In which Ian Cranna tries to fathom
“I became more positive when I was in a band towards what I wanted to do, which was to be a singer and writer. Before I was in a band, I knew what I didn’t want to do – which was everything offered to me, that was available to me. And then the band just happened.”
The husky tones voicing the frustrations of so many kids these days belongs to Siouxsie of Siouxsie & the Banshees.
They’re an odd lot, that bunch, and I never know quite what to make of them. On one hand, I respect their distaste for the music business “establishment”. I also greatly admire the way they try to control as much as possible, from artwork to security at gigs.
On the other hand, I sometimes share the impression of people like our very own Cliff White that their music – however well intentioned – seems misguided, more a question of artificial form rather than heart-and-soul content. But then again, I found “The Scream” a strangely compelling album that I went back to over and over again.
Siouxsie, Steve Severin and myself are sitting in the interview room in the London offices of Polydor Records. As four strong contributing individuals, the band like to do interviews together but Kenny Morris and John Mackay haven’t turned up. Siouxsie and Steve are polite but distant, difficult to assess as they give nothing away nor make any attempt to be friendly.
They view the music press as elitist, pompous and pretentious and, to quote Siouxsie “just worms in the earth”. (An understandable point of view, I admit, though with their professed respect for the individual, I do think they might make some attempt to distinguish the good writers from the bad!)
You probably know their history by now – how the band just “happened”, to quote Siouxsie again, one night at the 100 Club in London in 1976. The much publicised Bromley Contingent, however, is dismissed by Siouxsie as a creation of the press. “It was just some friends that knew each other really,” she says, “that went to gigs together because they lived near each other.”
Was the beginning of the band really that spontaneous?
“The first gig, yeah,” Siouxsie replies. “A one-off, without really thinking of the future or anything, just of the time – which is still the same. I mean, people say what are you going to be doing in two years time, and where are you going to march off to? We don’t know – we only know what we’re doing at the moment.”
With one subsequent personnel change – John Mackay replacing P.T. Fenton – the band stuck together, bonded by a common idea of trying to use the music business without being affected by it. A worthy aim, you might think, but not all of the early publicity was favourable. There was, for instance, much written about wearing of the swastika by Siouxsie.
Determined as ever, Siouxsie still denies she regrets wearing it, ” . . . because I wore it to show the thing up and not support it, and it was very much a shock tactic.
“And to an extent,” she continues, “the swastika was – as I said I was very negative and knew what I didn’t want to do, and now I’m more positive and I don’t feel the need to wear a swastika any more.”
Personally I still think that wearing the swastika – the dreadful symbol of the murder of millions of Jews, gays and other minorities as well as the deaths of countless other innocents in the war – is repulsive and just plain irresponsible. But whatever, the band successfully survived the unwelcome publicity to reward their faithful following with a hit single in the form of ‘Hong Kong Garden.’ An impressive debut album in ‘The Scream’ followed shortly after. Siouxsie & the Banshees had arrived.
The direct opposite of self-proclaimed “good time” bands like The Damned, Siouxsie & the Banshees collective refusal to commit themselves to anything that they regard as shallow has earned them a strong image as loners and outsiders. Was this deliberate?
“No!” chorus Siouxsie and Steve in protest. “We haven’t put across what we feel,” Siouxsie claims.
“We’re always getting tagged as being bleak and dismal,” Siouxsie complains.
“You should hear ‘Jigsaw’ on the disco,” Steve comments. “It’s hardly dismal.”
Dismal or not, Siouxsie and the Banshees have found their uncompromising attitude also has its price tag. They’ve been banned, for example, from venues in Newcastle and Middlesbrough for trying to protect their fans from unnecessary attentions of bouncers.
The band also claim they’ve been blacklisted from Radio One’s “Round Table” programme after Siouxsie had made some outspoken remarks on it.
Another area of controversy where the band have encountered opposition has been their decision to release a German lyric version of ‘Mittageisen’ (the album track) as a single in Germany.
‘Mittageisen’ was inspired by the photographs of anti-Nazi propagandist John Heartfield – one of which has been used as the sleeve for the single – and the war is still a very sensitive topic in Germany. This single has already cost the band one TV appearance in Germany.
Undeterred, the band have gone ahead with the single, using an old recording of ‘Love In A Void’ as the ‘B’ side. Initially it will only be available in this country as an import, though Siouxsie tells us that Polydor will be releasing it here later in the year.
Meanwhile the band have of course a new single released in this country. Already in the charts, ‘Playground Twist’ has lyrics by Siouxsie and, according to her, is a song about looking at life in general as a playground. The ‘B’ side, by the way, is called ‘Pulled To Bits’ and not ‘Pull To Bits’ as on the label.
The single’s distinctive sleeve, incidentally, is a painting of a playground done by a mentally handicapped child from Kuwait. The band borrowed it from a London exhibition. (They’ve also recently done a fund raising concert for the mentally handicapped.)
Still on the subject of vinyl, the band have also finished recording their new album ‘Join Hands’. The tracks include ‘Regal Zone’, ‘Poppy Days’, ‘Placebo Effect’, ‘Icon’, ‘Playground Twist’, ‘Mother’ ‘Premature Burial’ and a 13 minute version of their live show highlight, ‘The Lord’s Prayer’.
With artwork by a friend of Kenny’s, the album will be released around the middle of August.
“Four individuals making one unit. Which is not just four individuals doing what they want without regard for anything else that’s in the band, it’s four individuals doing what they want with regard.” That’s how Siouxsie defines Siouxsie & the Banshees. Strangely strange but oddly normal.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m just going to go and play ‘The Scream’ again . . .
Smash Hits, July 1979