|THE SCREAM - MAGAZINE COVERS|
|THE SCREAM - INTERVIEWS/ARTICLES|
|TOP POPS 1978|
|RECORD MIRROR 05/08/78|
|MELODY MAKER 21/10/78|
|RECORD MIRROR 09/12/78|
gimme shock treatment
Outrage is the game, Siouxsie and the Banshees is the name
"I've tried. I've really tried. But I can't cope with fucking noise." (Sue Catwoman)
And the name of the band is... Siouxsie Sioux (vocals) Steven Deville (bass) P.T. Fenton (guitar) Kenny (drums). Not since the coming of the Sex Pistols has a band incurred such hatred as Siouxsie and the Banshees. When this lot play a gig, which isn't too often, it's like throwing a party in a graveyard.
"I've seen more action in a geriatrics ward", Siouxsie Sioux was once heard to protest as an audience of stuffed prunes slits its eyes and waited for the guitars to turn into ME262's and World War III to erupt from the drum kit. Hey, maybe if it had they would have got off!
Right from the beginning there was something beautifully perverse about the Banshees. It wasn't the ingenious name, it wasn't that Billy Idol once played guitar for them, or even that the unique Sid Vicious was their drummer at the infamous 100 Club festival. No, it was their modus operandi which set them light years apart from the one chord wonders.
"That 100 Club gig/the intention was to play one number until they threw us off the stage/but they never did/we had to end it." Aftermath: Siouxsie sounded like a cat being castrated! A song based around the Lord's Prayer? A challenge back when punk was punk and not an embarrassing label, and nobody rose to the occasion. So will you *ever* get it up?
One year on it's the Nazi vibe that is holding back the potential hordes: Siouxsie and the Banshees reckon Belsen was a gas! It's more akin to Visconti's "The Damned" than the Third Reich, but feed the flames and you'll get a blaze: "I love getting people's backs up. It's like laughing at spastics..." (Siouxsie) "What's 'nihilism'?" (Steve)
Now, I wouldn't waste yours and my time if I didn't think Siouxsie and the Banshees' music was red hot. When you've been weaned on the Stooges' "Sister Ray" and "Horses," you don't bust a gut for nothing--no matter how orgasmic the lead singer's looks are.
There is no picture sleeve single to recommend because, as of speaking, no record company will touch Siouxsie and the Banshees with a barge pole. They call the band "fascists" (well, it's one better than horror at four letter words on T.V. during tea time). The band does not even possess it's own equipment, all it does have is one very devoted soul in manager Nils. He arranged the session to record a demo tape, which I begged to be allowed to attend.
I tell you man, if the Banshees curled up and died tomorrow, they would have fulfilled their promise twice over with the bootleg "Love In A Void." Velvet Underground guitar/icy intonations: "Love in a void/It's so numb/Avoid in love/It's so dumb."
Then there is "Make-up To Break Up" for all you girls freaking out because you've stuck your brush stick mascara slap bang in your eyeball again: "Blood pouring from my eyes...my face is cracking up/my face is cracking up." But if sickness is your bag (and if you truly profess to love Lou Reed and to go "down with the pretty mus-ick," it should be) then, "Be a car crash... be limblessly in love/be limblessly in love" for "Carcass." Yeah, Johnny said it's something you feel for a cat or a dog. Captain Scarlett--now *he's* made out of steel.
So where *are* the Banshees coming from when Siouxsie shoots that pretty arm in the air? Well, for a band whose songs are like a nervous breakdown they are a remarkably cheerful lot, but then they do list Vincent Price and cheapo horror stories as a major influence (the Banshees on the subject of euthanasia: "It's awful. You can't get on the bus for 'em..." (Faaabulous!) They also admit their debt to Bowie. "People said we were negative--thankfully 'Low/The Idiot' did not escape *everyone* in the rush for free Clash singles."
"I'm your toy/your 20th Century boy" (20th Century Boy.) It's not poison. It won't harm you (yet). Siouxsie and the Banshees!
Jane Suck 25/06/77
The Banshees are SIOUXSIE (VOICE).
STEVE Havoc/Spunka/Deville (Delete where appropriate. I forgot to
ask him for his latest name) (BASS). JOHN MCKAY (GUITAR).
VIRGINIA WADE lookalike, KENNNETH MORRIS (DRUM KIT). They are
managed by Nils who, as one paper said - "learnt his trade off
MALCOLM McCLAREN" whatever that means. I decided to start the
interview with a pertinent question (what else?).
SW: Do you think record companies are being scared off by this Fascist image you've picked up?
STEVE: No... I don't think that's anything to do with it - part of the reason is that we're just not like everyone else - I don't think they understand what were doing.
KENI: There's too many good healthy musicians around who've been playing for a while and they decide to get a band together - give themselves the right T-shirts - the right spiky hair-cuts, call themselves 'NEW WAVE', only a few months ago they were playing R & B or PUB ROCK.
STEVE: Like 999 or the VIBRATORS.
SW: But that seems to be what the kids want.
KENI: You means that's what the record companies sell them and make them think they want.
SW: Yeah that's true - but I'm still not convinced - even record companies can't sell Fascism (thinks or can they?) so since you've been labelled as Fascists or Nazis - they're probably a bit wary.
KENI: People who think we're Fascists are stupid for believing the press - Nazi salutes and swastikas are just gestures - very emotive symbols - but they're not intended to be Fascist - it's the intention behind the symbols themselves - it's important that the kids realise that a swastika is just a device used in our case to shock - in the case of the Nazis it was used for political ends - the danger lies in people not understanding the reasons why we're doing these things.
I asked Siouxsie if she still hoped to shock people.
"We just like to get people's backs up - we've got a morbid sense of humour - I think that everyone finds sick things funny if they're honest about it - when I was young the only books I used to read were those cheap horror paperbacks - the ones by Herbert Van Thal - my favourite movies are Hammer films - especially ones with Vincent Price - the way he acts is so corny and obvious - but still he's amazingly effective - you should never be afraid to be corny".
They like cheap horror movies so much that they even mention one in one of their songs.
"Now comes the break-up from the make-up
"Devil's Rain was a cheapo cash in movie on the same lines as the Exorcist etc; an actress called Ida Lupino (beautiful name) was in it - Ernest Borgnine was the Devil - William Shatner the guy from Star Trek was the hero. The film was about this rain that melted people - their faces went like putty and if you squeezed their eyeballs all pus came oozing out."
You like to think of yourselves as a band as opposed to a singer plus backing don't you?
"Some people wanted to take Siouxsie and put her in front of some nice competent session-men - it was obviously a move designed to tone it all down and make it less of a threat - but none of us were having any" Steve emphasises. "On her own Siouxsie wouldn't present so much of a threat but because she's a girl in a band, they get scared and don't want to know."
Siouxsie joins in: "I don't want to appear as some kind of women's libber 'cos I'm not, but neither am I someone who lets herself be pushed around and manipulated - I've got a mind of my own."
SW: Right! Change of subject - let's talk about other bands.
STEVE: You know - there's round about seventy new wave bands at the moment and out of them there's only four that are any good - out of the recent bands to come through the only ones we like are the ANTS.
"I like the WORST" says Kenny "I've never seen 'em, but I like them already. Their drummer's got a real Chad Valley kit."
Who's your favourite drummer then Kenny?
"Er Palmolive, Maureen Tucker, Sid Vicious and the Glitter band - I just like deep booming notes - just monotony - most PUNK drummers don't use their kits at all, they just smash away at the snare and hi-hat... most of 'em are twice my size, but I bet I work twice as hard - all these big drummers are is a waste of meat."
The band does a song about meat doesn't it?
SIOUXSIE: "Yeah Carcass - it's about a butcher's assistant who can't get girls and so he falls in love with a lump of meat on the slab and so that he can be like the object of his affection - he cuts off his own arms and legs."
Ah hold on! I say (thinking I've deduced a flaw in their logic), How can he cut off all his arms and legs - it would be really difficult for him to cut off his last arm - wouldn't it?
"Not at all", comes the reply "he just leans his shoulder on the Bacon Slicer!"
You're not everyone's idea of a "good time band" are you?
Kenny answers: "Yeah people have mentioned to us that we're very unapproachable - cold, aloof - the other night at the VORTEX when Siouxsie told the audience to stop acting like typical punks and stop spitting - some kid at the front yelled out 'FUNSPOILER!' - can you believe that, funspoiler. Thing is: we only appear cold and distant because we're so pissed off..."
"And we don't mix with the lower classes" adds Siouxsie in mock aristocratic tones, "We only smile on stage if something goes wrong - we enjoy ourselves - but we're still quite serious about what were doing - also we don't believe in giving an audience what it wants - we won't grant them that much intelligence - when they kept asking for Captain Scarlet the other night we didn't do it - we believe in pleasing ourselves at all times - really though we're the easiest band to get along with.
SW: A nicer bunch of people I haven't met! Everyone laughs (ha ha ha ha).
Suddenly Nils the manager chimes in and pointing to me says "Hey 'e looks like Malcolm - yes very similar features - maybe you're one of his relations - he's got loads of relatives - Marjore Proops, David Jacobs - (more laughing ha ha ha).
Don't blame me if you get into trouble for this - I always print gossip - famous people don't like having skeletons dragged out of their cupboards!
"No, you see we're not a part of that - it doesn't matter what we say about people anymore - so many people hate us a few more won't do any harm."
I asked then how they viewed the future - Kenny told me. "At the moment we've still got no contract - we get to do very few rehearsals - so we don't get much opportunity to write new songs - whereas we want to be working out new stuff all the time. All I can do is channel all the hatred and frustration into playing drums - work off the aggression on the kit - it's very disheartening - but I suppose it's just a matter of time."
Well if you're really a 'good, honest band' you'll win through eventually, I say offering well meant consolation.
"How come?" says Nils
Er... well, you'll have God on your side (ha ha).
"No chance" Nils replies with a mischievous grin. "Malcolm works for another band".
Steve Walsh 10/77
Siouxsie Sioux who R U?
FACT: Siouxsie & The Banshees are certified members of the advance guard of the New Wave - their first gig was at the 100 Club's legendary Punk Fest a year ago.
FACT: Siouxsie & The Banshees hold the house attendance record at the Vortex on the club's second night
FACT: Siouxsie & The Banshees have not been offered any recording deals.
POSTULATE: Who are these people? Stepping razors or what? They must be dangerous... ("EMI said they'd take us on if they could control our lyrics." - Steve Banshee)
"They're so ignorant. Look at all these arseholes that are signed up, that's proof. I consider it a compliment in a way, but - I just don't know why..." - Siouxsie Sioux.
ANYONE who reads the rock press - and that means you, fellow fan - can come up with a couple of reasons why Siouxsie & The Banshees are the last interesting unsigned band. When it comes to Bad Press, this outfit get the Duke Of Edinburgh Award. Just too many quotable quotes for your own good, eh, Banshees?
"I thought of the name Siouxsie & The Banshees when I knew we were going to play the 100 Club. I just wanted a name that sounded inoffensive but would get people confused." - Siouxsie
1 bass guitar, non-functioning
"We'll do it on our own terms. We're not gonna water down things to make it acceptable to the people who sit behind desks. It does matter, because we want to get across to a lot of people. But we'll continue to such a degree that no-one can ignore us. For a band that hasn't been signed we've had an incredible amount of publicity. That's why we're doing this interview, to get across..."
"This band must not be encouraged" - The Man from the MM.
I didn't approve of Siouxsie Sioux. Like a showroom dummy, I believed what I read in the papers - yes, that means SOUNDS. Flash back to the montage of headlines my sub-conscious had filed under Siouxsie & The Banshees: Belsen is a gas, laughing at cripples.
Two things converted me:
2) Talking to Siouxsie.
The taxi drive to Chislehurst, chez Sioux, was uneventful. I was eager to see the home of the suburban saboteur - would I be occupying the seat of the cab back as a lampshade? With a name like Goldman, you can't be too careful.
Pond, complete with ducks, deep in the heart of little box land. Siouxsie's street, I discover, is a step up - the semi's are built in different styles. Siouxsie's berthed in a desirable facsimile of a 30's ocean liner, curved so you can almost see the chrome-from-chrome.
The interiors funeral-parlour mauve, claustrophobic prints pull the walls in and over your head. But there's a fire next to the colour telly, and Steve and Siouxsie watching the soaps, in a perverse echo of Happy Families.
Siouxsie is very obviously intelligent. Too intelligent and articulate for a girly-girly-girl. At 20, she's got the assertiveness I still grasp for at 25. One look into her level, inquiring brown eyes is all it takes to know she's as likely to take shit as I am to flog my typewriter for a new frock. Maybe that's why she hasn't got a record deal.
On the sideboard, there's an illuminated scroll in a frame. Some guff copied from a New England church tomb or suchlike - it kicks off with "Go quietly in this place," and continues to preach the virtues of modestly, tolerance, passivity.
"My aunt gave me that," Siouxsie comments cheerily. "It hasn't worked."
Siouxsie says she hates labels. She nevertheless liked being called the leading woman of the cold wave in last weeks SOUNDS. She feels it fits.
When Siouxsie was a little girl, she wanted to be a surgeon. Or a barmaid.
"I could never be a doctor in the sense of helping people. I could never be a nurse, helping old people with bedpans and all that shit. I just don't want to help people."
"I don't like a lot of people. I think everyone should help themselves."
Self-sufficiency. Is that what they teach Girl Guides? I never made it into the Brownies, so I wouldn't know. If Siouxsie had her way, they'd be no Welfare State. What would happen to dole-queue rock with no dole?
"I've just got a low tolerance of people that can't help themselves." Siouxsie looks as if she feels mistress of her own destiny. The tartan lumberjack shirt, the man's tapered slacks, are geared to functional efficiency, they're workers clothes. Even the fluffy red Marks & Sparks mules fit the image - it feels like the Ice Age has landed this afternoon. Bondage trousers and gold stilettos would indicate a lunkhead punk head.
"I wear shorts on stage quite a lot, mainly to be able to move around. I move to the music, the music is the most important thing. That's what makes me look that way, it's very cold and blue."
That way. Siouxsie onstage, stripped for ease of movement, plus elemental eroticism, is half gymnast, half warrior. I'd always assumed she'd adopted the name Siouxsie Sioux for the Red Indian fighter resonance's. She says she wishes she'd thought of that. I say that's irrelevant - even if she didn't consciously ally herself to that association, she was drawn to the name because on some level, she knows what it means to be a Sioux warrior.
And that's worrying. Not to Siouxsie, but to the media, and the execs.
"The way we started off, we really didn't want to explain anything. We repeat ourselves so much in interviews, but you've got to do that. Really I don't give a damn, but I want the band to last."
Siouxsie and Steve Banshee are in perfect accord, when it comes to describing their music. Cold, machine-like, and passionate at the same time.
Siouxsie: "I'd like to think the vocals rely a lot on sound rather than tune. Nobody in the band is into melody, thank God..." Watching Siouxsie & The Banshees perform is chilling and intense/off-putting depending. Siouxsie strutting around the stage, confronting/compelling the audience, belting out the lyrics like machine-guns rattling through strips of bullets.
Have you heard the one about the unloved butcher's assistant who feel in love with the carcasses he handled every day? He wound up chopping off his arms and legs and skewering himself on a meat hook beside his loved ones - "limblessly in love", the chorus cracks out in a relentless screaming monotone. An alluring line, even if you can't hear the rest of the words.
My favourite's 'Suburban Relapse': "I'm sorry that I hit you but my string snapped/I'm sorry I disturbed you while you cat-napped/but whilst finishing a chore/I asked myself what for?/I had a relapse, a suburban relapse, while washing up the dishes... my memory gets hazy, I think I must be crazy..."
All Siouxsie's songs are drawn from life. She collects clippings from The Sun for inspiration: "You always find people doing the weirdest things, like this bloke who put his leg on the railway line because he wanted to claim more as a war hero. And the woman who wheeled around a chopped up body in a pram. It's all there, in The Sun every day."
Siouxsie & The Banshees sound like a 21st century industrial plant; people that find it dreary or oppressive are romantics reacting against the machine age. Listen to the cold wave roar from the 70's into the 80's.
"Maybe it's because there's a new Ice Age coming in," says Siouxsie.
Yes, Siouxsie did say all those things. And she doesn't say anything she doesn't mean. But speaking as the offspring of German Jewish refugees from the Nazis, with a paranoia quotient in the 80's and likely to flare up at any moment, I still think they're on my side of the fence (I think.) Here's the scam. I'm sitting in an armchair flicking through the exercise book with Steve's lyrics handwritten inside. I'm reading 'Love In A Void'. I read the line 'Too many jews for my liking', followed by a string of similarly derogatory remarks aimed at various sectors of the community (journalists came next, actually).
So nu? One minute you're telling me that you're not Nazis (they dropped the one-arm salute when people told 'em it smacked of that Wehrmacht vive, they dropped the swastikas because people weren't latching on to it the way they'd intended - swastikas as ancient druid symbol, Lenny Bruce-style removal of taboo by exposing rotting myth to the sunlight, etcetera) and the next minute I'm reading this?
Steve: "That's gonna be changed when we think of something to put in, but it was never meant to be anti-Semitic."
Siouxsie: " 'Too many jews' means, like, too many fat businessmen. That line was stupid anyway. We knew what we meant, but..." In Steve's explanatory notes to 'Mirage' he comments that he's confused about the full meaning of the song, and the song expresses that confusion.
Siouxsie: " 'Mirage' is about 'the image is no images, it's not what it seems' It's about people seeing us and taking what we do superficially." But what else can you expect when you've only examined your work superficially?
"I'm learning to be precise when it comes down to politics, race, religion. I realise all that now. I've been reading books, researching my facts, and there's more I should read. I've never been one to mince words, and it's always got me into trouble.
"Also I've got a warped sense of humour. I suppose it's bad, but it's not meant to offend. It's like laughing when someone falls over in the street, or in the early bit of a disaster movie. Most people stop at a certain point, when it's not funny. I'm sure they'd all like to laugh, but they don't think it's proper." I don't agree with you there. I reckon people stop laughing because it's painfully close to home, in a there-but-for-the-grace-of-god way.
"I just do. Even when my dad died. I just laughed. That was my reaction. I felt completely unmoved."
Presumably you never felt very close to him.
"I suppose I'm a very cold person as well. The fact that I reject anything communal... I've been in people's families where their mum says 'what do you want for tea, what do you want for dinner'. I've always got my own food in this house. I've had my own door key since I was about seven, just let myself in from day nursery or school or whatever. It may seem like a cosy atmosphere, but we're all separate people with quite separate lives, not like a family at all. My mum's acutely schizophrenic, paranoid. She gets so angry about trivial things, thinks they're directed against her. I don't want this put in if it's gonna be like - poor old Siouxsie. I hate all this business about the Clash living in slums. I know they're trying to win pity, and it goes against them."
Whether Siouxsie's interpretation is correct or not, she seeks no pity as she describes her recent calamities. Starting off with the brush with the law reported in recent issues of SOUNDS, which turns out to be a bona fide horrorshow/miscarriage of justice. The precise details of how Siouxsie was hauled off to the cop shop while waiting for a cab outside the Rainbow after a Heartbreakers gig are disturbing to say the least.
She wasn't allowed her statuary phone call at the police station, she was hauled out in the rain at 4.00 a. m. with no shoes on - they'd been seized as lethal weapons - she had to endure threats, dirty jokes, and policemen sitting on her head ("They're really fat these policemen,") Her case was put forward when her manager Nils had been told that it would actually be delayed to allow time for her solicitor to get to the court. The £25.00 fine was the least of it.
She appears to take all abuse in her stride. Except, "I was really insulted when the NME said I moved like a corroded Blondie. Just because I'm a girl they have to compare me with another girl, who's doing something now. I can't have any respect for criticisms like that."
Understandable. The only conceivable point of comparison between Siouxsie and Blondie is that they're two penis-less creatures making music on the same planet at the same time. Blondie deserves her own place in contemporary music - lively pop has to be there for threatening, dangerous music to exist as threatening, dangerous music. If Debbie and Siouxsie were to perform side by side on the same stage, Blondie's pocket Venus charm and kittenish karate kicks would be a sweet, milky foil for Siouxsie's power-driven mobility. Siouxsie crouched on her haunches at the edge of the stage taunts the audience; Blondie woes them. I know I find Siouxsie more exciting.
And the only reason for extending the spectacularly dumb comparison is: the fact that serious rock writers can still compare two musicians because they're the same sex (would you compare Perry Como to Joe Strummer? Why not - they're both men aren't they?) underlines the fact that this country has a long way to go before women musicians will be regarded as musicians.
"I know that people still come to see us because there's a woman fronting the band. But I think I put them off with the way I behave."
The Banshees don't believe in pandering to an audience anyway.
"So many bands want to be liked by the audience, they want to be the same as the audience. That's so false. The first time we went onstage at the 100 Club, the idea was to annoy and bore people so much they'd chuck us off, but we got bored before they did... I really enjoyed it."
Even before Siouxsie's life was changed by seeing the Pistols at an Art College, before she became a member of the Bromley Contingent (the original clan of Pistols fans) trekking about the country, even to Paris, for a shot of punk energy, she'd wanted to perform.
"I was holding back because I was put off by every other girl that was trying to get into the music business. They were all manipulated by men, singing pretty songs. So I just waited for something to happen. And it did. Just at the right time."
The Pistols impact, came after Siouxsie (16) had attended a series of grisly auditions picked out of small ads. Siouxsie would be told to sing 'Walk On The Water' for a bunch of geeks who saw a woman singer as a novelty item ("that was off-putting"), must have been like the first breath of air when you're let out of prison.
"It'll be great when people realise that a woman musician isn't a miracle, isn't anything to laugh at either. Still, a lot of women being put down has to do with women being stupid themselves, believing everything they're told. But rebellion's starting to grow."
Do you see yourself as leader of the rebellion?
"I don't see myself as any Joan Of Arc or anything, but it would be great if other women would follow in my footsteps. I think what The Slits are doing is just great."
It can be lonely being in the vanguard of a movement. But Siouxsie's temperamentally suited - she enjoys being on her own, and as far as I can make out, she relates more closely to her cats Cookie and Crystal than to almost anything on two legs.
"They're soppy names, I know, but I called them that years ago. I'm more affectionate with them than I am with people. They're so useful for talking to. I'm in love with cat's faces, their noses. I like their temperament, because they don't give a shit about anyone. It sounds soppy, but we really communicate."
Vivien Goldman 03/12/77
Siouxsie is nicked at London gig
JOHNNY THUNDERS and the Heartbreakers' major London gig at the Rainbow last Thursday was marred by heavy-handed officials, both during and after the gig. The band's set went smoothly enough, though members of the audience had cause to complain about the over-zealous attitude of the security men.
But after the show, three members of other bands - Siouxsie and drummer Kenny Morris (both of the Banshees) and Pablo LaBritain (999 drummer) - were arrested, detained overnight at Holloway Road Police Station, and subsequently fined for obstruction.
The Banshees had earlier supported the Heartbreakers at the Rainbow, and eye-witness reports suggest that - after the incident leading the arrests - they were treated very brusquely by the police. It's alleged that Siouxsie was made to walk barefoot down the street in the rain, and Morris had his head banged against the side of the police van. After a night in the cells, the three musicians were each fined £20 - and as LaBritain did not have the money with him, he was further detained until the fine was paid.
Derek Johnson 29/10/77
No Siouxsie Queue?
