It was a dark and stormy night… or might have been if there was an omen of truth in advertising. Vocalist Susan Janet Ballion and bassist Steven John Bailey had met at a Roxy Music concert in September 1975 and by 1976 were members of the same group of notoriously rabid Sex Pistols fans inspired by their unyielding attitude. When Ballion learned that one of the bands scheduled to play the London 100 Club Punk Festival, organized by the Sex Pistols’ manager, was pulling out at the last moment, she offered for herself and Bailey to play in place. This despite the fact they had no band, no name, and no other members. Two days later, with borrowed musicians, guitarist Marco Pirroni and drummer Simon Ritchie (aka Sid Vicious), they would play a savage 20-minute improvisational rendition of “The Lord’s Prayer” and be asked to return.
Ballion of Chislehurst, East London, had an isolated childhood, exacerbated by an alcoholic father and sexual assault at nine; her internal world would be fuelled by horror stories. She would successfully rebrand herself Siouxsie Sioux of Siouxsie and the Banshees and Bailey would morph into Steven Severin. Vicious would join the Sex Pistols, Pirroni would join Adam and the Ants, and the band itself would recruit drummer Budgie (Siouxsie’s future husband) from Big In Japan. Throughout their two-decade run, they would release 11 albums and 30 singles before finally disbanding in 1996.
Highly influential, some of their darkest material would help spawn the gothic scene, with Robert Smith of The Cure declaring in 2003, “Siouxsie and the Banshees and Wire were the two bands I really admired. They meant something.” Further elaborating later that during their 1979 Join Hands Tour, “On stage that first night with the Banshees, I was blown away by how powerful I felt playing that kind of music. It was so different to what we were doing with the Cure. Before that, I’d wanted us to be like the Buzzcocks or Elvis Costello, the punk Beatles. Being a Banshee really changed my attitude to what I was doing.” Smith would end up instrumental in the creation of the Banshees’ dark and atmospheric album “Hyaena” before returning to The Cure full-time.
Several members of Joy Division listed Siouxsie and the Banshees as a “big influence“. Morrissey of The Smiths stated in 1994, “If you study modern groups, those who gain press coverage and chart action, none of them are as good as Siouxsie and the Banshees at full pelt. That’s not dusty nostalgia, that’s fact.” Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode named the Banshees as one of his three favorite bands along with Sparks and Roxy Music. Commenting on their original line-up and what set them apart, Gahan said, “[they], whom I adored, sang much more abstract, artistic and frustration [sic]. Colder and darker.” Thom Yorke of Radiohead said that seeing Siouxsie on stage in concert in 1985 inspired him to become a performer, Jeff Buckley owned all of their records, and Shirley Manson of Garbage related, “I learned how to sing listening to [their albums] ‘The Scream’ and ‘Kaleidoscope’.”
In 1988, the band finally cracked North America with their demented ball-of-mirrors album “Peepshow” containing opening track “Peek-a-boo” setting a gothic tone of darkly festive ska. It would be a strange fruit concoction born of a reversed drum sample taken from their remake of John Cale’s “Gun” married to a manipulated vocal from Siouxsie achieved through her use of different microphones for each line of the song. Producer Mike Hedges would further elaborate, “Then we started overdubbing. We recorded forward drums over the backward track – crunchy and loopy, kind of hip-hoppy. Then we added accordion and bass, although there’s only one piece of bass on the entire track. It was all very quick. From turning the tape over [reverse sampling] it probably took the best part of a day and a half to finish the song. Siouxsie always came up with ideas very fast, and once the backing track was done she created the melody and lyrics incredibly quickly. She’s very spontaneous.“
Due to the lyrics, “Golly jeepers / Where’d you get those weepers? / Peepshow, Creepshow / Where did you get those eyes?“ the band would be obliged to give writing credits to Harry Warren and Johnny Mercer for the near-identical lyrics from their 1930s song, “Jeepers Creepers“, a minced oath for “Jesus Christ”. During an MTV interview, Siouxsie shared that the song is about “the way women are portrayed in our fascist media.”
Join Hands Through the Looking Glass and investigate Siouxsie
and the Banshees Tinderbox of Juju on Wikipedia, it is a Kiss in the Dreamhouse
~ Also, consider checking out previously featured Second Still – Untitled #3, AKA Dancey ~