|PEEPSHOW - MAGAZINE COVERS|
|PEEPSHOW - INTERVIEWS/ARTICLES|
|RECORD COLLECTOR 08/88|
|RECORD MIRROR 27/08/88|
|GOTH FOR IT (SOURCE UNKNOWN) 1988|
|RECORD MIRROR 1988|
|SIOUXSIE LISTS HER FAVOURITE PEOPLE (SOURCE UNKNOWN) 1988|
|UNKNOWN SOURCE 1988|
the 10 years since Siouxsie And The Banshees' first hit, not everything
in the Hong Kong Garden's been rosy. But, with the release of their new
album, 'Peep Show', on the coat-tails of the single, 'Peek-A-Boo',
Siouxsie is keen to tell Tim Nicholson that hers is once more a Happy
Siouxsie is fuming. The Daily Mirror has just run a totally fabricated story concerning the authenticity of her facial features, claiming that she'd gone the way of Michael Jackson and Andrew 'Ski-nose' Ridgeley, and had a spot of plastic surgery. Siouxsie's having none of it and she's not about to take it lying down, eager for a chance to deny this cruel publicity.
"The problem us, I blew the chance I had on 'Night Network'. The presenter said, 'Well, Siouxsie, is it true about you having a nose job, then?'. Like a fool I said, 'Sure, can't you see I'm wearing big earrings to cover up the surgery scars?' I should have known that nobody in Fleet Street has a sense of humour. The next day, there it was; 'SNOOTY SIOUXSIE SAYS, 'SURE, IT'S TRUE''. It makes me so mad that nobody seems able to do anything about them, Aaarrgh!"
Oh well, there goes my first question.
But on to Banshee business, and the subject of their recent quirky hit, 'Peek-A-Boo', and the upcoming LP, 'Peep Show'. The single is far and away their most inspired three minutes since they pirouetted their way through the Beatles' 'Dear Prudence', and the LP is their most consistently good since the slippery slopes of 82's 'A Kiss In The Dreamhouse'. Not surprisingly, Siouxsie seems to agree on this point.
"I think this is our best album, full stop. After 'A Kiss In The Dreamhouse' a lot of what we did was as good, and some better, but there was nothing consistent as far as an album, I suppose. I think it was a case of getting out of the rut of 'doing the next album' and getting back into thinking 'this is the last album we're ever going to do'. We'd always done albums unsure of how much longer we'd last, but there was a period where we seemed to be on a bit of a treadmill.
"This is the first time for a while that we've felt like a real group. Unless you can implicitly trust people no relationship can build up. In the past there have been people that didn't quite fit in, but I think we've solved that problem now."
The Banshees casualty list has been a long and bloody one, beginning with the desertion of Kenny Morris and John McKay and starting a tradition of the position of Banshees guitarist being the equivalent of the 13 or walking under a ladder. The list includes such notables as John McGeoch (Magazine, Armoury Show) and Robert Smith (the Cure). Doesn't it get to the point when you begin to think that it might be you that's difficult to work with?
"Oh, you do, definitely. But at the same time you're loathe to stop it at such a low point. We're not horrible, honestly. It's just the thought of going on tour with people you don't like or who don't fit in just turns my stomach. I don't know how some people cope with that situation."
Naming any names?
"There is a band I could name, but I won't, that do work in that sort of atmosphere and I think it's stupid. I think trying to keep the Banshees a four-piece was causing problems. At least with two new members" (Martin McCarrick - keyboards, John Klein - guitar) "if they're feeling a bit lost they can console each other. Not that they need to, you understand."
'Peep Show' was recorded in a country house in Sussex, far from the madding crowd, a factor Siouxsie finds rather significant. A breath of fresh air perhaps?
"There was certainly plenty of that. It was a wonderful place. It's just a rambling old house with some giant-size cats fed on rabbits and it was just after that storm last year, so it looked very strange, like an alien landscape almost, giant trees lying everywhere. It was refreshing being able to write at any time of the day as well, rather than fighting your way through London to get to the rehearsal studio and when you get there you're just not in the right frame of mind. There are too many distractions."
Does this mean you're joining the hoards of disaffected Londoners fleeing to where the grass is greener?
"No, I love London. I think everywhere's changing for the worse. It's not just London and it's not just cities. There's greed and selfishness growing in all these environments. So many people don't want to know about changing; changing themselves and changing the way they're living to make it better.
"There's so much waste in the world. It's scary how the world is being ravaged and destroyed. And I feel that a lot of information is being suppressed, and it's only now that things are starting to come through. All that stuff about the ozone layer and aerosols; they've been screaming about that for the last 10 or 15 years, but it's only now that they're doing anything about it. But as far as the rain forests are concerned, nothing can be done about them. No-one's going to be able to replant new rain forests or re-invent the species of animals that are being wiped out."
Could this frame of mind lead to a Banshees-organised Forest Aid?
"I think that if people in the public eye can use their position to help a cause, then that's fine. There's a very thin line between supporting an idea and preaching, but done carefully it's a good thing. I thank God there are some people out there prepared to do something, I don't want to go down as one of the ones content to let these things happen."
Such a social conscience suggests the onset of maturity. The picture of Siouxsie in a bathchair, a travel rug over her knees and her bullet belt in a trunk in the attic is a hard one to paint, but there is a side that longs for the quiet life.
"Most people want to settle down and have kids, but I want to settle down and have cats. I love cats, but I don't like seeing them couped up in the city. So, I'd love to have a place in the country with cats roaming around."
Do you think there would come a point where you would consider yourself too old to be singing pop songs? (Siouxsie is 31, looks 27 and is generous enough not to presume that I was implying that her time had come.)
"Probably. Sometimes I feel like I'm halfway between there. But I still like London, I still like working. I really think you've got to go with what you feel like doing. Some people at 17 are far more set in their ways than I'll ever be. If you were to have a rule where all singers had to stop at 40 you'd get rid of a whole bunch of idiots, but one Leonard Cohen is worth a million of them. I'd rather idiots like Mick Jagger were allowed through rather than everyone being stopped."
Would the prospect of becoming embarrassing bother you?
"Oh sure. But hopefully I'm thin-skinned enough that I'd know when that was happening. A lot of the people who carry on don't have to, and certainly, financially, they don't have to do it, and artistically they don't have to force it out of themselves still. For the moment I'm still hungry... on both counts. I'll know when to stop, don't you worry."
Don't look at me, I'm not about to argue with that.
Tim Nicholson 27/08/88
The Banshees hold court in London's Soho, Ronnie Randall applies the pressure and doesn't take the
What the butler saw!
I have it in front of me now, it says "Dear Ronnie, your Siouxsie & The Banshees interview will take place at 4.30 at The Groucho Club, London W1, on Friday". W1 is better known as Soho to you and me, and the venue a runny-nosed 'private' watering hole for youngish, pushy, media types where the staff enquire "Can I help you sir?" with a "...back out of the door", style delivery, particularly if you look vaguely unfamiliar with the surroundings, or more especially if your clothes are last seasons. I'd been here once before to meet Matt Bianco, whose light and breezy, easy, teasy, superficial pop seemed uncannily well-suited to the phoney veneer of sophistication that the club projects. But, will someone please tell me why I'm meeting three punk icons known as the Banshees here? Are these not the faces that spawned a million and one pasty white, make up-caked, purple-lipped punk imitators, whose lurid looks adorn more London postcards than the Royal Family?
Of course, the image is as dated and redundant as all those other vivid and colourful icons of London life that share the racks; the red phone boxes, the routemaster bus, the helpful friendly 'bobby'. Almost all have now faded away, only the punks proliferate. This is the Banshee dilemma.
And then it hit me...the story of the Banshees over the past 12 years is the story of Soho itself! While the band were debuting at the immortal 100 Club Punk Festival in 1976, just up the road in Oxford Street, Soho, across the street, stood for all that was trashy and tacky in Britain. It housed exploitative ersatz sex and film industries that were both uncouth, untutored and (arguably) devoid of style. More than a decade later, Soho feigns to be cultured and effete. It is clad in designer paint jobs passing for shop fronts, and in place of the sex and sleaze have come the art gallery eateries, and bright-young-thing clothes shops. Good or bad? It's your choice, but certainly 'Punks all-time most successful group' are now far closer to the new reality and pseudo-exclusivity of the likes of Groucho's than the grub lowlife thinking of the Intrepid Fox punk shrine in Wardour Street.
In the' Soho Room', Siouxsie sits, flanked by Steve Severin and Budgie, behind a big table littered with refreshments. The corporate logo fills the wall behind them. It's like a job interview at a major International Corporation. Only difference is, I ask the questions.
I think to myself, what nice clothes they have and how well they wear their success, but mostly, as I move the enormous silver ice bucket that obscures her from me, I observe how surprisingly healthy and attractive Siouxsie looks. There are rumours of a nose job having been carried out since the last public performances of two year ago, but I decide not to ask about it. What I want to know first is, where is there left to go for a group whose first John Peel session was as far back as '76? A group who headlined over Nico and prime-time Human League in '78, and who, more recently, shared top billing with Status Quo (!?), not to mention the accolade of having the singer's waxwork dummy adorning a display case in the Virgin Megastore in Oxford Street?
It's two years since their last real album Tinderbox, while the cover version album seemed little more than a contractual obligation. Then suddenly... Pow! Bang! Wallop! Crunch! Peek-A-Boo crashes into the public consciousness like a breath of fresh air personally stuffed down your throat by Mike Tyon's fist. In September the Peep Show album follows, accompanied by the first British tour for over two years. So... What? Where? Who? Why? When? And all that gear... You've been quiet, too quiet. In the past any Banshees' lull has tended to be filled with associated projects like The Creatures and The Glove, but not this time.
BUDGIE: "No! Just creating a great Banshees' album, putting a new group together and making a conscious decision to press the pause button and halt proceedings. This time we've brought in Martin McCarrick as a full members and planned ahead. We wanted to run into live dates when we were ready, and not simply to promote a new album. We had to get the band working again."
SIOUXSIE: "What we've done is re-evaluate the Banshees, to ask ourselves if they should continue... because the way things were just wasn't acceptable to our ideals. We wanted, and needed, to change. For ourselves as much as anyone else."
Obviously, after 12 years you cant be the same band that started out so fresh and dynamic. Siouxsie can't be the Queen of Punk forever?
SIOUXSIE: "I can, because I am. There's been nobody new to dethrone me".
Times change, is there a 'punk' ideal left to reign over anyway?
STEVE: "Our music has been constantly evolving since the very beginning. What happened was that we got to a place where it wasn't changing fast enough anymore and we realised we had to do something drastic about it."
SIOUXSIE: "There were a lot of groups running too close to us, which felt really uncomfortable."
It's normal with an institution. People grow up with you, you feel comfortable and familiar, they accept and follow your traditional values. If Pink Floyd are the old age pensioners of rock then you're their middle-aged sons and daughters. There are plenty of new and fresh ideas below you, growing and maturing.
SIOUXSIE: "I think we're one in a million. It's like, where do you start top get old? You can't put your finger on that point in time".
STEVE: "We're not scared of ageing. We are willing to talk about it, to be honest about it, confront it, in a way which the previous generation were afraid to."
SIOUXSIE: "The, 'Hope I die before I get old' brigade, we're not part of that. There are plenty of 18 year olds that seem antiquated and retarded to me. Lots of senile young delinquents out there. It's a matter of HOW you age. As long as not fearing it. If you start to look stupid then look back at those 20 year old photo's and weep."
Speaking of photo's. You keep a strict control over pictures taken of yourselves and only allow your choice to be published. Keeping such total control over other people's depiction of your image suggests you are very concerned about the way you look. Why worry if you truly don't care about such things as ageing?
SIOUXSIE: "Why? Because, it's how they see me and not how I see me. I want the final say in how I'm presented. I don't want someone else's idea of what I'm about, presenting me when they've had nothing to do with my career".
Which is exactly what I am doing with this article. You allow this, so how are photographs different?
OK... The new album, Peep Show, and tracks like Peek-A-Boo. There's a strong suggestion of sexual content and titillation. Is it intentional?
SIOUXSIE: "It's not a concept album if that's what you mean, but each song represents a sort of Peeping-Tom situation, with us peering in on each scenario, most of which take place between two people. It's like stripping away the side of an apartment building and watching the different lives going on in parallel in each room/box. We've stripped away the barriers and spied on the secret happenings."
Peek-A-Boo, itself, is a little different. It concerns the obvious connotation of the word, the sex peep show. But it crosses also into an attack on media advertising and the soft sell depiction of women in consumerism. How products are sold through the bland and insulting idea of women as the perfect sex accessory for the perfect home accessory. How do you cope with your own role in this media game? You have an image to sell like anyone else. You change your logo, your corporate identity, every two years and re-launch it to sell a whole new range of product. Isn't that all part of the same soft sell mentality?
SIOUXSIE: "NO! IT ISN'T! It's not exploiting anyone, it's not affecting the way people perceive a certain sexuality, and it's not making life a pain for 50 per cent of the population."
STEVE: "What Peek-A-Boo is saying is that were being presented more and more with soft-core porn masquerading as advertising and using women as accessories in a way that's nothing to do with image or with confronting people with their sexuality. It's designed to make them desire something that's unobtainable, and to change their values, to make them dissatisfied with what they have, and want more. It's not too outrageous to say that much advertising promotes rape. Sexual images of women in selling proliferate by the day and bombard the male population with an idea of a woman..."
SIOUXSIE: "...that's available to them whenever and wherever they want them. Accessible, instantly and freely usable and touchable. It's not just rape either, there are so many more subtle forms of assault, such as sexual innuendos and verbal abuse. It sounds petty, but its so f***ing irritating and has been the cause of actual physical crime."
Have the Banshees any answers?
SIOUXSIE: "Yeah! Newspapers like The Sun have got to change their attitude for a start."
STEVE: "There's a big difference between selling Guinness with a clever dolphin, and selling Fiat cars with a long sensual female leg poking out of the door from the passenger seat. There are ways of changing it easily if you can make people who create these images see the folly and danger in what they're promoting. The sexual sell, isn't an accident, it's a conscious decision on the ad agencies part, approved by the client. Cars have always been sold with the image of masculinity, like guitars."
SIOUXSIE; "Penile extentions."
Do you think its a British attitude problem?
SIOUXSIE; "No! No! No! It's far worse in America, and pretty awful in Italy too. As for bloody Frenchmen, they are worst in their treatment of women, constantly pestering".
You forgot the Spanish... Can you afford to mix attitudes of men of the North with those of men of the South?
BUDGIE: "Yeah! You shouldn't generalise, Siouxsie. The cultural differences make it difficult for us to gain an objective opinion about what it's like to be brought up in their societies, bombarded with their imagery, their schooling."
How would you change the situation? Do you advocate new laws, new censorships?
SIOUXSIE: "No! You can't via laws. You've got to highlight the problem, make people aware of their actions. The people who CAN change things are the companies who advertise, so you must get through to them. Certainly, legislation is awful, because you'd get beautiful things like eroticism stamped on too. Eroticism is fine, but the degrading tone of most soft-core porn is unacceptable and dangerous. It's not just women who are pissed off with it, I'm sure a lot of men are too."
Going back quite a long way, how do you see the image of a naked Siouxsie and Budgie on the cover of the Creatures Wild Things EP back in 1981? Wasn't it a sales gimmick, and do you regret it in hindsight?