It's easy to get a recording contract these days, innit? I mean, all you have to do is cop the right punk/power pop/Jah image, learn a couple of chords and whammo, you'll have an eighty five million dollar advance and be headlining at the Hammersmith Odeon. That certainly seems to be what happens to some bands. Some aren't quite so lucky however.
Siouxsie and the Banshees frinstance. Every week at our editorial meeting, up goes the loud cry "Why haven't the Banshees got a deal yet?" Ignoring the cynical ripostes of "Because they're no good, that's why", we questioned their manager, Nils Stevenson, about this mystifying state of affairs.
After all, they've been layered with torrents of praise from the press, including a front cover on Sounds and, if you want to see them at one of their infrequent gigs in London, you'll have to queue right round the block with the other fifty thousand hopeful fans. It's painfully obvious that there's a crowd out there just waiting to lap up some Banshees vinyl - indeed Derek Jarman tried very hard to get them into Jubilee for that very reason - and yet there's no action. How come?
Leaving aside Nils' more paranoid theories about record company conspiracies (then again, even paranoids have real enemies), there certainly seems a marked lack of enthusiasm on the part of said companies. Not that the Banshees haven't tried.
First of all was Anchor. A long while back this one, about the same time as Anchor signed the Adverts. The Banshees were on the point of signing when Anchor decided they "weren't rock and roll enough".
Then came EMI. Again they were on the point of signing with EMI exec John Darnley apparently being very keen on the idea. At the last minute he had back out on orders from above saying merely: "We've had second thoughts."
RCA flirted with the idea of adding the Banshees to their roster then changed their minds because "they're not compatible with our other acts". At the time they rejected the Banshees, RCA were negotiating with Gloria Mundi. Nils: "Gloria Mundi were drawing twenty at the Vortex. We were drawing 900 at the Croydon Greyhound".
Chrysalis were also interested but they too changed their minds. Their A&R man Chris Briggs is reported to have said "We know you'll sell records but no-one here likes them".
A&R man at Atlantic Dave Dee apparently rejected them on the grounds that "punk's finished". Nils: "He didn't even know it had started. He turned the Pistols down".
Negotiations with CBS never got further than Nils forcing their A&R men to buy him drinks and mistaking a top CBS person for a Soho Square cleaner.
Arista wouldn't even come to see the band because they didn't like the name and Decca only offered them 5% royalties and a £2000 advance (believe us that is insulting).
Still surprised by these difficulties with record companies, Nils wondered aloud:
"We thought record companies were there to supply a demand. We've been proved wrong. We draw more than any other unsigned band and more than 90% of the signed ones. But we've got this far and we're not giving up. For the first nine months we had no gear at all. We had to borrow it off our support acts. We'd tell them the truck with our gear in had broken down in a town fifty miles away. We even played Holland and Paris without any gear.
"When we were on the front page of Sounds all we had was one guitar and two drumsticks. And, even though we draw big crowds we still get trouble with promoters. We were going to headline at the Lyceum when Harvey Goldsmith who was promoting it pulled out. We were told "The Banshees attitude is old-fashioned. That was last year's thing. That kind of no-compromise stance died out when the Pistols split." And then Paul Lowesby (who works with Goldsmith) told us that the Banshees have no credibility."
To prove their point to any interested A&R men the Banshees are playing Alexandra Palace in London this Thursday, March 16 with the Reggae Regulars and the Unwanted supporting and are currently working on a prospective tour of the States in May.
Hey, A&R men, you got cloth ears or something? Why don't you go along and sign up the Banshees so we can listen to something other than bootleg tapes of the stuff Siouxsie and the lads did for the John Peel show?
Pete Silverton 1977
& the Banshees, Polydor recording artists of eight days’ standing,
are clustered around a small table in the corner of a North London kebab
house. It is Saturday evening and most of the band have just spent their
first day in Highbury’s Pathway studio at the expense of the record
In two hours this afternoon, they’ve bashed down demos of three songs: "Metal Postcard", the one dedicated to Anti-Nazi propagandist John Heartfield, "Switch" and "Staircase", the latter two being just a couple of the host of new numbers the band have yet to debut live.
Siouxsie Sioux (voice), Steven Severin (bass), Kenny Morris (drums) and John McKay (guitar) have been together now for about a year.
Following the Banshees’ 100 Club debut in September 1976 with Sid Vicious on drums, Siouxsie and Steve (then surnamed Havoc) spent six months re-forming and rehearsing the band with guitarist P.P. Barnum and drummer Morris who, before joining the band, had sat in with Flowers Of Romance, the band fronted by Vicious before he went on to other things.
They were to have supported The Sex Pistols (and The Ramones, as it was then) on the original billing of the Anarchy tour, but failed to get things together in time. A fifth member, violinist Simone, left the band before they finally played their second gig, supporting The Slits at the Roxy club last Spring. McKay joined later last year, following Barnum’s departure.
"The 100 Club thing was such a good beginning," says Siouxsie softly but determinedly. "To go on when we hadn’t worked out a set, or how to play, or timing... just to get up and get the most out of the instruments without being restricted to certain chords and certain bars and God knows what else.
"It was very spontaneous from the beginning, but from the moment we were on the stage it was very serious. Since then we’ve been able to channel our ideas." So what do you think people should know about you now?
"Mainly that we’re putting across what we really feel strongly about. It’s not a novelty, and it’s not political in the sense that most people take politics. It’s just life." It certainly is not Nazism either, a point which most recent articles on the band have pursued to painstaking lengths. Nevertheless, the old fascist image was undoubtedly one of the factors in keeping record company interest to a minimum in the early days of the Banshees.
Or was all the "oh-isn’t-it-obscene-no-one-will-sign-them!" hoopla really justified? New rumours have it that the delay in the Banshees landing a four-year contract was merely due to manager Nils Stevenson holding out to get the most lucrative financial deal possible...
And just how much is that deal worth to the band?
Over to you, Sue.
"Yeah, we were holding out to a certain extent," she admits. "But just to get the right deal, the right control. No recording company would sign the band for what we wanted. If it’s our material, we want to have control over what is put out, how it is put out... the packaging and God knows what else."
Examples flow forth of record companies who were prepared to take them on - IF they could change the name of the band, IF they could censor the lyrics, IF they could put session musicians behind Siouxsie...
"At one stage it got very bad," she continues. "We were angry more than anything else. It made us more determined to hold out. It led to some ridiculous situations for us - like not being able to go out because we couldn’t afford the train fare, humping our own gear to gigs."
So the Polydor contract is virtually the one the band want. Complete artistic control... "On paper," murmurs Steve cagily.
"It’s early days yet. The thing to do is get inside a major company and prove your ideals there. It’s no good in romanticising about being an underground band."
All the necessary artwork and advertising will be the band’s own responsibility, and every record release, including the forthcoming single, will have the full lyrics printed on the sleeve. The band also hope to produce themselves, although they are enlisting the services of a leading American soul engineer for an album.
Oh, and that massive advance? The band remain dogmatically tight-lipped about that one, adding only: "It’s not as much as people think."
Soundwise, the Banshees deal in extremes. Whereas most rock, even so-called experimental music, is pretty flat and comfortably levelled, the Banshees confront the listener with a noise range that approaches reggae in it’s use of light and shade, ‘top’ and ‘bottom’: the booming, basic drumbeat at one end and the taut, shrill guitar and voice at the other.
They defy categorisation.
Siouxsie again: "The sound was never thought out deliberately. We just plug the guitars in and get the sound that suits us. Someone else - I think it was Nils - once said it was a bit like a reggae band, but we’d never really thought of it as that.
"We’d like to think that sort of thing can change as well," says Kenny. "We do build our stuff on contrasts - up and down, light and shade. But I’d like to think that, once someone has said we’ve got a certain sound, that we’ll be able to change it, not get pinned down."
"There’s got to be other ways of doing it," Siouxsie continues. "Bands should try and find other ways. We want there to be other bands around that we can respect for what they are doing."
The only other band they see as doing anything worthwhile at the moment are The Slits: y’see, they Don’t Like Rock’n’Roll. It’s been said before, but that aversion is at the crux of the whole Banshee outlook.
"None of the new bands now are really interesting," complains Steve. "There’s nothing you can see now that compares to seeing the early Pistols, early Subway Sect, early Buzzcocks, so you try to cling to bands that aren’t quite so good and you get bored."
"One of the great things about the early Pistols
gigs was seeing them cock up a song and have an argument onstage. You
never see that sort of thing happen now. It happens to us occasionally,
but with most groups it is just so slick. A job."
"It’s not a job for us."
"That said, the Banshees handle their instruments well. What they refuse to fake, if things start to go wrong, is what Kenny mockingly terms "a slick, professional show."
This band do not need encouraging. Swimming against the tide is their raison d’etre. They know just what Rotten was on about all those months ago when he called for "more bands like us" - it was not a cry to be mimicked.
"We’re trying to get across to young people," says doleful guitarist John McKay. "There’s no encouragement to be an individual. Most young kids are like grandads already."
"It’s amazing the way people get stuck in their ways," concludes Siouxsie. "It seems hopeless for people who try to be open about anything. And that’s all built around the media. It’s up the creek - the whole system!"
Honest, idealist and realistic, the Banshees take over from around where the Sex Pistols split left off.
"Hong Kong Garden", the first single is out next month. The rock’n’roll stereotypes have got a fight on their hands.
Adrian Thrills 24/06/78
is Siouxsie and the Banshees / They are patient / They will win / In the
A WORLD DOMINATION BY 1984 SPECIAL
Siouxsie is the frail-faced, tough-minded, strange-light-in-her-eyes voice/performer of Siouxsie and the Banshees.
When she was a little girl... "I was very lonely actually. The few friends I had were gypsies. When I was eight I tried to commit suicide to get noticed by my parents. I used to do things like fall on the floor upstairs so that they’d think I’d fallen downstairs, and I’d have bottles of pills in my hands. I’ve always felt on the outside, really."
She, like the rest of the group, admits to being a loner. They don’t really like people. A thing they have in common. Their reason for existing is to perform noise with meaning for people to share and benefit from. They could be the last "rock" group. The only "rock" group. They are not a "rock" group. They are twentieth century performers.
Friday night at the Nashville. An incongruous/traditional venue, it would seem, for Siouxsie and the Banshees. Isn’t anywhere? It is ‘an occasion’. Names/faces are scattered, to be noticed and not to be noticed, perhaps admiring the path of individualism. Wayne County, Billy Idol, Marianne Faithful, Andy Czezowski, Howard Pickup, Jordan and so on. It is a sell out. People straggle outside, hoping for admission. Some, absurdly, produce five pound notes in vain attempts at bribing the doorman. What is this?
Calm down and reflect on a bewildering reputation. It’s now 15 months since the Banshees in a spirited, impulsive shot of audience participation, went on stage at the 100 Club and set their precedent for the unique, shocking honest. That’s a dark, distant past, perhaps the only period that the Banshees actually felt that they belonged to something. Felt part of anything... a movement that pressed self-destruct early on, a movement whose successful ones were, with odd exception, the shrewdest, the most adaptable to the business as opposed to the most creative, challenging, changing and committed.
For their first ‘performance’ at the 100 Club the Banshees were Sid Vicious on drums, Marco (now in The Models) on guitar, Steve Havoc on bass, Siouxsie singing. In March/April of ‘77 a concentrated Siouxsie and the Banshees appeared, playing their first real gig at the Roxy, Siouxsie singing, Steve on bass, Kenny (who was one of the original ‘punks’) looking different, dancing around, on drums, P.P. Barnum on guitar. They were poor and unformulated, but intense. From about this period, they appear in Don Letts’ flicker-movie, bad-mouthing the owner of the Roxy, having small fun at others’ expense. About May they begin to move out into the provinces, speculative but never boring.
From there, the growth has been subdued and careful. P.P. Barnum left (he’s now formed Heroes), Martin was brought in. The group, as to be expected, have touched controversy, the result of frustration. There’s been a farcical fracas with the police, resulting in a £20 fine for Siouxsie, and the infamous spraying incident, "Sign Siouxsie and the Banshees." A few prestige gigs with Buzzcocks in Manchester and London, a So It Goes appearance, a John Peel session. No record deal, except the occasional futile one-off, and it’s only in the last few months that they gelled in any way as a considered, permanent group. And now?
Their development has happened away from the sub-culture acceleration. On the outside, taking the best from the inside. There is no rush. They are patient.
Quietly spoken, softly articulating methods and motives, patient in contrived conversation at interviewers’ misconceptions/hesitations, learning as much as the provoker. "It’s funny, now we’re starting to do interviews, we’ve just begun to understand what we’re doing, whereas before without doing interviews we never really thought about motives."
Having understood that, publicity - which, because of the mode of expression that the Banshees have superficially adopted, is achieved through exposure in the ‘rock press’ - is necessary for the Banshees to reach some kind of identifiable mass. Even fame! But more, too. Now that they have been caught - through no fault of their own except their obvious uniqueness and thus their prospective ‘hipness’, in the media persecuting/giggling myth - they must perpetuate jargon to denounce shamefully demoralising distortions through ignorant miscomprehension (Huh??? -Ed).
About these miscomprehensions, they are understandably sensitive. No bitterness/grudges. Hurt, puzzlement. For a group who leave such a huge question mark after their work, it is hard for them to take being so readily wrapped and dismissed, often as either "oh-a-girl, the-future-is-female. Great. Next" or a "ooh-nazism-nasty-destroy. Next".
They have indeed been mistreated, through, admittedly, as regards ‘Nazism’, initial lack of forethought. They wore swastikas. There were stiff-armed salutes. Their lushly subversive, brutally sensual words and the rhythmic/anthemic noise they create to form an undoubted teutonic heaviness didn’t help.
"But always with any sort of politics, which is why we haven’t got any, you get extremists, and once you get extremists you get people doing great things and terrible things... for every following of some sort you get followers who distort things. If people don’t understand things, they should say so. There’s too much pride. We don’t understand."
And yet, despite disruptions/distortions... despite the fact that they have no record deal... despite, paramountly, ignorance, Siouxsie and the Banshees find themselves in an almost enviable position.
Siouxsie is, according to the NME poll, the fourteenth most popular singer in the world. They hold the house record at the Vortex. They sold out The Nashville two nights running. They have made no commitment sacrifices, no compromises, and they feel comfortable that what they’re saying is necessary.
"Things have to go on. We’re trying to show that it does not have to be pop punk next, it doesn’t have to be the same old rock’n’roll riffs. We don’t like trends. We formed initially because we felt we had something of our own to say. What was happening was lacking in certain aspects - it needed a different point of view, a variant on things, but with the same attack, impact."
Off on a variant... not like anyone else. Is it this different way of doing things/saying things/playing things that has attracted this curious following? Is there sympathy with the Banshees? A common recognition of the need for individual regeneration, the realisation that men must suffer to know joy, some genuine concern as to when a nihilism becomes a barbarism? Is there admiration/appreciation of the way that Siouxsie and the Banshees have conclusively shown the amount of expression/variation possible utilising unorthodox and minimal techniques?
Or is it just hip to like them, for numerous reasons? Is it easy to jump up and down to them? Are they the new trend? "Well, there’s the girl thing... there’s a lot of people who’ve latched onto us because of the... because they’ve understood things that aren’t there... like being labelled Nazis, things like that... many of the audience don’t understand, but that’s irrelevant as long as they get the feel that we’re doing something different... we probably don’t understand ourselves completely."
Whatever the reasons, genuine or misplaced, for their popularity, it exists, and their presence and power in performance probably propels enough feel for an audience to intuitively grasp that they’re not absorbing run-of-the-mill music/noise. It is almost hypnotic, an unfortunate association. Uninhibited, precise noise with very few reference points. Clean, perversely addictive, with more than an ounce of freedom. Unconventional in form, but no way inaccessible. Structured noise. Do they view themselves as musicians? An emphatic ‘no’.
"As non-musicians. Sound innovators." A comprehensible term? " It’s an interesting... interesting noises... certain songs that rely on the drum beat... some relying on voice... some on guitar... experimenting, not just using a voice to say baby, baby... it’s making different sounds with what you’ve got. We go out of our way not to be musicians... we don’t rehearse until our fingers bleed.
"We can play rock’n’roll, but we ignore it, shove it in a corner. We don’t see ourselves in the same context as rock’n’roll groups. We’re out on a limb. It is dangerous, but it excites us, makes it worthwhile."
Visually, the group set no principles. Concentration from the three musicians. Instinctive bodily maneuvering from Siouxsie. Snapped, harsh, asexual, she wears shorts/short skirts for freedom of movement. She is nicknamed ‘android’ by the group. Her make-up, which eerily transforms her wistful, wistful pale face into the hard lined clown-tragedian, is the one concession to the audience. Her voice is staggered. No orthodox fluid melodies, but clipped, forced lines, sharply falling and rising, forming careful, idiosyncratic ‘hooks’.
She displays no exhaustion, exhilaration, amusement, frustration, or any of those other colourful sideshows that performers often find in themselves. In the early days there was little nervousness when she got on stage. Now, she gets very nervous. "Maybe it’s because there’s a lot more emotion put into what we’re doing now... when you just get up there like we used to the emotion that comes up... you’re not realising it..." Emotion? "Passion... it’s just emotion full stop. There’s no other words. It’s just one thing."
If the emotions of the group have toughened/flowered over the last few months, maybe in sub-conscious desire to communicate something blurred but precious and important, then so has the group’s overall intensity as performers. Weaknesses are gradually eradicated, the process of self-discovery.
"Now, we seem to have some sense of direction. Though we don’t know what it is... over the last year we haven’t got tangled. We have just kept a different way of doing things. We haven’t just gone out and done every gig that we’ve been offered. The best gigs are those when you go down really badly but you know you’ve done a good set... we don’t really need audience approval... the way we approach it, we’re out there and we’re putting on a show for ourselves and anyone who wants to put their hands in, well, they can.
"We’re not out to give everyone a ‘good time’, oh you can come onstage, you’re the same as us. It’s not like that, ‘cos we go on stage and it’s for us and if anyone wants to take something it’s up to them. We’re not going to impose anything on anyone, so in some respects it’s not entertainment. It’s entertainment for some people but it’s not mainstream entertainment.
"We’re very aware of coming across as pretentious and that’s one thing that we’re all scared of, so we’ve never actually said, this is art, this is that... we leave it all open, we don’t define anything so we can go back on ourselves like anyone else and find things that we didn’t see before. We don’t really like being tagged as anything, but it is inevitable that people have to tag something to understand it."
Of the Banshees’ performance, fifty percent is music/noise, fifty percent is words. Complementary, equally important. The words are of a strange language, derived from experience and observation, shilling vignettes of minor atrocities and gruesome indulgences, of frustration, of unrequited love. From the dark side of life, grinning, perverted, subversive; euphoria and depression, vision and pessimism mysteriously co-exist. The truth in ugliness. Striving to manufacture some semblance of order, of purposefulness, set against the absurdity and pointlessness of life. Their realism is vital, snatches of everyday life exaggerated for effect. No-one sings songs like these; there must be room for abrupt confrontation. "People live in a dreamworld".
Make Up To Break Up
Girls with eyes like swimming pools
Now comes the break up from the
Foundation starts to tremble
we’re all dismembered
Such abrasive, uncompromising language, and the way that it's presented, is not of the type that is liable to entice record companies to propose lucrative deals. The group realises this is important.
They have got as far as they can in terms of reaching people without records.
"We want to become successful because it would mean that people are confronting what we’re putting down on vinyl and paper... but if we are, we’d probably be successful for the wrong reasons, and that’s something we can’t avoid."
Problems facing the controversial/different/indefinable - "Everyday there’s a problem about having to compromise... everyday there’s a reporter wanting to interview just Siouxsie, take pictures of Siouxsie, getting across that it’s a backing band for Siouxsie. It’s not that at all. It’s a four-piece band... who supports us, who plays with us, it’s so hard when there’s not many we like... getting certain people in on the guest list, record company people... having to deal with the record company people because they’re so out of touch with things. In the end you have to explain yourself in the most basic, moronic way and that takes something away. Record companies aren’t there to help a band progress, that’s bullshit. They’re there to give the bands a little money and make as much money for themselves. They don’t care if a band falls by the wayside as long as they’ve made enough money out of them. We haven’t signed any record deals... we want commitment from a record company so that we can do what we want to do.
"We’ll win in the end. If we don’t let people get the better of us, influence us, like the establishment. As long as we can resist I think we’ll win in the end."
Paul Morley 14/01/78
McKay, the Banshees’ guitarist, has a pale, ashen look constantly
playing about his features and talks in measured, serious tones. Kenny
Morris, the group’s drummer, has extraordinarily feminine looks that
are undermined by a no-nonsense, level-headedness in his manner and
style of reply. Steven Severin, the bassist, sports features that
resemble a continual benign leer, yet is the most soft-spoken of the
quartet. And Siouxsie, the singer, is the most openly outspoken of the
foursome, delivering curt, sling-shot rejoiners to questions put her
way, though she will choose to embellish her remarks when necessary.
This is day two in my attempt to interview the Banshees for this article and, although I’d chosen initially to pitch for four individual interviews to piece together the story, circumstances have yet again conspired to bring the four individuals together in a group to confront my scrutiny.
However, when manager Nils Stevenson motions into this second group encounter to ask whether I’d prefer to talk individually to the members, I decline the offer because somehow it seems only right that the Banshees’ unity should be maintained.
It’s always been that way before. Just dive back into recent back-issues of the British music press to locate an interview with anything other than all four participants of the Banshees in union and you’ll find scant pickings. Siouxsie herself has been interviewed only once on a strictly one-to-one basis - with Sounds’ Vivien Goldman - sometime late last year for a feature that came replete with ready-made image - "Ice Queen of the New Cold Musik Age" or some such grand handle, marring an otherwise fine piece of journalism wherein the subject herself went on to gracefully demolish the frosted veneer by simply being herself.
Since then, the slow-but-sure progress maintained by the band has finally hit the bonus button with a lucrative record deal with Polydor and a neat advance cheque (though, still no exact sum is mentioned) and even total artistic control - "on paper at least" as one of the group wryly notes.
This second encounter in fact is taking place in the heart of the beast itself - or more precisely in some out-to-lunch A & R man’s office up on the floor of the Polydor West End complex that seems more than anything else to resemble the world of an architect experienced solely in the construction of various "Santa’s Christmas Grottos".
The bizarre juxtaposition of the Banshees and Polydor was consummated most forcefully when, upon first arriving at the appointed, P.R. Office. I encountered Steve Severin quietly on his tod scrutinising the reviews of "Hong Kong Garden" in the various music rags of the week while in another part of the room, James Brown "Hitman of Soul" and Polydor recording artiste, is passing through, making with the full ostentatious pimp-flash manners, motioning from phone to phone to occasionally bathe his omnipotent ego in the sycophantic droolings of a paid flunkie excitedly recalling Brown’s more youthful days when he performed on Arthur Howes’ British package tours.
When snared to a phone, Brown’s business manner slings aces-and-eights down the receiver as he discusses his "product" manoeuvres. Even yours humbly - a proud possessor of both James Brown "Smash Hit" volumes and the supreme achievement of the original "Live At The Apollo" - has to snigger at the little man’s pompous airs, while Severin seems totally bemused by it all, preferring to try and keep his attention as far away from this particular floor-show as is humanly possible. Sanctuary is eventually provided by an amiable-but-so-awfully-nervous young Polydor publicist, who ushers the two of us to the grotto confines of the interview location.
