unlike most of us Sioux and Steve aren’t much worried about appearing nice. He said: "That’s the way we are. We don’t tolerate much (pause to choose the exact word)... nonsense. People don’t like that, I guess. We’re very opinionated and that scares them. But that’s how both of us run our personal lives as well."
"Cut the crap and go straight for it!" said Siouxsie, going straight for it.
Like or loathe them, most would admit that’s what they’ve been doing since September 20, 1976, when the Banshees made their mind - and eardrum - curdling debut at the 100 Club punk festival with a massacre of "The Lord’s Prayer". That line-up featured the late Sid Vicious on drums and Marco Pirroni, now an Ant, on guitar.
It was intended as some kind of one-off musical scream, a complete career lasting 20 minutes, as Siouxsie fondly recalled: "We all played on that understanding. It was hard to beat too." She laughed (they do!) "We’ve been waffling ever since, trying to outdo that number one night."
It might indeed have been the ultimate in punk chic to leave it at that. So much more appealing to be a legend than a reality. But despite all the black she still greets the world with, that night began to turn Siouxsie’s life inside out, from negative to positive.
As Siouxsie has said: "Before I was in a band I only knew what I didn’t want to do - everything that was offered to me!"
For Steve there was certainly no stopping after that first gig: "When we came off I knew. It’s a (that pause again)... very addictive drug being on stage."
Siouxsie: "Then the disease spread."
Steve: "We collapsed into being a band."
They were sure about their inspiration all right. But their ’method’ was chaotic. They gnawed through musicians: the guitar passed from Marco to Peter Fenton (co-write of "Love In A Void") to John McKay, drums from Sid to Kenny Morris, and a girl called Simone played violin at a couple of shows. They got a good manager in Nils Stevenson, but for a long while nobody would give them the time of day. They survived on the thin gruel of gig receipts.
Maybe it helped. By ’78, when they’d done a lot of work and were shaping up, punk had already burst apart into the freedom of the New Wave and everyone was more open-minded. The Pistols had split up, the image was broken. The Banshees felt bold enough to turn away mere one-single and one-album deals.
Siouxsie: "We weren’t in awe of the record companies. We’d seen such a lot of the new bands snapped up by the greedy fish and spat out again."
The Polydor came swimming past. Among the straightest of establishment names. Steve: "This is where people get a bit confused. There were hardly any independent labels in existence then. Our only choices were going with a major or doing it ourselves, and we were only just living on the money we earned so we decided, no dilly-dallying, enter the heart of the beast."
On August 18 "Hong Kong Garden" was released, what Steve describes as a "very pretty song" with heavily veiled references to Hiroshima, and as it turned out, the Banshees were made. On Top Of The Pops! The first side of the chronological "Once Upon A Time" all flows from that point: dark, often ugly music - pop because it was popular; upsetting to those bizmen, journalists and fans who like to check where they stand by referring to a ’common denominator’. Abba and the Banshees went together in the Top Twenty like peaches and a razor-blade grenade.
And they duly blew up of course. The preface to side two was the departure of Morris and McKay after an undignified heave-ho in an Aberdeen record shop brought grievances to a head. It was malicious as hell. As it happened I was there and saw Siouxsie shove McKay’s guitar into the hands of a stage-door fan for good riddance. The break was absolute. The two twos haven’t spoken to each other from that day to this.
But it was one of those death-and-rebirth occasions. The singles tell the story: The de-bleaking of The Banshees.
It began with their own refusal to surrender. Incredibly, they resumed that tour within five days with Budgie, from The Slits, on drums and the Cure’s Robert Smith standing in on guitar. There has never been anything like it in the annals of rock.
Steve: "It was all done in a whirlwind. Our main concern was to finish that tour because we’d put so much or our own money into it that if we hadn’t we’d have been bankrupt and that would have been the end of the band."
Siouxsie: "And more, there was such a desire to sling mud in their eyes! We were very determined, almost... mindless."