SIOUXSIE: "I find it very erotic, and very funny. It was something we wanted to do... we weren't asked to do it, we weren't told to do it, we weren't even encouraged to do it. Neither did we think to ourselves 'Ooooh! This'll get the punters going'. It was just very much in keeping with the kind of Man Ray imagery that I personally am very fond of."
We've talked about subject content on the new album, but what is this Great New Direction you claim to have taken? You still sound like a conventional band. Has new technology made any impact on your approach and the material?
SIOUXSIE: "Shhhh! Don't tell."
BUDGIE: "We used it 'cos everything is stored on tiny cassettes instead of huge expensive tapes, therefore you can afford to leave DAT running to store ideas all the time. It's total freedom."
STEVE: "We used the most modern, up-to-date, state of the art technology to make the most derelict sound. It really didn't make any difference, it's ideas that matter most".
BUDGIE: "A producer came in to remix Peek-A-Boo assuming it was a collection of samples and sequences laid over a rigid drum track. But, it's not at all. Most of it's played, even the stuff that is played backwards was recorded live forwards first. There are no metronomical sounds, its simply the way we've put it together that makes it sound so concise".
September sees a European tour. It's been a while since the last public performances. Three years on, do you think the knee accident has mentally scared or inhibited you, Siouxsie?
SIOUXSIE: "Anyone having a traumatic accident in the line of work is bound to question if they can, or want to carry on. The injury did affect my performance, and mentally it could have been catastrophic, but fortunately not. I feel enthusiastic, you learn from such experiences. I actually toured in plaster after the accident, and that bloody-minded refusal to take time off to recover fully meant I did extra damage which has been partly responsible for the subsequent long delays. Its taken almost the whole two years since the end of that huge tour of America to fully recover".
Has it made you more aware of your physical limitations? And is it like an extra confirmation of the ageing process, having recovery problems? Furthermore, have you become more health conscious?
SIOUXSIE: "No! No! And no! I was a fitness freak before the accident, which helped give me the mental power to cope with the consequences."
STEVE: "As for a confirmation of ageing. If you mean, do we look in the mirror each day and watch the bits fall off the answer's no."
Er! I was only asking.
Ronnie Randall 09/88
ORNAMENT OF GOLD
'Oi! I've got a raw head and bloody bones to pick with you!' Well hardly, in fact deep in the heart of a sweetie feast SIOUXSIE SIOUX, minus her BANSHEES, and the NME's JIM SHELLEY are busy spinning yarns of James Dean, The Koran, and her aggressive tomboy childhood. Read on and discover who's been kissing what, how the 'I' appears in only three songs on 'Peepshow', and why Siouxsie spent her early years in a wig wam.
Siouxsie's tucking into a sizeable picnic of Lucozade, mini-Marathons, grapes and tangerines (one packet of Maltesers: average annihilation time, eight seconds) giggling about Beetlejuice, doing her impression of Paul Weller (a gem), slagging Prince's medleys and people who believed the nose-job story, doing her impression of Paul Weller's Dad (another gem), talking tattoos...
I'll show you mine if you show me yours.
"I haven't got a normal one, it's a unique type of tattoo, that's all I'm saying."
Come on, don't be coy.
"No, no, no, you can't see it. It did hurt yes, extremely painful, but it's very private."
Last time we met Siouxsie said, "If everything about me was public knowledge, I'd pull my eyes out" before telling me about her father dying when she was 14, being in love for five years, her brothers off-licence, her first pair of high heels, her emotional fascism and her pyjama case.
People who knew her expressed their surprise that she'd said it all. Three years later, she's 31, live in "a poxy old flat" in Notting Hill, giggling but guarded. The veil drops back down.
Do you go to extremes?
"Yes, I'd say I'm still very hot and cold. I'm a Gemini so I can be positive or negative. I change my mind a lot."
What about sexually?
"Are you asking me if I'm extreme sexually? Well, that's a very personal question and I shan't answer it."
Sweeping in wearing a bum-hugging black mini, black and white striped leggings and leotard, high heels and a very fetching bobbed haircut, shaved up the back, Siouxsie is approachable and funny, suitably shirty and snobby and very thin with big grey-blue eyes and a soft croaky laugh (I can't think why the giggle shocks me. It is supposed to be a secret?).
Above all, it is Siouxsie's taste - Eartha Kitt, Prince, Eraserhead, Steven King, WC Fields, Nightmare On Elm St, Richard Pryor, Sparks, Fantasia, Truman Capote - that determines what The Banshees are and tell you more about them than any old-fashioned post modernist thesis ever will. Humour and unease.
Look at the Mae West phrasing on 'Peek-A-Boo', or the 'Whip-crack-away' hoedown spirit of Doris Day on 'Burn Up', the wicked-witch horror-songs. Since 'The Leg Episode', she's given up meat, stopped smoking and cut-down on drinking.
"Eighteen months without cigarettes. I just thought I was no better than some pathetic old junkie. Stopped waking up feeling I'd swallowed an ashtray ha, ha. I used to enjoy it so much, knocking them back, but you waste so much time. It got the upper hand of me. I have a very strong need to be in control. I hate dependence, like relying on plumbers or electricians. Or bloody British Telecom."
The Banshees are preparing for their first British outing since 'The Gimpy Tour' and their first live shows since America a year ago, rehearsing a few favourite B-sides ('Humming Wires', 'Something Wicked').
"The legs just about OK now. Whenever I meet someone who's dislocated anything we spend hours discussing our torture. Now I torture myself at the gym, enduring the music. I hate Walkmans. I'm just beginning to remember how shit-scared I get before a gig. It's a proper show. I felt it was time to lose some money ha, ha, ha. We've been muddling along, not making or losing money, perhaps that was wrong. So this is a 'Spend Spend Spend' tour. Go bankrupt, for f***'s sake!"
Siouxsie concedes you can't seriously expect surprises from a group that's twelve years old, on their eleventh LP. 'Peepshow' isn't a surprise but it is a sweet sleight of hand - making something seen before seem new, like a golden respray. (Playing tapes backwards isn't exactly the height of innovation, but they've made it seem so. Hard to imagine House Of Love sounding as aware or isolated in ten years. Or ten minutes.)
'Peepshow' is the best Banshees' record since 'A Kiss In The Dreamhouse' because it's the Banshees deciding to be a Pop Band rather than a Rock Group - 1986's 'Tinderbox' was so weak because it was undecided. Siouxsie doesn't care for such debate.
"I'm not interested. People dismissing us because we've been going twelve years are just showing something about their expectations for themselves in twelve years. I do have a crying need to do this, yes, otherwise I wouldn't do it. You know, anyone slags us off to my face, I'd say, 'Fight you for it' (no giggle here), It's not that I'm very defensive about the group, no, it's just that's how much it matters to me, that's all. I'm bored with all that talk... I am quite good at fighting, yeah."
Let's see your nails - not bad.
"Oh, I don't scratch. I've got sharp teeth ha, ha, ha. I often wonder if people would dare say things to my face. It's like when men in groups shout things at me. I always think, 'We'll see, I'll catch you on your own some day'"
I wouldn't mind being there should Siouxsie catch The Mirror's Gill Pringle on her own some day after her story about Siouxsie having had a nose-job. "It does matter, yeah, that people will think I'm so obsessed with my appearance to go that far." (She has been told there's not much she can do about it.)
Do you think about what you are trying to do with the group?
"No, I don't consider the career side. Never have done. We're nothing to do with being 'modern' or 'old fashioned' pop or rock. We're working to our own taste and standards, not critics' or record companies'. I don't think we've been assimilated, like a lot of bands. What I want is more attention. We deserve it. We'd make peoples lives happier!
"It really is too easy to be either total chart fodder or the alternative, which is also fodder - noise-ridden, angst-ridden rubbish, which I'm particularly bored with. The only thing I can find that doesn't depend on the wheels of the industry in order to make it is Hip Hop. Salt 'n' Pepa are great. Really rude. Filthy, haha."
Three years ago, Siouxsie summed up the Banshees as "going in stages of being sarcastic, deadly serious or being bemused by it all". Like 'Dreamhouse', 'Through The Looking Glass' and 1981's singles collection, 'Once Upon A Time', 'Peepshow' finds a subtle, exotic balance of all three, limiting the glistening charges and 'whoah-whoah' choruses, resisting the attempt at power that generally emerges as torrid pomp and showing considerable restraint. New pieces like 'Ornaments Of Gold', 'Turn To Stone' and the sharp Roxy-pop of 'Last Beat Of My Heart' are a strange, spiky pop that balances Sioux's glacial tenderness with hard, darker tensions, whilst in the past, a song as bewitching as 'Carousel' might well have been butchered.
Currently considering a second 'Once Upon A Time' (possibly with a B-sides collection), The Banshees are A Great Singles Band - which in itself makes them an anachronism - and like all Great Singles Bands shouldn't really make albums at all (see also Pistols, Blondie, Smiths, JMAC, Sugracubes etc). They make heavy work of them. Usually.
"This record was very easy, possibly the easiest of all the Banshees albums. I felt I was literally kicking away the crutches. If it goes wrong, it goes wrong, f**** it, let's at least DO it. It's very important to scare yourself into doing things, gets the adrenalin going. Some people's fear paralyses them. I've managed to be motivated by it." (The quality of Not Giving A F*** is of course the first pre-requisite of any legendary Pop Group.)
'Peepshow' is full of film references, Michael Powell and Ken Russell on 'Peek-A-Boo', Dennis Potter on 'Scarecrow' (a guess), Nicolas Roeg's Eureka on 'Ornaments Of Gold' (along with Klimt and Cleopatra): "Adorable, rewardable you/Id like to cover you and smother you with ornaments of god"
"Yes Eureka's a big part of it, I love that film. That song's about imagining adornment, intoxication. I wish people were more exotic with one another. I was flicking through The Koran, a book there called 'Ornaments Ornaments Of Gold', saying 'Don't look for riches on earth, you'll get them in Heaven', which is just keeping people who've got nothing content. The song's saying why not have both"
Of the other songs, 'Killing Jar' (surprisingly remixed as the new single), 'Scarecrow' and 'Rhapsody' provide the inevitable evidence that when the Banshees are obvious or ordinary they are very bad indeed. What's good about the much-maligned 'Rawhead & Bloodybones' (reaching from dark cupboard) - like the new B-side 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' - is that not only does it's quirky disturbance resolve the perennial Side Two Track Three dilemma, but it shows the Banshees taking on their own clichés, despite everything.
"I did think about whether it should go on the album, yes, but then if I wasn't interested in those things I wouldn't write it. To call it pure weird just shows how big people's misconceptions about us are."
After 12 years the Banshees' lyrical obsessions - desire and disgust, flesh and bone, sin, death, possession - remain although Siouxsie's contributions are not the shell they used to be. Nevertheless, the Banshees again seem to be saying very little behind the cloud of familiar perfumed imagery: 'needles and sins', 'majestic', 'imperial', 'lament', 'shadowplay', 'serenade', 'rapture', 'rhapsody'...
"I think they are saying something, obviously. A lot of those are Steve's. Mine are more physical now perhaps. 'Rhapsody' is deliberately rich. It's about Shostakovitch, a really sad man, who was victimised, ridiculed and then broken by the Stalin regime. I love his music, really powerful. The song's about wishing you could have been a consolation to him."
Typically, the word 'I' only appears on three songs, and then sparingly.
"And so inevitably people say they're not personal, 'cold and icy' etc. which is wrong," said with reasonable disgust. "I don't want lyrics to become an indulgent confessional. I use 'he' or 'he' instead, 'I' just reduces everything to indulgence. Like with George Michael, 'I' seems just to mean him, no-one else. Also I'm quite a voyeur I suppose."
Which brings us to 'Peek-A-Boo'. What are your fetishes?
"Mmmm. Kissing? I remember this story about James Dean talking to this crippled girl who was very attractive but felt very undesirable, so to prove it, he kissed her, on the stump or whatever. I always thought that was very sexy."
Two things about 'Peek-A-Boo'. Firstly it works as an idea as well as a record and that doesn't happen much these days. Then it reminded me how good you'd have been in 'Nightporter' or 'Crimes Of Passion' or playing Christine Keeler.
"Crimes Of Passion was part of it. I wrote it because I was feeling bombarded by these moronic videos on Night Network, gormless singers surrounded by models and their sweaty cleavages, cherries dropping down on their boobs, really offensive. Pathetic. I love Prince because he's so comical about sex, but otherwise there's a terrible absence of anyone with anything to project through sex, imagery.
"I'm not anti-erotic, far from it. I'm against the horrible, insidious, so-called 'harmless' pornography. I mean, Night Dreams was a really good porn film. Crimes Of Passion was good because it showed someone involved in it but sickened by it, dulled. There's a lot of misery on a very down-to-earth level. Like, 'What is it you want love? Fellatio? In a minute...' So many people are into pain. I often wonder how far masochists will go, if they're exceptionally brave or like being pushed towards death as the biggest kick."
Disappointingly, Siouxsie remains unconvinced by the idea of films.
"I would if they were really good. I was always adamant about not doing modelling though. Unless it was for LYNX - there's an ad in the tour programme - Siouxsie's Not A Dumb Animal. We did a film called Out Of Bounds in Hollywood, playing 'Cities In Dust'. All we get are offers for Howling 6 or scripts where we have to slam dance ha, ha. I was dying to do this Italian spaghetti horror film, a vampire film in the American desert! But we were on tour. I'd never have time because managing ourselves is so time-consuming, checking every bloody tour poster."
Isn't it cowardice?
"No, music's not that secure. I think we got off the treadmill ages ago. Also I don't like the tradition of pop-stars making films. Iggy would be great, reciting some salty old seatale, with his voice and face he has so much potential!"
Isn't someone saying that about you?
"No, I don't think so."
You told me about becoming your own ideal, Crisp's idea of re-inventing yourself. Do you still feel "obsessed" by image?
"Yes I think so, I think I always knew the way I wanted to live but you don't ever kill off the person you were, I use my proper name, yes. When I write birthday cards to my family and write 'Siouxsie' I can't remember if I've always done that or when I started."
What were you like as a girl?
"Everything was always very cut and dried. I was a tomboy, very aggressive about the limitations of being a girl, insisting on mowing the lawn, making my brother go to the shops. I'd go out of my way to have harsh, very unattractive cropped hairstyles.
"My sister was a big influence. When I was six, she was a dancer, ten years older. She and her friends were quite outrageous. I saw things little girls shouldn't know about, like comprehending what 'homosexual' meant, knowing that the friends I liked best, that were funny and entertaining and dressed the best, were homosexuals."
It's noticeable that from 'Playground Twist' and 'Happy House' through to 'Carousel' on 'Peepshow' you've always associated children with terror (toys are always sinister etc.)
"I wasn't very happy. I hated school, out of school I was happy. But the dissatisfaction gave me the urge to go out and satisfy myself. Though when I left home I always wished I'd severed everything. I regretted that I wasn't more ruthless. I love young kids, though I think it's too late for me. I'd like to have a girl like the one in Beetlejuice. She's brilliant!
"I always wonder what young kids are thinking. I have a lot of regret about that transition from being a child into adulthood, when a child stops looking at adults as 'big people'. I think it happens when you're made to lose faith in anything magic happening, anything unexpected. Things are no longer luck or magic."