The 15 minutes-or-so of one-to-one with Severin provide a solid preface of reminiscences harking back to the pre-Banshee days. Severin, along with Siouxsie herself, are the two original Banshee perpetrators (Severin previously went under the surnames of Havoc and Spunker, to name but two) and first met through a mutual friend at a Roxy Music gig at Wembley Stadium back in 1974.
They both shared similar musical tastes - Roxy obviously, Bowie, N.Y. Dolls, Stooges and Lou Reed, thus making them very much participants in the glam-rock flutter of the earlier ‘70s. Basically loners, they struck up a friendship that provided the now-renowned ‘Bromley Contingent’ of Pistols fans with it’s first recruits.
1:37 PM The other Bromley-ite who shared in these select tastes was one Bill Broad, better known by the later-chosen surname of Idol, who, Severin claims, was his best mate at the time. Broad was another outsider who’d taken to studying English Lit at Sussex University when Severin phoned him up to announce excitedly that he’d seen this group called The Sex Pistols sometime in the opening months of 1976, impelling our Bill with such excitement that he immediately ditched his Milton to come down to London and ultimately click into a scene he could relate to.
The Pistols’ gig gave this crowd a scene of their own to be a part of - a scene that quickly picked up momentum as gig followed gig and the mode of dress (glam-rock and Sex shop chic) and attitude became more outrageous, and the audience itself granted the Pistols not only their first real aficionados but an added visual dimension that didn’t take long to be granted media scrutiny.
Regarding her now, it’s hard to think of Siouxsie Banshee as the same girl who first found fame via the semi-pornographic fetish clothing that she wore while dancing extrovertly before a horde of salivating camera lenses the night the Pistols first played Islington’s Screen on the Green. This initial exposure was swiftly transmuted into the printed word as rock writers, principally the dillitante pairing of John Ingham and Caroline Coon, latched onto the carnival. Siouxsie and Severin were chosen as typical ‘punk rockers’ in a six-page essay by Ingham which drooled at length about the crowd at Louise’s (the club for the Sex shop elite) and the fab, wild scenes following the Pistols everywhere.
Siouxsie herself evidently chooses to reflect on the coverage meted out to their scene initially only with contempt.
"It’s sickening when I think now that writers like Ingham and Caroline Coon got so carried away by all the superficial aspects of the whole thing, they lost all sense of perspective. They were more interested in noting things like what colour your hair was dyed, than by providing any insights into what really was going on then."
More vehement, though, is her choice for exactly the moment when the scene itself became bogus.
"It was when everyone started lauding The Damned. That was the beginning of the end as far as I’m concerned - the start of the rot setting in. When they all got the wool pulled over their eyes and Rat Scabies started making spitting at the stage trendy. That was all his doing."
The week The Damned first made the cover of a music paper (Monotony Maker to be precise) also coincidentally happened to be the same week Caroline Coon chose to write up the first-ever Siouxsie and the Banshees performance one evening during the 100 Club Punk Week.
The gig itself is now part of heavily-encrusted punk legend, featuring Sid Vicious on drums and Severin on Bass, the whole point being that all players involved had never ever strapped on their chosen instruments before or been on a stage before. Siouxsie herself, hair cropped, dressed like a man (which made for a visual volte-face of Bowie-esque proportions considering her former gauche dressing up habits) intoned her way through an anarchic thrashing of The Lord’s Prayer for some 20 minutes until they got bored and limped off the rostrum.
"The point of that performance was simply that all the other bands were talking about not being able to really play, and being unrehearsed and into chaos, man, and we were simply doing what they were stating. Only they were really talking shit because they did rehearse and had worked up sets. We just wanted to take the whole thing to it’s logical extreme."
Which they did, of course, creating something of a phyrric victory for themselves in the process - though they would probably disagree - in that, when it came time to turn the Banshees into a full-time operation, the memory of that one previous affair turned many away, principally the A & R men to whom the group’s name appeared as either downright offensive (presumably those deafened by actually being present at the gig) or just pointless atonal burlesque of no particular consequence and certainly no commercial potential.
The 100 Club did however provide the group with one admirer who stuck with Severin and Siouxsie through to a more solid reconstruction of the basics - Nils Stevenson.
Stevenson was at this point enthusiastically working with The Sex Pistols in the capacity of personal manager in unsigned agreement with Malcolm McLaren (who later sacked a somewhat disillusioned Stevenson, paying him some measly £300 for a full year’s unpaid devotion to the cause).
Nils found allies in The Heartbreakers for a time, and even got Track records to underwrite a few initial "new Banshees" bills, while the band played most Resurrection gigs of early ‘77 as support to Johnny Thunders’ crew.
The alliance at least got the band underway, with new members Kenny Morris and P.T. Fenton on guitar.
The group had it’s teething troubles, basically through the incongruous nature of guitarist Fenton’s contributions to the band which jarred rather than gelled with the rhythm section. Maybe it was this incompleteness which caused the band to get bagged initially in the shallow ‘shock-horror’ outrage mould wherein all manner of amoral primping - a Nazi arm-band here, some good old chain-saw gore there - appeared the order of the day. Certainly the bonecrushingly bleak performances of the official Manson chant - "Helter Skelter" - added to originals like "Carcass", which deals with a butcher falling in love with a slab of meat, seemed convincingly to back up this latter bent at the time.
The first actual feature written on the Banshees appeared in Sounds, where they were actively championed by the direly named Jane Suck. John McKay, who was soon to take Fenton’s place as Banshee’s guitarist and whose presence has, perhaps more than anything else, helped the band to find their true focus, recalls reading that first effort.
"I was really turned off by parts of it, parts about making jokes of spastics - and yet other parts of the interview seemed very exciting, very clear in their mode of thinking. It was only later that I realised that the incongruous bits were more Jane’s projections onto the band than anything they consciously believed in.
"Their image got really twisted."
Siouxsie, at least, speaks partly in Ms Suck’s defence.
"Jane certainly did us some initial harm with her write-ups, but at least she saw something there that was undeniably a part of us - the uniqueness of it all.
"Unfortunately she started thinking that we were her personal property almost, and when Vivien Goldman wrote her piece it got incredibly heavy between the two of them, ending with Jane saying to Vivien, ‘well, they really are a bunch of Nazis so they pulled the wool over your eyes, ha ha.’"
The inevitable question seems here to be whether the Banshees feel actively "screwed" by the press they’ve received until now.
Kenny Morris immediately opines: "No worse than anyone else," to general nods of approval, while Siouxsie chooses to add: "Well, up to a point, yes. To that point where I don’t personally hang on to the old adage that ‘any press is good press’ whatsoever - unlike someone like Cherry Vanilla who’d go, ‘Oh gee, I’m in the papers’ when they’re calling her an old slag."
The subject inevitably turns to McKay’s arrival in the group and the manner in which it changed the band so much for the better.
It’s McKay for example who’s constructed the superb ‘oriental’ guitar riff that rings through "Hong Kong Garden", and whose unorthodox but very solid understanding of the fretboard has finally granted the rhythm section the freedom to find their own considerable muscle.
A native of exotic Hemel Hempstead, he vividly recalls his first exposure to the group.
"When I first actually saw the group live, I immediately noticed that they seemed really uncomfortable with Peter Fenton on guitar - even to the point of looking awkwardly at each other all the time they were playing.
"It seemed incredibly unbalanced - mostly, I think, because the chord structures he was creating for the lyrics where almost too close to formal rock’n’roll structures."
McKay, a self-taught musician with a bent for more adventurous guitar styles involving minor/diminished seventh chord work, immediately started restructuring old songs and working out melodies for the new lyrics, to provide the unity of purpose and vision that is so obvious nowadays - and should, indeed have always been obvious, when Siouxsie was performing lyrics as stringent as "Suburban Relapse".
The group’s much touted "anti-rock’n’roll" stand is explained and defined by the group - McKay and Siouxsie in particular - in their statement of intent against all the dead skin and jive desires that the term itself has become associated with.
The full force of the group is readily apparent even on a cursory listen to the already completed tracks that’ll make up the first Banshees album. Some old favourites are retained, their force refocused - "Carcass" and "Helter Skelter" - though the lion’s share of the original repertoire - "Captain scarlet", "Love In A Void" and "Make Up To Break Up" included - is absent.
In their place are the steel-and-glass structures of "Switch" and "Jigsaw Feeling", probing territory that finds active kinship with scarcely a single ‘punk’ band. Instead, the band sounds like some unique hybrid of the Velvet Underground mated with much of the ingenuity of "Tago Mago" era Can, if any parallel can be drawn.
The final track of the yet-to-be-completed collection, "Pure" takes the sound to its ultimate juncture, leaving spaces that say as much as the notes being played. And it finally provides one like myself who, though mightily impressed by their stage sound, considered the addition of another instrument - an organ, say - to be a judicious move, with proof positive that the group need only each other.
Certainly, the traditional three-piece sound has never been used in a more unorthodox fashion with such stunning results.
The album itself - slated for an early October release date - will finally levitate the Banshees beyond formerly binding stereotypes, placing them in the ‘new music’ boundaries of a select few; Talking Heads spring to mind here, certainly, though don’t take that as a comparison.
It backs up a strength and unity of purpose you can glimpse at in interview situations where the group scrutinise their statements carefully, where the interview is taken as a serious thing.
Come October, it’ll pour down on you.
Nick Kent 26/08/78
"I can't wait to get into Polydor and run wild 'round
the secretaries and throw all their typewriting paper and get their
ribbons twisted. They hate us 'cos we're not like a record company
band. They make comments about us but it'll be great, we'll make
it so much hell for them!"
Siouxsie & the Banshees may have become another conquest for the Polydor empire but no way are they gonna sit on the Director's knee and slobber eternal thanks in his ear. They anticipate battles, a lot of pressure and already, Siouxsie says above, are getting the office workers' backs up with their no-pandering behaviour.
The Banshees agreement with Polydor gives the group complete control over ads, packaging, track choices... everything. They wouldn't have signed otherwise - that's why its taken 18 months to get a deal.
First release will be a single out next month - "Hong Kong Garden" - "with a special on the "B" side". Their debut album - which will be produced by the band - is scheduled for the beginning of October. They'll record everything they know, "and just decide what goes on and what stays off".
This is good news for a lot of people. The Banshees roared off with the "Best Unsigned Band" title in the "ZigZag" poll with only The Slits in the rear-view mirror. Now, the group are well aware that a lot of this acclaim is Press-fostered cult epidemic - people like the Banshees before they've even heard 'em, having just read and seen the pictures of Siouxsie. On the other hand, bootleg vinyl made up of the now legendary John Peel sessions was selling at twenty quid a go, and just before the Polydor signing the Banshees' manager Nils Stevenson and Peel producer John Walters sat down and seriously talked about the possibility of releasing the Banshees on the BBC label. It was possibly the threat of this prospective action which galvanised Polydor into talking business. Now the group are gonna be stable-mates to the Bee Gees rather than "The Best Of the Weather Forecast". We'll be able to see if the public really wants Siouxsie & The Banshees invading the comfort of their own home.
Last time the Banshees appeared in "ZigZag" was October, when they were still gaining momentum and improving at an alarming rate, seeming to play the Vortex at least every week to small, stunned crowds, shell-shocked by their uncompromising point blank stare. Their harsh polar readings of songs like "Carcass" (the butcher who fell in love with his meat). "Love In A Void" and "Captain Scarlet" were away from the norm in those punky times of not-dead-yet 1977, but as the group got better (musically, that is - visually and as an idea they were always great), the crowd got bigger until they found they could successfully cope with the Music Machine and Rainbow 'round about Christmas.
In the first half of '78 any Banshee' gig in London saw endless queues; their following was that of a band with successful singles and an album under it's belt, 'cos don't forget all this time, Siouxsie & The Banshees were contract-less. Not for want of trying, either. They were repeatedly let down at the last minute for the stupidest of record company reasons. It was a situation like there's never been before and hopefully there never will be again. Is our multi-million pound music industry so inadequate that a band with it's own ideas of doing things but enjoying mass popularity is unable to find a vehicle to get it's music on vinyl and into the hands of those fans? A few weeks ago, when BBC Records seemed the only way, it looked as if the answer would have to be a resounding YES, and the purpose of this article and having the Banshees on the front page was to draw attention to this fact. Suddenly, though, it's like someone turned on the lights and the companies have woken up in the middle of the night. Hello Polydor.
So our original "Sign The Banshees!" theme is switched to "The Banshees have signed!" and we meet at a wine bar opposite Soho Park to talk about it, amongst other things. Eventually the conversation, which takes place on a park bench and in a pizza restaurant goes on for three hours as the Banshees warm to certain topics. Present are the whole band. Siouxsie Sioux (vocals), Steven Severin (bass), Kenny Morris (drums), Jon McKay (gtr).
ZZ: How do you feel now you've finally got a deal?
SS: It hasn't registered yet really. It's been so long without a deal that until we actually get into a studio and exercise our authority we won't realise we've signed. So many things have happened at the last minute when we thought we were going to be signed, and then it happens that they're not willing to give us what we want. That's being going on for a year and a half, something like that. For instance, RCA said we weren't compatible with their other artists.
ZZ: Huh! Why?
SS: Well, they obviously think that John Denver and Iggy get on, but not us. I don't know, it's just an excuse. We had those sort of answers all the time. It was just baffling. "Well, we're quite sure you'll sell records but we don't really like you, we don't like the name," or something. That goes for Virgin as well, they were as non-committal as anyone else. They just want bands like XTC and Magazine, that's like a package deal for them. I'm not splitting hairs but it's a safe bet with those sort of bands. Apparently avant garde but still safe.
ZZ: Didnt the fact that you could sell out the Music Machine and the 100 Club mean anything?
STEVE: No, 'cos they didn't turn up or were too drunk to know.
SS: The disgusting thing about record companies and A and R men is that they're on a wage, to do what ever they want really. If they go to gigs they're just in the booze part drinking away and if they get drunk they say it was a good gig. It's amazing, they're just so lax. There's not nearly enough scouts or anything to see if there's anyone new.
ZZ: Do you think that, in a way, you've been an example of how inefficient and stupid record companies can be?
SS: Yes, exactly.
KM: Where's the A and R man's power for a start? When they've bothered to come and see a group and they go back to the Man Upstairs and tell him they're convinced you're worth looking at and should be signed, and sometimes the Man Upstairs just doesn't wanna know for some mysterious reason. The sort of people who you have to put up with who come to the gig to judge you! That guy, Dave Dee, people like that - where's their taste and judgement? I think he said something about us like "Punk's dead". How can you answer a thing like that even?
SS: We've also shown up a lot of bands as well. Maybe if they'd said "No, we don't want you to control us, we've got ideas of our own"... we've either shown that they're weak or they haven't got anything in their head that they want to control - and that's the most important thing. It's the bands themselves that are just as much to blame. We all know it's a business to those kinds of people and the best thing is to take advantage of them.
ZZ: So you think bands pander to their companies?
SS: Well, it's a vicious circle. They pander and the businessmen think "Well, we can get someone that can do what we want or we can take a risk and get someone that think they know what they want." Plus the fact people in the business are old and most of them are reflecting on what was great ten years ago or they're just in it as a business to sell on "Top Of The Pops" or something.
ZZ: But this time about a year ago every "Punk" band under the sun was getting signed up, all the shit. Didn't you (as one of the good bands I might add) get companies after you then?
KM: Yeah, but any deal they offered us was just insulting.
SS: It was obvious they just saw everyone as something that would last a year, and we were so insulted that we turned them down all the time and I mean, what's happened to those bands that signed up a year ago?
ZZ: Do you think the companies were scared of you.
SS: Yeah, like the music business hasn't progressed as much as books have. Take it that way. Why shouldn't it, it's just another art form and it should have progressed, but it hasn't. It's just stayed stagnant for about ten or twenty years. There's a lot of brain-washing. Just think, our commercial competitors are the Bee Gees! We're fighting against the euphoria point of view - people just see a gig or a record as a release to not worry about everyday things in not so colourful ways.
ZZ: You said you made sure that your contract gave you a lot of control but dont you think Polydor are going to try and shove you in the glossy market?
KM: Oh, they'll try, I'm sure they will. All the fun of the fair's to come!
ZZ: Do you foresee a nice, long battle?
SS: Well, yeah. I mean I think we don't exist if we don't have something to fight against.
ZZ: It must be a great temptation for Polydor to try and thrust you (Siouxsie) forward as a figurehead like Debbie Harry has been.
SS: (with I-knew-that-was-coming grin): Yes, yes, yes! I think every record company we've come into contact with with wanted to do that but we were aware of it. That's how we could stop it. It's like it's a barrier. If it's a girl - "Oh, she's just flogging an image, she hasn't really got anything to say" - and they like that. Whereas if they think she's got as much there as anyone else, more so, then they don't like that. Everyone's so conditioned to think men say this and girls follow behind or just look pretty.
ZZ: What sort of reactions have you been getting at gigs now? (Shocked silence was often the case in the early days.)
KM: We still get a lot of shell-shock but sometimes we get mass hysteria.
SS: Huddersfield was like the Beatles. At the front they were crying! But we've come across a lot of that... like in Durham, 'round Newcastle and that. I just despise it so much when up north - and even in London - there's a sort of patriotism with a plot of land. It's like a lot of people went there just to say "Piss off you old slag. Newcastle Punk rules!"
KM: They think were proud of London but we don't feel attached to anywhere, anything, anyone. They've got a terrible chip on their shoulder.
SS: We hate London as much as anywhere, let's face it, you can do a lot more in London but there's no point being patriotic about a plot of land. But they're just boneheads. Narrow-minded... Or else you get the jet-set elitism and everything. It's still just as bad to like something for the sake of it because it's so decadent, dahling.
KM: We don't get that much anymore. The Ants have taken over! I hated all that. There seemed to be a little feeling at the time that it was trendy to like the Banshees because they weren't signed and all that kind of stuff, and that's really awful.
SS: But it's really important that whatever gig we do, it doesn't matter what odds there are that they're all idiots out there or whatever, there's always a few that get something out of it. They get a feeling across - and that's why we do gigs.
ZZ: How do you want to affect audiences then?
SS: Just want them to question certain things really. So many people take so much for granted.
KM: It's really sad. You see loads of little kids and most haven't seen you before and they've come liking, loving you, already, and all they've done is read the papers. The papers said so. It's bad.
ZZ: How do you think you'll cope with success?
KM: Yeah, a lot of people are going to stop having a trendy look at the Banshees for the wrong reasons. They're gonna go the other way as soon as we get signed you can see it. One journalist will pick up on anything and stick the boot in and another will think. "Oh yeah, that's what we'll do this week, too." It won't affect us at all.
ZZ: You think people will start accusing you of selling out?
SS: We've always made it quite clear that we would sign if we got what we wanted. We'd have signed ages ago.
KM: It's going to be even more of a challenge the fact that we've been signed. It's not stepping into a bed of roses like an outsider might think. Completely the opposite 'cos there's gonna be more problems, more pressures.
STEVE: We've always aimed to get into one of the Big Five companies. Everybody else got signed up but hardly anybody got into those five companies. Most of the bands signed to silly companies like Decca and Pye.
SS: I can't understand bands that are in love with the idea of being underground. If they've got something to offer why don't they make it appear on the television or radio. It's like a sort of love relationship that "if we remain underground we'll have some credibility." If we got to number one on "Top Of The Pops" it'd be a great achievement. It is starting and is what we're striving for.
KM: Some people have often said things like "How come you've had all this trouble and a group like Devo hasn't?" The fact is Devo are such a comfortable package. It's all there, all their strangeness that isn't. It's all dead comfortable.
SS: As much as they're trying to go against what's normal they're making rules and taboos for something that's abnormal, which is ridiculous.
STEVE: If you take all the hype away and take what all these groups put on vinyl, even that is just rubbish.
ZZ: "Sounds" put you in their "New Musick" supplement with Devo and all the...
SS: Oh, it's always with Wire and XTC. XTC are a joke band. They're comedians and I don't like comedians, not realised comedians. I think the best comedians are people who don't know it.
ZZ: Do you wanna go to the States yourselves?
SS: We could've gone and done CBGBs and Max's, two sets a night and be like a real job over there, a residency. We didn't want to do that 'cos, for a start, those places are clubs and they attract the sort of elitist part that think "Oh, they're so wonderful, they're from London! Look at their clothes and make-up!" We want to go over there and do big places, I think. We're not a Club Band, I don't think. We come across if you look at us as a whole. We did the Ally Pally because it was something different. It wasn't a Rock Venue, and I think a lot of bands should explore lots of different places to do gigs. It's so disgusting just doing the Rainbow, the Marquee, Wembley. They're either too small or too big."
ZZ: What about some of the new songs?
SS: Well, the words are getting more complicated. One's called "The Staircase (Mystery)". It's a waltz and is about an unsolved mystery.
Sioux shows me her exercise book with words written in. The more recent stuff is indeed more involved, and "The Staircase" is a mystery..
I was standing on the landing
ZZ: Do the words always come first?
SS: The words are normally written about four months before the music.
JM: The music doesn't actually go with the words. I usually sit at home and come up with a few things, but they always relate to the lyrics afterwards. It depends on how Sioux or Steve feels about the music to go with the verse.
KM: We're dying to get working, start getting some stuff down on vinyl before it rots. We're thinking so far ahead of what we're doing at this time because we've been supplying everything and getting nothing back, and so it's like we're there with a vengeance almost. We're racing ahead in our own minds, we've got to record an album, we've got to put these songs down... but they won't lack the strength they ever had.
"Switch" is another new song. Siouxsie's words deal with people swapping jobs and the disturbing results. Like most Banshees' lyrics it doesn't state but drops oblique hints making it all the more creepy-creepy... (I think "Switch" is some of the best words Sioux's come up with...
(Siouxsie Sioux © "Pure")
"Mittageisen" is a Banshees song much misunderstood - "used" whenever the old Nazi-chic shtick is dredged up against them. It was for shock-show OK? but the group are genuinely interested in that period of history, and "Mittageisen (Metal)" is a tribute to John Heartfield, an anti-Nazi propagandist of pre-war Hitler days. He had to leave that country...
It's ruling our lives
(Siouxsie Sioux © "Pure")
The chorus is from one of Goerring's speeches, hence casual misunderstandings.
ZZ: You do seem to have been misunderstood quite a bit all along, right?
SS: It's when they're confronted that they try and twist it into something they don't have to understand, they don't have to confront it. They have to twist it to suit themselves.
STEVE: We'll have the lyrics on the album so we should be able to clear a lot of things and go on from there.
SS: I mean, early lyrics were simple, but even then with those simple things it's nothing different. It's just explaining what is around you, and people still feel the need not to realise that. They try to make it, "oh, it's a quaint little imagination they've got", or something, but it's not. It's not decadent or anything.
ZZ: Did you think you'd get as big as this when you got the proto-type Banshees together at the 100 Club Festival?
SS: No. I think that's the most important thing. The first thing we ever did publicly was so spontaneous and not with a view in mind that we'd get a contract.. I mean, so many bands go out with equipment and everything really worked out but it's worked out in the same way that everyone else has worked it out. The times we'd be headlining places and have bands support us and we'd borrow their drum kit 'cos their equipment was better than ours, you know all that sort of thing. It was ridiculous, but it shows that that's not the important thing about a band.