Budgie: "There was no time to delve into one another. It had to work quick and it did."
They re-discovered themselves as old fashioned show biz troupers. Stiff-upper-lip Siouxsie playing Julie Andrews in skintight leathers.
Siouxsie: "It was a test. I think it was the worst thing that could have happened to the band - and we managed to plough on."
Steve: "Everest was easy after that."
Exactly. Cue church bells, heavenly chorus and, altogether now, ‘Climb every mountain, ford every stream...’ All right, it resembles a soppy B-movie script, but I still see it as one of the finest moments of the New Wave, especially when they switched it from defence to creative advance.
Feeling free, Sioux and Severin hurtled away into new methods of writing and John McGeoch began his slow, steady slide into their lives.
To "audition" a permanent replacement for McKay the Banshees wrote "Happy House", leaving a total blank for the guitarist to work in. "Being allowed to do what the hell they liked instead of copying John McKay’s part on one of our old hits, most people were stumped," said Siouxsie with some relish.
Not McGeoch. Stumped? The Scot glowered at the very idea: "I can play guitar on anything. Mind, I was surprised when Nils called me and said would I join the band - that’s like someone asking you to marry them."
Although his transfer from Magazine wasn’t completed until the "Juju" sessions in early ‘81, he was giving them a piece of his mind even before "Kaleidoscope". It was McGeoch who suggested they try Police producer Nigel Gray because he liked the clarity of "Walking On The Moon".
It wasn’t the obvious move, but it clicked. Gray has handled all Banshees tracks since then, and, I think, contributed to their shift towards a less extreme sound. Contrary to their fierce image it emerged that they didn’t enjoy or benefit from aggro.
Steve: "Nigel was very easy to work with. The only thing that came out of conflict was ‘Join Hands’ when it was within the band and we didn’t get on with the producer either (Mike Stavrou). We had to fight to get the sound how we wanted it on every track."
Siouxsie: "I don’t think another person has any right to stand in our way and imprint their misguided ideas on our records. We have to have a common understanding."
Does that mean "They have to agree with us?" Probably. The Banshees are adamant - but not necessarily unreasonable. In these last two years the new Banshees have reached the happy state of what Siouxsie calls "intuitive democracy".
John McGeoch, with his strong temperament and his first-class honours art degree, would never accept being gagged. "You can’t be frightened to tell people that what they’re playing is crap, and I do," he says seriously. Then: "All that happens is our wages get stopped."
Joke! Unlike many musicians who joined established bands John and Budgie are on equal shares with founders Steve and Siouxsie - completely accepted as Banshees, not held at arms length like hired hands.
In a sense, it’s been about experiencing punk’s coming of age together (sure, some would make that ‘punk’s growing old’). Steve said: "Budgie and John had begun playing at roughly the same time as us. There was an unspoken knowledge about a lot of things you couldn’t ‘teach’ to anybody. We’d grown up through the same period. A lot of unnecessary communication went out of the window."
It adds up to what Steve called, with the resonance of a campaigning politician, "the great sensation" of playing Banshees music.
So what id it that’s held the Sioux-Severin team together for five years now? Steve, ultra-dry: "We’re just gluttons for punishment." Then silence. They don’t want to analyse it. What do the others think of the founding Banshees then?
John (declaiming): "They have a vision and I have been privileged to glimpse it!"
Budgie (soul brother): "Like it is is like it is!"
The immediate future hold a tour of Japan and Hong Kong, probably no more Creatures, spare-time Visageing for John, occasional British Banshees gigs. They also think a few cover versions of their stuff might be due.
Apparently Vangelis asked for their sheet music six months ago. "Maybe he’s still programming the computer," said Steve. Then he whipped in a little sales pitch to prospective customers. Would you believe Spandau Ballet and the Beggar &Co brass doing "Playground Twist", or Motorhead blasting through "Metal Postcard"?
