|PUNK - EXTRACT|
was already becoming a 'face', so I set out on a mission to help her
become a significant artist, little knowing how difficult it would be
for record companies to accept a strong female character. Although
Siouxsie's performance at the 100 Club Punk Festival in 1976.
After that they toured relentlessly, building up a large fan base and
learning to play in the process. Kenny Morris took over the Mo
Tucker-style drumming from Sid (Vicious) and, for a short period, Peter
Fenton was the guitarist, but was replaced by the darker John
McKay. Until they were signed, the group didn't have any
equipment, so they borrowed drum kits, amps, etc. from support
acts. During that farcical formative period, Siouxsie became a
formidable presence on stage, showing no fear in facing up to her
fucking ferocious audiences. In fact, as the venues got bigger, it
became easier for her, as she was further away from the flying bottles
and gob. Because Siouxsie looked so stunning there was naturally a
lot of interest from the press, and the group matured in the media
spotlight. Siouxsie's face launched a thousand looks as fans of
the Ice Queen, as she was dubbed in Sounds magazine, started
copying her style. In rock stakes, she also became the
intimidating English brunette antidote to New Yorker Debbie Harry's
pretty, blonde, poptastic punk princess.
We had worked almost non-stop for 18 months up and down the motorway. We played shit clubs, usually borrowing equipment from the support band because we never had any equipment of our own. Nils wanted to build up a big myth. He nurtured us, as did Leee Childers, the Heartbreakers' manager. The Heartbreakers were brilliant; they gave us money, lent us equipment and gave us studio time.
I was extremely passionate about the group, never doubting that they would be huge, and I looked upon their development as a long-term project. At times my obsession with excellence drove the group completely nuts but, for a long period, the two important members of the foursome, namely Siouxsie and Steve (Severin), accepted my neurotic behaviour as par for the course (for which I am eternally grateful). However, defying everyone's advice to the contrary, and denying all my instincts for self-preservation, I flew a little too close to the Ice Queen, and my wings were badly frost-bitten.
Nils always had his eyes set on a bigger deal, a bigger label. He knew you needed real commitments from a label with decent money.
If a record company did offer a pathetic deal, as Decca did, I turned it down. Many of the punk acts around took whatever was offered. I' on the other hand, refused to accept crumbs off the table for an act I knew would add a significant chapter to the cultural story, and I determined to use our greatest disadvantage to great advantage. Instead of being embarrassed about the lack of interest from labels, I played up the fact that record companies were overlooking one of the biggest live acts in the country. This made a newsworthy story for the music papers, who came out in support of the group, and further increased interest from punters. In the eyes of their fans, Siouxsie and the Banshees were the last outlaws.
We sold out the Roundhouse without having put a single record out, not even a couple of John Peel sessions. We had a large group of fans. They respected us because we were right there at the beginning. Also, the music was different. Siouxsie was the first sexy woman in British punk, and half the audience would be Siouxsie clones. By 1978 there were all kinds of second-division bands, but the Pistols were off to America and the Clash toured Europe. Of course you could see the Stranglers anywhere, but they were the Stranglers. So if you wanted to see a premier league punk band, you could see the Banshees at the Roundhouse.
All good things come to an end, and in June 1977 Polydor capitulated and signed Siouxsie and the Banshees. Since Siouxsie, Steve and I shared a common vision, I co-produced the group's first single, 'Hong Kong Garden', with the then-unknown and untested Steve Lillywhite (Polydor had a shit fit). This was a perverse love song to a Chinese take-away. It was a delightful piece of nonsense designed specifically for chart success that became a Top 10 hit when it was released in September 1978. Silencing the non-believers and proving to Polydor that we knew our audience, we were given free rein to do whatever we wanted. Sales of the single had, after all, recouped the whole £20,000 advance. During my tenure as manager, we were never in debt for more than a few months at the beginning of each new option to Polydor because every new single would put us back in the black, which meant they had no leverage. Despite Polydor's misgivings, we even left the hit single off the debut album, The Scream, which was released to universal critical acclaim. It went on to become a ground-breaking hit record (Polydor heaved a sigh of relief). We then, in effect, treated the major record company like an indie label. We were totally focused and I was able to build up an autonomous operation in which we had our own agent for live shows, working alongside me in my office. Since the group spent most of their time working, they had full-time roadies and a minder/driver. Everything went back into Siouxsie and the Banshees in the form of wages for staff and equipment, rather than flats, houses or cars. These methods of operation enabled the Banshees to develop, unhindered, a unique sound, stage and media presence, away from the influence of record companies, stylists or any other outsiders. They rapidly evolved into a major musical force, way beyond the stereotypical contrivances of many of their punk contemporaries. Indeed, they invented a whole new style - Goth.