ZZ: You were practically the first ever Pistols fans so were you disappointed when they split?
SS: No. I was disappointed with them a long time before, the way they went. I could never work out if it was a selfish point of view, because the time they were at the 100 Club, there was hardly anyone there for a start and they offended a lot of people as well. Then it got so acceptable and they began to accept it themselves as well. I don't think it was selfish. I think it was just as well they split really.
ZZ: You seem to have overcome some of the problems which beset them, like being shunned by record companies.
SS: It all depends if we explode really. If everybody starts liking us then we're going to find it very hard!
Kris Needs 07/78
The death cry of a Banshee
RUSSIAN ROULETTE, russian roulette... what better way to spend a summer's day?
Pick the issue, the page, the words, the colour. Such fun to blink at blanks down the barrel, safe in the knowledge of the impossible explosion. But isn't it just a little nicer to walk on the wild side and gamble your credibility on a shot between the eyes? Picking the pistol and ramming Siouxsie & The Banshees into the cartridge... the mundane parallels of oil and water... and knowing the inevitable will soon take place.
Not so far wrong, these government warnings: LITTLE CHILDREN SHOULD NEVER PLAY WITH FIRE-ARMS. Nor the Banshees. No compromise philosophy, no congenial reconciliations. Group therapy with Siouxsie & The Banshees isn't very much fun... ENTER - Polydor, Siouxsie and Steve. EXIT - all previous allusions.
It started off at the conference. Should we put Siouxsie & The Banshees on the front cover? I didn't think they were worth it. But I wouldn't stop Bev interviewing them if she thought differently. - (Ed's note).
Siouxsie: "Why is Record Mirror so scared of us... that's all I can put it down to."
Record Mirror tends to back bands with an already proven success - we don't necessarily want to say 'We saw 'em first' which seems to be in vogue at the moment.
Siouxsie & The Banshees have the potential to be one of the seventies most vital bands. They have classic songs, a near incomparable sound, and the most interesting girl performer to come along in oh - a couple of million years. - RM July 16, 1977.
The Banshees remain nothing short of immaculate. - RM November 5. 1977.
Steve: "What about the Rich Kids?"
What about The Jam, Kate Bush, Sham 69, Blondie, The Damned. All on the front cover of RM BEFORE they had hits. (Ed's note).
Most of the staff believe in the band so they're covered. With you... I'm probably the only one even interested in what you're doing...
I was amazed that you sold out the Roundhouse on Sunday...
Steve: "That shouldn't amaze you... we've done that before."
But that's the first time I've been to see you...
Steve: "That's typical of Record Mirror - they just don't know what's going on."
But it's impossible to cover EVERY band.
Siouxsie: "But we were in this position before we signed... that's the trouble with the press, we've signed now and suddenly they want to know. I don't know whether you saw NME, but they gave us a rave review, so all of a sudden it looks like we're an overnight success, which it just isn't. They've just been so slow in catching on... perhaps they're bored at the minute 'cos there is no-one else to write about, so now they've discovered US... to build up and knock down."
Does that worry you?
Steve: "We're prepared for it, but we don't particularly care."
Siouxsie: "We don't take that much notice of the press whatever they say."
The band have only recently signed to Polydor - a four year contract 'with options' - a contract which the Banshees claim gives them the greatest amount of autonomy - exactly how free are they?
Steve: "No record company will ever agree to a contract stating the number of pages of advertising you're going to end up with - that was the last thing we argued about and we nearly didn't sign with Polydor because of that."
Were there any other companies tied up in the end?
Siouxsie: "Radar, but the trouble with Radar is that they don't have any control in other countries - like America - where their work is carried out by Warner Brothers, so if W. B. say 'dress them up in rhinestone suits' we'd get dressed up in rhinestone suits, whereas Polydor has control in America."
Why has it taken so long to get signed?
Steve: "Many reasons - either they didn't like us, or the offers weren't good enough. The excuses usually came into these two categories. Nils (manager) went round to every company about three times before we signed with Polydor."
What problems do you envisage with Polydor?
Steve: "Normal record company/normal people problems about understanding the band...
Siouxsie: "Like trying to make us into another Bee Gees."
Steve: "Look, we've always known our own potential, it's just that 90 per cent of the people in the press haven't. We've always known that one day we'll be huge - there's not two ways about it."
When the kids don't get off on you at gigs do you try and rationalise why that is - the music or the uncompromising approach?
Steve: "Maybe they're just frightened of seeing people open up and doing what they want to do, not what they're supposed to do."
Siouxsie: "They don't want to see a band that isn't restricted by traditional ways of performing. They're frightened by a different presentation which isn't along the lines of "Well, rock and roll should be like this..."
Could you compromise to pull a wider audience?
Siouxsie: "Our attitude will never change. We feel so strongly about what we're doing that we'd never think of watering anything down. We're going to bring them to us, not us to them."
You expect kids to react to you?
Steve: "Isn't that the idea of getting on stage in the first place?"
But how do you expect them to react - what do you think you're saying. You say you want kids to think - but what do you want them to think about?
Steve: "That's asking us to be dictators or something. I mean we haven't got any master scheme as to what we want them to do - we certainly don't want them to walk away and just pick up on what we say like... 'The Banshees say that... I think that's great', which is what usually happens with bands. We just don't give out a definite message that they can go out and copy."
Siouxsie: "We just want people to draw their own conclusions. I don't care if some kids don't get off on us - I mean they can just go to their football matches and Sham gigs."
Steve: "The band is changing all the time - that's why we never went for a one-off deal because nothing like a one-off deal could represent us - the band has to be taken over a whole period of time and against what else is going on at the time, opposing whatever is in the mainstream."
So you see yourselves as totally un-representative of the times then?
Steve: "We see ourselves representing as much of '78 and '79 as the next four years."
How much are you dong this for the impending fame or for rock and roll for its own sake?
Steve: "It's a question of what you mean... doing something for the sake of rock and roll is standing on stage and living out your fantasy, doing something for what you want to do is something that is inside, and you feel you have to do."
Don't you think they overlap?
Steve: "In most cases I'd say yes, but in this band I'd say that 10 per cent is living out fantasy and 90 per cent is doing what we want to do."
Siouxsie as a sex symbol - how are you prepared to combat that?
Steve: "It just doesn't need talking about - especially not in Record Mirror because that's the bit they'll put in big bold letters."
That's what sells papers. That's our job. Or had you forgotten that? (Ed's note).
It's easy to say that, but just by calling yourself SIOUXSIE & The Banshees in the first place you're not referring to the band as a whole unit, you're pushing Siouxsie.
Steve: "That's a narrow way of interpreting it."
But it's relevant.
Siouxsie: "As a name it looks great in print - it's even worth seeing the spelling cock-ups in writing Siouxsie."
What have you got against RM?
Siouxsie: "It's very sexist. It interprets everything in a sexist fashion."
Why did you have that picture of you taken with Paul Cook of the Sex Pistols showing your tits? (Ed's note).
Interpret yourselves in your own way then, the way YOU see yourselves, you can write this interview up if you want to cut out the sexism.
Steve: "That's your job - you're getting paid for it."
Siouxsie: "I'm not out to be a solo star - it's the band as a whole."
Steve: "Papers are only out to promote faces and stars."
As opposed to?
Steve: "Ideals, creation, anything... they're just out to sell more papers and the more popular we get, the more people are going to ask to interview us so we can sell their papers. There's this cynical little picture of us in NME this week making us out to be funny little stars because we're a bit popular. Now were becoming celebrities they're going to start using tactics like that..."
Enter Kenny, who listens and says little.
Kenny: "Always the same questions..."
Steve: "Your paper for example would never agree to interview anyone but Siouxsie or the whole band, so don't try to kid us otherwise - that's a very naive attitude."
Siouxsie: "We hate Record Mirror, and the fact that they're interviewing us now after ignoring us for so long is ironic."
We did a photo shot with Siouxsie for the colour centre spread. She wanted to keep her raincoat one. I decided the pictures were unsuitable. (Ed's note).
Steve: "We've waited two years for you to come to us... you might have to wait two more years before well come back to you."
Is it me, my attitude or just the paper?
Steve: "You are the representative of RM, were here on behalf of Siouxsie & The Banshees, and you're here on behalf of RM."
And never the twain shall meet?
Steve: "No sir!"
Kenny: "All the press are the same. Chris Brazier from Melody Maker - we hated him when we first met him, and we still hate him now, yet he wrote a piece saying we parted on 'friendly terms'."
So can't we part on 'Friendly terms' like Chris Brazier did?
Siouxsie: "In his imagination he did."
Do you think there is any point in continuing?
Steve: "Not so long as you realise what your job is, and what our job is."
Mine to ask, yours to reply.
Move to escape.
Kenny (to Siouxsie) "How long have you been at it?"
Siouxsie: "About twenty minutes."
Kenny: "What's it been like?"
Siouxsie: "The usual..."
Let's hope they make it and prove me wrong. (Ed's note).
Bev Briggs 05/08/78
I'm bored to the gills with interviewees pretending to be bored with interviews. This task was a pain in the butt.
I hate transcribing interview-tapes and finding nothing but my own voice blethering back at me, while interviewees sit in reverie answering questions with a mere "yes" or "no", egotistically adopting their rehearsed we-heard-it-all-before pose, one which is as offputting as it is odious and tedious.
I'm sick of other journalists excusing this trite behaviour with "explanations" such as: "Uhm, that's just the way they are - they're concise", when this is obviously studied, pre-conditioned mannerism, designed to irritate (which it does).
I expected Siouxsie & The Banshees to be a difficult interview, but not calculatedly, purposely, intentionally so. Though, Sioux, I can't speak for you. I refer only to your Banshees.
Oh yeah, and you wanna new angle? How about the Siouxsie & The Banshees interview without Siouxsie? Huh?
And how quotable they were at certain junctures, like when I enquired about the Polydor contract, asking why the band considered certain other 'majors' to be unsuitable. John McKay replied: "All the reasons have been gone through."
Carefully, we side-step the band's history, the Nazi-embellishments of yore ("No comment" - Steve Severin) and topics the band seem to consider yawn-inducing (which, it transpires, seems to take in most things).
It's 1 pm, and though the session was arranged for 11.30 am, still no Siouxsie. I confront the collective Banshees, and the interview is a stifled, dim, lifeless, useless, rambling, wasted affair: occasionally, something quotable but generally rapport with a zilch quotient. Part my fault (previous night's bevying taking its toll), part theirs (concision taken to an upper limit), but either way - a disaster.
We touch on the album. Now the album is damn good, probably this year's best... a genuinely gripping experience if examined at all closely and without jaundiced preconceptions. Apparently, the Banshees had promised Melody Maker a scoop-exclusive review, and were a trifle miffed when dear ol RM and Sounds shuftied in first. As if it mattered a damn.
'The Scream' is the title. The contents are pointed, jagged observations; musically, clambering, lurching, expanding, searching, intense and claustrophobic... lyrically vague, open to misconstruction.
'Overground', for instance, can be generalised as a paean to escaping the rigors of depressing urban limbo...
'Got to give up life in this netherworld/Got to go up where the air is stale/And live a life of pleasantries/Mingle in the modern families.'
Severin: "It was much more specific than that. It was written at a time when we were all getting desperate for a contract... and it's really to do with why we wanted a major record deal."
I am dumb. I get home, peruse the lyric and fail to see the connection. Which, as it happens, is perhaps a blessing, given that the song now lies on a slab of five-star big-contract Polydor plastic. The alienation factor in the song I can grasp, though.
McKay: "We feel alienation all the time, which is why we're in this band really. Alienated from society and the rest of humanity. Occasionally, you feel the need to 'join' everyone else, to be worse than yourself."
'Overground - I'll be worse than me/Overground - it's clear to me/I'll be worse than me'
To join is to conform. To conform is to admit defeat.
Severin: "You get to a point where you have to join, either involuntarily or voluntarily. Like, the angry young men of the fifties are now running record companies."
McKay: "Once you're outside that, you never join completely, ever. If I didn't feel it totally... If I was pretending that I don't like 'Grease', I wouldn't be in this band, I wouldn't be able to keep it up, the intensity. Always gonna be an outsider."
A series of questions aimed at other facets of the album are greeted: Yes. No. Silence. I could give up. So why did ya hire a limo for the Glasgow Apollo gig?
Severin: "We hired a limo for the whole tour, 'cos we wanted - for once - to go in comfort. Also we wanted to get to places very quickly."
Severin: "There was a bit of anti-street credibility involved."
Were you surprised when 'Hong Kong Garden' took off?
Severin: "We were surprised it got to number seven but... we knew it was gonna be a hit."
Is massed audience a prime concern, then? "Yes." Is that another reason you wanted a major record company instead of putting the stuff out yourself or going to a small label? "Yes." Yawwwwn...
Severin: "We got very desperate right towards the end because we did a tour that ended in May, with absolutely no idea what we were gonna do after that. We just had enough money to last about a month and within that time we had to get a deal... and we did. Fate, I suppose."
But the fact that as soon as the Polydor contract was announced, you had a single/album/tour in quick succession, seems to suggest it was in the bag earlier, yeah?
And with that contract pocketed, what now? Do they infiltrate, or - Severin's word-choice - "manipulate"? Can they, as Severin suggests, open the gates for new musics and new ideas? They seem to presume so... somewhat naively, I would've thought.
McKay: "To actually get inside a record company and really change their ideas about bands is much more anarchistic than anything a lot of those other bands - screaming about 'Anarchy' and 'Disruption' - are ever gonna do about it. Sham 69 or Tom Robinson or whoever... people just chant along and don't think about what they're chanting. Nobody thinks about anything anymore."
Severin: "We don't wanna get stuck in the Cryptic Club playing little electronic ditties for the chosen few, though I'm glad those bands are around. That's what we're trying to do... open the doors for more off-beat bands, alter public taste a little.
MANIPULATE. I really wanna walk into Tescos and hear Throbbing Gristle coming out... piped music. It'd be great but I don't think it's gonna happen just yet."
But, ah great, they're actually talking now, so about Siouxsie The Figurehead; the band is a band, Siouxsie being one quarter, but given her total stage-domination, f 'rinstance - can she ever be seen as anything else? Ain't it natural that's she's forever gonna end up pedestalled above McKay, Severin and Morris?
McKay: "Every band needs a focal point. People cant see beyond the end of their noses."
Severin: "That's one of the reasons we call ourselves Siouxsie & The Banshees, to give ourselves a harder struggle. We could've called ourselves The Banshees... people have got to get beyond the name, beyond Siouxsie as a woman, beyond Siouxsie as a figurehead, which is totally impossible... for a lot of people. And therefore that's why we despise the audience. That's just one simple reason why we do."
There are more?
Severin: "There are millions."
Like what? Silence. Don't you feel any responsibility to the people who come to see you, who support you? Long pause...
Severin: "We're gonna carry on doing what we wanna do and if anyone likes it that's up to them."
Isn't 'despise' an over-emotive, heavy word?
McKay: "We don't want it to be light entertainment so it should be heavy."
That's not the point, though...
McKay: "I don't think 'despise' is too emotive a word. Occasionally when I play 'Helter Skelter' I feel like I wish I had a machine-gun in my hands instead of a guitar. If I feel that, I think the word despise is not too strong a word."
You hear that 'fans'? The ultimate stage act, the ultimate conclusion, the ultimate Manson revisitation, would consist of a band killing its audience, mowing 'em down with bullets or flame-throwers. Now THAT would be original.
But what exactly are the audience supposed to do to satisfy Messrs McKay, Severin and Morris.
Morris: "We did a seated venue at Newcastle, and they were sitting throughout. But there was a real feeling of close contact, participation the whole time. They didn't have to jump up and down or break seats... they were just there, taking a lot in. You could feel it."
Suddenly - gaspo - we're gatecrashed by Sioux herself, special delivery... and only two hours late.
"Explain," says Severin. Siouxsie offers no excuse. She settles down. I ask if the Banshees-bootlegs are still doing the rounds...
Siouxsie: "I don't know. A fan that came on the road with us gave us a copy of the John Peel bootleg (recorded from the band's two Beeb-sessions), and he'd already got one at a gig... like drugs traffic, I suppose."
Does the bootleg bother you?
Siouxsie: "It does. I don't mind if people just wanna tape stuff and have it for themselves. It bothers me... like, the reason we're in this company is so we can put out what we want out, and how we want it out. And then someone who's not part of all this is just making money from what they wanna put out."
And right now, Steve Lillywhite, co-credited producer on 'The Scream' ("all he did was twiddle the knobs" - Severin) has been given the elbow, the band now considering someone else (Ken Scott?) for the forthcoming single, 'Staircase'. To my ears, the sound on the album was clinical, near-perfect. "Not clinical enough" returns Severin.
Maybe the band have the facilities to do it themselves, but...
Siouxsie: "There's still a lot we want to pick up by working with people with different standards."
Question. Can the great Siouxsie & The Banshees meisterplan come off? Their infiltration/activist/manipulation policies seem unduly ambitious. Carving a pathway for other bands in the future? We shall see... I don't honestly believe any single unit has the ability to wield that kind of power, especially in such a gross, monster-industry as this.
Also, their crowd-hate is almost understandable, though generally paranoiac and facile.
In interviews I can live without 'em. Join the RM, come to the big city, discover how the 'biz' stinks, how yer idols are really all assholes, tra la tra la...
But they have recorded a great, great album, as important a record as well ever see emerge from the Wave: musically, they've evolved into a mature, invincible force. The Banshees sound: a massive, screaming, despairing confrontation... where a mere chord-change can cut-to-the-quick, devastate. Such is the intensity.
Kenny Morris plays drums like an enthusiastic experimentalist, actually using the kit. He admires Palmolive, I think.
Severin's bass playing is sparing, insidious necessity, and John McKay has achieved something utterly unique with his guitar playing... a new, 'pure' identity. Siouxsie's voice occasionally exhibits Nico-shades, being disconcertingly functional; one of the truly original and essential girl vocalists of this decade. The whiplash intensity of her voice may repulse as many as it endears... but we, we know.
Probably, Siouxsie & The Banshees' greatest admirers are Siouxsie & The Banshees. If they're as committed to those ideals as they claim, then bally good. But...uh... I dunno.
This piece remains in the balance...
Chris Westwood 09/12/78
SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES THE
UN-ACCEPTABLE FACE of '78
'Overground - from abnormality
... Putney backwater. On the way to Banshees and studio, brat and sidekick, cow eyes ruminating, shift gum and clock my points: 'You a punk?'!!!!!
Retort: 'No kiddy a human being. You a boy?'
Tender macho bud: 'YEAH'! Thank you. Glad to know I'm a geek and I'll move on now...
No big thing. But guess that nothing changes. Two years on... Stereotypes remain. The mood returns to that of three years ago: apathy abyss with the added wound of remembered excitement and experimentation. People retreat into their own worlds. Or... flick on TOTP and see the Boomtown Rats present the acceptable face of 1978, so 'brave new wave' with 'aggressive' Knicker-wetting posturings and devo-oid robotisms.
Don't bother. Or... 'Punk Rools OK' (Fooled again, Caroline!): many plump for eezi-wrap solutions to everything, instant identification, your slogans your thinking done for you. I say jump, you jump! Groovy. People's thinking hardens into self-righteous black and white. It's not like that!
Necessary, vital, anti-NF feeling and action often spills over into hysteria and blindness: the NF is only a part of the WHOLE TERRIFYING PICTURE and by narrowing it down to that only you can make it easier. Don't harden yourself the other way: 'I'm not seeing what I'm meant to believe in...': the unique is always uncategorisable and therefore, in these deluded times, 'difficult' and often cruelly misunderstood...
'The image is no images/it's not what it seems...' ('Mirage')
Doesn't mean very much does it, if you're used to having everything spelt out for you? Depends. Along with a few others, the Banshees reject the prevailing modes of apathy or mono-dimensional 'reality' simplified for your purchasing pleasure, while still making an adjustment to the sickening slip of our decline. Trying to build out of decay, to open people's minds... still trying. Getting closer than ever to succeeding. They don't beat you over the head with it, but it's there; neither do they simplify for you to repeat parrot fashion: maybe you have to work it out for yourselves. Take takes uh 'effort'.
Sometimes it's good to be challenged, confronted, even threatened... that's if it matters to you. Otherwise, Banshees are one of the finest contemporary dance bands....
Relax. Relapse. Relapse on the dance floor. The Banshees' music is structured, precise, always aiming for something just beyond their reach. Although very controlled, full emotion, which, compressed, bursts out even stronger to reach their and your centre. It's not what they do, it's what they are. They avoid the mistake that so many others make, that freedom = self-indulgence: often it can come through transcending a discipline.
Although most flash on Siouxsie as the front (gasp) woman, The Banshees are a group: all four contribute as near equally as possible. Four separate threads interwoven into a c(h)ord of steel. 'Always first the pounding deep drums, then the interplay of controlled dischordant guitar and booming metallic bass, Siouxsie's staccato vocals. At very first forbidding, most of the material becomes quickly addictive and (sigh) commercial...'
'I can't respond in the old way' - Nico: 'Cheslea Girl' sleeve 1966.
ON OFF NIGHTS their mixture can turn to remoteness and failure to project beyond the stage. An occupational hazard. Their much vaunted 'iciness' (let's just leave the whole 'Ice Queen' bit out of it, OK?) can be seen as another level of confrontation and honesty. It depends on how you look at things: if you like to be told by the performer how much he loves you, or what to think, or go for a ritual kiddy aggression, then the Banshees are 'cold' and 'sterile'.
The Banshees' approach isn't for everybody, nor should it be the only one, but there's a place for it. And the need for it as an antidote: in a business largely constructed on 'object relationships' of peculiarly horrible 'hail-fellow-well-met' false mateyness, most of the time pandering to the putative 'masses' their refusal to alter or water down their medium or message is courageous, and to many, incomprehensible. And if you don't understand, of course, you tear down, destroy...
And' sure, the group, on occasions, haven't exactly helped themselves, or been helped, but they've suffered, like a few others, from doing all their growing up in the hungry spotlight of the media. Right from the first, "myth-making", spontaneous gig at the 100 Club Punk Festival September 1976, through mountains of press since, much of which has simply got hold of the wrong end of the stick.
Make a mistake, even if one of interpretation, and you're stuck with it. And most people, when they receive an idea, hold it unquestionably as the only one, in their heads, where, if they're bothered at all, it'll stay for ever. The current lines on the Banshees STILL go either 'Original punks, therefore passé and (shudder) decadent', or 'Siouxsie = woman, therefore drool over or put on a pedestal: 'Page Three Gal' or 'Future is Female', or 'Ice Queen/New Musick', or, the most damaging, about which they're still paranoid, 'Nazi chic nasty nasty destroy'. Come ON! They've paid their dues. It won't wash any more! it's time to put these to bed toot sweet...
THE INTERVIEW is occasioned by their signing to Polydor (division of Polygram Inc.) for an unspecified but reputedly large figure (shoulda grabbed the cheque Nils!), and more importantly, on terms which they're happy enough about. All the band are present, Siouxsie (neé Ballion), Steve Severin (bass), John McKay (guitar) and Kenny Morris (drums). The atmosphere is friendly, although the group are nervous, or perfectionist enough, to want to move twice during the interview: from a noisy café to a bird-infested park, over Putney bridge, to the river promenade and deckchairs, where the directional microphone picks up helicopters, barges, birds, anything but the trace of voices.