THE VALLEY OF THE VOODOO DOLL
LYNN HANNA JOINS THE BANSHEES FARWELL TOUR
THE TWO ARTICULATED trucks parked at the back of the Cardiff concert hall have already unloaded their contents. The large tour bus and the Banshees’ own anonymous transit are drawn up alongside them. In the background the big wheel of a deserted fairground swings slowly across an overcast sky, empty seats swaying in the leaden evening air.
Beside the bus there’s the silver Aston Martin of an ex-karate club owner and Banshee security man, from whom Siouxsie has recently been taking a few lessons.
Do you ever feel vulnerable, Sioux?
"No I don’t. I do and I don’t. If I am vulnerable, I’m not going to care about it. I’m not going to be paranoid."
THIS IS the Banshees’ goodbye to all that, their fond farewell to the tired, discredited ritual of prolonged touring that will have taken up seven or eight months of their time this year. In keeping with a history that’s spanned styles without getting stuck, and a rationale that’s stayed alive to change, they’re discussing different methods of reaching an audience and fresh possibilities in a group who can pursue individual projects yet still stay committed.
Steve Severin: "I think you’ve got to sit down and assess what you’re doing at least once a year, to keep sane, to keep being able to communicate with people, not just wander off into wonderland.
"I used to go down Cabaret Futura and that’s what convinced me that touring is getting to be irrelevant. What Richard Strange has done is one idea that’s partly worked. The most obvious next step for us would be Wembley or something, but we’ve never wanted to do it. Now’s the time to stop and think how we want to do things."
John McGeoch: "It’s something we’ve talked about ourselves, having two artics and about a million guys working for us. It’s the first time it’s felt like this. It gets a little bit remote. Really I don’t think there’s any compromise involved. It’s a problem of scale."
Sioux: "The fact that we’re wanting to stop now and look at what we’ve got is really healthy as far as doing more good things together goes."
The Banshees’ ability to use the rock circus without being trapped by its mechanics, to keep a purity of purpose that transcends their own commercialism means they attract a strangely mixed following, as much a puzzle to Siouxsie as anybody else. Waiting while the crowd pours out after the last encore at Cardiff, it’s like being washed by several distinct waves.
First there are the groups of girls who’ve been dancing at the back, most of them with something of Sioux about their appearance; then the well dressed couples and clusters of neat friends; finally there are the sweating, pushing packs of the new punk army, with the names Discharge and Exploited emblazoned on their backs, still revelling in the feel of each others physical force as they shove in a turbulent stream towards the exits.
After the concert, scenes of innocent pop fandom replace the show. The group - Sioux, blond and amiable Budgie, soft-spoken Severin, McGeoch in sunglasses - sit at a table in front of a shy queue of laundered jeans and sweatshirts, tidy punk rips and zips mingling in a general, unaligned sense of polite excitement. A girl with a bemused boyfriend in tow ecstatically clasps the tour programme that McGeoch’s just signed. Sioux firmly refuses any border boy who asks for a kiss. One stoops across the table to make his request, grinning gauchely, perhaps too persistent, coming a little too close...
"No! Never!" shouts Sioux theatrically, springing to her feet with that striking mixture of the sincere and stage-managed, that instinct for confrontation that can characterise her actions.
The empty hall with its shuffling queue falls suddenly silent. Behind the table bouncers bristle.
MOTORHEAD were the last cargo in the Banshee’s van and Sioux sits on a seat that was broken by Lemmy in some macho excess and now lurches sickeningly with the van’s uneven progress.
Do you ever get carsick, Sioux?
"No, I like it," she smiles.
While Sioux snoozes and the rest of the Banshees sit in mainly silent companionship, John McGeoch cradling his hand in a bag of ice in a vain attempt to reduce a blue, bruised swelling that was the result of an accident with a door, the van crosses the fawn flood of the Severn into sleepy, misty Gloucestershire. The tape plays a selection from some of the Banshees class and soul-mates who grew up with them from punk; a cream of the crop of turn-of-the-decade pop: Magazine, Talking Heads, the League, Cramps, Skids; joy Division’s ‘She’s Lost Control Again’ could almost be a Siouxsie song; then there’s Wobble’s lovely, slinky, lament: "Betrayal... Look what you’ve done to me... Bitch!".