You remember all this, being six or seven?
"Yes! For my sixth birthday I had an Indian girl outfit and a wigwam."
Get that out of the closet.
"I remember on the day of my seventh birthday this litter of kittens was born, coming down the stairs and finding these two black and two ginger kittens. I had lots and lots of cats around when I was young. Cats are a definite fetish. I'm obsessive. I can't not touch them. I run across the road to stroke them. I'm always shouting, (excitedly) 'Look! There's a cat!' The others just say, 'So what?!'"
And here comes that giggle again. This weeks lesson children. Be exotic. Never grow up.
Jim Shelley 1988
GOTH FOR IT
While The Clash and the Sex Pistols retreated into history years ago, Siouxsie Sioux remains a gothic punk survivor. Adrian Dannatt takes tea with the girl who's become an English institution.
It's strange to be sitting on an English country lawn, not far from Brighton, on one of those rare fine days with sunshine, birds tweetering, the full summertime works, talking to Siouxsie Sioux, palest, most nocturnal, of gothic fantasies.
But perhaps a quiet patch of Sussex isn't such an inappropriate spot for Siouxsie. The longer Siouxsie & The Banshees keep running, the more they become like a local tourist attraction, a very English eccentricity. After all, punk rock has become just one more amusing fossil of quaint English culture: those scraggly ragamuffins down the King's Road an officially protected species under the English Heritage Scheme. The two best-selling postcards in London are of a Mohican punk and Lady Di, in that order. Norway has a standing order for Sid Vicious T-shirts.
Yet Siouxsie and her loyal Banshees aren't so much crusty relics from a golden era of British rock, but rather dignified monuments to a tradition of English individualism and fantasy. The comparison should not be with Mick Jagger or Pink Floyd, but rather with Edith Sitwell, Nancy Cunard and Joyce Grenfell; plucky English gels who cared nothing for convention. With their new album Peep-Show in the bag, Siouxsie and her gang are tucked away at this converted mushroom farm, eating quiche and preparing for what is always termed a "punishing" tour of Britain, Europe and America.
As we sit chatting calmly over tea, the squeal of raw guitars escapes from the rehearsal studio. The mystery musicians never emerge, but we admire their cars instead. Budgie's 60's Volvo convertible version of the very car The Saint was to be seen in. Steve Severin's rather flashy little continental number. They're the sort of things pop folk are meant to have, yet somehow you would expect that the Banshees travelled by something altogether more mysterious. If not broomsticks, at least a hearse or converted taxidermist van.
Such preconceptions are at the heart of the Siouxsie enigma - a nice, ordinary pop singer mistaken for an occult prophetess, a harbinger of doom. Siouxsie & The Banshees manage to keep going precisely because they are more sophisticated, more complex, than their public image.
Their new album, and in particular the single Peek-A-Boo, shows how much richer and more imaginative their music has become. It is full of surprises, of multi-layered resonance and texture, indeed perhaps the weakest element of the album is Siouxsie's voice itself, which has never quite caught-up with the Banshee's increased sophistication.
Siouxsie has, of course, matured with good grace. Her age - hovering towards the 40s - is not reflected in her youthful demeanour, though her habitual white make-up clearly does not guarantee a blemish-free complexion. She had been accused only that week of having received a face-lift. "It's not as if I don't need one, but I can't think why they picked on me." she says. "It's not as if I'm that famous or have a number one single."
She does look remarkably unchanged since the glory days of 1976, when she wailed on-stage with the likes of Sid and Johnny, sporting outrageous swastikas and even more outrageously, white T-shirts without a trace of black. Siouxsie at the 100 Club is one of those concerts, like the Sex Pistols at The Screen on the Green, which everyone of a certain crumbly generation pretends to have seen.
Yet for Siouxsie those days are gone, and good riddance. Even on a hot afternoon however, her outfit remains consistent - black leggings, a rope of studded belts, black lace skirt, ridiculously high black stilettos and a black hat. The style that launched a thousand pasty-face girls down Oxford Street. "Girls who are copying me are at least balancing the stereotype," she says. "I'm proud if I've made women realise they don't have to go for that blonde, sun-tanned Californian look. I don't sunbathe myself, but I do like to wear colours as well as black. I'm not obsessive about it.
"All those stereotypes cause women a lot of misery. When we went to go and make our video, they said, 'You should have seen the last lot, this 16-year-old girl taking her knickers down for her video.' Well you cant blame her, these girls are just being exploited, made to debase themselves for pathetic men in their 50s. The hypocrisy of the media disgusts me. They have this witch-hunt against child abuse along with saucy stories about jail-bait. The dividing line is pretty thin." In fact, Siouxsie is really just the same as any other politically-concerned liberal. Peek-A-Boo is an attack on tabloid soft porn but her interest in the darker side of the world does not extend to the disturbing depths in which sex and death stalk hand in hand. She is no Lydia Lunch or Nick Cave.
Siouxsie is a nice, normal girl who likes to frighten herself - a little. She likes to read Stephen King, Ray Bradbury's famously eerie works such as Something Wicked This Way Comes and she has a penchant for the young German Fantasist Patrick Süskind, of Perfume fame. She loves ritualistic images of fear, the haunting fear of madness below the calm surface of ordinary life. But she rarely touches real horror or real despair.
Perhaps it is an individual woman in the old-fashioned music biz that Siouxsie has had the most effect, proving that is possible to be a civilised member of the female sex and to work in rock.
"I suppose there should be things like Tracy Chapman, though it's not really my line," she says. "But what's important is to try and change the percentage of girls who don't think of anything but getting married, living dead-end lives. Half of my audience is probably female and they are not willing to be stereotyped in that way."
Siouxsie is not willing to be drawn on the subject of new groups but she admits to a healthy interest in hearing what the nippers are up to and her unbridled admiration for Prince is well voiced. "I enjoy new people, but I also love someone like Leonard Cohen. I like someone to be a good narrator, to tell a story in song.
"People who call themselves political are usually complete morons. We are speaking for ourselves and people can identify with that, rather than being lectured at by a school teacher."
Siouxsie is adept at spreading the word abroad. In Italy she is treated as some sort of earth-goddess, but she's equally adored around the world, with Brazil having been a high-point of her last world tour. As she admits that all her fans are pretty interchangeable wherever they live. It's particularly baffling to imagine the white-faced goths of Rio de Janeiro, locked in their darkened bedrooms all year while their friends are at the beach, waiting patiently for their messiah to visit. Siouxsie may be a sort of national treasure but she's aware of her unusual longevity in this business of ultra-rapid-turnover. "I'd be a complete moron if I never had ideas about giving it all up, I often have serious doubts and resentments. I will stop it all the moment I feel I've become ridiculous."
SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES: TRACK RECORD
1983: The Creatures release Feast.
Source unknown 1988
Oh, how fickle are the unappreciative! A fellow critic, at the mention of Siouxsie and the Banshees, made it quite clear he felt the band had died five years ago, claiming that Sioux looked like Big Bird when he last saw her perform. Another opinionated type had the gentler estimate that the Banshees had ceased to function as a real entity three years ago.
Cease all this nonsense! What’s all this unseemly talk of demise and death?
Carefully grasp the elegant wrist and feel that pulse. Check beneath the exotically darkened eyelid and marvel at the life within. Life that takes us on a decadent, luscious peek-a-boo of shadow and brilliance, preparing to seduce while dancing us skilfully to the edge of that ever eternal pit, wrapping hapless victims in silk and sensuality. A swift flick, a graceful kick and the unwary detractors may well find themselves needing a ladder to come back to the living. If they can find the way!
For this band is very much alive and pulsating. Over the past twelve tempestuous years the Banshees have enchanted an ever growing audience, avoiding the pitfalls and self destructiveness of the other chaotic bands that erupted from an era of do it yourself bands. "I think it’s harder not to get started with a new group," comments Sioux, "the few doors that were open are firmly locked and double locked. We’re still having to fight to stay in there, and get played on the radio."
The Banshees did at times find themselves fighting to remain a band, loosing members at critical intervals, scrambling for replacements. But never did a separation occur between the original nucleus of blond bassist/lyricist Steve Severin and the dark lyricist/vocalist Siouxsie Sioux. They remained in the fray together, bringing on nomadic wanderers until the consistent Budgie signed up for duty. But over their history guitarists remained the fluctuating entity within the group. Former members probably hold reunions to compare tenures and tours.
"We’ve been going for twelve years, and we’ve probably had four or five guitarists, and that’s probably four or five career spans for most bands in that twelve years," Sioux points out. "Most bands seem to only last two or three years. And about the thing of guitarists, the thing going against most of them is that they don’t experiment with their sound, and I like a guitar that doesn’t sound like a guitar, that’s very personal. It’s the wrong attitude to expect the guitar to sound like something."
From the years of being a four piece, with this tour and album the Banshees are now a quintet, the richly textured sound on stage attesting to the addition of keyboardist/classically trained cellist Martin McCarrick, he having worked with the group as far back as 1984’s The Thorn EP. The newest in the line of Banshees guitarists is Jon Klein, a name that might ring a bell with goth rock aficionados, he formerly with Bat Cave veterans Specimen. Joining the Banshees is a definite career move in the right direction!
Steve Severin gives more details on the growth of the newest incarnation of Banshees. "I think ever since, well, it goes back to 1980 when the band had split in half, and it was basically me and Sioux writing the songs together in funny little rooms and kicking about on keyboards and things. And the music started developing in a way which was more layered, more sounds, and when we came over to do the Tinderbox tour John Carruthers and I were having to cover for so many keyboard parts that were on the record that it almost became un-enjoyable because the songs were so hard to play! I kept screaming ’let’s get a keyboard player, let’s get a keyboard player!,’" he laughs, "but at that point everyone around me was saying we can’t afford a fifth person travelling everywhere and feeding him too," he chuckles. "But near the end, when we were finishing Looking Glass, at that point we ere working so well with Martin McCarrick in the studio with arrangements and keyboards. We were drifting away from guitarist John Carruthers, and when we said to John that the time was up for this four piece the first person we talked to was Martin."
"So for about a month we were a four piece but without a guitarist! That’s when we were writing things like ’Killing Jar’, without a guitar. And then the American tour was looming close and we thought ’Oh God, we have to get a guitarist,’" he groans dramatically, "which was something we didn’t want to get into, advertising and the like, but then a friend of mine suggested someone I never thought of, Jon Klein, who I had known for years, but didn’t really know what he was doing. I just rang him, got him down and he was great! And that was the beginning of our five piece!"
Both Jon and Martin are assets to the band musically and visually, Jon taking advantage of this tours exotic stage set to parade about and Martin’s the man to watch during ’Peek-A-Boo.’ Once he gains freedom from his cello and keyboards he dons his accordion and prances about like a wonderfully stylized puppet, stealing the visual drama from Sioux with surprising ease.
"We give him so much freedom," Steve agrees, "the thing is when people join, they enjoy the freedom that the Banshees gives them. I mean before Martin was in Marc Almond’s band and that was really set up, a backing band; we like to try and bring out as much of everybody as possible," as he gives a lightly evil laugh, "we give them a lot of rope and then the hang themselves... then out!"
Do guitarists take out unemployment insurance ahead of time? Wouldn’t winning the role of guitarist in the Banshees make one nervous? After a few years said candidate had better start checking the want ads!
"Yeah, but Jon has a really good attitude," reassures Steve, "and most of the time we just joke about the matter. It’s always hard to answer the question about guitarists, as when you’re in a proper band you must be more than a session player. The beginning bits with a new person are a problem. But the whole thing about the Banshees is it’s the personalities involved, that’s a criteria we made within the band. We’re quite an eccentric bunch. The operation allows everyone to push themselves a bit, and find out what they are good at."
TO THE LEFT OF THE DIAL
Siouxsie and the Banshees, according to Sioux, "still hate the business, most of the business, and we’re very reluctant to be cemented by the industry. And we’ve also never been desperate for press." But now the band is looking for more attention, seeking wider exposure to people who have been unaware of them for twelve years, or whom have dismissed them as an eccentric, inaccessible band. Long gone are the days of twenty minute long renditions of the Lord’s Prayer, and of being label bane. The Banshees are nothing to be afraid of, in person or on record. Radio programmers and record buyers are finding this to be true, the Banshees are now seeing Peep Show head up the Billboard charts. Siouxsie and the Banshees and Billboard. That sounds so odd to the ear. Steve is definitely amused by the concept, he taking in Geffen’s promotional wiz Mark Kates’ information about charts and appearances after the Banshees opening American blast at Rutger’s University in New Jersey with a dazed look. "I don’t follow any of this," he mocks with a weary smile, patiently awaiting the opportunity to find his bed.
Chart position and singles are nothing new to the Banshees in Britain, but in America they are an unconventional combination. The Banshees are still considered dangerous, adventurous, even new to many. Still new after twelve years. It would be nice if the same theory applied to cars and romances!
"It’s all very strange to us," muses Steve a few days later. "We’re not really aware of what top 40 radio is all about, since the system is so different in England and Europe. But it seems to be freaking out a lot of people that we are being added to the top forty."
It will freak out a lot more chart watchers if the Banshees ever crack the Top Ten. The sound of fainting bodies hitting the floor will reverberate across the land.
"I think we’re more then ready for it," he dryly laughs. "I don’t think we’d ever get carried away by any leap in success. We’re pretty much retaining our sense of humour about these types of things. If it means that the sentiments of things like ’Peek-A-Boo’ is sitting alongside of Def Leppard and Bon Jovi then that’s brilliant!" he laughs anew. "But what I think of success is first and foremostly making the record that you are pleased with, and that’s the case with this album. But as far as getting top 40 airplay it’s something we’ve never bent over backwards to get. It’s an idea to some, I suppose, but we’re not gonna be nice to all these people!" he decides with amusement.
I somehow don’t doubt that! Sioux thinks Peep Show a strong album, not viewing it as a radical departure from the last works. Peep Show is a boldly intricate, yet simple album, with Sioux’s distinctively rich, sinuous voice in impeccable form. The album is far from the distanced affair some critics consider it to be. As a series of notes it bewitches with absurd ease, fluid and elegant to the attentive ear, the visual imagery of the lyrics as evocative as before. From the sensitive ’Last Beat of My Heart’ to the grandly melancholic sweep of ’Rhapsody’ (the third single?) the album fascinates on many levels.
"I have no qualms about the album," echoes Steve. "And it’s definitely not a particularly American album, as far as I think. But that’s strange as well as our English company thinks the complete opposite: they think we’ve delivered an American album," he chuckles. "Not in the terms of the material being slanted towards America but they felt that it would do well in America, which we never thought about at all!"
YOU AND ME AGAINST THE WORLD
The number twelve keeps coming up concerning the Banshees. A dozen years with ten albums worth of history. As Sioux said, that’s a long time for a band that began out of such uneven times. Steve and Sioux write together, perform together and after all this time there must have been periods of friction between them, as both are intensely creative personalities with strong ideas and goals.
"Oh yeah, we fall in and out of favour with each other for long periods. But it’s very much of a brother and sister relationship," describes Steve. "And there’s... we basically don’t trust anybody else, and that holds us together a lot. We protect each other from outside sources and, well, we don’t ever fall out completely, we just don’t get on as well as long of periods of up to six months. Then it goes into one big show down where one goes ’Well I think you’re being crap and I want to leave!’" he laughs, "but then it’s you can’t!"