From a superficial and unnatural acquaintance - such are interviews - they seemed to be as they are on stage. Loners, outsiders maybe, wary of previous misunderstandings and rejection.
Any of their original (and well-documented) preciousness and exhibitionism as an adjustment has been replaced by a stripped realism, and a determination, strengthened by adversity, to overcome on their own terms an environment that, if not actively hostile, is hardly sympathetic. Precise definitions slip away and become irrelevant: and they're obviously not in the business of baring their innermost instantly. Ambiguity, maybe a sense of post-Bowie identity flux: the 'Cracked Actor' line about identity not being static or fixed, but rather changeable and multi-faceted. Whatever - the answers are carefully considered, not as "definite" as they appear in black and white...
So, how do you feel about being signed?
Kenny: "It's hard to realise at the moment, because we've only been rehearsing, we haven't started work proper..."
Siouxsie: "I suppose, initially, relieved. But then excited at the prospect of something more challenging coming up."
You seem to be in a double-bind, of having a lot of material which you couldn't get out of the way on record, and yet people didn't know the songs fully as you didn't have a record out...
Siouxsie: "But maybe it was good because people really hung on the gigs, y'know they really - I'm not saying that they heard the words. because it's really hard to hear the words - but I think the feeling would come across and people would be excited at the prospect of going to see us; whether they'd seen us a lot of times, in that we react differently to surroundings and it's a very - we put ourselves on stage and sometimes we feel strong, and other times we don't feel so strong, and it just reflects that."
Why hadn't you signed though? Were you offered deals, or was it that they weren't good enough?
Steve: "It was a mixture of both. Some weren't good enough, and there was a long period when we didn't any.
Siouxsie: "It was just - we wanted a human deal. It's not expecting too much to be able to have some sort of control over the destiny of where your work's going to or how it's going to be put across, and yet that seems to be what they're demanding - control over that."
You mean advertising and all that....
Siouxsie: "Mmm. They are a business, and we accept that they're a business, but that'd just be our financial backbone, or..."
Steve: I mean we've got as much control as anyone can have, but it's nowhere as much as we'd like."
You don't get total control unless you press the records with your own hands, especially if you sign to a major...
Steve: "We've just got to fight for it, like everything else."
How do you anticipate your relations with the record company will be...?
Steve: (slowly) "Very, very bad."
Siouxsie: We want to eventually make it good, I mean..."
Steve: "We're going in with the attitude that we're going to convince them rather than be aggressive or anything - just show them that ours might be a better way of doing something."
Siouxsie: "And that's the only way to win... to be able to understand the way that they work: you can't dismiss something if you don't understand it. That's not teaching them anything and you're not teaching yourself anything. OK, but the main danger in exposing yourself to a system of control is that you get sucked into it."
You'd like to be commercially successful?
Siouxsie: "Yeah. But we're not ruthless about what we're doing on that level: we wouldn't destroy what we're doing."
In a way it's good that you've had to play so much: it means that you've tested your material and built up a solid audience. You've covered the country twice?
Steve: "More than that by now."
Siouxsie: We've proved that we can work and that we're not just a flash in the pan - brilliant in the studio and with no strength whatsoever live. We've got different strengths live and in the studio. And I think it's very important that we stuck to what we do. Like at the time we were holding out people were thinking 'Oh they're gonna miss the boat!' - but we've never been on a boat, we've always been on our own."
One thing that I was interested in was your drumming (to Kenny): it's a very individual style...
Kenny: "It could have been any instrument that any of us started on. It just happened to be what we picked up at the time as a means of expression. At one time I never used to use symbols at all, or the hi-hat: there was no one around who played drums like I did. I was sort of thinking in terms between Maureen Tucker and the Glitter band, something like that. But that's something that's coming through our whole set, through every instrument including the voice, the fact that we know what's ahead: you can look higher than you want and reduce it down to basics then and keep things clean.
"As they say, it's not what you put in, it's what you take out. We seem to strip things of their colours naturally."
I'm just a vision on your TV
My limbs are like palm trees
It's not plain to see
Lyrics by Steven Severin
...'Mirage', 'Hong Kong Garden' (...take away), and 'Make Up To Break Up' sometimes seem to use a play on words....
Steve: "There's an ambiguity in every song in some way or another."
Siouxsie: "It goes back to that thing of being very controlled with a lot of tension... I mean there's so many things that slightly looked at in a different way could be really funny, or in another way really tragic... dunno and that's part of life."
Like the line in 'Carcass' - '58 varieties'...
Steve: "People always miss out on the humorous aspect of what we do, or rather the facetious aspect..."
Siouxsie: "There's also 'My mother had her son for tea'. But when you think about it, every day can be really cruel yet so laughable."
John: "It's just a real reaction to things."
I was washing up the dishes
Lyrics by Siouxsie Sioux
IT FITS. Part of the Banshees desire to 'confront on a board front - like a bulldozer pushing an awful lot in front of us, rather than choosing some little tack'. Just as in their music they strip down and rebuild, so the lyrics avoid false sentimentality of whatever kind, and look to what's behind the festering facade. Beyond glamour or celebration of decay, more like a challenge to the way we're lulled into regarding ourselves. Subversive yet moral, if it matters. And...
... Your lyrics don't make things specific...
Steve: "We usually find reasons for writing them after we've written them."
Siouxsie: "It gives the ability to people to be able to stretch their minds a little, which is really what we're on about, and fighting against with people like Sham 69 who're singing (mimics) 'It's just a fake, a ripoff!' "
Kenny: "Things don't ever have to be spelt out so bluntly anyway, you can put it across by words suggesting something, or even the fact that they see you, and put over a mood."
Well Sham have been the focal point for the skinhead 'revival'
Siouxsie: "Oh yeah: for the skinheads they're the only band. They're mostly really frightening - very antagonistic and narrow-minded."
Kenny: "We've had a lot of skinheads coming to our gigs lately, and thought 'why are they coming?'
How do you feel about that?
Siouxsie: "We played Croydon Greyhound and there were things - the Skinheads were intimidating certain parts of the audience and saying 'You better not come down looking like that again!' because they looked smart and maybe not part of... a gang. They intimidated people like that. I hate that: it's like going back ten years. It's perturbing..."
It's been said that you're very cold on stage...
Steve: "We're not anti-heroes."
Siouxsie: "It's just sort of certain things like seeing the flashback of 'Cracked actor' last night and David Bowie kissing people's hands and not being able to finish the song because the word that's coming is 'you' and they're all singing 'me' so he doesn't say the word - he says 'Thank you very much, ladeez and gentlemen, it's your song'. That sort of thing turned me over. I'm not detracting... but that sort of reaction from the audience, what's expected from the audiences..."
Steve: "That's mostly totally false..."
Siouxsie: I think we must be the most valuable band to an audience because we're genuine... we don't play on it..."
Steve: "It's not: look at us, we're so honest!"
Siouxsie: "... or we're not saying 'It's so wonderful to be here: thank you for paying to see me', that sort of thing doesn't have to be said. It's a rock 'n' roll stereotype that you have to live down all the time..."
It's all 'rock 'n' roll'...
Siouxsie: "And we hate it!"
Steve: "That's what we've been trying to say: that rock 'n' roll, as a medium, as a term, is redundant, anyway you look at it."
Siouxsie: "That's what we're competing with: most people, and especially in the music still believe in it, and think bands like TRB are the greatest..."
Kenny: "There's such an abyss. There's nothing. We're getting no outlets in any other field - I mean - somehow people's standards have gone down, ever since 1975/76, with the coming of the Pistols.
And because it was all so bastardised, art got bastardised and everything else. It's amazing."
You mean galleries...
Kenny: "Yes. I mean you just can't go. It's all usually such shit, and somehow people know 'the right people'. That sucks so much, because there are people around doing, art, music, whatever, who have got so many good things to offer and they might not get the chance or they won't compromise. There are certain scenes which allow you to get your work into a gallery even though it's a pile of shit... it's immoral."
Steve: "That's one of the reasons why we're in a band rather than artists or novelists or whatever..."
You mean that the audience has shifted to music as the medium of relevance...
Steve: "Yes, but although it's shifted to music, there's such a lack of intelligence in music, so where have all the people gone?"
Siouxsie: "Where's people's perception gone? That's the main thing..."
But part of your particular strength seems to come from your seeing the Pistols early and soaking the spirit up...
Siouxsie: "I don't know..."
Kenny: "It's down to the individual. I mean John wasn't there in the beginning.
John: "I was outside it all, watching it, but I was so surprised that it went the way it did. I was very naive to think it would go any other way I suppose..."
So were a lot of people: at least you hoped...
John: "Yes, but I've lost a lot! It's just that the Banshees took the right message from the Pistols but most groups - 99% of them took the wrong message.
Siouxsie: "And they saw anarchy as destruction - as a group, as a movement, whereas it's not, it's..."
Siouxsie: I don't know... disrupting yourself, questioning yourself."
It's not a question of elitism: that particular hierarchy is now well irrelevant, and you won't find the Banshees at Iggy gigs finding their ranks in the pecking order: it's a question of believing something, after experiencing it, in a way that few others have done. The Banshees are resigned, but still angry...
Siouxsie: "We hope that now we've got a deal and we're going to make a record, we can show everyone up for what they were..."
You've developed a lot in the last few months...
Siouxsie: "It's just that emotions get stronger the more you realise what you're doing... acting on instinct...
Steve: "That's what it's always been about - we're totally aware of other forms of expression other than music. We'd rather not intellectualise about what we do, but just find out what's in ourselves, find the spirit inside us: that's what we work on."
A COUPLE OF final points, illustrative of the care that the Banshees have taken to thread their path through the minefield that early mistaken 'shock' tactics have prepared for them; invited to appear in the 'Them' romp 'Jubilee' they declined, neatly avoiding associations with that particular masturbatory dead-end and, asked about 'Metal':
Metal is tough, metal will
With a clockwork jerk
It's ruling our lives
Lyric Siouxsie Sioux
THEY TAKE pains to point out that it was inspired by a John Hearttfield montage of 1935, based itself on a speech by Goering: 'Hurrah, die butter is alle!' (Hurrah the butter is finished!) shows typical folk ingesting their daily metal ration in that particular holocaust of a brave new world, neatly making the connection with today's electronic conditioning. As you know, totalitarianism takes many forms. "The chorus at the beginning is the brainwashing: NOT what I think." Siouxsie. Oh, and Heartfield produced montages of such brilliance and truth that he was forced to leave the Reich but pronto or lose his life... point taken? Check.
So welcome to the end of the sardonic seventies. Writers are notoriously prone to read too much into things: it's part of their job if not an occupational hazard, but I guess I could stick my neck out and say that Siouxsie and the Banshees manage to tap and sum up the current pulse and its emotional undercurrents in a way analogous to the Pistols in 76/77. Not similar: it's two years on - their attitude affected by theirs and others' mistakes. And, now they've come in from the cold, they have a similar potential for mass appeal...
Siouxsie and the Banshees are four individuals, combined: they're singing for individuals, but there are a lot of you out there...
John Savage 24/06/78
THE MOST ELITIST BAND IN THE WORLD
'A gig is often an exaggeration of what we feel every day and therefore it can probably seem a bit ridiculous at times maybe. It might seem a bit exaggerated because a lot of energy is channelled into it.' - John McKay
Coming out of the tube station at nine at night - starting this story by seeing the Banshees at Hammersmith Odeon - I noticed a group of latter days punks, hanging around the ticket barrier. As I hurried past, the obvious leader of the group hustled up behind me.
"Hey, you going to see
And so, suitably refreshed, on into the Odeon to witness the Banshees reach a new 'crest' in their career. Seemingly effortlessly, they justified all the claims that have been made for them in the past. The intensity of their performance was simply, overwhelmingly awesome. No longer were they yet another scummy little outfit thrashing away at the Vortex with a girl singer who for all the world looked like her biggest regret in life was not getting the lead role in Visconti's 'Damned'.
Now they were confident, assertive, blindingly convinced that they'd been right all along. The music was like a welcoming nightmare, comforting while it frightened, the seeming dispassion of Siouxsie's voice underlined by the hollow warmth of Kenny Morris's drumming. Visually, the band leant on their past record of bleakness - y'know the idea, all that Ice Queen schtick - but also pushed that approach into the future with the careful balancing of red and blue lights at the side of the stage and the white light, white cold fixed stare of the spotlight which followed Siouxsie only, hugging her movements like a peeping tom and making her look like a toy figure jerkily come to life.
As someone said to me, it was almost too perfect. But it was that perfection - and the general relaxed demeanour of the crowd (where I sat most of them looked like they worked for record companies) - which temporarily wiped away the memory of one of their 'fans' trying to heist my ticket.
There's an obvious danger that, in relating that incident at the tube station, I'll give the impression that the average Banshees fan is a petty little (failed) mugger who probably only likes the band because he interprets their passion as sublimated violence. After a couple of days on the road with them at wildly different venues, I realise that's not true, that they draw as wide a cross-section as any new band.
They're just unfortunately in the position of being the only band currently touring who emerged from the 100 Club/Roxy/Vortex gobbing route to fame. And that means they attract whether they like it or not, every knucklehead who thinks the true spirit of punk is the North Bank on Saturday with a few chords thrown on so you can jump on the guy next to you in tome with the beat.
And yet, the distance I felt from that kid at the station (how can both he and I like the Banshees?) was consistently echoed in my relationship with the band. As much as I was perplexed by the kid, the band couldn't see how I could enjoy both them and the Rich Kids. In fact, Siouxsie got quite irate about it.
"How can you say you was at a gig and you see people and you can't relate to what the get through it. It's the same feeling I feel when you say you like the Rich Kids and other certain bands and you come and review us claiming to like us... I don't trust you"
It wasn't a case of agreeing to disagree. Most of the time, we were talking at each other from such fundamentally different positions that we probably would have been better carrying on the correspondence by post. Any attempt to situate them in a musical context - with the one notable exception of Bowie - was met with assertions of their own supremacy. Ultimately, they think that there is only one worthwhile, intelligent, interesting, thoughtful, considered source of music in the world. That's right, you guessed it... Siouxsie and the Banshees.
And, if you think that's elitist, you're probably right. More than one person has described them to me as 'the most elitist band in the world'. But it's not that they're unpleasant people. They're quite entertaining, if (here comes that word again) intense company - even if they're not quite as intelligent or intellectual as they'd like you to think. Still, that's what happens when you grow up on a solid diet of Bowie.
In all the public mud-slinging that's been going on lately between the Rotten and McLaren camps, one little story hasn't really been given the prominence it deserved. Rotten complained that McLaren had always thought of the Pistols as the next Bay City Rollers and all present and reading were suitably outraged. In fact, McLaren never made any secret of the fact that in the early days he thought the Pistols would pick up the Rollers audience, as they outgrew their tartan scarves (which is, of course, different to wanting the band to be like the Rollers).
Imagine his surprise when he discovered that instead the Pistols picked up the old Bowie audience. Prominent in that audience were what was to become the nucleus of the Banshees. And, if there's any influence that the Banshees will admit to, it's Bowie circa 1974. The links are obvious. The stripped and channelled sound. The idiosyncratic, very English vocals. The starkness of the presentation. And, above all, the total belief in one's own excellence.
Being someone who was so ignorant about Bowie that the first record I found even interesting was 'Station To Station', I've always been puzzled by just how many totally dissimilar bands look up to Bowie, consider him their main man. He's certainly just about the only link there is between the Banshees and the Boomtown Rats - both bands see him as a, if not the, crucial influence to them as they were growing up - yet the Banshees despise the Rats. When they were being interviewed by some Belgians in my presence, I heard Siouxsie get quite worked up about it. "I don't know if Bob Geldof's intelligent or not. I don't care. But how can somebody be intelligent when they make music like that?"
But still the link of Bowie persists. So, what is it that the Banshees see in him that the Rats didn't (and, of course, vice versa but that's a whole other story)? He obviously does still loom large in guitarist John McKay's mind. Because when I asked him about guitarists he liked to listen to, he talked about Bowie.
"It was never the guitarist I focussed on anyway. Bowie was a big influence, a teenage influence. And he's not a guitarist. Ronson wasn't the one I focussed on. And obviously I listened to Bowie so much, Ronson must influence me. There must be a bit of that in there somewhere... God knows where."
Although he'd answered a question about taste in terms of influence, I let it ride and probed him about what it was in Bowie that had touched, affected him so deeply.
"I was the right age when he came out. A very impressionable age. I decide I liked 'Starman' before I'd even seen Bowie. I knew nothing about him and I saw him on TOTP and as a quite straight 13 or 14 year old to see that was quite an experience. I didn't need live gigs - although I probably would have liked them but I was in Ireland at the time.
"Plus it was certain things like him growing and changing through each album. Like 'Low' I was going through a lot of changes that year. It was an interesting coincidence. All the albums had been coincidences with my growing up. He wasn't the only influence by any means but he was the strongest thing around for a long time. It was the only thing I picked up from in society that I decided I was going to cling to. It was the only albums that I bought for quite a while...
But, for all that similarity, the Banshees are right when they (or John anyway) say that they take something different from Bowie. The first time I spoke to Steve properly, he took me to task for my review of the album, saying that labelling them 'suburban artists' was to imply that they were middle-class and therefore not real rock and roll but a bad pallid imitation of the city kid's inborn sense of dynamism... all that sort of guff.
As so often with the Banshees it was a case of total misunderstanding. They are middle-class, but that's irrelevant. They could just as easily have parents who worked as slaves and they'd still be suburban. Only people who've grown up on the lifeless fringes of South London (or North London, In John's case) can appreciate the full horror of its stultifying stability. Look at Paul Weller. Only someone who comes from Woking could get so worked up in 1978 about such a pathetic irrelevancy as 'Mr Clean'. That doesn't mean it's not a good song, only that he's taken an easy target and flayed it mercilessly. Such bravery.
And so are the Banshees obsessed by the neuroses of suburbia. Only the fairly comfortable have the time to consider the dislocation of 'Jigsaw Feeling', only the fairly protected can develop the belief that we're all brainwashed ('Metal Postcard'), only someone who had time to worry would make the statement - which Siouxsie supposedly did - of laying a barbed wire wreath on her father's grave. Only personal experience could enable John to explain just what he thinks the Banshees mean to some of their audience.
"People similar to us do need us because they need someone to keep it going. Records can be such a lifeline when you're stuck in something heavy, where everybody's just like a robot, off the industrial estate and back to the housing estate. It's like a lifeline. Somebody who's actually talking sense on a record. It serves that purpose until you're either old enough to get out of that town or do something for yourself."
This disparaging (and quite likely accurate) if maybe unnecessary pessimistic view of the rest of the world is at the root of all the Banshees songs and probably finds its most developed expression in 'Metal Postcard', a scaring view of lives run surreptitiously by others, all decisions taken for you without your knowledge, let alone consent.
'It's ruling our lives
Rather like Butlins with J.G. Ballard as the chief red coat in fact. And also very reminiscent of Orwell's vision, '1984' (remember Orwell was the ultimate pampered suburbanite turned romantic rebel). As a tribute to John Heartfield however it's rather dubious. Both Steve and Siouxsie seemed to have a very shallow understanding of Heartfield's pioneering use of the montage as a weapon, not realising that its impact relied primarily on its immediacy, that there was no room for ambiguity or intellectual subtlety.
They found out about Heartfield through Time Out and their dedication bears the stamp of that paper - hip Kultur vulture chic. If it's 1978, it must be German expressionism, Russian constructivism or John Heartfield. Nonetheless, they persist in seeing links between their work and Heartfield's.
"As far as his using art as a weapon goes that's the same as our lyrics are," insisted Steve. "That's the way we think of our lyrics compared to the way everyone else thinks of their lyrics. They don't use it to bring something home to someone.
"It's dedicated to him. It's not necessarily very influenced by the way he went about his art. We're not reprinting his methods."
"And like all art is a redundant media at the present anyway," added Siouxsie. "He was so direct because what he was trying to point out was underneath everything, was covered over. If you tell people they're being brainwashed now they'd never believe it because it's so subtle and subliminal."
Personally speaking, I'm bored to exasperation by books, films, plays, paintings and records which tell me how people are being brainwashed. I find it very difficult to accept the in-built assumption of the artist that of course they're the only ones who aren't being brainwashed. And, when it comes down to it, the Banshees are making money out of telling people they're stupid. Ho hum.
But really none of all that matters. While the Banshees' lyrics are both acute and forceful (if nowhere near as original or insightful as they think they are), at live shows you just don't bother paying close attention to exactly what is being sung. Mostly you get an impression of what a song's about without knowing what any of the words are. For years I didn't know all the lyrics to 'Tumbling Dice' but when I did hear them right - from Linda Ronstadt's Godawful prissy mouth - I realised I'd understood it all along anyway.
So when I trudged through the Canterbury fog - which made the whole town look like the perfect setting for a Victorian murder mystery - I had no intention of paying close attention to the words at the Banshees show. I was more interested in seeing how the audience in a quiet country town would react to the almost demonic thrust of the band. The night before at the Odeon, McKay had dressed up in a bizarre outfit which owed as much to Rasputin as it did to his art school pre-history. How would the good burgers of a cathedral city react to such considered posing?
As it turned out, he didn't wear the outfit. He stuck to the decadent 1920s seedy bullfighter look.
And such relative reserve was the note of the whole show. Whereas at Hammersmith the strongest impression had been of the totality of their show, of its completeness, in Canterbury the band were more... human? Not quite the right word maybe but it'll do. The band played with possibly more spirit but certainly less calculated precision. And Siouxsie was much less distant onstage. Much less the Ice Queen. More like Joan Bakewell if she'd joined a rock and roll band and learned broad Croydon instead of joining the BBC. A gauche girl in her early 20s who dances in a way that should make Hot Gossip and Legs And Co. instantly obsolete... but just as certainly won't. Sioux simultaneously expresses her emotional reaction to the music and embellished that music with her gestures and exaggerated swinging arms.
Unfortunately that innocence is a side of her character that she tries hard to hide with her tough veneer, her almost boorish speech patterns and consistently bored tones. Every now and then though she forgets. Running for the limo they're using, arms flapping and shouting "Baggsy the front seat". And again sitting in a restaurant, when an elderly genteel waitress came over to her and said "Aren't you gorgeous". For whatever reason - grandmother figure of an old lady probably - Sioux felt the need to sneer churlishly.
Someone who knows the band far better than I do said that in six months time, they're likely to be utterly obnoxious, stars and all the worst that can include. But at the moment, as the same person remarked, they're in the position of knowing what they don't want but being utterly unsure just what they do want. Which results sometimes in the kind of petty nastiness that Kenny expressed when he told me how pleased he was that someone in the art department at their record company had been sacked. I got the vague impression that eh saw it as a personal triumph.
But so what? Most 'rock stars' are either bland as hell or obnoxious. It's a condition of the contract they sign. We give you fame, limos, money. You give us all your hopes of maturing.
What does matter with the Banshees is that they've made the best debut album of the year so far and that their live shows have a depth rarely achieved by any bands. The almost intuitive interplay of Kenny's fat yet elusive drumming, Steve's simple bass, John's unorthodox blend of chords and brief, flurried runs, and Siouxsie's unique voice combine - especially on the linger songs like their flirt with chaos, 'The Lord's Prayer' - in an utterly irresistable way. It's as though the music walks over you.