To say that the Banshees past and continuing relationship with the press and media has not been smooth would be an understatement. A telling recent example was the embarrassed botch the cameras made of the Banshees’ last TOTP appearance.
Steve: "I think why people are so scared of coming to talk to us is because when we started off we were aware of the fact that we were very naïve as far as the business went. And so we deliberately went out of our way to build a stance, which is probably one of the reasons why loads of punks come to see us still. But it was also very necessary for us to do what we wanted without being manipulated in any way.
"Now we’ve got four or five years experience and we know we don’t have to be so intense about certain things, because things can be done and achieve the same effect without having a heart attack. We’ve probably made a lot of enemies on the way, but I’d rather have lots of enemies than have been on loads of compilation albums."
It’s in Gloucester that the Banshees stern intolerance of standard media hypocrisy surfaces and things begin to go awry.
The DJ at the local radio station had either not had time or the inclination to check up on a few basic Banshee facts and he spends his first few minutes with the group asking names and the title of the last album.
First he’ll speak "face-to-face" with Siouxsie, he says, then do an interview with everyone behind the glass partition of the adjoining studio; and everything’s going out live.
Among the unthinking plasticity of teatime radio, the bubbling, dehumanising bonhomie, the quick numbing jiggle of the advertising singles, Sioux’s face begins to set.
There are long, excruciating silences when the DJ begins to question her.
"Speak to me," he pleads with mechanical playfulness. "Tell me, where did you get the unusual spelling of your name?"
"I made it up for scrabble," Sioux says sullenly.
Forced gaiety: "I think you’re fibbing."
"Well, you shouldn’t ask such stupid questions."
Cut for the six o’clock news and a brief, merciful break while the studio’s off the air.
"Siouxsie, what questions would you like me to ask you, lover?" he begs desperately as she reaches the door.
Sioux turns and fixes him with a wicked red smile that could freeze blood a 50 feet.
"Oh, I’m sure you’ll think of something," she replies.
The commercial break ends and the DJ’s back on the air. He poses his first tentative question to the Banshees blankly ensconced behind the glass partition in front of him.
"We can’t hear you," comes back the clear, disembodied reply.
The DJ shakily cues a record to cover the pause, his face beginning to melt in helpless misery. He flicks a switch on the control desk.
"Engineering? Anyone in engineering please?"
"It was turned up all the time," he mutters in a resigned aside.
The record ends, it’s back to the Banshees and a few pointed questions about the Morris/McKay defection to satisfy a sense of honour.
"Well, thanks for coming along and making my life hell," he says through gritted teeth as the interview ends.
Sioux unbends enough to ask him if he’s coming to the concert tonight. The mood during the drive back to the hotel is subdued rather than celebratory.
LATER THAT night I’m talking to Steve Severin about the element of stylisation in the Banshees and also about the way that many women writers and performers still feel compelled to keep a certain distance.
"I think there’s something quite arch about what we do," he says. "The most obvious reason for that is, well, with the old group in particular we weren’t like a bunch of musicians who’d been playing around for ten years or something. We attained a style because we grew up onstage and we learned to play as we were going along.
"God, Joy Division were a stylised group as well, yet somehow they managed to get away with a lot more than we have in the press. I think a lot has to be said for the fact that Sioux is a woman."
What has also contributed to the Banshees unacceptable aura is the underlying horror in their songs combined with a strong dislike of sloganising or taking a political stance that has sometimes left them open to misinterpretation.
Severin describes his own politics as "extremely left-wing".
"I can’t see how anybody who reads our lyrics or listens to our music could think we were right-wing. I think there’s enough ammunition there, without being really blatant, to show which side of the fence we’re on. We just avoid slogans."