Destined to remain together until eternity’s end or some other overly poetic saying. Poetic sayings aren’t what one gets when one makes the mistake of asking the Banshees about innovation and longevity, and then use the Damned as an example of other survivors. Sioux declares, "I personally didn’t respect a group like the Damned when they started, and I certainly have no respect for them 12 years later." How silly of me to forget that! Steve later laughs about this, claiming, "We usually have a general rule in interviews not to say things about other bands as basically we’ll only say bad things about them and why give them the free publicity anyhow!"
But I still have no answer for my initial question about innovation. How is it that the Banshees have always managed to take that extra step and present something new with every album? The mysterious lyrical content and Banshees feel permeates the overall presence but there’s always a new edge, a new twist introduced in the music.
"I think you have to notice, and it is hard, that every album has to be an album of its time. You have to place it along side of what was happening at that time. There was a period when we were..." as he pauses to sort his thoughts. "There have been three points in our career where we were influential on other people, and those points were the first album Scream, then JuJu and A Kiss In The Dreamhouse. Those three albums have made us stop and be aware of what we were doing in the way it was affecting other bands, and it made us more aware of what our moves should be next. So by the time we got A Kiss In The Dreamhouse, and released that, there was this resurgence in guitar bands, and people like U2 and Big Country were coming up with hits, and our record company was going ’oh, this is such a great movement that people are getting into, with guitar bands, and they’ll all latch onto you in a big way as you’re such a guitar band’ and we went WHAT?" he remembers with a laugh of disbelief. "So we went, right, the next album Hyena we’ll put keyboards all over it and just fuck everybody up," he laughs. "So it’s those kind of things that people quite naturally forget, what else is going on at the time, ’cause you always have to react to what people expect next. It might sound pompous, but it’s very scary when you have one hundred bands playing JuJu type of music as I’m of the opinion that each record doesn’t sound very much like the record before that. I think that’s a surface thing, if that one doesn’t look beyond Sioux’s image, if one doesn’t look that deeply into the record you’re not going to notice the changes. I think perhaps we’ve been a bit too subtle at times," he concludes with a sigh.
But the band is not subtle about image, and that does really have an impact on many people. They’ll see the exotically dark Sioux and the blond boys Severin and Budgie and simply latch onto the image. Certain clubs still harbour Sioux clones circa 1982. Will her Louise Brooks bob be the next rage? Sioux dismisses the stylistic debate, stating, "It’s personal, an extension of what we’re putting across. When it’s personal and not manufactured there’s a great difference." The image extends to videos, with ’Peek-A-Boo’ playing up the jerky, shadowy dramatics of the band. "’Peek-A-Boo’ was the first video done with a new video company, and we had to get in a choreographer for the boys... it’s hard for them without the instruments," laughs Sioux. "They don’t know what to do when they’re not playing their instruments! I think the director had worked with backwards children which helped! There’s also usually an element of torture in making a video in that we’ll think up some outrageous stunt for someone to do, but then not use it, one of which was while working with Tim Pope, (’Cities In Dust’) he had this idea of a vat of floating fire and lava, and for someone to fall into it. Actually it was a vat of petrol with bits of sawdust and bits on fire," she smiles, as Budgie wryly comments, "So it was perfectly safe."
Of course it was, and if not, just use a guitarist!
DR. CALIGARI AT THE CARNIVAL
Siouxsie and the Banshees are still answering the call of their own strong and strange muse: witness the dynamic new production they unveil with this tour. Watching Sioux perform at Rutgers I debate with my photographer if she is teaching aerobics courses on the side: the woman is in constant amazing motion, her astoundingly expressive left hand containing more energy than the average band as she uses it to entice, cajole, demand and describe. She looks better than I ever remember seeing her, full of power and venom. Steve Severin acts as if the universe revolves around his bass lines, shadow boxing during ’Peek-A-Boo’ as amusingly enough after having too much to do onstage other tours during this song he has few chords. Budgie, neatly near hidden in the maze of the set, proves why one can never replace a real drummer. And Martin McCarrick alternates between cello, keyboards and accordion on the previously mentioned ’Peek-A-Boo’. By the time the band hits Radio City three nights later Jon Klein decides the stage is also his kingdom, prancing and dancing, utilizing the ramps and risers to stroll while strumming.
"With this tour, it’s something new, something’s always changing; we’re always looking behind us to check what’s there," as Sioux whips that bob against her cheek to playfully look over her shoulder, she still vibrant from her onstage exploits. "We’re still off guard by the newness of it. And American audiences are so much more exciting than the British audiences, they respond more. I think in Britain a lot is taken for granted, they’re more spoiled, they’re fickle." Sioux defines a good audience as one that "doesn’t remain sitting in their chairs, and if they do keep sitting, we send out for TV dinners!" Sioux is not one for sitting: it’s the reason she prefers the East Coast over the West. "I want to be able to get out and do, to walk, and that’s not the West Coast’s way. And everyone is always so ’oh have a nice day,’" she grimaces good humouredly.
Then this is an Eastern show... not sitting here! And no nice days, only torrid nights with the imaginary sixth member of the group, the stage set. After the Rutger’s show Jon Klein is opting for motorcycles to ride about the ramps, while Budgie muses they just might not be able to get him out some night, ending up loading him the drum kit and all onto the equipment truck. The set is impressive, full of colours, light and movement, with draperies dropping at specific intervals, ("We have two draperies roadies," Jon declares proudly) and band members gradually appearing. At the centre is Sioux, resplendent in her Blue Angel 20s look: top hat, garter belts and boots. Her coy little strip tease in taking off her jacket endears her to the very males whom she mocks with her moves. Theatre of the psychological, with fascinating twists and mental ties, menacing and marvellous.
But let’s get an authority in here to explain the hows and whys of the physicality of this Peep Show. Enter Steve Severin. "We’ve felt for a long time, ever since 1981, which was a similar, not really similar in any way except in that it was a production, a show; we had stage lights and back projections. That was very over the top for that time, and we got a bit scared that we’d have to keep elaborating on it, and that things would get bigger and bigger so as usual we did exactly the opposite, and toned it all down. But when we started to get to the end of the recording of Peep Show it was time to put our heads together and come up with a proper set.
"It all sort of started with as we were doing the album we were referring to this book a lot which was called The Archaeology of the Cinema, which I had found in a second hand shop in London, and it was concerned with very early devices that made moving pictures, starting as far back as with things like the Camera Obscura and Kaleidoscopes and such. Lots of strange devices and funny little illustrations to go with them, so we gave that to the set designer, and by that time we had the concept, the album title and we wanted to think of something that was vaudevillian or burlesque, something like a puppet theatre and a bit like a carnival. All these ideas were thrown about concerning the set design. And then we came up with the idea of what people wouldn’t expect would be if we started the show right up close, so... it evolved slowly from there.
"And we also thought that most people start off with a bang, and midway through the set they try and make it more intimate, and then it gets more and more as it goes along. We thought if we slowly reveal the stage so that it looks really small and we look really small on it, and then it looks bigger and bigger... So the designer got into the idea of using several different drapes, ’cause the idea was always to change the mood of the stage with each song, and that’s something we also did on the ’81 tour. We gave him loads of material, and told him the idea. The main idea he came up with was the playground around the drum kit," he explains.
That designer came up with quite a playground twist indeed! The set compliments the music, the movement of the songs having a film feel of pacing, from the clicking voyeurism of ’Red Light’ to the open sordidness of ’Peek-A-Boo’. Plus a dash of The Cabinet of Dr Caligari in the quivery, nervous look to the set and the idea of plundering dreams and childhood, especially during the haunting rendition of ’Carousel’.
"’Carousel’ is trying to remember what it’s like when you’re a child - it’s a bit cinematic and it reminds me of films like Funhouse or Hitchcock’s Strangers On A Train, with the carousel at the end. It’s not particularly horrific, but it gives a great feel. I think we did throw Caligari in there too!" Steve laughs, relating, "It was almost like working on a musical, as it’s not like we had more than three days to rehearse the whole show with the whole set... then we had to take it around Europe, and it wasn’t until the end of Europe that we had it down pat. It was almost like a month’s rehearsal on the road. It does sort of send you off onto different things if you know when you got onstage exactly what set of songs you will be doing, and how to pace them, and then you get into the choreography. It’s so much more inventive and invigorating to do a show like that than just go out and play all the greatest hits," he enthuses.
The Radio City show truly looks like a late 20’s film epic come to sound and life. The show fits in perfectly within that over the top character of the grand old deco palace, creating a spectacle for the senses.
Steve agrees, musing, "It was almost sort of designed for it, like a box with that huge stage".
Something that still puzzles me is the split tour idea. With the massive co-ordination that the set requires, it is a surprise that the band is taking the show back home for a few dates and then coming back in late January.
"I think... we don’t particularly like touring for a long time, that’s one of the things," Steve explains. "You just get too numb and can’t produce your best. I remember when we came over in 1986 we toured for two months and by the end everyone was like a robot, I mean all the songs had no mistakes whatsoever and we were all so tired, and there’s something quite scary about that. The other side of it is to also make the record company work a bit harder too," he laughs. "They have the opportunity now to keep the album going, get the second single out (The magnificent ’Killing Jar’) while we disappear for a while. And then we’ll come back and the album still should be running!
"When we get back to England we have two weeks off, and then we’ve got the opportunity to do some shows in Greece, four shows in Athens which could be fun, and then we’ll do some shows around Christmas. We’ll probably do some studio work and come back at the end of January, tour around some more and go down to South America," he details, adding, "We’ll probably spend most of the time thinking up more bits and pieces to add to the show, because we want to develop it further, before we have to leave it all in some warehouse to rot!" he chuckles.
So step right up and be a traveller along with the rest of us. Get your ticket and enter this world of shimmering darkness and shifting, flickering shadow but don’t be nervous. Be spell bound, dazzled and take a slowdive onto this night shift of obsession and rhapsody. Leave a note for those you love. But perhaps leave a trail of twine on your way in as the way out is hard to find. Better yet, take a knife in case you decide to cut loose and stay a while. Some find it hard to leave. And some see no good reason for leaving.
Sandra A Garcia 02/89
Some have died or fallen by the wayside. Others have reinvented themselves for mainstream rock consumption. But Siouxsie's resolve has remained almost unchanged. Just don't mention the Good Old Days is Tom Hibbert's advice.
Siouxsie is wearing a charming and expensive-looking blue trouser suit, an outfit that would not be out of place on the pages of some colossal high-fashion magazine or even on the lawns of Royal Ascot (if trouser suits were permitted at Royal Ascot). Famously spiky frightwigs have been discarded, redundant image accessories, and her natural hair is immaculately tailored in a Vidal Sasson style of old. In repose, and in profile, Siouxsie Sioux bears an almost startling resemblance to Sandie Shaw, vintage 1968, pretty and demure. Which all comes as something of a shock. It is not until you confront the face full-on that the woman is recognisable as the one well known as High Priestess Of Punk, erotic Rhinemaiden, girlie Goth and other well-worn phrases; the make-up is more subdued these days - she could no longer pass as an Egyptian tomb-painting - but two striking slashes of black - the Groucho Marx eyebrows - and lips painted so red and lustrous they would put Kathy Kirby to shame, remain intact. Siouxsie Sioux is 31 years old.
Within a few days of this meeting, Siouxsie & The Banshees will be appearing at the Royal Albert Hall and it will be exactly 12 years to the day when, as Suzie & The Banshees, they gave their first ever performance at the 100 Club's punk festival. It was a debut lacking in discipline. As part of the now legendary "Bromley Contingent" - Sex Pistols camp followers whose numbers included also Billy Broad (nowadays known as Billy Idol) and some untoward spectre called Catwoman - Susan Dallion (Suzie/Siouxsie) and her friend Steve Bailey (or Steve Havoc as Severin called himself before becoming Steven Deville and finally settling on the name borrowed from Venus In Furs) decided it would be a grand caper to form a group to play support to the Pistols, The Clash and the Subway Sect. With Marco Pirroni (later a member of Adam And The Ants) on guitar and Sid Vicious on drums, they took the stage for 20 minutes of "musical mayhem".
Apart from Pirroni, none of the quartet had ever played an instrument or performed before. "Havoc" set up a rudimentary E-string drone on a borrowed bass guitar, Vicious sploshed about in shamateur gonzo style. Pirroni's guitar fed back horribly while Suzie intoned The Lord's Prayer and wailed snatches of any songs that happened to pop into her head; Twist And Shout, Knocking On Heaven's Door, Rebel Rebel, Deutschland Uber Alles. "Godawful" was the verdict of one A & R man present...
That December Siouxsie - she had now adopted the idiosyncratic Indian-pun spelling - became a "Punk Shocker" (according to the Daily Mirror) when the Sex Pistols appeared on Thames Television's Today programme for a brief interview. As the presenter Bill Grundy enticed the "lads" to "say something outrageous, go on", it was Siouxsie, as one of the bands hanger's-on in the background, who coolly informed Grundy that he was, in fact, "a dirty old man". Meanwhile, her band, now consisting of herself, Severin, guitarist P.T. Fenton and drummer Kenny Morris, had opened punk's prime niterie, The Roxy Club, along with Generation X...
Ah, heady days. But mention "punk rock" to Siouxsie and Severin these 12 years on and some ennui seems to settle upon them. It is with no dewy-eyed nostalgia that the pair look back upon their beginning amidst the punk "revolution"
"It was such a lot of old dressed-up flannel," says Siouxsie harshly. "It was just so horrible. It was just dress up anyone in vinyl bondage and that was a passport to being accepted as vital or viable. And we were just appalled by the amount of groups who were so disgusting and they were horribly part of that pub rock thing. Talk of mutton dressed up as pork! It was horrible and appalling and it's particularly appalling that people get all misty-eyed over the whole era. There was an excitement to begin with but once it got catergorised it was preposterous. And the violence it attracted - it was so violent. I'd sooner forget about all that. If you don't mind."
Be that as it may. Some have died, some have fallen by the wayside, others have reinvented themselves as macho rock attractions for America (à la Billy Idol) but Siouxsie & The Banshees remain, do they not, survivors of the punk era? Such a suggestion is met with no delight from the Banshees camp.
"I really resent that term 'Survivors of the punk era'." says Siouxsie, "because at the time when people were lumping us in with punk rock, we were always very vocal about saying. We are not a punk band, we are not a funk band, we are not a rock band - we are Siouxsie & The Banshees."
Steve Severin ignites a fresh B & H beside her and enters the debate. "You don't call the Rolling Stones the survivors of the R & B age, do you? You don't call Genesis survivors of the progressive rock age, do you? Well, by the time we're finished, the Banshee myth will be bigger than the punk myth ever was."
The Banshee myth - what is it? A group whose songs have always been peopled by creeps and freaks and bogeymen, a group who have always been there scratching the surface, never huge but famous with steadily mounting record sales, always oblique and unfathomable; Siouxsie always presenting her mysterious chiselled mask of a face, all cheekbones and black eyeliner, to the world. Does she ever go shopping without her "face" on? "Of course I bloody do!"...