Too often they're compared with the Velvet Underground (then again, every band a journalist doesn't quite grasp seems to get compared with the Velvets). One comparison I hadn't heard before was when their promoter Dave Woods was talking about someone at Polydor, "He's the only one there who understands the parallels and can see the similarities with the period when Pink Floyd were moving on from pop singles".
At one of the homes of the early days of psychedelia, Essex University, such a parallel made at least a bit of sense.
If the audience were dressed differently there was at least the same atmosphere of fanaticism in the audience and the same purposeful experimentation on the stage. Although the most chaotic and least comfortable of the three gigs, it was also the best. The bad conditions forced the band to react spontaneously, to test themselves in the same way as their first visit to a proper studio for the album made them reconsider and reconstruct on the spot. The discipline of external pressures.
And they knew what they'd achieved. Back at the hotel that night while we were doing the interview a slightly drunk if inoffensive bloke at the bar leaned towards Siouxsie and pleasantly told her: "Good show".
Blithely Siouxsie stiffed him: "I know".
Pete Silverton 25/11/78
SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN
People keep saying that the new wave is dead, that all the bands have sold out to the money-men. But the ideals of the very earliest days live on in Siouxsie and the Banshees - who, after all, were there at the very beginning.
"You have an interview and you're talking about things that are so personal and that you honour so much in a way and it becomes so abused. You look at it and it's unrecognisable. There's no feeling in it whatsoever. It's totally on the other side of the fence." (Kenny Morris, Banshees drummer).
"If you're in an interview situation and you really disagree with each other, the interviewer will always agree with you to get more of an interview, to carry on. But when it goes to print, instead of it being a battle, he'll write the two sides of the argument but slant it so that his side comes across through his ego." (Steven Severin, Banshees bassist).
Siouxsie and the Banshees have absolutely no illusions about the mechanics of journalism. Through a combination of first-hand experience and a steely awareness of all the tricks of the trade, they approach the interview with a friendly but level-headed reserve.
They listen to questions attentively, and frame their replies with a sling-shot concision that's meant to illuminate rather than evade or irritate. Their unity of purpose just doesn't allow irrelevant or indulgent detours, which other bands encourage, presumably in the hope of getting more column inches. They treat the interview as a serious and personal exchange of ideas where honesty should prevail.
All that might sound unnecessarily heavy, but in terms of the Banshees it's vitally important. The band have become well-known for their uncompromising stance (and justifiably so), but they are not the ice-age warriors that last year's press tried to make them out to be. Rather, as I tried to point out in a live review several weeks ago, they chronicle what they see around them and confront the audience with those impressions. They are aware of all the paradoxes in a situation and won't pander to listeners by maybe spotlighting the one rosy angle that people might prefer to hear. You can only achieve this through equal parts respect, compassion and clear-eyed realism. They have also just made one of the most impressive albums of this year. It's aptly called "The Scream".
Previous interviews with the band have largely concerned themselves with the evolution of the Banshees. Their history, which has virtually slipped into new wave legend, has been pretty exhaustively documented.
Everyone now, knows that Siouxsie and Steven were part of the infamous Bromley Contingent that followed the Pistols everywhere in those heady days of '76.
How they wore wildly extravagant togs and first performed at the 100 Club's Punk Rock Festival in September of the same year with a band that included Sid Vicious on drums and Marco on guitar.
How they disembowelled The Lord's Prayer for twenty minutes and acted out the chaos that other bands preached but rarely practiced.
How Siouxsie, kitted out in Sex Shop fetish attire, danced alongside the Pistols at their Screen On The Green gig, much to the greasy relish of tabloid sized brains everywhere.
How Kenny Morris joined and P. T. Fenton was replaced by John McKay.
How Nils Stevenson, a former employee of the Maestro McLaren, became their manager and every record company regarded them with maximum (commercial) distaste until Polydor came up trumps this year.
How "Hong Kong Garden" turned all the tables and shot into the Top Ten.
The title of "The Scream" relates to the cover artwork and to the music inside.
Steven: "We wanted something that would sum up the first album so we went right back to the name of the band and that's where we got 'The Scream' first of all." Siouxsie: "The word, 'The Scream', can apply to every song on the album in different ways. People have different ways of screaming out for help. It just sums it up." John: "The Scream was a lot of suffocated passion coming out."
And that is exactly what the front sleeve portrays. Two bodies are submerged under water, locked in that nightmarish split second of blind panic when drowning suddenly becomes a real possibility.
Siouxsie: "There was a film called The Swimmer with Burt Lancaster and there's a bit where the camera's partially submerged and he's swimming through that crowded pool right at the end..." John: "You know the panic when you swim through a crowded pool, you haven't got room to move, you can't swim properly, so you keep stopping and getting to the bottom..." Siouxsie: "And then the screams of kids having fun in the pool is really ear-piercing. Lancaster was swimming all through that so I thought it'd be great to get that claustrophobic feel for the photo without the sound..." Kenny: "Just taking that little moment. It usually only lasts for a few seconds and is almost like your whole life pattern in front of you."
Being an unrepentant hunter of these kind of offshoots, I wondered if a painting by, Evard Munch, also called The Scream, had had any bearing in the matter. John: "I think it was to do with that picture vaguely." Siouxsie: "No, we found out later that there was a picture called The Scream." John: "No, we knew already." Siouxsie: "Well, I didn't. And we saw it but we thought it was too obvious, too one-dimensional to just have the face screaming."
This dovetailing idea also comes through strongly in the way the songs slide in and out of one another. While each one is decidedly separate, there is an amazing continuity between them all. Listen, for example, top the climatic finish of "Jigsaw Feeling", when Kenny's acrid drums suddenly finish and a distant guitar sequence gradually introduces "Overground."
Steven picked up the point: "We stuck "Switch" at the end because it's the most recent song and it's like a pointer for where maybe the music is going."
"Switch" is certainly the most adventurous cut in terms of structure but John slightly modified the position. "We're suggesting that we're capable of that but not that they're all going to be as complicated as that from now on." Siouxsie came in: "I can't see that every song we do is necessarily a progression - they're all very different and should be taken on their own... The main link between the songs is that they are different but they're all linked in that they are extremely powerful - whether they're slightly laid back on purpose to show controlled power or just let loose to show we can... just feel things more than anyone else can. There's not one song on the album that we think, oh dear, we put that on to fill in a gap. They're all powerful and... great. I don't mean that in an egotistical maniac way..."
The band didn't seem to have much difficulty choosing which songs to include and in what order. Steven: "there was only one song left off that before we went in to record it, we thought might be on it. That was "Make Up To Break Up!" Much of their original repertoire including stage faves like "Captain Scarlet" and "Love In A Void" was excluded, though "Carcass" and "Helter Skelter" remain in newly aligned and ferocious form. Kenny: "there was three quarters of an album worth of songs left over that were so old. We chucked all the dead wood out."
Does that mean those early numbers are forever outlawed? Siouxsie: "They're dormant at the moment. The only time we'd ever re-do them or something was when we felt something for them." John: "When the Buzzcocks came out with "Spiral Scratch" if we had come out with something like that at the time, then you wouldn't have expected those songs to be on this album but, because we haven't, they still expect to see all the old songs on it." Message understood.
The album was recorded in a week, but mixing took seven. The band and Steve Lillywhite (and sporadic assistance from Nils) produced. Why Lillywhite, whose name adorns innumerable Island albums? Steven: We were desperate. We got an American guy that Polydor had recommended to do the first session with 'Hong Kong Garden' and 'Voices' and he did 'Hong Kong' really badly. So we had to re-record it and re-record it very quickly. Nils went down to the Johnny Thunders sessions and heard Steve producing and liked that."
Siouxsie: "We were so desperate and we were adamant about not having someone who would try and run the show. A lot of producers are very able but they always leave their mark stamped all over everything. We just wanted to be confident that they could get the basic sounds on everything at least."
So the real testing time came at the mixing stage? Siouxsie: "A lot of that (seven weeks) is down to communicating with someone who doesn't really think on your level." John: "Steve obviously doesn't think like we do and it took him time to start settling in to some sort of pattern. He didn't even do it in the end - obviously there's a lot of give and take. You just cannot get somebody into the band... in like seven weeks... however graphically you might try and describe a thing."
The sound that emerged is strong, abrasive, visceral and constantly inventive, with a thrust that makes the spaces equal partners to the notes. Possible blood relatives to the Banshees in this respect (and maybe in textures as well) are the Velvet Underground, Wire, Can and Pere Ubu. The combination was blue-printed?
John: "It's got to be. It's got to come from a passion. The words have to as well. But music is just that much more raw. Speech is a lot more developed than notes. You can't say as much with a note as you can with words." I'd have though the exact opposite.
"If you isolate a note and you isolate a word... I think it should be much more equal, and I think it's much more equal in this band than it is in any other I can think of. But for most people, music is something to catch people with, and the words are just the icing on the cake. And the music isn't something that has to be thought about because it's all 12-bar stuff that any fool can play. It's so simple, some of the stuff that most bands play. The chart stuff - a lot of it is just practice makes perfect, which is something that can never be said about this band."
With the exclusion of some sax snorts on "Suburban Relapse" and "Switch", nothing was imported to boost their regular line-up. They'd never felt any desire to do that, especially on a debut.
Siouxsie: "We'd only use something else if it added, not just for the sake of saying, we had an organ on such a thing." Steve: "Most bands usually do that when they're playing bigger places and they feel they have to have another person or couple of people to make it seem like a really good show. Even Bowie does it. He has violins and things which are totally superfluous to his music."
John played the sax segments. "I don't play exactly. I play sax the same way I play guitar. In fact a bit better because I haven't got as many inhibitions on a sax. I had two lessons to teach me how to blow it and where to put my fingers roughly and that was it. It's the same attitude to that as the guitar, but with all the guitarists around you can't help but pick up things. With sax it was easier in some ways but then it's a very difficult instrument to do different things on. You can't make it sound different - it either squeaks or plays a right note. And I decided I never wanted to squeak."
To return to the mix, I suggested a similarity with something that Eno had written two years ago. Eno argued that rock was first of all structured like a hierarchy of events. There was the bass line which varied little and on top of that the rhythm instruments which were marginally more flexible although they still had to carry the chords. Then you have the lead guitar and vocals, which carry the biggest opportunity for change.
People like Bo Diddley, the Who and the Velvet Underground, however, threw spanners into this ranking system and experimented with ideas like using all the instruments in the rhythm role. This sparked off some healthy disorientation. Eno's point was that he wanted to constantly shuffle the two approaches and thereby create a "perceptual drift." The result is that you're not sure what you're supposed to be listening to, and all the instruments seem to travel in parallel lines that actually meet or intertwine or bounce off one another. Anyway, if bass and drums are already laying down a rhythm, why should the drums follow slavishly behind? they can develop in another direction. Equally the voice can be as much an instrument and a vehicle for words. It seems to me that this is precisely the Banshee method. They agreed.
More conceptual leap-frogging about "The Scream", this time about the lyrics. There is scarcely ever a mention of love for a start, let alone any of those cliches that constitute 99 per cent of rock's verbal output. Instead, Siouxsie intones lines like "So I just sit in reverie/getting on my nerves/the intangible bonds that keep me/sitting on the verge... of a breakdown, of a reaction, of a result." ("Jigsaw Feeling.")
The band refer constantly to breaking down taboos, and one of them is breaking down the traditional rock language and replacing it with words that are often condensed, elliptical and sometimes funny. Each number paints a different situation, but none of them appears to stray far from a kind of real-life suburban landscape. The Banshees react to such observations with understandable caution.
John: "The album is where we live, what we see. All the songs come out of that." It's as simple as that. "It's not as simple as that but it's part of it obviously." Steven: "That's the stuff the listener works out. It's not put in on purpose." Siouxsie: "None of us wants to say exactly what each song means. That's robbing the audience of their imaginations."
With that in mind, we began a (Flexible) track-by-track run down. The opening sally is "Pure," an atmosphere piece that is a perfect instrumental intro for an album called "The Scream." A snarling, predatory bass stalks its ground before it's met by teeth-grinding guitar splinters, and the distant footfall of drums. Siouxsie's voice becomes an instrument and adds a further edge to the nightmare.
The album's tone has been effectively marked out. Steve: "For 'Pure', you can also substitute 'essence'. That song wasn't written - it just happened." It happened during a sound check in France some time ago. "Also it summed up all that we were going through back in those days. It happened on stage and we just called it 'Pure'. That's like what happens when the band lets loose."
The way the instruments swoop in and out smacks somewhat of dub techniques. Steven: "It wasn't mixed like that. We always really hated bands like Generation X doing a dub B-side. If we listen to reggae, it's just to take in the music."
The mood switches with "Jigsaw Feeling" a tough and vibrant statement about (I think) someone who is in such a state of advanced confusion that he or she retreats into a frozen limbo, helplessly immobile. Siouxsie: It's when your limbs won't do what your brain wants them to. You're so confused that you can't co-ordinate your limbs to do something positive, and you just twist yourself in knots."
Ah yes, knots. On the lyric sheet the word is highlighted by inverted commas. The line runs: "Five fingers do my walking, ten toes unravel 'Knots'." How come? Was there any connection with that Charisma recording artiste and Philadelphia Society founder, R. D. Laing? Steven, who wrote the words, hesitated: "It's just the idea of your toes unravelling your personal relationships for you."
Should your toes do that for you? Siouxsie interrupted, laughing: "You little feirful!" Steven retaliated: "It's the wrong things doing the right things for you. It started out as a self-disgust song and evolved from that. All these interpretations you're saying aren't necessarily what's gone in. We're getting the right things in the wrong way, if you see what I mean, from you instead of from us."
Siouxsie: "Sometimes a person that's completely outside the situation that you're involved in can get things that you don't get. It can be therapeutic." John: "It would be much more therapeutic if a fan came up and said these things. You're a literary type of person so you would read things into it. Hopefully other people will too."
Siouxsie: "I remember when we were recording that song, because we'd done 'Suburban Relapse' and then something else. We'd worked ourselves up into a frame of mind where we could have done all those songs at once and we did. We listened to it back and it was like a speed rush. I really pinned you back to the wall." Kenny: "It was very weird when we did that song. It was about four in the morning, we were really tired and we'd done nothing. We walked in and just felt that something amazing was going to happen and it did."
"Overground" charts a course from life in the netherworld to that of pleasantries where modern families breathe stale air. "Overground - from abnormality, overboard - for identity." The theme is old: the expression new. Steven: "it's another one about choice. You can either go along with the way things are or... It's very personal to the band on one level. The whole things about the uncompromising Banshees. It's saying that we can change to go overground but at the same time we know we'd be worse than ourselves."
The song has a circular structure. Steven: "I don't know if you can hear it but right at the end, as its fading out you should hear the bass coming in again as if it's starting all over again. The idea of fading in and out so it could just go on and on for ever. It's like you sit down and say 'I'm in such a rut.' You say those first words and it's like the process of thinking - thought on top of thought."
Next is "Carcass", an everyday tale of a butcher falling in love with one of his hunks of meat. The saga moves even closer to Warhol when the butcher in the ultimate act of true devotion, lops off all his extraneous limbs so that he can nestle more comfortably beside his other beating heart. "In love with your stumps, in love with the bleeding, in love with the pain that you once felt..." It wasn't, as I'd half-imagined the result of a late night screening of Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Patti Smith's "Horses" was the original inspiration.
Steven: "the track, not the album. The Babel (Babble). It didn't end up like it but the original idea was to do that kind of thing with those kind of lyrics." At the end of the song the written lyrics turn "carcass" into "carcrash." However, Siouxsie continues to sing "carcass." It fooled me utterly. Siouxsie: "That's taken from a fan who thought he heard 'carcrash'. We just wanted to write it in. It's a love song really. You read about how love's supposed to be, but in the papers you see all these other things that people do to get their certain kicks. More people seem to have those sort of kicks than meeting the girl next door. It's an angle of looking at things and they are there - it's not purely fictional."
Do you think people will find it, ahem, distasteful? Steven: "I hope so. When they find themselves suddenly singing it." And that's an easy thing to do. The chorus, especially, sports a refrain that insinuates: "Be a carcass - be a dead pork, be limblessly in love..." When I found myself singing this in the street, I burst out laughing.
John: "What does 'funny' mean? 'Funny' is just a release. Maybe you did find it distasteful, but you had to laugh anyway. In the back of your brain somewhere it was telling you that it wasn't the sort of thing you should be singing and so you laughed." Maybe.
Siouxsie returned to the topic: "It's about how far do you go about accepting people that are different. The impact the lyric has when someone first sees it is probably the reaction that 20 0r 30 years ago someone had to reading about a gay relationship. Things get more acceptable as they go on and you look back and think 'That wasn't so bad.'"
So have people become more insensitive? "Probably, yeah. Like television. The humour of television is so sadistic. And peak vision time is seeing tragedies in other countries - people's skin dropping off and that. It's becoming entertainment now. People want their money's worth. They've seen that sort of thing on the news and they expect it in --- and plays... I remember seeing a play on television called The Sex Olympics. It was television way into the future, and the comedy piece was a clown falling down some stairs and smashing his head on the floor.
"The audience would clap and laugh, while the sick thing - that everyone was getting shocked about - was someone showing themselves as sensitive, saying 'I love you.' The sports thing was these couples banging away. I can just see little things like that creeping in already."
The last cut on side one is their awesomely bleak version of "Helter Skelter." A psychotic reaction from the post-Manson generations? It begins on an agonising contortion with stiletto shards of guitar, gains momentum and finally crashes to a halt on the word "Stop". Steven: "It's more than a song now. We felt there was a need to re-do it after all that happened." Siouxsie agreed: "The Beatles had done it... quite innocently with just the intention of a helter skelter, a child's playground or other insinuations - like sexual ones."
Manson was due for parole this year but, as John said, "he didn't get it. You'll hear the scream. We've been looking jokingly through Manson's eyes, by thinking about 'Pure' and 'Overground', with his theories in mind and thinking what he'd read into it. You know he had that bit about them all going down the hole and then coming back up. The blacks would take over and the Family would go down a hole somewhere in the desert. Then, when the Blacks had got really decadent and were losing again, the Family would come out and rule the world. 'Overground' could be construed in that way with his head."
Does that worry you? Siouxsie: "A bit." John: "Not 'worry'... he might never hear it. It's in the same mood as terrorism, where people can't understand why people commit terrorist acts because their politics aren't usually that clear. Terrorists usually have very airy-fairy political ideas. They kill people for the sake of it, practically, and people can't take that in. The feeling isn't a Sixties thing as much as it has built up from the Sixties."
The conversation turned to ideas of self-analysis and change, and then onto the responsibility the band felt towards their audiences. Kenny entered at an oblique angle: "One of the funniest times, the oddest time and the most important time, is that period when you leave school and for a few years, where something happens to set a certain pattern, even though you're probably not conscious that the pattern was set from that high... that's a funny period when things start to sort themselves out and that's when kids will do those sorts of things - like listen to what you're saying, dress like you do. I, to a certain extent, did those things but you go through changes all the time."
Siouxsie added her perspective: A lot of kids, when they leave school, are very influenced by their parents still. They usually don't get out of that trap right from then. I feel very lucky in that I didn't get trapped in that sort of thing."
Flip over to side two.
Television figures yet again on "Mirage," where the chunk of homely technology seems to rebuke its viewers for being like "photo-fits of loose ends, framed in 3D". A sardonic reversal of roles. The electronic eye crops up again and again.
Kenny: "It's more the idea of blindness and screens rather than taking it down to TV. It's about walls, screens, inhibitions, inabilities, expressing oneself in public."
The theme sneaks in for another reprise on the following track, "Metal Postcard (Mittageisen)", which is dedicated to the celebrated photomontage artist of the Twenties/Thirties. John Heartfield. Siouxsie's words update the pre-wartime situation for the TV generation of tomorrow where day and night loudspeakers blare out commands and the deity becomes metal. "Metal is tough, metal will sheen, metal will rule in my masterscheme."
Siouxsie: "it's a warning song. The whole propaganda of the Nazis at that time was very dangerous and it could easily creep its way in without there being all the hysteria of killing the Jews. Their whole propaganda could easily fit in today." How does she see this Metal Metropolis? "Not being able to get away from the commands of the day, not being able to escape, the idea of having cameras in your room and having people watching you..."
"Nicotine Stain" would be a perfect anthem for ASH, the anti-smoking campaign. It conjures up horrific images of old men hacking up their lungs but powerless to resist any puff. The song moves from a graphic description of the actions and the needs of an individual smoker to, in the last verse, almost global proportions.
Siouxsie: "That song started off when I had both my hands full and I had a cigarette. I had to hold on to it and i could feel the fumes all around my face. I had to look in the mirror to see that my face hadn't gone brown. I just got to thinking how nicotine could soak up all your body."
While Siouxsie saw the number in
strictly tobacco terms, Kenny substitutes any kind of drug.
"It's about everyday things that you really don't need to do, that
you don't want to do but you just find yourself doing them.
Because you have to." Siouxsie came back in: "It's
that habits are very disgusting and you realise how addicted you are to
them. You try to find the usefulness of your habits, you try to
Siouxsie: "it's committing a crime under the stresses of everyday life. Being so confused and... I don't know how anyone can be a judge - an actual one in court."
And, lastly, "Switch" - whose lyrics are deliberately written out like the shape of a dumbell. Why? Siouxsie: "I had in mind that it was going to be very fragmented with three different sections. That's all." The song has these three distinct sections that nevertheless all gell perfectly. Sympathetic disorientation, you might say, but not so stylised as to alienate.
John: "There's a responsibility to fans. If you went totally weird, I mean just for yourself, nobody would understand. It would get totally blurred. You can't go over the top. That's why I'm so annoyed at a lot of bands. They either go one way or completely the other. They feel they have to be very obvious, or very oblique and weird."
Steven: "For a long time I think that's why we weren't offered a deal. We weren't one or the other. We weren't weird or terribly Sham-like." Siouxsie: "Virgin snapped up a lot of bands pretending to be weirdos and also bands like Jam and Sham - real rock 'n' roll punk bands - because they could market it very easily. They can always market something if it's going to last a year or two, because it's so immediate and doesn't need any thinking about."
Like several of the other songs, "Switch" moves images around like chessmen on a board. As you switch TV channels, or radio stations, so you can switch personalities. It's a method of workable survival for many, but the pictures get blurred. "Switch" takes the roles of a scientist, doctor and vicar and turns them around so that the traditional functions become confused, upended, almost interchangeable. I hadn't noticed this at all until the band pointed it out.
Steven: "The scientist becomes the doctor and applies science to medicine - that kind of thing." Siouxsie: "The vicar becomes the scientist and he applies his religion to science and the doctor becomes the religious person and applies his medicine to religion." Steven: "It all comes down to the same thing - the hypocrisy of it all."
But if all these images are so interchangeable, does it matter? Steven and Siouxsie talk over one another and this is the hybrid answer: "That's the point. That these people, whatever the given situation, they will apply their same standards to it and won't change. You didn't realise that they were switched, so that proves the way it is." So explain the hypocritical slant. The double act again: "That's the vicar's verse. Although he's a scientist because of the way he thinks, he regards it as blasphemous to do more than the Almighty. The doctor can be sympathetic with hallucinators because he puts it down to being hysterical and prescribes a tranquiliser." Reach for that valium.
It was approaching 2.00 am. I was certainly knackered but the band seemed wide awake, all cylinders firing. I was about to wind up when John mentioned that I hadn't asked about "Hong Kong Garden." Its success should mean that a lot of people who would normally have ignored or simply not known about the Banshees will investigate "The Scream."