"I just hate slogans," says Siouxsie. "It’s like something’s got to be real because it’s saying, ‘Don’t do this, so that’. I can’t understand that way of thinking. I don’t trust people who pick up slogans. And I don’t like people who are conned by them.
"For something to be valid because it’s under this or that banner, I think that’s really hypocritical and really harmful as well. It robs any kind of imagination or individual ideas or feeling. I believe there’s a common feeling of what’s right and what’s wrong, but to have that under a banner just cheapens it. It’s like a commercial, it makes you ashamed to have that feeling, almost."
Perhaps one of the few examples of a Banshees song that takes an identifiable stance on a defined issue is ‘Skin’ from ‘Kaleidoscope’, ostensibly about seal culling.
"It sounds really wet when you talk about animals, but it’s exactly the same sort of emotion that you feel when you read about a kid being battered to death, a really defenceless four year old kid and it’s been battered to death. It’s just unthinkable that they’ve been treated like a little doll and slung about. It builds up a real sense of how could they?"
From ‘The Scream’ onwards, as Sioux says, there have not been many picnic songs.
"But I don’t like it always being put down to this Gothic Horror thing. It’s like saying, ‘That’s unreal, I can cope with that’."
"I THINK I have to be fit, or get fit, to go on this long. I don’t really do exercises or anything. But just the physical thing while we’re onstage makes you that much fitter. Maybe it’s indulgent but it’s really satisfying to feel almost every night that you can really sweat and push yourself and be very physical and intuitive to what’s happening - to feel that you can’t do anymore. It’s like running round a track, but much more intense; much more."
Do you feel that your approach to what you do is professional Sioux?
"I suppose as far as anything going wrong with the gig, I don’t like human weakness to be the reason for it. I’m talking about selfishness rather than weakness, I suppose. ‘This whole thing revolves around me’ - that attitude just doesn’t work. There’s a responsibility that everyone has to each other. I expect a hell of a lot. So does everyone else."
The Banshees’ current concert is an evening’s entertainment that incorporates John Cooper Clark, a cartoon, and a stunning light show. Through violet desert twilights, columns of flame, smoky green sprays and sheets of lightning, the Banshees grandeur is never an empty gesture.
Although Budgie’s beat and McGeoch’s guitar might have been made for the Banshees, as Severin points out, ‘Juju’ came from a group who were still relatively new.
"There was something definite that attracted me to the Banshees," says McGeoch. "The way that Siouxsie and Steve, and Budgie as well by that time, had a sense of purpose. It’s horrible to pin it down, it was just a direction, a strength, which is very infectious. I know it might sound like a cliché but it’s really exciting to have a bit of all-outness.
"Even in America last winter, it went very well and all that, but I still felt not quite there. Then we started writing together as a band and started talking about the structure and mechanics of the writing and it was quite obvious it was a four-piece thing."
If the Banshees new sense of cohesion is obvious both onstage and in ‘Juju’, then Severin also feels there’s enough confidence and trust in the group as a whole for each of the members to pursue separate projects: Steve himself will soon be working with Robert Smith of The Cure; Siouxsie and Budgie have recorded an effective EP using just voice and drums; and John McGeoch has plans to record another album as part of Visage.
"All this is a by-product of the way we recorded ‘Kaleidoscope’," says Steve. "Me and Sioux really enjoyed it because it wasn’t so restrictive as the way we’d done the other two albums. We wanted to be as malleable as that, but within the context of being a really strong group. It wont be like Pink Floyd disappearing for a year to their country mansions and then meeting up when they want to do an album together - we haven’t got mansions."
"A STYLE is something that I call unique to one person, somebody that nobody else, no matter how much money they’ve got, could ever carry off. It’s nothing to do with getting your hair cut by whoever. It’s being able to create an aura around yourself. You see legends on the streets, really." (Sioux)
"What I think is really good about Sioux’s style is that if someone like Patti Smith walked into a bar she’d have the same effect, but it wouldn’t look nearly as sexy, have that really blatant sexuality." (Severin)
THE LATE night bar of the Banshee’s Gloucester hotel is packed with tired, grey businessmen in crumpled suits conversing in a lonely, boozer’s banter.