The Banshees have just released their eleventh LP, Peepshow. It is an extraordinary record - "bewitching" they called it in the pages of this very magazine - and one that should put paid to the notion that the group, after five years of accident - Siouxsie dislocated her knee falling off the stage at Hammersmith Odeon in '85 and completed her national tour by wheelchair, performing on stages sitting atop flight cases, her wonky leg heavily bandaged - and artistic indolence (their live double album, and last year's collection of cover versions, Through The Looking Glass, were simply not very good) were headed for the oblivion of the dumper, on the brink of being washed up. With Peepshow they have overcome their problems; the overcoming of problems has long been a Banshees forte.
Their very first problem was: how on earth do we get a recording contract? Back in that punk era when spiky-topped persons were being signed up all over, the Banshees were ever shunned. Their music, described by Nick Lowe as "boring sub-hippy drivel dressed up in knickers for the sake of art" seemed to lack that certain A & R je ne sais quoi, while Siouxsie appeared just a bit too outre, what with her Swastika armbands and damn silly "Fascist" hat, her bondage garments, one mesh stocking and one of rubber (and bosoms quite visible most of the time). These accoutrements were intended "to show that erogenous zones are overrated and tits are no big deal", according to Siouxsie, and the Nazi chic was "a symbol of shock, nothing more" - defences she still clings to. But the record companies would have none of it - even with the "Sign The Banshees - Do It Now" slogan spray-painted by some supportive hand on every company's wall. It was, finally, Polydor who gave in: the band signed a contract on June 9, 1978, and in August enjoyed their first Top 10 hit with Hong Kong Garden.
Their second problem - a perennial one - how to keep this band together at all. Siouxsie and Severin have got through an alarming number of guitarists in their time. P.T. Fenton was sacked early on for being too "rock 'n' roll". His replacement, John McKay, didn't last too long. At the beginning of a British tour in 1979, the band were in Aberdeen singing copies of their second album, Join Hands, when some kind of squabble erupted between McKay and drummer Kenny Morris on one side and Siouxsie and Severin on the other. They played that first date in Aberdeen but afterwards, pausing only to stuff pillows down their hotel beds to prevent instant detection of their defection, McKay and Morris fled the band. "That was a disaster," said Siouxsie. "It seems funny now. I can't even really remember what the quarrel was about, but it was a disaster at the time. That's all there is to say about that."
Since McKay left the band, the Banshees have seen off Robert Smith (of The Cure), John McGeoch (previously with Magazine) and more. To lose one guitarist, as Oscar might have said, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose so many looks like carelessness. One wonders how long the present incumbent, Jon Klein, will stay the course. What is it with Banshee guitarists anyway?
Severin: "Guitarists are clumsy. They have ego problems."
Siouxsie: "They are very insensitive on the whole, and they are physically and emotionally clumsy, but we've only ever sacked one guitarist. All the rest have broken up under pressure. They have literally not been able to stand the pressure of me being the most famous. I haven't had more than 10 days off at a stretch in 12 years. The one time I went to Bali bloody Robert Smith left the band, the fat bastard. As soon as I packed my bags, I'm not kidding you, he did a bunk. He wouldn't have dared if Id been in the same country.
Twelve years on and Siouxsie & The Banshees have become - however loath they might be to admit it - part of the rock establishment, veterans. Still a bit loopy but thoroughly accepted: so much so that when someone decided to put waxworks of rock personalities on display at the Virgin Megastore, Siouxsie Sioux was up there alongside Jagger and Lennon et al. For one who claims to shun the accepted rock business, who describes the rock world in sneering terms as "decadent and boring and predictable and sad", she seems to have taken this rather "rockist" effigy with good grace.
"I suppose, to be honest, it was quite an honour that somebody wanted, without killing me, to preserve me. That's not the sort of trophy that I'm striving for but I'm not offended by it. I suppose they've melted it down by now and made two Kylie Minogues out of me but I was interested in how they did it and I went down to their warehouse and had my eyes measured. They used the horribliest contraption - it looked so spiteful, like a horrible form of torture, like a sort of compass but with hooked claws at the end and they come right close to you. And they have to measure your sockets as well. It's really gruesome. And they had a boxful of eyes for me to choose. It's a very odd thing to see, a box full of eyes..."
Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin are in their thirties now. Is knocking on and the creep of time something that concerns them?
"No, it's good because we're a bit more reasonable now. We've mellowed. You'll have to wait at least a quarter of an hour before we say, Fuck off."
"And we'll probably stop touring soon," says Severin. "Nobody wants to be 40 years old and jumping around on stage. That's revolting."
Siouxsie: "It must be horrible being somebody like the Rolling Stones. We'd certainly never let that become a way of life, because were a pop band. I go on kids' telly programmes and show them how to make chocolate bumblebees with me gloves on. Our audiences think we're funny. We don't get anyone going, Oh I was floored when I saw Siouxsie on a kiddies' programme making chocolate bumblebees. I suppose if I turned up in a pink paisley smock with a mousey perm they might be rather disgusted but we demand attention. We are not a mindless rock event. Forty years old and jumping around on stage - bleurgh!"
But some people of 40 summers and more quite enjoy jumping around on stage, I suggest.
"It all depends how you do it," Siouxsie believes. "You certainly don't turn around and think Leonard Cohen's too old to be doing what he's doing. He's very dignified in what he does. He's growing old gracefully and very well. But if you look at Keith Richards or Mick Jagger and you wonder just how much... I don't know, it all seems so undignified. I'd hate to end up like that. I'd rather be a hermit. Or die."
Tom Hibbert 11/88
THROUGH THE PAST, DARKLY
SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES PONDER A BRIGHTER TOMORROW
The British punk ferment of the late '70s seems, now, like a lost revolutionary vision, a brutal dream that someone had and tried to realise in the light of day. The fundamental idea was to recharge the festering carcass of pop music by putting the music back in the hands of angry youngsters and other spiteful misfits and geniuses who barely knew how to plug in their instruments, let alone play a diminished chord. It was, of course, a vital and catalytic era that will long be exalted by armchair revisionists. What is often glossed over by punk historians is the fact that little music of worth came out of the revolution, and that the bands were often loose assemblages bound to unravel.
A notable exception is Siouxsie & The Banshees, that durable unit based around the sultry and sinister voice of Siouxsie Sioux. Siouxsie went from being a young Sex Pistol acolyte to an influential queenpin of the English alternative music sphere. The Banshees can boast of auspicious/suspicious beginnings; a pre-Pistol Sid Vicious was the original drummer. Bassist Steve Severin, a charter member, began as a noisy amateur and grew up musically along with Siouxsie. Maybe punk bands were supposed to self-destruct, crumbling from nihilistic self-fulfillment or groomed indifference. But the Banshees were a brain that would not die. Guitarists came and went, but the artistic vision generally climbed upward, with occasional lapses. Twelve years later, after a fallow period around the release of 1987's Through The Looking Glass - an album of all covers - the band has rebounded with an astonishing potency on Peepshow.
The eleventh and possibly best Banshees release, Peepshow works as both a bolstering of the band's previous strengths - specialising in darkly evocative atmospheres and exotic melodic lines - and a crafty self-redefinition. Interweaving gothic sadness and uppercutting wit, the 1988 Banshees is suddenly an outfit with all the makings of a grand barrier-crossing pop band - at once enigmatic and perky. And, without diving into undue superlatives, those traits are the yin and yang of great pop music. Ideally, with pop, you hum along while your psyche is being scrambled.
We're at Los Angeles' Mondrian Hotel, a strange concept even for post-modern architecture (how would the didactic Dutch artist feel knowing that his De Stijl theory has been reduced to a decor concept of primary colours and lean lines?). It's Halloween, and you can be sure that the more staid guests here suspect some holiday hijinx when Siouxsie & The Banshees wander around poolside at the behest of the L. A. Times photographer, she looking like a vamp from the silent era and bassist Steve Severin in a severe monochromatic blue suit (quite Mondrianesque, in fact). It's a bit of a pretentious outpost, but still a less trendy spot for rock bands to roost when in L. A. than the Sunset Marquis. The Banshees have landed here for some Southern California dates on their Peepshow tour. They seem as alien to the overlit landscape as they did playing the subterranean combo-of-doom in the film Out Of Bounds (playing "Cities In Dust" while Anthony Michael Hall teeters around in an Okie daze).
Live, the Peepshow travelling show was grand surreal cabaret. Rolling shamelessly in Weimar Republic kitsch. Siouxsie cavorted around the loony Dr. Caligari stage set in a top hat and frilly ensemble that she gradually shed down to silk scanties. She uses sex in a histrionic power play a la Marlene Dietrich, but with the tease more mystical and aloof. As in the paean to the prostitute of "Peek-A-Boo", Siouxsie explores and exploits sexuality without becoming a tool of come-hither antics. Like Prince on his most ironic behaviour, Siouxsie toys with the idea of sexual temptation as much as she indulges herself. Were he alive, German director Rainer Fassbinder would be the logical person to bring the act to the big screen.
Musically, the Banshees often stage elaborate emotional stripteases themselves, carefully using layers of texture and riffs to create a buzz of tension and seduction. On stage, the theatre of the striptease became a metaphor as the band slowly came out from behind a series of translucent screens, framed by a false curtain. They're a band lured by a laconic groove that plumbs the depths of elegant gloom, but Budgie's unorthodox drumming keeps the listener alert, as do quirky snatches of accordian or harmonica or cello sawing out riffs that would normally be played by dirty electric guitars. Atop, Siouxsie's voice sails like a bird of prey - beautiful in flight, but you wouldn't want to be her target.
Any good band is fuelled by its contradictions, and the Banshee cry is complex. Often wilfully monumental in approach, the band has dwelt on the dark power of sumptuous melancholy. They love huge, undulating textures and hypnotic extrapolations on a minor chord. But, frequently armed with cheeky turns-of-phrase and attitude, they never completely abandoned the pop pulse for the refuse of indulgent gloom. The point rises to the bubbling surface of Peepshow, from the top, "Peek-A-Boo"'s canny funk energy crackles and pops in a fairly non-Banshee fashion, with odd sampled horn snorts, a dash of accordian and Siouxsie's voice dry as a bone while Budgie's drums bask in gymnasium-sized reverb.
The songs cool audacity and the general ensemble fortitude at present signals that the Banshee saga is very much ongoing. Sitting amongst the Mondrian motifs, veterans Siouxsie, Severin and drummer Budgie sat down to discuss that and other matters.
You took a hiatus prior to this album. With two new members - Jon Klein and Martin McCarrick - on board, does it feel now like a rebirth of sorts for the band?
Severin: Yes. It sounds dramatic, but it isn't really. Each and every time we change personnel, people who join the group are welcomed in a fashion that it becomes another group. We're not interested in having session players, because you have to spend so much time with these people that their personalities count just as much as musical ability or imagination.
The two new members joined just before we came over here last year (1987). We got back from America in September of that year, and we basically spent from September through to the release of Peepshow just writing and recording, getting to know how this group would work together, trying to write together. It worked out really well.
A real concentration went into this record. There was a long time before it was even made. There have been records where we don't even know what the title is going to be. That's the thing holding the record up; we don't know what the title's going to be, therefore we don't know what the artwork is. This one just went quicker. We've done other albums like that as well. It's basically how much you concentrate on what you want.
Siouxsie: I think on this album we also decided to pull out the best bits of what we like doing with the Banshees. It really was a matter of trying to get the best of all the albums together, to let it out. We got a mass of material and then we were able to pick and choose it. We tend to get in a way of working where you produce as you write. Therefore, you're not able to edit yourself as much as you'd like to. But we afforded ourselves that luxury. We actually bought some time. Doing Through The Looking Glass was a way of buying some time and preparing us for time to do what we wanted.
That was a very interesting album, though. It didn't seem as though you just knocked it off without concern.
Siouxsie: It wasn't done as a career move at all. But we knew we'd be accused of it. We weren't going to not do it because of that. That, actually, was a project that had been put off since 1983, when we did "Dear Prudence". We were going to, at that point, make "Dear Prudence" and some other cover versions as an EP. You always think of special things. You might remember what Magical Mystery Tour was like when it came out - just the specialness of it. It's just a way of doing something extra, a way of showing where your roots are.
"Dear Prudence" seems tailored made for you, with your voice laying across against those haunting chords.
Siouxsie: It wasn't a single from the White Album and it was a very unfinished, uncluttered song. There's lots of room to add on to it and interpret. That's why we chose it.
One of the things I noticed about the new album is the way you use technology sparingly. There's no synthesizer overkill, but there are intriguing touches throughout.
Severin: People picked up a lot on the surprise of hearing an accordian or harmonica. It's a bit funny to us, because we've always used really bizarre things. People don't even know what is guitar and bass on the records sometimes; they think it's a lot of synthesizers and weird effects and things. It is, but it's all played. "Peek-A-Boo" is all played, except that there are backwards brass and drum parts. Everything else on it is actually played and not sequenced. It's all normal instruments treated in a fashion that makes it sound unlike real guitars, basses or voices.
"Peek-A-Boo" is so unique in its construction.
Siouxsie: An accident, as all the best things in life are.
Severin: We must have spent about two weeks actually playing it as a band. It sounded too normal. We had two versions, one with the whole band playing and the other was just backwards drum and brass parts and Sioux singing on top of it. And then, one morning, we all just went and put some ideas on top of it. It was almost like one take each. We went in one after the other and didn't really listen to what each other was doing. It was quite spontaneous, after spending months and months working it out. We decided "this is the idea, lets work it out with the band" and then we threw that idea way. Sometimes you have to actually rebel against yourself to reach new territory.
You seem to be a band conversant with the studio, in terms of production and coming up with arrangement ideas. Is that a comfortable environment for you?
Severin: It's the place where you can really let your imagination run wild. We have a really good relationship with our producer, Mike Hedges. He's more like another member of the band. He's worked on so many albums over the years. On and off, we've tried other people in the meantime but always gone back to him. He allows lots of room for experimenting in the studio. The way we went about it this time was probably the best way we've ever done it. We spent a long time in rehearsal in a house in the country. For about a month, we rehearsed, wrote songs and did all the pre-production, which we've never really done before. So when we went into the studio, we knew the basic things we were going to do and set about and did them until we got them exactly how we wanted it. That gave us much more time and it was a much more relaxed atmosphere to try lots of things out before we finished the record.
Siouxsie: It's nice to be in the studio and allow for that sort of thing to happen as well as aim for certain things - to have a balance of knowing what you want and also it not being too precious. If something happens, you can do anything you want. It's not a blinkered sort of vision that you have; you have a definite skeleton to follow, but the sort of flesh you put on it is changeable.
Budgie: It seemed that what happened was that the accidents that were happening were a lot more serious accidents. In the past, where if you were in the studios waiting for things to spring up at you and you know it's costing you time and money, there's a pressure on. Whereas, this time we had most of the album written and the backing tracks done. Yet things were still happening, so we were able to say "okay, we'll put three hours aside and see what happens with it." It takes its course. If we liked it, maybe it will be on the album or maybe it would be a B-side. But that happened with conviction as well. We weren't under pressure to be something strange. In that sense, that was a big change.
"Burn Up" is another odd tune for the Banshees - with its psychotic train song quality. It sounds like a perverted bit of Americana, a cowboy song that breaks the rules. Was that the product of an accident, as well?
Siouxsie: The writing of it was...