John: "If we had put out something with a very underground feeling, or one of our less accessible songs, we would have stayed a cult band, which we didn't want to do. A lot of the fans are very possessive and really want us to be an underground band, which is something we've always hated." Siouxsie: "That's totally pointless and self-indulgent. The things we're writing about aren't aimed at the underground..."
"Hong Kong Garden" was written in a different way from their normal corporate jigsaw building. Siouxsie: "John came up with the riff, a fragmented riff and I wrote what I thought that riff conjured up. Impressions that I drew up of the East. It's called 'Hong Kong Garden' because that's a British colonial thing and as it's part of Britain it's neutral. Mixed in with this are all the factual things that have happened in Nagasaki and Hiroshima and the way the Japanese are fighting against the old and new ways - with Americanisation coming in. They are always having to fight back the trashy kind of thing that America put in Japan. And the same for the Chinese as well. And then there's the false impression that we get of these as well."
Steven: "The false impressions of anywhere. Like in England or Scotland. Like caricatures, Irish jokes, anything. We're talking from a vulnerable point because we have never been to the East, so it's like saying we are naive about it as well. But at least we realise that."
John tilted the viewfinder. "But the Japanese are right into America. They love the West like the Eastern Bloc countries do. James Dean, the lot. They have business cards with their Japanese business names and then underneath it has Jolly Friendly Fellow or something in total pigeon English. It doesn't matter what it says, it's just that they love English characters. Like we love Chinese things maybe... It's partially just a place we haven't seen. All we've got is media representation."
The Banshees began with less than minimal musical knowledge and, through ferocious determination have carved out a sound and vision that is entirely their own. The secret is actually utterly simple. Steven unintentionally gave it away.
"You don't think about old forms. You pretend that you're the first person ever to put pen to paper and ever to play guitar." Siouxsie expanded: "We're trying to get rid of more and more of the taboos that you're brought up with. Because we came about without us having a natural release and progression."
Steven again: "And that can be dangerous because people start suspecting you of being self-consciously avant-garde." Siouxsie: We're very aware of that, which is probably why we hardly like anyone. There's a lot of new bands that appear to be quite progressive and there's a lot that aren't. yet they're all in the same vein in a way because it's all fake. They live the life of being an artist. Those big stereotypes."
John agreed: "There's NO intrinsic taboos. I'm thinking about trying slide guitar. Slide is like, ok, 'orrible country and western stuff, but if you say I'm not gonna use this and that, you're obviously limiting yourself terribly. Just use everything and anything you can, in the right way."
Kenny: "The best thing for this album would be if couples sat down by the fireside and listened to it. It's those sort of people who need to listen to it."
Ian Birch 21/10/78
If you were to suggest to me that
punk is dead, three months ago I'd probably have agreed with you, but
now - I'm not so sure. What has mostly changed my mind is the
emergence recently of one of the original punk groups, Siouxsie and
the Banshees, with a monster hit single, 'Hong Kong Garden'.
I'm sure most people must have felt that absolutely every punk group
that was going to be signed up had been signed, probably a year
ago. But it seems, as we can hear several times a day on the
radio, that it wasn't so...
the first public appearance of the group was way back in September 1976, yes, more than two years ago, at the now famous Punk Festival held at the 100 Club in London, where over two nights, such famous names appeared as the Sex Pistols, the Clash, the Damned, the Buzzcocks and the Vibrators. Siouxsie was a Pistols fan at the time, and had gone along with several other fans of the group to watch her heroes when she suddenly decided that perhaps she should have a bash at performing herself, and with a very makeshift band consisting of Steve Severin (bass), Marco Pirroni (guitar), later of the Models, but now apparently vanished, and Sid Vicious (drums), yes that's the very same Sid, who was later a Sex Pistol himself, and more recently performed 'My Way' in a somewhat forgettable manner. Siouxsie sang a very fractured version of 'The Lord's Prayer', which I'm sure you'll agree, is a totally inappropriate song for a punk band. By all accounts, this was one of the most appalling performances the world has ever seen masquerading under the title of music...
But the performing bug had got to Siouxsie and Steve, and in February of 1977, they had found Kenny Morris (drums) and P.T. Fenton (guitar), and began to perform around the London circuit, often supporting the more famous punk groups. By this time, the group were beginning to improve musically, which was actually just as well, although after a gig at Dingwall's Dancehall in London, they were told they would never be booked there again. Then came the final personnel change which brought the group to its current line up, when P.T. Fenton was replaced on guitar by John McKay, who provided the vital direction the group had previously been short of. The rest of 1977 was composed of a lot of gigs, both in England and on the continent, and by the end of last year, there was a lot of talk about the Banshees being the best group in Britain without a record contract. In fact, after they had done a live session for the John Peel Show on Radio One, there was some discussion as to whether BBC Records should release some records of the group, as it had become obvious that they had a strong fan following, and would obviously sell a large quantity of records if anyone should sign them. That didn't happen, but it was later revealed that because they had been ignored for so long, the Banshees were not going to sign any old record contract, but required a deal that gave them a certain amount of control over which records should be released, and the sleeves in which they would be sold. As a result, a number of offers were made to Siouxsie and her boys, but we turned down because the record companies required more control than the band were prepared to allow them.
Eventually, it became obvious to Polydor Records that whatever the group wanted, they must be allowed to have, and the deal between them was signed as recently as last July, following which the Banshees sold out the Roundhouse in London, a considerable feat for a group who hadn't actually released a record. But that was soon remedied by the release of 'Hong Kong Garden' in August. Although many (me included) would say that it didn't sound too much like the Banshees as they generally appeared on stage, there's no doubt that it's an extremely fine record, and it's proved its class by zipping up the charts as if it was jet propelled. Now I'm waiting for the album, and I earnestly suggest that if you've bought the single, you'll be doing the same.
OVERBOARD FOR... FUNTIME?
ZIGZAG GOES ON THE ROAD WITH SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES AND FINDS THAT
THE IMAGE IS NOT WHAT IT SEEMS...
And you all thought, or have been led to believe, that Siouxsie and the Banshees were nothing but grim-faced, black-clad warriors of doom and disorder, sour commitment, the pursuit of total perfection, with needless emotion... let alone FUN, a scorned irrelevancy.
Just goes to show how wrong you can be.
Yes, the Banshees are totally committed to their stunning aural art, to improving and performing it to the best of their ability. Yes, they are serious in interviews, having things to say in the face of the usual bigotry. But to believe Banshees have no fun and don't dispell humour to others is about as correct as saying they're into Nazi chic.
They're pissed off at how they've been misrepresented. They want you to know they're human, but on the other hand, they're not there to provide a Good Night Out for punks' cabaret circuit. Siouxsie sums it up: "People are too serious about the wrong things and not serious enough about other things."
So people are wrong to expect light entertainment from the Banshees (try 999), that's their lookout. But if you got the wrong idea about the Banshees' lifestyle 'cos those who are supposed to know are "too serious" about it... maybe we can help.
"Zigzag" went On The Road with the group for two days of the tail end of their recent (highly successful) UK tour. Know what? It was a crack, an unadulterated Crack. Most of the time, apart from the actual gig, was spent laughing, talking, LIKE HUMANS DO! I saw them get pissed, mess about... but always remain true to that hour on stage.
Don't believe me? Okay, here's what happened, as it happened. Starting as I set off for Malvern, scene of gig one.
6.55 p.m. Walk right down the hall. They're on a new number now - "Premature Burial", which features a memorable riff and some effective drumming. It's quite slow and of steamroller force. I know after one exposure that I'll love it later - John wants to kick off the next tour's set with it (whenever that will be).
Manager Nils Stevenson has already seized my music papers and is scanning the NME carve-up he anticipated. Soundcheck finished the band come over. Siouxsie reads the NME without emotion. She's quiet for a while. Later she says she was angry 'til she read it a second time, then was unbothered. John McKay says he's quite glad of a slagging 'cos everybody else liked the album - "and there's nothing worse than a bland Good Review".
7.20 p.m. To the
pensioners/businessmen-type hotel to get ready for gig.
The echoey hall adds to the weight and density of the churning Banshees sound. I'm trying to work out just what it is that draws me ever deeper into this group, so being cold and taking it at each level it seems quite easy at first. Like as a rhythm machine for feet and guts Kenny Morris' drumming is unorthodox, primitive (in a tribal sense) and far removed from the clicking hi-hats of the fly-strength paradiddle merchants. Steve's bass aims likewise, being again individual, vital to the surge and without homage to any of the instrument's conventions. John McKay slashes (all right, it may be three o'clock in the morning but I just started to write "wrists", when it should be...) riffs, but steeped in a pirannhic panorama of flurries and counter attack strange chords. Right, so on a pure musical level the Banshees are constantly inventive, exciting for feet and head, unpredictable and loaded with hooks. It's real hard to try and get a new sound and not sound contrived, indulgent or plain silly (um, stand up Devo, XTC, some of you New Musicknesses), not to mention BORING. Fact is, the Banshees fit in nowhere, how it should be, and succeed totally. That makes me happy. Now talking of the instrumental/music side I have to include Sioux's voice as a vital part of the sound, of course. It often carries the melody and the mood. Just listen to the devastating "Switch", the way she veers from almost wistful observation to chilling warning. It's just a great voice, handled with ever-increasing control for effect.
This brings us to what she's singing, which are lyrics of dramatic, incisive insight and... emotion. I mean, you can't get much more emotionally affected than through the nightmare unco-ordination of "Jigsaw Feeling" or the turbulence of the housewife's snapping mind on "Suburban Relapse". (I always quote the lyrics, look 'em up... oh, I might do "Staircase" later though.)
These are all tangible things. I can't say "Look, I've dissected the Banshees!" That'd be dopey. I've gone on before about their strength of purpose, unity, determination, attitude to their work... but it all adds up to making the group the important force they are. A pointer to how things could be if more other groups had their ideals and desire for perfection and intolerance of big biz manipulation.
All that helps me believe in them but right now in Malvern Winter Gardens, surrounded by pogoing popsters in front and disco-dancing youth club couples behind, I just gaze and revel in the sheer whirlpool power of Siouxsie and the Banshees unleashed on their nightly self-exorcism. By the last crashing chords of the always-different "Lord's Prayer" they're spent, hence no ego-enforcing encore. Nils says it was better than last night (Blackburn).
For that hour, we had all the album, minus "Carcass" but plus the "Lord's Prayer" (my ultimate favourite) and "Staircase". The latter will be the next single. Don't hold it next to "Hong Kong", it's just another facet, a metallic waltz. The song's about unfathomable mystery:
I was standing on the landing
More disorientation and confusion. I Can't wait to hear how it's gonna sprout in the studio.
11-ish. Mick the driver/bodyguard lets fans trickle in for autographs. There's one 13-year-old kid and his mate - obviously local punk celebs, with home-made "I've got zips in places you haven't got places" outfits scrawled in felt-tip.
The noisier of the pair mercilessly fires questions at tired-but-tolerant Sioux, who is amused by the "lyrics" to "Mirage" scrawled on his sleeve - "I'm just a vixen on your TV screen". With his intent eyebrows and grey anorak head-apparell the little bloke looks like a hedgehog.
"Can you sign this please?" Someone says, so I do, but the group all laugh and I don't get away with it.
11.50 p.m. Leave in search of food. I'm sent into various Worcester restaurants to plead with the owners but no luck. Hot pasties or the hotel bar.
12.20 a.m. Back at the hotel booze is procured from the night porter. John curls up with the gin. Kenny swigs vodka, Steve and I share the scotch, Sioux goes to bed. With various roadies present, plus Mick (who produces some brandy), an unexpected session gets under way.
2 a.m. Mick and some roadies have gone to bed, Kenny's just going and we're talking about the album with long-time fan Billy from Birmingham. John is by now well pissed. Every time he visits the gents he returns with several yellow flowers. Steve plays "She loves me, she loves me not"... she loves him.
3 a.m. Steve, Billy, John and me are the only one life. By now John's gin is two-thirds gone and he staves his appetite by eating one of the aforementioned yellow blooms! The man is legless and giggling! "I hate drinking but if there's a bottle in front of me I'll drink it 'til it's gone," he says next day.
4 a.m. It's gone. Just before staggering off to bed John enjoys a spot of conversation with the elderly golden retriever sprawled out on the carpet.
4.20 a.m. Bed (well, I'd had a fair few myself).
11 a.m. Stroll down to the hotel lounge. (Thinks: Bet John feels like a used contraceptive this morning...) Sitting there reading the paper, fresh and alive is... John! He feels okay and, as is to be expected denies the conversation with the dog.
12.30 a.m. Everybody now assembled and ready to invade dining room. Sioux, who had by far the most sleep last night, is highly bouncy and has taken to calling me "Christopher" sometimes "Christopher Robin". Oh no!
Into the sedate dining room to a table by the window. Ooh what a nice view of the Abbey. I order a lager. It's warm.
Eating Habits of the Banshees, part one: Sioux has the roast lamb, followed by sherry trifle (Hughie!). If you put a runner bean in warm lager it floats. If you put salt in warm lager it ferments and bubbles like the birth of one of those killer balloons in "The Prisoner", I just can't seem to build a snowman out of my ice cream. "Breakfast" ends.
1 something. Set off in the crowded Merc for Portsmouth. Fill in "Record Mirror's" poll form: each Banshee must get a section so Kenny is Best Dressed and John Best Deejay. Nils is voted Best RM Feature of the Year. For some reason I'm Bore of the Year. The journey is about three hours. People sleep or talk to a harrowing Tony Blackburn soundtrack.
4.30 p.m. Arrive Portsmouth Centre Hotel. To the coffee shop. (eating Habits of the Banshees, part two: Sioux has the steak and kidney pie "Special", Steve toast and Kenny and me sausage, egg, beans 'n' chips.) Silliness is still rampant. It's getting to the point now where I can't say anything without Sioux taking the piss or giggling, and the rest often join in. Why? Am I a figure of fun? is it the way I walk, or what?
5.20 p.m. Everyone left to their own devices 'til it's time to go to the soundcheck at... (in between I go to the bar and find "Hong Kong Garden" on the jukebox)...
6.50 p.m. Leave for soundcheck.
(I thought, do you really wanna read all this? is it interesting and relevant? Yes, 'cos I'm fed up reading all this stuff which tries to be clever and mysterious but comes off bland and contrived - MM's Hammersmith review, hahahaha!
7 p.m. Arrive Portsmouth Locarno, another Palace of Tack which mecca me ill (yeah!). The stage has been delayed in building, which means a very short soundcheck. For half an hour everybody sort of strolls aimlessly, Mick waves me in the air by my legs... finally they whack out "Jigsaw", then the doors are opened. And the bars.
(One thing hit me about doing this - it looks like I'm here at every stage of the action, peering over shoulders, at plates of food, making hidden notes, NOTHING escapes the eagle eye of the "Zigzag" writer. Well, I wasn't. All this just comes from memory, the things that stick - you wouldn't wanna read about the ones that don't.)
8 p.m. Dressing room preparations again. Polydor execs show up (band unimpressed) and Mick surprises me from behind again!
8.30-10 p.m. In this period I have to admit that a few beers go down. Tonight the Human League go down a storm with their industrial Gary Glitter dance noise and synchronised slides. It's the last night of the tour so pranks are expected (and feared) from Spizz and the roadies. So it is that ads for Spizz's single and the question "Has this man got a hair problem?" get mixed up in the League's box of slides (the latter obviously referring to the singer's unusual half-Cilla Black semi-haircut). After self-written pieces like "Path Of Least Resistance", Golden Oldies like "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" and GG's "Rock 'n' Roll" bring the house down.
The Manicured Noise at Malvern tape is played in the pre-Spizz interval.
Oil Slickers emerge and dive bomb the hordes with more raucous selections.
In the dressing room hopeful Miss World's parade on the silent screen. They look so silly as Sioux stands nearby, all black and pink, mocking the affected. I get soaked but I can't remember why.
10 p.m. The gig. This set proceeds to stomp me into the ground and I'm totally swamped in the magnificent power roaring from the stage. "Helter Skelter", "Staircase", "Mirage", "Metal Postcard", "Jigsaw Feeling", "Switch", "Hong Kong Garden", "Nicotine Stain", "Suburban Relapse", "Overground", "Pure", "Lord's Prayer" are the songs played.
Siouxsie is on top form - which means blitzing through numbers with a simmering passion which spikes her usual menace and grace. her eyes blaze as she motivates round the stage, arms swinging, legs kicking like a deranged Bluebell girl. She stalks the group, who don't move much as they concentrate wholly on venting that sound.
When fans won't let go of the mike stand Mick is in there. The Spizz contingent appear to the right of the stage waving placards I can't see, but later learn they read "SMILE JOHN". He doesn't 'cos he's not having a good gig... later he says the venue was too "dry", the lack of echoey boom soaked up his chords like a sponge.
All the same, combined the Banshees are playing with a fire and commitment not all the crowd deserve - as usual, "Hong Kong" raises the roof (but they won't drop it "because we like playing it").
I'd say my favourite moment of '78 came when the group segued from the tortured sould of "Pure" into the all-out cleansing ferocity of "Prayer". Rapid bass, pummelling drums and terrifying fractured guitar take the course the gig dictates and tonight it's mesmerising as Sioux whoops, sings and intones her gamut of rages. If the crowd knew what she was saying about them! Each night group members leave the stage first while the rest are playing. Tonight it's the pissed-off John first. Shortly after the heartbeat stops too. I am stunned.
11.15 p.m. Apparently there's some tension in the dressing room 'cos Sioux clonked a bloke on the noggin with her microphone. John and Steve aren't very happy with the gig. Sioux and Kenny are.
As bouncers shoved out the human debris Sioux appears, bouncy and smiling (must be one of those moments when she "forgets" her frosty veneer... in which case Sioux must be a very forgetful person). She talks and signs, one time resting the paper on the side of the pleading fan's face.
"That's cheeky, Sioux."
11.40 p.m. Back to hotel where Polydor execs and roadies make merry in the bar.
12 something. We leave the "party" for an Indian restaurant in the town centre, where an interview will be attempted.
1 a.m. This is a difficult one, for a few reasons, and is just as hard to explain.
For a start, we all agree that Ian Birch covered the album in such well-researched detail in his excellent MM piece a few weeks back that to laboriously retrace the same ground would be stupid. Alright, THEN what do we do? The Banshees take interviews very seriously so we don't really wanna do anything throwaway or frivolous, on the other hand, much of our time seems to be spent cracking up, like now, so to suddenly launch into deeper, forbidden territories under these currified circumstances would be quite difficult and forced (I must point out though, that the band know I take them seriously, but most of these situations took place when the tape recorder wasn't around - non-interview situations).
ANYWAY, amidst funny comments at my expense, I turn on the cassette just to see what happens. The conversation is punctuated by waiters, curry, interrupting oafs and the Kate Bush muzak. Right...
SIOUX: Come on! Ask a question
that we haven't been asked before.
ZZ: Do you think people are
too serious about the group?
Can't remember. At that point the crowd of noisy "Lads" enter, sit down and immediately clock the Banshees.
"Excuse me are you Siouxsie and the Banshees? I liked your record Chinese Takeaw..."
Sioux treats the oafs with appropriate disdain, making him say the correct title of the single out loud, and the man can't help but look foolish. The deed is compounded when John thoughtfully calls him an ape as a parting shot. Big Mick leaves last... just in case.
2.45 a.m. In the bar the "end of tour party" atmosphere is anti-climatic and sozzle-subdued. Spizz has already passed out. Sioux has disappeared.
4 a.m. Unbeknown to me, another party, peppered with exotic refreshments has been in progress on an upper floor. Polydor man Chris Parry rolls stupefied on the floor, the cassette machine blares The Clash and Manicured Noise and the lighting man is crawling round the floor pretending he's a dog! The room is crowded, devoid of air but thick with smoke. I am soon gone.
5.30 a.m. I can take no more and crawl into the night (this is written from speculation, not memory). John and Kenny decided to bow out too.
Next day I do not feel well at all. My tongue feels like a pair of underpants. Two days on tour with the Banshees have killed me. I'm not normally like that but they lead me on and on and now look what's happened, I'm leaning out of the Mercedes window in a Southampton street (the band were just paying a lightning visit to a record shop to see their album in the racks for the first time), hurling last night's meal all over the road, astounding housewives and workmen to the great amusement of everyone else.
Car sickness is a terrible thing.
Kris Needs 22/12/78
In defence of Siouxsie and the
"Have a competition in the NME. In less than a hundred words, what do they get out of Siouxsie and the Banshees? (Siouxsie Sioux)
"Everyone wants something more out of their lives. To be true to themselves or whatever. It's just that some people realise it and some don't" (John McKay)
"I think that people have got to face themselves eventually... the whole of society's got to face itself. Not that we're going to achieve that... but we're gnawing away at the bottom." (Steve Severin)
"We have a responsibility to ourselves... we are facing up to our problems that should cross over to other people." (Kenny Morris)
I woke up one morning and decided to travel up to Liverpool to see Siouxsie and the Banshees play a rearranged date at the University.
I travelled back down to London with the unit and talked with them. Recalcitrant Sioux, reasonable Severin, thoughtful Morris, cool McKay.
They are not as difficult or dour in conversation as is generally maintained, but they are wary, intent to some extent on keeping mysteries intact. Only about the most trivial things are their answers definite. Deeper probing, such as asking them to be specific about a certain song, draws a guarded response: "From the listener's point of view, you don't want to rob them of using their imagination - and if you're saying, 'This song is about a boy next door', then the listener doesn't have to ponder."
"We don't read a newspaper. We step into it the way we step into a warm bath. It surrounds us, it environs us in information." (Edmund Carpenter)
SIOUXSIE: "I never used to read the music papers that much when I was younger. I used to buy certain people's records that like - I never really went by anything that critics wrote. I just used to buy records. I just hope that that's the same today, but somehow I don't think that it is. I think it has changed quite a lot."
The most popular and pungent rock journalist of modern times poetically murdered Siouxsie and the Banshees' debut album "The Scream" with vindictive venom. Remember? In this very paper...
Siouxsie: "On one level it got me angry because people who had never seen or heard us would take that review as gospel - and that's where the danger is.
"If someone said something genuinely constructive but heavily critical - and on reasonable grounds - it would sink in a lot more. I wouldn't just think they were being stupid for no reason at all. I'd probably question it with myself. But whether I'd change is a different thing...
"The only thing you can say to someone like that is, 'well, if you hate so much of what is around you, and you're noticing everything that is wrong, why aren't you doing anything?' Why isn't she? She slags everything off, why isn't she doing something for the kids? She's not doing anything being a journalist, just being negative."
The curtain drops on that, for now. But generally the Banshees claim to feed off their adverse criticism.
"However it's motivated," spits Siouxsie, "it has added to us becoming stronger."
"'The critics' apathy or stupidity has supplied us with strength," Kenny Morris adds.
"The press is just a symptom of everything we see around us," offers John McKay. "They're not the reason we started, obviously, but they're a symptom."
It's ludicrous that we should be enemies.
SEVERIN: "We needed the press to sustain interest whilst we had no record deal, which was frustrating but the only way. Before we got the deal it got bad, we were so desperate it got as close as - on the record - signing to the BBC for them to release the John Peel tapes legitimately as an EP and - off the record... (buggering about with 'legal' bootlegs)...