When Siouxsie stalks into the bar and buys a drink she throws the scene into sudden, sharp relief. There is stunned silence.
Tall and upright with a foot of thigh between boots and leather skirt, she has long white arms, blue-black hair around a porcelain pale face. An exquisite, half-human mask of make-up is drawn to emphasise ice-blue eyes elongated like an Egyptian’s.
One of the businessmen recovers his composure enough to ask for her autograph and whistles softly to attract her attention.
Sioux turns on him calmly with awful intent. "I’m not a bird to be whistled at, you know," she tells him fiercely with savage sarcasm.
There is something almost nightmarish about Sioux’s appearance. It’s an affront, a threat, a revenge on conventions. It’s like a sex-shop fantasy gone subtly wrong.
"I’m not submissive," she says.
"I think girls have got a lot more to expect out of anything. It’s all fair and square and everything’s equal opportunity, but it’s been very male dominated for a very long time. I’m not a feminist or anything like that, but I’m aware that anything new or exciting is going to come from women.
"I don’t even think it’s like a generation gap thing. Talking to my mother she feels the same things. It’s nothing to do with a ‘feminist’ thing, it’s like a humane thing. Like how the Muslim women cope, I don’t know. The way women are treated in some religions, if it was a race being treated like that and not a sex, there would be uproar about it.
"I still haven’t overcome being a girl yet, as far as other people see me, and that’s very important. I think it’s happened a bit, but not enough."
Do you ever feel that you’re treading a tightrope, Sioux?
"Yeah, I think it’s important that I don’t get sucked into any kind of movement. Not because I haven’t got the bottle to go with something or someone. I do believe in every other cause that’s around. But I believe in myself a lot more and I think just pushing myself is more beneficial than if I represent being a girl or a singer or a girl from 1981, or whatever. It’s not a selfish thing.
"I think you’re a fool to think you represent more than you are yourself."
Lynn Hanna 15/08/81
Revenge Of The Banshee
A clash pf the titans takes place in rural Hampstead when STEVE SEVERIN and SIOUXSIE cross examine DAVE McCULLOUGH.
"This being a giant ugly chess game, I think you set yourself up just being here it’s good you’re extreme, a valuable chess piece, maybe" - McCullough
Our publicist had already remarked on McCullough’s assumption that this meeting was like a game of chess.
"I think it’s only fair I choose the location."
And at his request we find ourselves in the "cosy and quiet" Nags Head in Hampstead.
This had been building up for some time, regular snipes from any conceivable angle for the past two years. Crack!
McCullough’s dishonest, feeble review (huh) of Lydia Lunch at the Venue was the last scarp of bait.
What made you decide to come?
"I dunno. I can’t refuse a challenge. Someone should have done something like this before it turns out profitable."
Dave McCullough, self-styled avenging angel of Sounds or as he said himself "I see myself as a bit of an evangelist" sits opposite the two of us, slowly sipping his pint. He’s wearing jeans, training shoes and a thick, cosy maroon sweater. Very college boy, very self-effacing. From his chubby, characterless face comes a whispering heavy Irish accent.
BISHOP TO QUEEN’S BISHOP FIVE
What music writers inspired you in the beginning?
"Julie Birchill (how obvious) Giovanni Dadamo."
"No, not at all. He puts me off if anything."
McCullough’s been writing for Sounds for three years now. Prior to this he worked with Gavin Martin of the NME on the Irish Fanzine ‘Alternative Ulster’.
Are you and Gavin still buddies?
"No surprisingly not, it just sort of fizzled out."
Maybe it’s too competitive now.
"I think it’s to do with me getting a better job first. I think it surprised him. We’re the best of friends, I’m sure. I don’t like what he writes, so maybe we’re not."
On the subject of the Banshees though, McCullough and Martin share common ground. Martin was also offered a confrontation, albeit of a more physical kind. He declined gracelessly.