Budgie: Very premeditated.
Severin: (to Siouxsie) You taped a show off the TV, a programme on New Orleans or something?
Siouxsie: Yeah, it was a funeral march and it was brass. But the sort of drone that I heard, I taped. I do most of my work on a Dictaphone. I don't need any technology. Anything I can turn on and off is fine with me, the simpler the better. Anyway, I had this thing from TV.
Budgie: And from that, it became a train - a train that was about to collide. Then the lyrics are starting to make some sense, as well. Martin (McCarrick) was playing his cello like a fiddle and banging his foot as it gets faster and faster.
Siouxsie: Some songs take a very cinematic push in a certain direction. So it describes a train out of control. The tracks run out and it tries to stop itself.
Judging from this album, the new band is veering away from the guitar being the central force. It seems to be pushed further in the background and sometimes isn't there at all. Are you wearying of the guitar as a sound?
Siouxsie: It's there when it's needed. We were aware of the limitations of finding a guitarist who would fulfill the expectations of Siouxsie & The Banshees and hence, on quite a lot of things we used a lot of keyboards and other instruments. When John Carruthers left, we thought that was the direction we should head in as opposed to finding yet another guitarist that would make it even harder to live up to something. It's a sort of thing that we thought we'd exhausted as well.
Severin: I think what we tried to do when Carruthers was in the band was expected him to be songwriter as well. So, by hiring two people, we decided that the whole band would try and write songs and it really didn't matter whether it was a guitar/bass song or a keyboard/bass song or if it came from the three of us. In whatever fashion, we're just there to write songs.
Siouxsie: And I think the two new people felt a lot better being one of two new people joining the band rather than just being the next new boy in.
And going through the initiation rites...
Siouxsie: Yeah, head down the toilet (laughs)
Have you found that guitarists are a troublesome breed?
Siouxsie: Yes. I don't know why. Enlighten us. It's nothing that you can really put your finger on. Is it the nature of the guitarist that attracts them to the instrument? We found with a lot of guitarists is that they're really selfish. Sometimes they'll play without listening to everyone else. There's a lot less playing off of things, which, with us, is really very important.
I'm not sure why, but guitarists see it as a precious instrument as well, rather than it being a narrative instrument. I really like instruments to put you somewhere. So many guitarists put on a guitar and all you have is this image of a guitarist going clang-g-g, rather than being out on a mountain or falling over a cliff. I find myself continually talking to Jon (Klein) in those sort of terms, about "imagine you're falling off a cliff." So he usually jumps off his cabinet (laughs).
Severin: Jon's audition tape was of guitar noises sounding like horses, and odd things.
Siouxsie: That's what really impressed me. He did a tape of the guitar sounding very different.
Then again, there's something to say for the sound of the guitar. I think of a song like "Candyman." I don't think you could have done that opening with cellos, could you?
Budgie: No, you can't. Keith Richards was talking about the difference the way a piano player and the way Chuck Berry writes. He writes in the key of E, A and D because they're guitar songs. When a keyboard player writes, he writes in any key. These guitarists want to use open strings all the time - it's easier and it sounds better. It makes more sense that they're guitar-orientated songs.
On Hyaena, (temporary guitarist) Robert Smith was writing his parts on piano. If he came up with an idea, it would be piano-based. Steve, he got 6 basses on a tune (collective laughter). This runs all the way through the history of songwriting partnerships. It's a real up and down thing. Some songs we just couldn't play if we didn't have a keyboard instrument there. So now we really are a lot freer.
The band does generate atmospheres as opposed to making music as a vehicle for soloists. Was it always that way, or did it just evolve?
Severin: I think it's always been that way. For inspiration, we've always liked the really strong groups of the past, the really individual groups of the past, as well as strong solo performers. But we always set out to have a very distinctive, recognisable style. The things that we left out are as much a statement of where we were coming from. There are no guitar solos, there aren't solos of any sort. It's basically a very high emphasis on sound that we started with. We sat down and said "this is what a band should sound like." We basically built everything from there. We started out without much musical knowledge...
Siouxsie: We had no musical knowledge whatsoever.
Severin: ... but we knew what we liked and we knew what we didn't like, and stuck with that.
Did you think in terms of textures, and did you experiment with different combinations of sounds?
Budgie: We're in love with the different sounds you can create in studios. We're absolutely seduced by them, almost to the point where maybe we're a bit indecisive as to which one is featured loudest in the mixing process. It's a very seductive thing.
In "Peek-A-Boo," there's a flip-flop effect, as you delve into the whorehouse scene and then pull back into bouncing clichés - "golly jeepers, where'd you get those weepers." I don't know how many people writhing on the dance floor know that the song is an ode to prostitutes.
Siouxsie: "Peek-A-Boo" is about the bitterness of the whore. It's also about getting rid of the myth of this poor woman in this helpless situation. The song concerns someone in an awful situation, but who's very much in control, although they don't like it. They know how to survive in that situation and the one thing they won't be is a victim, although the fact that they've become so hard has made them so.
It's an occupational hazard. You have the one line about the "flaccid ego in your hand." That pretty well sums it up.
Siouxsie: Yeah. Well, probably the people its aimed at wouldn't understand.
From another angle entirely, you come out with what seems to me a bonafide love song. "The Last Beat Of My Heart." Can that be taken as genuine, or is there an ironic subplot there?
Siouxsie: It is, but something we're not very good at doing is making it just a love song. It's on the brink of being something else.
Severin: Like anything with our songs, it's got a twist in it. It certainly attempts to be as honest as it could be without tearing your flesh off.
Siouxsie: It's about being fragile and exposed.
Severin: It's really, really hard to write a love song.
Because the genre is so full of clichés and smarminess?
Siouxsie: And so full of insincerity. It started with the vocal melody. And then Steve and Martin joined in, and we co-wrote the words, knowing that, how the melody sounded, it should be crafted to not meander and not be allowed to be a small statement. Which it could've been; it could have just been a mood piece and had the mood say it rather than actually saying it in words.
Your vocal style has filtered into a lot of avenues of pop music by now, but the basic approach sounds somehow non-western - with tinges of middle eastern phrasings and tonal effects. Did you ever listen to ethnic music and do you think that had its impact on you?
Siouxsie: Yes, but only in the way that it is there. I didn't seek it out. It wasn't a hobby of mine. I've very much liked church and religious music. I like the sound of nuns singing, and I suppose that's because I like religious singing and music. A lot of that would be eastern as well as an appreciation for cathedrals. If there is religious music around, I will listen up for it. I just like the sound of a huge church filled with pure voice - that lonely, plaintive voice.
Severin: I think it's the same with all of us. For a group that tends to throw itself into the marketplace like we do, trying to be in the same position as all these rock and roll groups, it draws so little from rock and roll, it's extraordinary. All our influences come from completely different areas. Yet we spend most of our life involved in this world in one way or another, albeit isolated maybe. It's so uninspirational to us, that as Sioux says, religious music has got nothing to do with most rock and roll groups at all. They're vampires feeding off of the old songs, just leeching.
The Banshees do seem to be like a satellite around the planet of the music business. Is that a comfortable position to be in?
Budgie: As long as we stay in orbit, yeah. (laughter).
Siouxsie: We'd like to be more involved, but without having to play by the rules. The rock industry is such an amalgamation of the worst sort of people in the world. I know we've got more in common with people who would like to hear us, but these horrible business people are there, getting in the way. And they're supposed to be making it easier to get to them. But, in our case, they're making it much harder. It sounds ridiculous, but it's true.
Budgie: Eno was saying how the mass of the public had a lot more intelligence and a lot more taste value than the record industry seems to imagine. They're interested in making it all so palatable, because the programmers and the radio people want it. The business is so self-generating towards the business.
Siouxsie: And obviously they'll make it easier for people who think like them. It works for the same breed. There's been a certain amount of fans in the industry and they're there to see their heroes do well. But, I think there are less and less fans of music involved in the business. I think it's becoming so much more intolerant and blind and diluted, which is a real shame.
Maybe there will be a massive revolt, another uprising.
Siouxsie: There must be something, because this can't be tolerated much longer.
Sitting here in the midst of pseudo-Mondrian art, I'm inclined to ask you if there's an artist whose work embodies your music? It's not Mondrain. Too many angles and primary colours.
Siouxsie: Oh, Klimt (she stops to ponder)... Goya or Heironymous Bosch. I just love getting out the magnifying glass and looking at all the little creatures. It's so dark, but so luminous.
Josef Woodard 03/89
FORD COPPOLA, DON LOUIS BUNUEL AND ALFRED HITCHCOCK
COPPOLA really went out on a limb with the Zeliotrope studios and, when they went bankrupt, he made a cheap film to recoup. I think that’s really exciting. He’s so today. It was great seeing "Rumblefish" and "The Outsiders" the other week - it’s good that entertainment has that edge.
Bunuel was the same, just a little bit further out from the media’s notion of entertainment. He was very mischievous and turned a lot of things on their head. When "Un Chien Andalou" was being shown for the first time, he’d had so much controversy surrounding the project, he turned up at the preview with loads of rocks in his pocket so that if the audience did what they’d done to him before and started lobbing vegetables or whatever, he could start lobbing rocks back at them. I just love that attitude - him believing in it and not kowtowing to opinion.
He had a brilliant sense of humour. When you look at his bishops falling out of windows and things like that, it’s really obvious that Monty Python very much took their humour from there - things like silly walks and religion always being a ridiculous situation.
Alfred Hitchcock was another mischief maker. He seems to have wound up a lot of people. I heard he spiked the food of some prima donna actor with laxatives and had him locked in a wardrobe or something overnight and he had to shit all over the place!
I liked the way films like "Spellbound" used Dali for the dream sequence, concentrating on the psychological side of horror, finding a way of scaring and horrifying without us really seeing anything through very clever editing and cutting. And there’s all those funny stories about how he had definite ideas about his ideal woman - a very vulnerable blonde. So he got Janet Leigh, Kim Novak, Grace Kelly, and he liked to torture them a bit. You could see he liked to see these women in a distressed situation. There was a biography that said he didn’t have exactly admirable intentions, which just adds to the mystery of it really.
THE completely, lovable, elderly, batty... single woman, I wont use the word spinster because I think that’s really derogatory. I just love her paliness, she’s the sort of woman you could really imagine being a chum. I’d love to have her as a relative, I’d love to have been able to go and visit her as a kid because she’d probably be really fun for kids, going out hiking and climbing trees. There’s a really firm, good natured quality about her.
I LIKE what she does now. After all the glamour and the sex kitten image, she dedicated herself to looking after sick animals on her island. She’s very adamant about winning against intrusion of her privacy, which I really admire her for.
ALTHOUGH I don’t like the way The Banshees are always surreptitiously linked with them, I still love the Hammer Horror films, the campness of them. And Vincent Price is someone who, more than 100 percent, really sells that part. He’s got no pretentions really, he’s just so openly into it and doesn’t seem to mind how unashamed he is. His presence in "The Fall Of The House Of Usher" and those old Roger Corman films was invaluable.
He’s perfect - his voice, his face, I didn’t actually see his cookery programmes but I’ve heard they were brilliant. He’s the sort of person you’d love to have to dinner because he’s a great art collector, a real connoisseur.
LOUISE BROOKS AND TALLULAH BANKHEAD THE haircut! "Pandora’s Box"! Louise Brooks was a delicious looking woman. There was nothing fey about her, nothing coy or coarse. She was cheeky and yet she was considered a real party-pooper because she held out for wanting to work with decent people and questioning her scripts. And having a "bad attitude" is like being a leper, you are really looked on with distain for being non-conformist in Hollywood.
But she wasn’t concerned with being liked, she just wanted to do what was right. Tallulah Bankhead was just a very naughty young woman. She was sent off the set of one film for not wearing knickers and, another time she went to a gala performance where a bishop turned up swinging his incense and Tallulah said "Love the outfit darling, but do you know your handbag’s on fire?"
JOSEPHINE BAKER EXOTIC dancer extraordinaire. I saw a programme about her and was really impressed by the way she’d fought all her life. Not just from being black - she was with the French resistance when the Nazis came to town and, finally, she set up this home for orphans on the outskirts of Paris and had a lot of money problems keeping it going. She sacrificed a hell of a lot and genuinely seemed to love giving to these children.
She was unselfish but, again, very mischievous. She used to sling her legs round her head with this grin on her face when she was dancing. She was just amazing - really impish. I remember her banana costume - she was scantily clad but there was no way you could call it lewd. The difference between that and Page Three is a million miles. She’s not a victim, she’s in control and just having real good fun.
DENNIS POTTER I LOVE "Blue Hills" and "The Singing Detective" and that book, "Ticket To Ride", I used to like Jean Paul Sartre and Potter is like him - very obsessive, writhing with lots of detail and there’s a lot of self hate and self criticism going on. Because of his own disease, he seems very aware of failures of bodily functions and being trapped in an adolescent’s body when it’s going through those changes and trying to be a proper adult and you can’t because your body’s letting you down.
His writing is full of humanity, anti all those sloganeering cliches that I can’t stand.
BETTY BOOP A LITTLE imp. They actually tried to ban her. If Louise Brooks was disliked for her intellect, Betty - a cartoon character! - was considered lewd, disgusting and wanton. How anyone can see anyone bad in her is beyond me. She’s such a cutey. She’s very saucy but there’s nothing bad about that at all.
SHOSTAKOVICH He had a very hard life. A lot of his contemporaries, who were victims of the Stalin era, all ended up being martyrs because they said "no" and were imprisoned or ostracised or whatever. But Shostakovich did the unforgivable and made slight compromises so that he could continue working. It’s something a lot of people would probably do but he really paid for it, no more so in what he thought of himself.
It was so sad. He was a completely broken man. They criticised his work viciously and then, when people came back round to praising it, it wasn’t enough. He’d betrayed himself. "Rhapsody" on "Peepshow" really should have been dedicated to him. Really sad.
Astonishing Facts About Siouxsie (Of "And The Banshees" Fame)
SHE ONCE "FLIPPED" HER WIG
"I had this idea that I could get into wearing wigs. I thought it would save me a lot of time in the morning, just slipping on a wig like you slip on a hat, instead of an hour or so of crimping and combing my hair. It didn't work. It was too hot, too uncomfortable and I went a bit mad on the dance floor of a nightclub one evening and hauled the wig off. I felt like waving my wig in front of the newspaper photographers, which wasn't a very good idea really. I'm not interested in wearing wigs anymore."
SHE'S GOT BIGGER MUSCLES THAN ARNOLD SCHWARZEN "EGG" ER (NOT STRICTLY TRUE).
"I've been a regular visitor to a gym for four years now. I always make sure that I go three or four times a week. I do a lot of stretching exercises and work with weights - just toning up generally. It's not a very posh gym. It's a sweaty one. Have I built up muscles now? Look, I've always had muscles heh heh..."
HER BEST PAL IS A PECCARY CALLED GREGORY (EXCEPT SHE HASN'T SEEN HIM IN AGES)!
"When we adopted him at the zoo he was on the unwanted list. A peccary (i.e. a small gregarious wild pig) isn't nearly as loveable as a long-eared rabbit or a panda. I must admit that I haven't been to see Gregory for about 18 months now. He's been moved to Whipsnade Zoo now, but we still pay for his upkeep, his food and things. I do miss him actually, but I've got a framed photo of him at home. It's a bit sad really because we also adopted an armadillo called Amy, who lives at London Zoo, but she doesn't get as mush publicity as Gregory."
