NEW WOMEN IN ROCK - EXTRACT

 
 
  Right from the start, Siouxsie And The Banshees deliberately avoided the record company treadmill of press and promotion.  The band insisted on doing interviews together - though they later relented this view - and even had a tendency to freeze out the interviewer.  It wasn't a comfortable event for either party.  The record company - Polydor - went along with their unorthodox approach, allowing the band an unprecedented freedom so early in their career.  And in particular, they warned off any interviewer who thought they could get the inside story of Siouxsie Sioux.

On stage she may be dominant and startling, but off stage she's reserved and watchful, slicing through any inclination you may have to ask a frivolous question.  She is one of the new breed of female singers that puts forward political opinions (when she's asked) and would most definitely not appreciate any line of questioning that was in the slightest personal.

A Londoner, she says she was a latchkey kid from the age of about seven.  her father is dead, but she had a fairly ordinary childhood.  Nothing indicated that she would end up in any job other than the usual.  'My mother still has preconceptions of what a girl should be like', she said.  'She doesn't think that music is a safe thing and would like me to be a secretary'.  Siouxsie had no intention of being a secretary.  'Before the band I drifted from one job to another, I worked in a bar once, but I always had it in mind to be self employed.  It's open to everyone if they push for it.'

Siouxsie started her career in music on September 20, 1976, performing in a ramshackle outfit at the 100 Club in Oxford Street with Sid Vicious.  It was an early indication of what The Sex Pistols were later to become.  The audience hated them, but they weren't put off.  In the same band was Steve Severin, then known as Steve Havoc, who is still with The Banshees.  Like Siouxsie, Severin is quiet and suspicious of any attempt at turning the band into a media event.  John McGeoch and John McKay were added to the line-up, which later took in Budgie.  McKay left later, right at the beginning of a tour!

If the band were short (by some standards) on musical content, they were miles ahead in style.  For a while, they were mistakenly linked to Fascist groups because of the leather clothes and swastikas adopted by some of the band, but nothing was further from the truth.  They'd had a strong London following for some time before Polydor signed them up and brought out the first single 'Hong Kong Garden', which reached a nationwide audience.  Their music was somewhat esoteric on the whole, but the fans crowded out the gigs.

And Siouxsie had to fight harder than ever to disabuse people of the idea that the band was just a backdrop for her.  'We used to go to tremendous lengths to get the band idea across', she admitted.  'But it was impossible to have four people at an interview and it was a waste of time anyway, because they just put all the quotes down to me.  I've never wanted the female thing to be like a rulebook.  If you're an individual, different things suit you.  I don't want to be a dictator'.

Although she doesn't like to be pigeon-holed with other female artists, she does take a strong stand on some women's issues.  She supported the fight against a regressive bill on abortion which almost went through in 1980.  'It's a personal thing to do with women', said Siouxsie.  'Women have the right to decided their future.  Parliament is predominantly male, so it's crazy that they should be allowed to decide on something like abortion.  But of course it's a social thing; marriage is good business.  Married couples buy products for their homes and for their children.  They can get access to a mortgage.  It's almost impossible if you're single.

'Socially, women have changed.  Women want careers, and you can't do that with children.  I didn't want to believe that it was any big deal being a girl, but I'm not exempt from discrimination.  I don't feel at all maternal, although it's rammed down every girl's throat.  Even the words for women are horrible.  Like spinster when she's not married.  It sounds all shrivelled up.  But the word for a man is bachelor, and that sounds so carefree'.

One subject that The Banshees did tackle publicly was seal culling: they put their feelings in a song called 'Skin', on their 'Kaleidoscope' album.  'We're against the pathetic argument about the culls, saying there are too many seals.  What there are too many of is people.  Killing is the ultimate high for some people.  And it's people who are eating too much and depriving other species of their food.  But I feel odd about aligning myself with causes, because there are so many of them.  I like whales, so I shouldn't really agree to play in Japan (where they kill whales).  There's probably something going on in every country that you can't agree with.  But you can't do more than a token really'.

Siouxsie And The Banshees also occasionally play charity gigs.  They raised 4000 for the mentally handicapped on one gig, though a thousand of it had to be handed back to cover damage done to the theatre.

Siouxsie takes her ideas for different songs from lots of different sources.  To make sure she doesn't forget any of them, she keeps a tape recorder by her bed, so when an idea comes when she's half asleep, she can get it down instead of promising herself to do it in the morning.  She and Steve Severin both keep notebooks of their ideas, then swap round when they come to writing the song.  Their ideas haven't always gone down well with reviewers, who have accused the band of being obscure.  But they don't pay any more attention to reviewers than they do to their image with the press.  And unlike most band members, they rarely go out to socialise among the enemy.

'I can't come to terms with going out and enjoying myself', said Siouxsie.  'I think I've lost the desire to go out'.

But she would like to go to America.  Their American record company turned down the option of releasing their material, thinking it unsuitable for their market.  But Siouxsie has been ahead of her time for a few years now.  America just needs to catch up.

Rosalind Russell 

 
     
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