Do you just want to be a music journalist?
"Oh God, no. I’d like to branch out into writing plays, a novel. I think a music journalist is good though... em... I mean what else has such a high readership?"
This is disturbing. When asked for any kind of value judgement on his work he merely quotes sales figures. Imagine a band doing likewise. Yet later on he will, whenever suits, slag Sounds to death.
KING TO QUEEN’S KNIGHT TWO
Is there any particular reason you write for Sounds?
"Basically they offered me a job first. I enjoy it in fact. I must be a masochist but I do enjoy it."
Isn’t it more the case of you wanting to set yourself up as the only beacon of alternative chic left on a paper, that for all intents and purposes, is nothing more than a heavy metal paper?
"It’s worse (ho-hum). It’s heavy metal, stroke. Oi Oi.
"Yeuk. No, I don’t think I’m setting myself up at all. There just came a time (around Magazine’s 2nd album) when it was obvious that punk was changing, and Garry Bushell and I were the leading writers on Sounds. I had to decide whether to cling to the Roxy Club ethic or branch out. I went one way and Garry went the other or rather stayed the same.
"I just found myself alienated from the rest of Sounds which was a bit scary at the time. I can remember bringing up names like Echo, Teardrop at editorial meetings and people literally bursting out laughing. It’s quite pleasing looking back."
What were you doing in 75/76?
"I was at grammar school reading about the Pistols. I met Gavin and we started a kind of punk clique. I was disillusioned, pissed off, so we started the fanzine."
Who impressed you as a writer then?
That’s odd considering he didn’t like the Pistols in the beginning.
"Oh you don’t bother reading the names."
You notice if they stand out.
"Yeah. Julie Birchill but that’s awful."
So you went to Grammar School. Is that why you hate, yet constantly refer to the middle-class? Can you define it?
Here McCullough dithers around nervously, confusing himself more than anything. His image in print and in the flesh are poles apart. The venomous Burchill clone of these very pages is humble, hurt and resentful. Nothing more than a schoolboy brat.
"Class exists" (you could almost add it does. It does, it does, too!)
But you seem to judge circumstances rather than people’s characters.
"Aren’t they the same?"
No, you can be working-class yet have middle-class aspirations.
We bumble around the subject for five minutes. McCullough getting more and more garbled. His examples of middle-class music is confused, Joy Division’s ‘Still’.
"That’s massively middle-class."
And The Cure?
"I think they’d admit it themselves."
You are judging what little you know of their background. Are you middle-class?
"Yes. That’s probably why I talk about it all the time."
Sounds like a chip on your shoulder.
"Dumb it may be. It’s a worthwhile chip on my shoulder."
Nothing like that is worthwhile.
"I use chip on my shoulder as an exaggeration. Maybe it’s not so strong."
"Would you accept working and middle-class?"
Surely the terms are irrelevant these days when hardly anyone can get work. They’re old terms. Ancient terms.
KING TO KING’S KNIGHT
Ah Ha, Ian Curtis’ obituary "He Died For You" etc. Why tear them to pieces in the next breath?
"It wasn’t the next breath."
And even before his death you almost walked out during an interview with them.
"They brought me back. It was horrid."
It may be consistent with the way you feel, but the way it appears is like a complete turnaround whenever it suits you. Whenever it’s hip.
"Christ he died (ratty) I don’t think my role is to be consistent. Pop is about energy. Gavin is always saying I’m too contradictory. It was a strange day when I wrote it."
Oh dear, you can’t expect people to be sympathetic to your moods when you’re writing.
"I didn’t get on with them. I was moved by the music. I was writing about the music."
No you weren’t. You were perpetuating a myth. A rock singer dies not some martyr.
"It made me cringe. But I still stick by it." (Pause) "A lot of it was cut out, stuff that would have stabilised it. But Sounds being Sounds, AC/DC get four pages whatever. I shouldn’t mention it."