SHE'S INTERESTED IN STARING AT HAIRY COATS!
"I'm very interested in solving what seems to be unsolvable - through science. I really admire the way pathologists can get so much information from a fibre off someone's coat in the first place. I suppose I've always been very interested in crime, especially when I was very young. Some girls were into dolls, but I was always reading really gruesome murder stories."
SHE'S GOT RATHER A LOT OF TEETH!
"Yes, I suppose you do see a lot of my teeth in the video for 'Peek-A-Boo' (Ver 'Shees' new spook-single), but that's bound to happen if there are lots of close-ups of you singing. Do I always brush my teeth before as video? Oh, of course! But not frantically. As long as you don't eat spinach quiche before you start singing, you're usually OK."
THE GUITARISTS IN HER GROUP KEEP EXPLODING!
"That's because of the fireworks I keep putting down their trousers! Did I start worrying about body odour after our guitarists started leaving the band? No, I think they should have worried about B.O. since they were all asked to leave...."
SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES were perhaps the original goths. And despite knocking around for years they are definitely not goth-eared. SIOUXSIE, STEVE and BUDGIE explain why.
Welcome to Wonderland! The Banshees have had a restless night due to the consumption of excessive amounts of alcohol to celebrate the success of their new album 'Peepshow'. The first question was obvious.
HAVE YOU EVER VISITED A PEEPSHOW SIOUXSIE?
Siouxsie: No, but I know a man who has! (laughs) Q: Is he in this room? Siouxsie: No they are all probably in the room next door. Martin and John (the new Banshees) were thrown into booths.
IS IT A PLAY ON THAT, WHAT A PEEPSHOW IS SUPPOSED TO BE?
Siouxsie: It is but it's also a general comment. I think that a lot of females are draped in consumers. With the videos and music promos the woman has become the software used to dress up what someone is trying to sell. I am not having a go at women, I just think the people responsible should have some plastic surgery done or seriously think about their performance or what they are selling and improve the product. It is also taken from the point of view of the woman because a while ago I knew a prostitute who really hated men and the only way she could work in that field was to really cut herself off. She actually worked on the more kinky side of sex so she enjoyed being sadistic in the sexual sense because she was able to vent her frustrations on this stupid male punter that needed this service. There's that myth that some men think these women love it and it's all good fun. But it's not; it's very seedy and very ugly.
IT'S MORE LIKE "WELCOME TO MY NIGHTMARE" FOR HER.
Siouxsie: Yeah. I would say so. She said it was a very tough job.
YOU HAVE RELEASED MANY RECORDS; DO YOU FIND THAT YOU STILL GET ANXIOUS ABOUT HOW WELL THEY ARE GOING TO DO IN THE CHARTS?
Siouxsie: We have never had the luxury of knowing how well they are going to do. Obviously you don't release a record if you think it isn't going to do well, but there's always the desire for it to do well.
Budgie: We are particularly proud of this one so it doesn't really matter, we lived with it for a long time and all the little whisperings you hear when three record companies you play it to were all very confident about its potential.
YOU SAY YOU LIVED WITH THE RECORD FOR A LONG TIME. DOES IT USUALLY TAKE YOU THAT LONG TO WORK ON AN ALBUM?
Siouxsie: No that's the idea of 'Peek A Boo', it was like that was the beginning of us starting to hold back and not to release things as we did them. We actually decided there's a lot of potential that was not being realised, y'know, like ending up on B sides. 'Turn To Stone' was written four months ago. There are songs that are started over a long period of time but there are songs that were very fresh and in the studio as well.
WHO DID YOU WORK WITH?
Siouxsie: Mike Hedges.
YOU'VE HAD YOUR FAIR SHARE OF PROBLEMS WITH PRODUCERS. IS IT GETTING ANY BETTER?
Siouxsie: I really don't hold with this idea that a 'named' producer draws attention to a song. It's like you get the idea that record companies want a certain producer because the people on the radio station have a certain respect for that producer and will play whatever he does. I think that is disgusting, it's like ordering something without even hearing it and I think it's that horrible sort of snobbery, the opposite of artistic and very degressive.
Steve: it's a marketing thing really.
Siouxsie: Yes but it's all good business and I think that's what we have been appalled at. The business has taken over, Kylie Minogue is like good business because someone had the bright idea of using Neighbours.
Budgie: Yeah that's how it changed. It's not only producers now, it's producers who write the actual songs.
IN THE LONG RUN THE ARTISTS WHO ASSOCIATE THEMSELVES WITH SUCH PRODUCERS BECOME RIDICULED. DON'T THEY?
Siouxsie: It's just awful that a lot of channels have been cut off. People that don't naturally have a musical biz heritage end up being puppets - "You do what I say, you sing the words that I give you."
I DON'T SUPPOSE RECORD COMPANY PEOPLE EVEN CONTEMPLATE THE IDEA OF THROWING YOU IN THE STUDIOS WITH PRODUCERS LIKE THAT BECAUSE YOU WOULD TELL THEM WHERE TO GO.
Siouxsie: It doesn't stop them from suggesting it though! But we always say no. They never actually put us in the studio with somebody we don't want to work with, but they always suggest it in the vain hope that we might have gone senile or gaga.
Budgie: It's like we tried Mike Thorne for the single project 'Edge Of the World' and it didn't really work.
Siouxsie: It was disastrous! But because of the financial and time commitment we had to go with it. Luckily it was a single so it wasn't like a major disaster. After that fiasco we decided that from then onwards we were going to decide these things with our hearts rather than our heads. As usual it is only afterwards that you start cursing yourself for not having gone with your instincts in the first place. I find that these days people try to dissuade you from going with your instincts and to go with a cold head approach to survive. It's all uniforms.
YOU HAVE BEEN TOGETHER FOR 12 YEARS. WOULD YOU SAY IT HAS BEEN A VERY SATISFYING 12 YEARS?
Siouxsie: Well. It's been eventful. We considerably overstepped our mark a bit because originally we only meant to play one show for just 20 minutes. As far as predictions as to the longevity of the group we were a bit out so it will be ridiculous asking us for how long we will continue.
WHAT IS INTERESTING ABOUT YOUR CAREER IS THAT YOU ORIGINALLY STARTED PLAYING THE SWEATY CLUBS AND NOW YOU PLAY THE ELITE VENUES LIKE THE ROYAL ALBERT HALL. A BIT OF A CONTRAST DON'T YOU THINK?
Siouxsie: I don't think we could have filled the Albert Hall then (laughs). We could fill Wembley now but we refuse to play there because I think we would be upsetting too many of our ardent fans.
SO YOU FIND THAT THESE LATER VENUES SUIT YOU BETTER?
Budgie: I think that the sweaty clubs these days are not the best places to hear our music in. However we still like to play the odd secret club gig just for the fun of it.
YOU HAD YOUR MUSIC TUITION ON STAGE DIDN'T YOU? YOU LEARNT HOW TO PLAY YOUR INSTRUMENTS IN FRONT OF YOUR AUDIENCES. DID THAT GIVE YOU AN AIR OF CONFIDENCE, LIKE IT DIDN'T MATTER HOW MANY MISTAKES YOU MADE?
Siouxsie: It made me fierce actually, if you're thrown in the deep end you either drown or you swim.
Budgie: That's an attitude that still exists today, I think it doesn't matter the way you are supposed to play anything or sing anything by some sort of rule book. It's more important to develop your own style and instinct top the way you hear music. I will never learn to play the conventional way. I just play my own way.
SO STYLISTICALLY AND MUSICALLY WHEN YOU GO THROUGH THESE CHANGES IN MUSIC WHAT ACTUALLY BROUGHT MOST OF THE MUSICAL CHANGES ON YOUR NEW ALBUM FROM THE PREVIOUS ALBUMS?
Siouxsie: We purposely took ourselves out of London and out of going to a rehearsal every day from mid-day to seven and we said we will all just live together in this rambling house and we'll rehearse constantly. If someone had an idea you didn't have to wait till tomorrow to present it. It's like relating a dream, you forget most of it the next day but if it's fresh and you put it down almost in a trance like stare, you can just sit back and listen to it. There were tape recorders everywhere so things didn't get forgotten.
WHERE DID YOU RECORD?
Siouxsie: In Sussex, in a place on the way to the Brighton coast.
HOW DO YOU FIND THESE PLACES?
Siouxsie: It belongs to a friend of mine, Mike.
Steve: Mike was there all the time with his tape and every time we did something he was very good at saying that's great. He made us follow an idea through. We found that way of working to be very productive, and as a result we now have a huge library of recordings which will no doubt come in useful later on.
Siouxsie: We were actually able to get drunk a couple of times but not go to clubs. It was just like being ourselves and playing rather than getting in a fight or something or what ever you do in a club. There's always some sort of wind up. I always have a fight in a club. the beauty about working in a place like that is that you can relax. I really enjoyed that.
SO I PRESUME YOU WILL CONTINUE TO ADOPT THIS STYLE OF WORKING IN THE FUTURE?
Siouxsie: Yeah. Maybe we will be able to adapt quicker at first if it was going too fast. We weren't used to being cut off from London for that amount of time in the middle of the country; it was a bit alien to us. I think probably that situation we can adapt to much quicker and it won't be a matter of months, it could be just a couple of weeks here and there.
MARK PAYTRESS BRINGS THE
BANSHEE’S STORY UP TO DATE, AND REPORTS ON THE BAND’S INCREASING
NUMBER OF COLLECTOR’S ITEMS, FROM PROMO COPIES OF "THE
SCREAM" TO THEIR MOST RECENT CD SINGLES
For many years, Siouxsie and the Banshees have been the subject of much debate among rock scribes. Many have denounced the group as an irrelevance, still sounding - and looking - pretty much the same as they did back in the late Seventies. But this fails to take into account the sheer uniqueness of the band’s sound which won them such acclaim in the first place, at a time when so many outfits were happy to become third rate Sex Pistols.
While perfecting their craft over the past decade, the two constants - bassist Steve Severin and Siouxsie Sioux herself - have ensured that the group’s basic characteristics remain intact. But remaining true to their roots has not curtailed the group’s willingness to experiment. Among the innovations was the introduction of a string section during the early Eighties, though a vital ingredient in the group’s development was the arrival of drummer Budgie in 1979. It is impossible to imagine the Banshees circa 1978 delivering songs with the majesty of "Dear Prudence" or "Cities in Dust".
We originally covered the history of the group back in 1984 (issue 65). This feature will bring the Siouxsie and the Banshees story right up to date, paying particular attention to rarities, foreign pressings and ephemera.
Introduced by a mutual friend Simon (who went on to form Jimmy The Hoover) at Roxy Music’s 1975 appearance at Wembley Arena, Sioux and Severin were initially inspired by the Sex Pistols and decided to form a band in time for the 1976 Punk Rock Festival at the 100 Club. Several months later, Track Records paid for them to record a session which has since turned up as the "Track Rehearsals EP" bootleg. Recorded on 12th March 1977, it contained much of the band’s early set: "Captain Scarlet", "Scrapheap", "Psychic" and "Bad Shape", all of which eluded official blessing, and early versions of "Love In A Void" and "The Lord’s Prayer", here presented as one song.
At this time guitarist P.T. Fenton and drummer Kenny Morris made up the quartet. Rumours that the band recorded a demo for EMI in June appear to be unfounded and, one month later, the group were performing with a new guitarist, John McKay, making his debut at Shad Thames, Butler’s Wharf, London, at an Andrew Logan/Derek Jarman party, his first appearance ‘proper’ was two days later at the Vortex on 11th July.
An excellent example of the group in these early stages can now be purchased officially thanks to Strange Fruit’s excellent "Peel Session" series. A second session is still only available on the popular "Love In A Void" bootleg, which also boasted three (presumably) Polydor recordings, "Love In A Void", "Carcass" and "Make Up To Break Up", the latter still unissued officially in any form.
The band were filmed for Granada’s "So It Goes", broadcast in November 1977, performing "Make Up To Break Up". They also appeared in Don Lett’s "The Punk Rock Movie", performing "Bad Shape" and "Carcass" during the Heartbreakers tour in July as well as backstage scenes at the Roxy in April. In fact Siouxsie and the Banshees were scheduled to appear on "The Roxy, London WC1" LP, issued in 1977, but while two or three songs (including "Captain Scarlet" and a version of T.Rex’s "20th Century Boy") were recorded, the band evidently didn’t like the results. It was to be another year before the first Siouxsie and the Banshees release appeared - and it was well worth the wait.
"The Scream" album was preceded by "Hong Kong Garden" (premiered on ‘Revolver’ in July) which, as well as taking the band straight into the Top 10 singles chart, has given rise to plenty of rare editions sought after by collectors. Promo copies, which featured beige injection-moulded labels, fetch at least £20, while the limited run of 10,000 boasting a gatefold sleeve are now valued at £18. One-sided 10" acetates must be worth around £50.
Increasingly popular with collectors are the foreign editions of the band’s single, which often come in stunning - or in some cases, bizarre - picture sleeves. A Japanese "Hong Kong Garden" featuring a cartoon of the band is a fine example though it carries a price tag of no less than £40. An Australian release sells for nearer £20, while Dutch and French picture sleeve copies are worth no more than £15. Some Spanish copies apparently came in a gatefold sleeve though, surprisingly, they only seem to sell for £12 - relatively cheap! On the home front, advertising posters for the single are well worth searching out for - already they attract offers of around £25.
Test pressing of "The Scream" fetch £15; a Utopia two-sided acetate is valued at £35, wile two one-sided US Artisan Sound Studio acetates are worth £75. Some import copies boasted the addition of "Hong Kong Garden".
While the follow-up 45, "The Staircase (Mystery)", failed to emulate the success of the debut, it nevertheless was more characteristic of the band’s sound, with its dark bassline, razor-edged guitar and precision drumming coated with the sort of female vocals one had previously only dreamed of. Dutch picture sleeve copies seem to attract the best prices of around £25; again Spanish copies are cheaper, valued at near £10.
"Playground Twist", surely one of the Banshees’ greatest moments, has given rise to few collector’s items, though during work on a second LP, "Join Hands", the band re-recorded a cut from "The Scream", "Metal Postcard", in German, which has given rise to some confusion amongst fans. Originally released in Germany, good sales on import prompted Polydor to give the song a full UK release - albeit with the same catalogue number. However, copies can be distinguished in several ways; the European edition came with a continental centre while the red label stated that the record Was ‘Made In West Germany’ and lists the title as "Mittageisen" lasting for ‘4.05’. It also bears a German copyright notice. UK pressings came with a solid centre while the silver label is marked ‘Made In England’. The song is titled "Mittageisen (Metal Postcard)", and no time is given.
Most of the confusion surrounds the sleeve. The UK edition (actually a double A-side) list both tracks on the front sleeve, omits the catalogue number, masks the portrait of Hitler with the record company logo and removes all the swastikas, bar one. Should you be able to compare both sleeves together, the German one is clearly printed on inferior paper, while the British sleeve is slightly glossy. All this is worth digesting because the original German release is valued at least twice as much as the UK edition. However, the UK version of the B-side, "Love In A Void", is a much clearer take, with the vocals more prominent in the mix.