But it's not surprising to see, now that we're in with Polydor, why it took so long for us to get signed. There was nothing heavy about it. They never go and see gigs.
"And a company like that has only got ten bands to sign a year, so they have to be careful. They didn't sign us until they were absolutely convinced that we were going to make lots of money for the. And even then they were hedging their bets a bit."
Morris: "We needed, or wanted to work from within a big record label. It's probably been said before - it's just the idea of taking a big record company to progress, to work through, otherwise you'll probably fall short all the time. We wouldn't be able to do as much as we want to."
McKay: "Public attitude will never change, if the big record companies never change. Because the A&R men won't sign up the right bands. So you've got to change the big record companies before anything else, which is what we're better able to do.
"At first Polydor thought that we were a bit of a joke, like always asking for things. They didn't really think we were serious, that it was just our 'gimmick'. But they soon realised that it's something that we're going to carry all the way through. Keep hassling them for little bits and details."
Morris: "As far as control goes, we can ask them to do things and pressurise them to do things, but it's like constantly swimming against the tide. Because they just hold you back all the time. We have to be at Polydor a lot of the time, pushing them and repeatedly telling them to do things."
McKay: "Yeah, it's enough to make you crack up. But hopefully the tide will change. Once they realise and start to move with us, things will be a lot easier.
"And it's the same with the press. To a certain extent, so many people who interview us think that they've got a nut to crack. It's like a bit of a chip on each individual's shoulder, it's their aim in doing something. They have got to have a nut to crack, rather than go with us."
Severin: "But as far as Polydor goes, the success of 'Hong Kong Garden' brought them over a bit."
It was no surprise that "Hong Kong Garden" should spiral into the charts just weeks after the group became Polydor people. The mystery and enigma of the single, coupled with the similarly seductive reputation of the group itself immediately landed it with plays on the radio. Its oriental 'authenticity', its flickering eroticism, its simple beauty pushed it deep into the charts.
People really did care! the Banshees really were that subtle! That observant! That good!
The single's success gave the group a perfect base to develop from - a total, laughable contrast to their isolated position just a few months before.
The group themselves viewed it with wry detachment, even their natural excitement kept in check.
Severin: "That was freaky. A very strange period. We'd finished it a month before it came out, and we'd pushed it away - and it was just a very strange feeling having people rush up and say how great it was. We were working on the album at the time, so we didn't have much time to think about it, except every Tuesday we'd look at the new charts..."
Siouxsie: "I was excited at the time."
McKay: "But the silver disc was like one of those gold stars - you get a pat on the head and a little gold star like at primary school. It was a bit ridiculous. They were going to present it, but we refused any presentation.
"It's a pretty bizarre thing to have. It doesn't mean anything to what we're doing, it's just part of the record company clockwork machinery. It keeps them happy."
Severin: "it's funny thinking that 250,000 people have got 'Hong Kong garden' in their homes, It just meant to us that a lot more people were going to buy the album."
"In expressionism we move into a world of sound that presents a reverse situation to Impressionism's muted dissonance, transparent textures, low level of dynamics (certainly extreme contrasts in dynamic range) and harmonic invention charged well nigh explosively with explicit tension (i.e. high rate of dissonance). Expressionism in its own remarkable way involves the listener in the sound it makes." (Donald Mitchell)
THREE, FOUR months after the single drifted out of the charts, the heavily anticipated "The Scream" appeared, a jagged, jarring album in bleak contrast to "Hong Kong Garden".
the music on "The Scream" is unlike anything in rock. It is not, as some would say, chaotic - it is controlled.
Each instrument operates within its own space, its own time, as if mocking the lines of other instruments. Known rock is inverted, leaving just traces of mimickry of rock's cliches - satire that often bursts with glorious justification into shaking celebration (as on "Helter Skelter").
It is easy to gain attention by doing something which is crudely obviously out of the ordinary, but the Banshees have avoided such futile superficialities; it is innovation, not revolution, not a destruction but new building. It has grown out of rock - Velvets, "Station To Station", Bolan.
And Siouxsie's staggering voice is dropped, clipped, snapped prominently above this audacious musical drama, emphasising the dark colours and empty, naked moods.
Severin: "We can always fit into the ordinary level of things, but there's most of the music comes from something else, basically all the alternatives, and that's the way I want it to be really. (Far out, man - Ed.) Y'know it looks like a rock album, and I like it to look like a rock album, I like it to look flash, I want it in the racks next to Sham. I don't want it in Rough Trade for twice as much as it should be.
"There's four very powerful egos in this band, so I'm certainly not going to sit back and just play a rhythm, like Eno's theory of the anchor bass and drums."
Morris: "All the instruments do integrate together as a total thing, but at the same time they're all as individually strong as they can possibly be.
"You have to maintain that line between the traditional and the unconventional all the time. But I can't see us slipping and producing something traditional."
McKay: "If we were going to slip we would probably have the next album written already. But every song that I come up with lately, I think, no, it's no good, it's 'normal'. I just come out with things with my fingers and they just don't sound any good, so you wait and chuck out all those things that 'normal' bands would keep. And maybe the day I feel that I've passed my peak is the day I start accepting those things... or the rest of the band do...
"The new songs are being written with the studio in mind. At first the studio was frustrating for us because we all knew how the songs were going to sound and that limited us, but I can already hear how the new stuff is going to sound in the studio and that's really intriguing. We can't wait to do demos of the new songs, just to fiddle about and experiment in the studio.
"But I still don't think that this kind of thing will lead us into any sort of self-indulgence. I couldn't see us finding a tape loop and fiddling about with that. That's not the way to work."
Severin: "it's a constant struggle with bass, drums, guitar to get a reasonable sound together. It's been used for so long, that set-up. But it's a definite decision of ours to use that set-up, the most orthodox set-up, and to manipulate it as much as we can, rather than, say, bring in a synthesizer.
"That's how we feel now. Maybe when we've pushed this as far as we can we'll go into some other areas."
McKay: "But i don't like to separate the words from the music. And the way we put songs together, I can't really look from just one angle. If it wasn't for the words it wouldn't be worth bothering. And you can't get away from the sounds of those words that Sioux is singing - even if you're not taking in the actual meanings of the words, it's just the sound."
Severin: "What we're trying to do with the music is what we're trying to do, not necessarily with the English language, but certainly with the rock lyric: just tear it apart and put it all back together again in different pieces. Because we live everyday with the English language and we can't achieve that as well as we can with the music."
THE WORDS on "The Scream" blend the disquieting deadpan style of Ballard with the colourful conveniences (Musical toilet rolls? - ed.), of Bowie and Bolan. The words glare and glitter.
The landscapes they scourge and swab are those of the living room and of the mind; the same thing - confinement. The music reflects this private, clinical landscape, the tensions and eurphorias of day to day living. There is a twisted passion, but no compassion, and that really is unnerving; the record's fragments seem almost a clam before the storm - which can be seen as being the album's final track "Switch", where even a mental breakdown is dispassionately detailed, Siouxsie's voice grossly, offensively parodying mental collapse.
The group are aware of the futility of most means of 'relief' from boredom, which fail to bring to life that while person - his deeper feelings, his imagination - like a bulky food without any nutritional value. The person continues to feel empty and unmoved in a deeper level, anaesthetising this uncomfortable feeling by momentary excitation: 'thrills', 'fun', 'liquor' or 'sex'.
The boredom remains: a boredom that can erupt into violence, aggression, suicide, breakdown, perversion. This is what the Banshees depict, slanted from the way they themselves were brought up, mundanely 'comfortable' and middle class. Their use of "Helter Skelter" in this is crucial: "When I get to the bottom I go back to the top of the slide" - roll the boulder up, roll the boulder down...
The album took two years to come together, and its timing was perfect. If it had been attempted six months earlier it would not have been so vivid.
"You have to do something", says John McKay, when I ask what motivates the Banshees. "Write music or something."
Morris: "As far as I can remember I always had to be doing something."
Severin: "Also, we feel people have fucked rock up so much - this whole genre and everybody's pissed it up. And I care about it because it means so much to so many young people. It did to me. Everything I wanted when I was young I'm trying to push into this band."
Morris: "The basic need to create is an obsession with us."
That the Banshees have successfully utilised the basic unconscious desire of the intense revolution of '75/76, to inspire something positive out of boredom (literally), is significant.
"The Scream" also seems to focus and capture the last three years' chaos and concern.
Yet the Banshees are often used as an easy example of how 'punk' destroyed itself, by people who ignore both what the Banshees are trying to do and say, and how they're trying to do it - by allowing themselves to become absorbed into the mainstream or operate from within and use its advantages to communicate.
The fact is the Banshees, an openly populist and accessible group, are at the head of a whole horde of new rock groups who take risks unimagined three years ago, who use access astutely and advantageously, who remain underivative and ambitious.
What 'punk' was reacting against was sterility and narrow-mindedness. A revolution like '75/76 can only by its very nature happen once in a while, and it seems unforgiveable that everyone should ignore the true diverse, exciting effects of the commotion and rummage about instead for a constant state of revolt and orgy.
the Banshees always insisted that they wanted to be successful, and have always understood that if they were successful they'd be so for the wrong reasons. They chose the way they wanted to go long ago.
They are not elitists - "except in our influences about our music, about who we choose to play with us."
Siouxsie: "We're not setting ourselves up as perfect. We're affected by things that other people are affected by, of course we are - and we're going to be affected by other things as we develop. It's just that you've got to realise that you have been affected, and if you can, you can usually get yourself out of that nasty situation."
Severin: "We've had old fans on this tour who've said they don't like the new audience because they've only come for the single, but we love that. And we love playing the single every night. Although I can understand people do get precious."
Morris: "We've never been dictated to by modes of music or modes of the times or the press, and that's something we've strove for from the beginning, and we've got a strong hold on that."
Severin: "What we've tried to do is not only confined to music and how we treat the press. Like we booked the whole of our last tour. We didn't go with Goldsmith or anyone. So, for instance, we have our own security guys, we tell the Top Rank people what not to do, where not to go - things like that. We try to be effective in as many areas as possible... and it's tiring."
Siouxsie: "I am personally not deluded by the fact that what I'm doing is going to change the world or anything like that. Which adds to the frustration of carrying on, doing things that I want to do but realising that you're doing something and it's just for a small percentage of the world..."
McKay: "But that percentage grows with each little revolution - like punk was the last one - it grows all the time, the number of people who are prepared to listen to something more political. A little bit more of the population are willing not to go out and have a good time and hide all the rest of their personalities in the back of their brains, so they don't have to think about anything... who just listen to Travolta or whatever and never think about it."
Morris: It never occurs to me in that sense. It's just like a personal strength that we are trying to build within ourselves, and we're trying all the time, and that's going over to people's ears."
Siouxsie: "We're learning that there's more to learn."
"One must be convinced of the infallibility of one's own fantasy and one must believe in one's own inspiration." (Arnold Schoenberg).
"Sensitivity towards destructiveness/cruelty is rapidly diminishing and necrophilia, the attraction to what is dead, decaying and lifeless and purely mechanical, is increasing throughout cybernetic society. The spirit of necrophilia was first expressed in literary terms by F. T. Marinetti in his Futurist Manifesto in 1909. The same tendency can be seen in much of the art and literature of the past decades that exhibit a peculiar fascination with all that is decayed, unalive, destructive and mechanical." (Erich Fromm).
SIOUXSIE: "We're saying all these things and it's not meant at all in a dictator way, it's not telling someone, 'You're boring, you are stupid, you must change.' We're maybe saying these things and hoping someone will think for themselves, 'I am boring, I want to change'... It's not ramming these things down people's throats, because there would be no point in doing that."
The group remains naive, though less so than this time last year.
They're another new rock group caught in the distorting and destructive glare of publicity and post-punk hypocrisy, vulnerable to cynicism and disrespect from people who by their own broadcast ideals should be on their side.
They've a group growing up, discovering, admittedly naive, who make natural mistakes - frivolous mistakes that stick and stain. It's pointless to dwell on certain ugly protrusions in their growth; let's just say that since that dumb fashion fetish the group have worn Lenin badges without anyone noticing or reacting.
1978's change has been rapid and hazy, a scattered intensity compared to the suffocating intensity of 1977, and more so for Siouxsie and the Banshees than anyone else. They have handled everything abruptly new and awkward with calm, curiosity and ultimate effectiveness. But people insist on shooting for the bad things...
"Like, people sneer about us discovering about certain things in Time Out, a chic decadence or something. That is so narrow-minded, because it doesn't matter where you pick up something that is good. It doesn't matter if it's in the Radio Times, or on the ground or in the gutter. I mean, so what?
"And reporters have got this big thing about being middle class/working class - and we really despise that because there's nothing in class at all."
They've made two of this year's best records...
"And I don't think anyone has ever mentioned anything positive about the music, whether it's critcising it, or acclaiming it. I don't think anyone has."
And they've slid smoothly through from the Nashville to the Hammersmith Odeon in just nine months, unfashionably but pensively deciding that they prefer the large seated venues for their music...
"We've had some really good reactions at seated gigs. It is very alienating for a group like Siouxsie and the Banshees to play a place like Hammersmith Odeon, and we like that."
But these achievements are all glossed over, accepted without a second glance. The new rock music's skill and speed at adapting to new tests has been given no credit - typical of the lack of respect it receives.
TV is a good example of how Siouxsie and the Banshees have approached and conquered things that are new and complicated. Their performance on TOTP was dream-like and disturbing, their appearance on The Old Grey Whistle Test loud and lucid.
Severin: "We just storm in there and make a fuss. Doing the TOTP video was frustrating...
McKay: It didn't work out as well as it should have done. It didn't really look very good. But it still looked better than TOTP would have done, although they still went into that star and then Tony Blackburn."
Severin: On The Old Grey Whistle Test we knew we were dealing with 24-inch and we knew what two songs we wanted to do, and we put a lot of thought into it, how we were going to move. It's totally different from a gig, where your eyes can go everywhere."
Art which adds nothing to the experience of the public, which leaves it as it found it, which wants to do no more than flatter rude instincts and confirm unripe or overripe opinions - such Art is worth nothing. So-called pure entertainment produces a hang-over. There is just as little value in Art which has no purpose but to educate and thinks to do this by flagellation, abandoning all the varied methods available to the Arts: this will not educate the audience but simply bore it. The public have a right to be entertained. This helps to reproduce working strength. But it must not only do this. And the Artists have a right to be allowed to entertain." (Bertolt Brecht).
SIOUXSIE AND the Banshees leave 1978 composed and confident. The only thing that got them as far as 1978 was intensity of feeling. Their immediate future is vague - 1979 should be much slower than '78.
They continue patiently tackling Polydor's dumb quirks; they've just refused to appear on their label's pretty punk package.
Severin comments: "I just don't think it will be a good album. It's just a commercial enterprise, like Jubilee, I don't want to be involved with that shit."
They prepare the follow-up to "Hong Kong Garden", claiming there's no real pressure...
"There was never a pressure to have a hit in the first place," Morris muses. "A hit will give us a better standing. Also, it's a new standing. There's the single, the album, then this new single, and they have all come from the last two years. The next material will be a completely different repertoire. And we want to record that really clean, almost disco."
"The Scream" and "Hong Kong Garden" could be their peaks. Who can tell?
But tell me, Siouxsie, do you get recognised in the streets?
"Yeah - in the tobaccanists."
"I get embarrassed."
(The show is over. The audience get up to leave their seats. Time to collect their coats and go home. They turn around... no more coats and no more home.)
Paul Morely 23/12/78
THE MAKING OF...
Hong Kong Garden
The oddly light debut smash that shoved punk's dark primitives out of the shadows.
Written by: Siouxsie
Sioux, John McKay, Steven Severin, Kenny Morris
You could be forgiven for thinking that the local Chinese restaurant is an innocuous subject for a song - particularly during the insurrectionist sloganeering of punk. But Siouxsie And The Banshees' first single attracted its own share of controversy. Lyrics like "Slanted eyes greet a new sunrise, a race of bodies small in size..." met with accusations of racism, exacerbated by Siouxsie's predilection for wearing swastikas on stage at the earliest shows. In fact, nothing could have been further from the truth: visiting her local takeaway in south-east London, Siouxsie now recalls "being really upset by the skinheads who gave the staff such a hard time".
After two years hunting for a record deal, Polydor signed the Banshees after hearing "Hong Kong Garden" on a Peel session. Incredibly, they found themselves booked into Olympic Studios with US soul producer Bruce Albertine. Rejecting Albertine's version of "Hong Kong Garden", they regrouped at the Fallout Shelter in the basement of Island Records, with producer Steve Lillywhite, who subsequently produced the band's debut album, The Scream. "Hong Kong Garden" reached No 7 in the charts - "It should have been higher!" claims bassist Steven Severin. But at least, admits Siouxsie, "it paved the way for us to do what we wanted..."
SIOUXSIE SIOUX VOCALIST, LYRICIST
When "Hong Kong Garden" came out, it surprised a lot of people as it definitely did have a lightness to it. Our material was always a bit heavier. But we loved great pop songs and when John McKay came up with the intro, it was very quickly pounced upon by all of us.
I'd always been really attracted to Eastern imagery and sound. The story is that when I was growing up, the first Chinese takeaway that I went to in Chislehurst was called the Hong Kong Garden. I used to go along with my friend and just be really upset by the local skinheads that hung out there and gave the staff such a hard time - really racist, just intolerant. The Avengers was on TV around that time, and I remember us both wishing we were Emma Peel - go in there and sort them out.
The production didn't allow the song to breathe, originally, with Bruce. Steve Lillywhite brought a lot of space and lightness, with that undercurrent of the behind it pummeling away.
WE didn't know how much of a chance it would get, in terms of being played on the radio. We'd spent so long getting signed, it seemed like the industry was against us. The Pistols had had their single ("God Save The Queen") disallowed from being No 1. There was a controversy about how much punk rock would be tolerated in the charts. But the song was so accessible it opened doors for us. It enabled us to carry on in the way we wanted with the album. If "Hong Kong Garden" hadn't been a success, I don't know how much we would've been left to our own devices. It paved the way for us to do what we wanted. Polydor wanted it on The Scream, but because we felt that it was pretty standalone, we insisted that it not be on the album.
Singing it now onstage is quite surreal - it's been so long - but very refreshing in another way.
JOHN McKAY GUITARIST, CO-WRITER
"Hong Kong Garden" was one of the songs I had in progress before I joined The Banshees. It started life as a song called "People Phobia". I recorded a version, complete with overdubbed guitars and vocals, using two cassette tape recorders, in my bedroom. I played it to the band on the tour bus when we were supporting The Heartbreakers in 1977. Then I presented the song at rehearsals ready to have lyrics and other instruments added.
I first picked out the opening bars of "Hong Kong Garden" on an electronic xylophone in the Maida Vale studio. I played it with the wrong end of the beater and the xylophone switched off, to achieve the right sound.
At Olympic, we were using Eric Clapton's downtime. Bruce Albertine was an amiable American from the wrong musical tradition, and "Hong Kong Garden" didn't get out of there alive. We felt at home with Steve Lillywhite, and the studio was more intimate. He recorded us as we were. He was lively, standing to work the controls instead of lounging in the "producer's chair", and able to transfer the fire in our performance on to tape. We all had a strong idea of how the song should sound, and all contributed.
We needed to put "Hong Kong Garden" out quickly after a long time without a record deal. We wanted a successful single, but on our own terms. We refused Top Of The Pops. We Weren't gagging for celebrity - we were a gang producing a sound we loved. We were ready to embrace success to promote what we felt was the best group in the world. We were excited - this was our first step out of the crucible of revolution into the treacherous world of the mainstream! We were going overground...
STEVEN SEVERIN BASSIST, CO-WRITER
We were finding our feet not only as songwriters, but as musicians. McKay would bring in to rehearsal a chord sequence that he liked, but nothing you could call a full-fledged song. We would then work out our own parts and start arranging everything. Even though Siouxsie and I started the band in 1976 we felt it was important to credit everyone equally - it was very much in the spirit of "all for one and one for all". No one was happy with the Olympic session. We found it difficult being so far apart from each other, isolated in booths. We'd never recorded like that. We were used to hearing each other in close proximity and loud, not through headphone mixes. It was very disconcerting.
"Hong Kong Garden" wasn't written as a single, but it was the catchiest thing we'd written thus far. We grew up with our favourite singles not being on albums - "Virginia Plain", "Pyjamarama", "John, I'm Only Dancing", "Jumping Jack Flash" - and that was a precedent we were keen to follow, not least because we felt "Hong Kong Garden" was a sore thumb compared to the material that was being honed for The Scream. Once I heard the final mix, I knew it was a hit.
Oh, it was a great feeling, after slogging around the UK for two years on blind faith and little else. We felt supremely vindicated and actually a bit pissed off it didn't get higher! We had an intense and righteous belief in ourselves and what we were starting to create. We planned to be there for the long haul, to make a difference... and some of us were and did.
The version of "Hong Hong Garden", and its use in (Sofia Coppola's) film Marie Antoinette is magnificent. I'd heard a rumour that Sofia was a fan but nothing prepared me for the orchestrated intro. Brilliant.
STEVE LILLYWHITE PRODUCER
It starts with Johnny Thunders. I'm in the studio with him recording So Alone, and Johnny is friends with Nils Stevenson, who was Siouxsie's manager. Nils came to the studio and liked what he was hearing.
He said they'd recorded a version of "Hong Kong Garden" but didn't think it was good enough. Did I want to have a go0 at it? I thought, "Wow!" The vibe was so big with Siouxsie And The Banshees, it felt like it was going to happen. I said let's do it without having heard it. It wasn't so much about the song, it was about the movement - punk was really cooking - and I was at the epicenter of the whole thing.
We recorded it at the Fallout Shelter at Island Records in maybe a couple of days. There were other bands around whose interest was more in getting loaded and having a party, whereas with Siouxsie And The Banshees, it was art.
In those days, we were serious about not liking to spend too long on songs. I would never let guitar players bend a note. The moment you bent a note, it was considered like Pink Floyd - the "bad stuff". I remember getting Kenny Morris to play his drums separately so not to hit the cymbals at the same time, which is something that I've done a lot.
"Hong Kong Garden" was recorded to be a single. It was also a test to see whether we would get on, to be able to do the album. It was my first hit. I'm very proud of it. It sounds even better now than it did then. Some records in your career you think are good and are hits, but just sort die, and others have a life of their own, and "Hong Kong Garden" does a little bit of that.
KENNY MORRIS DRUMMER, CO-WRITER
There were four people in a band who could not be more compatible, who were absolutely perfect - the four of us. I thought at the time that our best song was "Love In A Void" and that it should be the first single, but our manager decided on "Hong Kong Garden" because the very first few seconds that you hear on the radio or driving in a car, you're hooked straight away. Everybody loved it. That was a good decision by Nils Stevenson, because much of our music was very dark and this was a way of bringing people in to listen to our album.
I remember we played the Roundhouse (July 23, 1978). We'd only recently signed to Polydor, but "Hong Kong Garden" had been broadcast on the John Peel show. We went to the Roundhouse and there were absolutely hundreds and hundreds of people there. I said to John McKay, "Who are all these people?" They were there to see Siouxsie And The Banshees. All of a sudden, there it was, No 7 in the charts. We were catapulted into the big time. Big Concerts. You never had to have a penny in your pocket. Wherever you went, people would throw anything at you, whatever you wanted.