No, you shouldn’t.
Is there anyone you’re consistent with?
"Yes. The Fall until 18 months ago, for three years anyway. Van Morrison for 8 albums. I like rubbish music. I don’t listen to The Fall at home. I hear so much new music that my head spins.
"I listen to rubbish and the radio. I put on Dollar or Abba. I guess because I don’t have to think about it. Yeah, I don’t have to think."
Why do some groups receive a more critical approach?
"Because they sell more records."
Surely Dollar sell more than either Joy Division or The Cure?
"I don’t think so."
Don’t Dollar embody ‘Middle-Class’ moderation, a tepid, easy outlook?
"I think the reason Sounds is a top selling music weekly (here we go again) has something to do with Bushell and I using worlds like good/bad, working/middle-class. We may be complete and utter twits (modesty will get you nowhere) but maybe that’s why other papers’ circulation is going down and down, because they don’t get down to basic obvious things."
McCullough is rapidly deteriorating into the editor of the Music Business. Surely this is hideous double talk. Do the Human League move into another critical bracket now they’re number One (Hurrah!)? Of course they shouldn’t. Meanwhile Dave’s got his Bobby Fischer hat on again.
"You’ve got to bring in elements like a chess game. One week I’ll like Joy Division - next week Dollar."
There’s got to be more responsibility than just playing chess with your ego. You can’t on one hand say people should follow names and then again expect readers to follow through with your fickleness and changeability.
"Well, you’ve spotted my contradictions. I think everyone has to be contradictory to listen to music, otherwise you by the second AC/DC album after the 1st. You build up your own reality, if you do that.
"That’s why I bought Yes albums. I’m a Yes fan. I don’t see why you can’t by Fall, AC/DC, JD and Yes all in one month. That would be great; it would be causing chaos."
Far out, Dave.
ROOK TAKES ROOK (WHILST WINKING AT THE BISHOP)
Are you playing the game for us?
"I’m probably giving you publicity."
Laugh, I could have...
So we’re here to promote our latest product?
"I was thinking that."
What a dirty mind.
"I don’t think that, the editor most certainly does." (Free line for ed’s comments...)
Who are your favourite writers?
"Hesse, Burgess, Roth."
No light reading, things you don’t have to think about, Barbara Cartland?
"Oh every comic writer you can think of. I tend to read authors I missed at University - Guilt probably."
There’s a lot of guilt and shame about you.
"Buy my girlfriend nice Christmas presents. I don’t think beyond that. I mean, I couldn’t get a bigger audience than Sounds.
"I hate stupid people. People who phone in to radio stations."
If you could kill someone and totally get away with it, would you?
"No, I’d never go beyond hitting someone over the head with a wet fish."
"I mean you can metaphorically kill off people in print. Someone (no names) once said to me, ‘It’s lovely destroying people’s careers’".
"I do feel power. I feel the circulation of Sounds tugging at me."
BISHOP TAKES KNIGHT. CHECK AGAIN
McCullough has the gift of the gab. That’s not to say he’s articulate, just that he relishes the sound of his own voice. Throughout the discussion he has talked through every follow-up question. When asked anything of a personal nature his face lights up with the kind of glee only the best egocentrics possess.
Why do you object to us getting in for nothing at gigs?
"I don’t know. I’m a big kid, I can’t stand it. I seem to get scrubbed off the guest list too often for it to be arbitrary. I didn’t want to review it."
You weren’t invited by either band.
Here McCullough mumbles into his collar something about his girlfriend being invited and always going out with the person he loves.
Do you want to be loved?
You should be in showbiz.
"Maybe I should be an actor."
Delicate Dave nervously scans the room.
"Where’s Slattery? He’ll bring some jovial, light humour into this."
P. S. Dave says "Buy Sounds next week ’cos I’ll have something good by me in it."
SIOUXSIE AND I WOULD LIKE TO SAY ’MERRY CHRISTMAS, EVERYONE’
Dave McCullough 26/12/81