Early copies of "Join Hands" can be distinguished by the addition of a blue sticker stating that it ‘contains their hit single "Playground Twist".' However, midway through a UK tour to promote the record, half of the band - drummer Morris and guitarist McKay - walked out during an autograph signing session in an Aberdeen record shop. Ironically, in a gesture of prankishness, they replaced "Join Hands" with the Slits’ "Cut" LP on the store’s record player, an album which broadcast the percussive attributes of Budgie. Within weeks, he had helped the band complete the tour, along with the support band’s guitarist Robert Smith (from, of course, the Cure), appeared with them on ‘BBC’s "Something Else", and by December, he was a fully fledged member. Copies of the "Join Hands" tour programme are highly collectable, selling for as much as £20. Posters for the album are valued at slightly more.
To prove that Siouxsie and the Banshees weren’t knocked off course by the defection, they bounced back in the new year with "Happy House", enlisting the services of Magazine’s John McGeoch as stand-in guitarist. With the help of producer Nigel Gray, the reconstituted Banshees helped secure the best chart position since "Hong Kong Garden". Belgian picture sleeve copies are among the most sought-after, fetching up to £25, closely followed by the Japanese, German and Italian releases.
Hot on its heels came the haunting "Christine". Original quantities carried a misprint on the B-side, stating incorrectly that "Eve White, Eve Black" was produced by the group and Nigel Gray. Later copies correctly indicate the only the band were involved in its production. While an acetate for "Christine" may be worth as much as £50, picture sleeve copies from Holland and Portugal can be found for as little as £8-£10.
The album that followed, aptly titled "Kaleidoscope", found the Banshees spinning into new musical territories with varying degrees of success; while containing some excellent songs, the record as a whole didn’t hang together well. Test pressings sell for £13.
As the months went on, the quartet began to think of itself as more of a permanent fixture and, by the end of 1980, had come up with another classic single. Co-written by the band, "Israel" may have sounded all-too familiar on initial hearings, but as the years have passed, it has taken on anthemic proportions at concerts. It has also become on of the most collectable foreign items, with the Italian 7" (featuring a ‘live’ picture sleeve) and 12" fetching around £35 apiece. German copies are fast-becoming as collectable, while the scarcity of the UK 12" release has meant the many collectors have picked up its French equivalent for around £8. Both featured a slightly extended A-side and a lengthy flip, "Red Over White", though not as long as the label incorrectly stated! £14 should secure a Mint copy for your collection.
The group promoted the single on "Something Else" in December, along with "Tenant" from the previous album, while a couple of months earlier, two cuts, "Paradise Place" and "Eve White, Eve Black", from their bill topping appearance at the Leeds Futurama festival, were broadcast on TV. March 1981 saw their appearance on the "Rock Goes To College" slot on BBC 2, airing selections form "Kaleidoscope", singles cuts and a fair number of new songs.
Two of these, "Spellbound" and "Arabian Knights", gave the band moderate hit singles. Again, Italian copies of the former seem to be highly desirable, fetching as much as £25 in their "Juju" sleeves. Scandinavian, French, Belgian and Dutch copies can all be found for less than £10. In addition to the two singles already on the album, early copies of the American issue also included a bonus "Israel". Proofs for this, and the following four albums, are considerable interest and sell for around the £40 mark.
As part of the promotion for "Juju", Siouxsie took to the Radio One airwaves for the first time sine spring 1979 when, on the weekly review show "Round Table", she let slip a couple of unutterable words and managed to wind Peter Powell up to near breaking point (they patched it up later, though). Her appearance on Richard Skinner’s show went without a hitch and he broadcast a session which included a reworking of "Red Over White", "Arabian Knights", "Supernatural Thing" and, in the words of Sioux, an even "Madder" version of "Head Cut", one of the highlights on "Juju".
The band’s biggest selling album thus far has, almost inevitably, been "Once Upon A Time - The Singles". Rumour has it that this was originally planned as "The Singles Album", featuring all the 7" sleeves on the front cover and possibly including a free 7" of unreleased material with initial copies. However, the group seem to know little about this, so it may well have been wishful thinking on some journalist’s part. When released in November 1981, it came with sleeve notes by Paul Morley and an inner lyric sleeve, while initial copies had the bonus of a colour print of Siouxsie. Amidst the band’s impressive run of hits was "Mirage", seen by many as a ‘lost’ single, tucked away on "The Scream".
"Once Upon A Time" was also issued as a video, differing only in that "Red Light" was included at the expense of "Mirage" and "Love In A Void". At £9.99, this is an essential purchase for video owners.
Having completed a US tour at the end of 1981, much of the following year was spent working on, and then promoting "A Kiss In The Dreamhouse". It was their first album with producer Mike Hedges who, aided by a string section, enriched the familiar Banshees sound, bringing out textures that had only previously been hinted at. Overseas picture sleeve copies of the album’s three singles seem to be in short supply although British copies too are fast becoming collectable. The first, "Fireworks", which preceded the LP, was initially issued in a gatefold lyric sleeve now valued at £5. It was followed by "Slowdive" and "Melt", neither of which sold in great quantities. Test pressing of the album sell for £12; programmes from the 1982 UK tour for £3.
Inside the record was a handout offering fans the opportunity to join ‘The File’, the official Siouxsie and the Banshees Fan Club, and those who took the decision to shell out £3.50 for a year’s membership soon recouped their investment. For, as an Xmas freebie, subscribers received a 7" single, complete with picture sleeve, which included two out-takes from "Nocturne", the band’s double live album, issued that November. Coupling "Head Cut" and the unissued-at-the-time "Running Town", this is now valued at between £35 and £40. The album, recorded at the Royal Albert Hall on 30th October and 1st November 1983, was greeted with mixed opinions by press and fans alike.
But for much of 1983, group member took some time off to pursue solo projects, Sioux and Budgie finding chart success with the Creatures, while Steve Severin teamed up with Robert Smith as the Glove. Smith reacquainted himself with the group during the 1982 tour when he stood in for an unwell John McGeoch. The guitarist [McGeoch] subsequently left, claiming later that "she likes to surround herself with a lot of sycophants." Smith stayed on until spring 1984 when being a Banshee as well as frontman for the Cure finally got the better of him.
Of the solo projects (all released through Wonderland, formed in March 1983 as the band’s own label within Polydor), the Creatures had the most success, leaving in their wake several collectibles. The first release was the "Wild Things" double-pack and this is now priced at £8; though it was "Right Now", as version of the jazz-tinged Mel Torme song, which gave them their biggest hit. The 12" single included two tracks unavailable elsewhere.
The Glove’s own brew of psuedo-psychedelia failed to attract as much attention from record buyers - although collectors now pursuing their releases should note that their flipsides were usually cuts not included on albums.
The lay-off obviously did the band some good, for when they reassembled, it was to record a version of the Beatles’ "Dear Prudence", an appropriate treatment which, along with Joe Cocker’s "With A Little Help From My Friends", was one of those rare moments when another artist actually adds something new to a Beatles song. Not surprisingly, the single reached No. 3, eclipsing "Hong Kong Garden" as the band’s most successful singe. The first 30,000 copies came in a green triple fold-out sleeve. Greek copies seem to command the highest prices among overseas releases, though US mono/stereo copies are worth a little less at £7.50. A 7" one-sided acetate of the single is worth £30, while US 10" acetates could fetch even more.
Despite this master-stroke, the band’s next step took them from the sublime to the ridiculous. Not content with releasing the disappointing "Hyaena" LP, the band embarked on a TV special for Channel 4 which stretched even the most devout fan’s patience; the highlight being a rare musical moment, "Circle". Early copies of the LP featured a relief sleeve.
The singles taken from "Hyaena" proved to be its only moments of inspiration, particularly "Dazzle" which is certain to grow in stature in the context of the band’s next (as yet unplanned) compilation. US 12" promo copies fetch £7.
One interesting collector’s item hailing from this period is the appearance of one of the LP cuts, "Belladonna", on the German "Debut" LP/magazine. While the track is identical to the album version, it is preceded by a spoken introduction by Siouxsie.
Just as "Hyaena" was about to be released, Robert Smith left the band and was quickly replace by ex-Clock DVA guitarist John ‘Valentine’ Carruthers. After completing US and UK tours, his first job in the studio was to replace Smith’s guitar lines for the forthcoming "The Thorn" 12"-only EP. Once again, the group brought in strings in the shape of the Chandos Players, who included Ginny Ball And Martin McCarrick. The EP featured new treatments of old material, harking right back to "Voices", the marvelous flip-side of their debut 45. none of the track’s disturbing qualities were lost; the versions of "Placebo Effect", "Red Over White and "Overground" were equally effective. "Voices" and "Overground" were coupled as a 7" promo (SHEDJ 8), which now sells for £4.
After a winter hiatus, the group re-emerged for a one-off concert at St. James’ Church, Piccadilly, in aid of anti-heroin charities, then made an unsuccessful start on a new album with producer Bob Ezrin. Starting afresh in Berlin with Hugh Jones, he, too, was dropped from the project, allegedly because of a lack of nerve when it came to mixing. So when the band returned to the UK for a 30-date tour in October, there was no album to promote. However, a single, "Cities In Dust", was issued that month, giving the group one of its best chart positions.
Certain chainstores took offence at the records centre label which featured an illustration taken from the "Pornographic Pompeii" book. The offending area was overprinted and sent out to those shops which feared for their customers’ moral health. Produced by the band with the aid of Steve Churchyard, the song originally intended to provide the B-side for "Party’s Fall", though the group couldn’t find a satisfactory mix of the latter. Instead, "Cities In Dust" was backed with "An Execution" and an instrumental, "Quarterdrawing Of The Dog".
The single has provided collectors with a few rarities to seek out. In the States, a promo 12" coupled a "US Remix" (3.56) with the LP version, housed in a custom sleeve with tour dates (throughout May and June). A 7" double-sided promo is worth £5 while and import cassingle fetches £6. The group made a cameo appearance miming the song in Richard Todd’s film, "Out Of Bounds".
During the tour, the band premiered material which would surface on the impending album, though it was more memorable for the sight of Siouxsie appearing with her leg in plaster after dislocating a kneecap at the Hammersmith Odeon. A year later, Capitol Radio broadcast "Arabian Knights", "Happy House", "Cities In Dust" and "Candyman" from the concert.
During the winter months, Churchyard and the group worked to complete the LP, which finally appeared in April 1986 as "Tinderbox". It was a triumphant return, form the opening bars of "Candyman" through to the desolate terrain of "Land’s End". The former, push on by a ferocious on-beat drum, was perhaps the most dynamic single issued by the group since "Playground Twist" but, like its progenitor, wasn’t rewarded with the success it deserved. In addition to the usual 7" and 12" releases, "Candyman" also came out as a double-pack, featuring "Umbrella" on a one-sided 7". Limited to 2,000, this is already valued at £6.
Probably the band’s most consistent album since "The Scream", "Tinderbox" was well worth the wait. Fans who queued in HMV on the first day of release could acquire an autographed copy which, if they wished to sell, could easily double their initial outlay. The compact disc boasted five extra cuts taken from the last two singles. Reawakened interest in the group meant two appearances on "The Tube"; first an interview and the showing of the "Candyman" video; then, weeks later, an appearance on the 100th edition performing "Candyman" and "92 Degrees". The band also recorded another session for John Peel.
"Who wants to be David Bowie when they graduate?", taunted Julie Burchill in her review of "The Scream" back in 1978. Well she must have derived some satisfaction when it was announced that the group’s next LP would consist entirely of cover versions, just like their old idol’s "Pin Ups" (or Bryan Ferry’s "These Foolish Things", for that matter). While the high points of "Through the Looking Glass" were generally the lesser known tracks like Kraftwerk’s "Hall Of Mirrors", and John Cale’s "Gun", much of it was dull and ordinary. Thankfully, though, it only scaled the depths once, with an abysmal version of "Strange Fruit".
Sensitive to the flak that awaited them, Steve Severin already circulated the disclaimer that the album was "part homage, part sacrilege" before its released. Siouxsie said that "as far back as ‘Dear Prudence’, we were considering putting together an EP of cover versions"; it’s only a pity they didn’t’ follow up the excursion taken in "The Thorn" EP instead.
Each successive album seemed to bring with it collectable promo items, and while the released of "Tinderbox" was accompanied by a 26-minute interview LP (WBMS 138) in the States, worth £25, "Looking Glass" was promoted by three 7" singles in a plastic wallet. Strictly limited to 500 copies, this already commands a similar price. Two once-sided Townhouse acetates would sell for around £85, South American promos at £20 and US promo cassettes of the album at £15. Mispressings coupling on side of the LP with Jimi Hendrix’s "War Heroes" are known to exist.
The singles also have their fair share of collectable editions. "This Wheel’s On Fire" was initially released as a double-pack, together with three new cuts, one of which was a version of Jonathan Richman’s "She Cracked", US 12" promos, containing the 4.04 7" version and 5.15 LP cut and complete with custom sleeve, sell for around £8. Early copies of "The Passenger" came with a poster sleeve; this time, US 12" promos featured three version of the same track, a 3.47 edited version, the 5.10 LP take and a "LLLLLocio-motion Mix" lasting 8.04. European picture sleeve copies generally sell for around £3-£5. An official promo video for the single would be worth £12.
In the same month that "The Passenger" was released, John Caruthers relinquished his job as guitarist, emphasising a point once made by Sioux that "we’re like ‘The Picture Of Dorian Gray’. We continue unblemished while the guitarists we discard bear all the scars." Bravely, John Klein from Specimen stepped into the hot seat, while the group took the unprecedented step of adding Martin McCarrick as a full-time member at the same time. Fresh from his work with Marc Almond, he had arranged the strings and played keyboards on the previous LP.
With this expanded line-up, Siouxsie and the Banshees recorded "Song From The Edge Of The World" - which was premiered at their 1986 WOMAD performance - and released it in the summer. In addition to the usual 7" and 12", it marked the band’s first official picture disc release. Also coming in cassette form, it was just pipped by the Strange Fruit release of the "Peel Session" in that form.
There have been several interview picture disc releases which increasingly clutter up record shops. There are at least four different 12" releases (including interviews from 1978 and 1981) and at least three 7"s. In addition to the "Once Upon A Time" video, "Nocturne" is also available in this format, featuring the band at the Royal Albert Hall. An abridged version has been broadcast on Channel 4.
Since the arrival of the new members, the band have made just one UK appearance - at the Finsbury Park supertent in July 1987 - though a full tour has now been announced for September. The long-awaited 45, "Peek.A.Boo", has just been issued, and hopefully an album will follow in late autumn.
After the aberration of "Through The Looking Glass", fans are expecting the group to deliver great things after the success of "Tinderbox" and the "Song From The Edge Of The World" single. Of course, it’s fashionable to liken the Banshees’ never-ending career to that of their predecessors like ELP and Yes in the Seventies. Yet while many commentators have noticed a swing back to the music of that period, Siouxsie and the Banshees continue to rework the formula which did much to set themselves apart form the traditional idea of a rock band back in 1977. They may now play to ‘punters’ rather than fellow punks, their amateur beginnings have now given way to a highly lucrative career, but the group are still delivering some of the finest music around today - which is more than can be said for their contemporaries.
Mark Paytress 08/88