Humourless? Us? That’s not funny...
Siouxsie and a Banshee pick up the pieces.
By Phil Sutcliffe
‘...Thy Kingdom come / They will be done / In Earth as it is in Heaven / Amen...
Knock, knocking on Heaven’s door / Let me in! / Dingalingalingfuckinding on
Heaven’s door... my little chickadee... I’ll get you in the end... Shake it, shake it,
shake it baby... / Twist and shout... yodelayhehe / Tomorrow belongs to me... Oh clare
dela lune / Mon ami pierrot’
(‘The Lord’s Prayer - Book Of Common Prayer / Dylan / Sioux / WC Fields / Lennon-McCartney / Topnotes / trad.)
I am the twelfth Sounds journalist to write about Siouxsie And The Banshees. They have cultivated no camp followers from the Press Corps.
Here they are sitting across the table from me in a modest Covent Garden restaurant, Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin, enduring friends, the grinding worry which had lined their faces a few days earlier now melted into smiles, naturally eager to speak in praise of their new recruits.
There’s Budgie on drums. He was on to Kenny’s stool almost before it had been decontaminated so obviously he was the right man for the crisis. He’d played through two days of auditioning guitarists, who mostly seemed to think the Banshees were an offshoot of the Steve Gibbons Band, before they’d conceded to the inevitable and asked Robert Smith of the Cure, already tour support, to stand in with them for the duration.
Sioux: "At first we thought ‘He’s great but we can’t’. Then we checked and re-checked with everyone concerned with his band and now we’re sure there’s not going to be any resentment or worries that we’re trying to steal Robert."
The new quartet had been together for two days and had four more to rehearse for their debut in Leicester. As Severin put it they had already "torn their address books in half" on the basis of the reactions of previously listed "friends" to recent events. And the whole business clearly felt as healthy as a seasonal pruning for an overgrown tree.
They wanted to talk about their new music and tell me that all this stuff about ‘Join Hands’ being humourless was wide of the mark, in fact Severin was flabbergasted: "I just don’t know how people can take it as totally serious."
I said that the overriding theme of the album would seem to be death, that the oppressive music hardly does anything to lighten the verbal load, and therefore I was surprised at his surprise that people didn’t find this a barrel of laughs. We got down to cases.
OK, ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. Outrageous desecration. Or just a jest.
Severin: "It’s a noisy joke. We’re making this horrendous noise and Sioux’s singing ‘Clare De Lune’. I have to laugh."
Sioux: "That’s a gleeful mockery of religion or any other fanaticism - for the Beatles or whatever. We’re just spanners in the works of uniform progression."
Nice phrase, nice thought. And I have to admit there is a boff or two in Siouxsie’s anarchic improvisations, dingafuckinling on Heaven’s door and all that.
But ‘Premature Burial’? Well Steve claimed Edgar Allan Poe (on whose short story the song is based) was a sort of Gothic comedian and Siouxsie said the single line ‘Oh what a bloody shame’ was there to make the doominess of it all feel silly... and yet they came back to discussing the song in terms of the weighty theme of social claustrophobia (the ‘burial’ image equals limiting factors like race or youth fashion cults).
But, ‘Poppy Day’? No. No punchlines, they agreed.
Severin: "Last November 11 I was watching the TV when they had the two minutes silence in memory of the war dead and I thought wouldn’t it be nice if there were music for it." A leaping notion that, silence set to music.
From this short track with its snatches of Rupert Brooke’s poem ‘The Soldier’ flows the great war illustration on the cover and the whole life-and-death depth of the album (a broad sweep from childhood to the afterlife).
So wipe that smile off your face.
You gather I remain unconvinced about the Banshees as musical wits and raconteurs. Sioux and Severin are averagely cheerful people but on the whole that side of them seems to get lost inside them whenever the band records (so far). If humour is there it has become too private to be shared despite their earnest wish that this should not be so.
Live there’s no doubt at all that they leave a very different impression and express far more of their personalities. What might be depressing becomes fiery.
Severin: "The usual reaction is that from the first song everybody dances and goes crazy. Our audiences aren’t like lemmings falling off a cliff as some people would have you think."
In the heat of a concert you can really feel the force behind the halting, simple remarks Siouxsie made about the positives behind their blackest imagery: "Life is such an optimistic thing. We feel so strongly about... it’s healthy."
However, many reviews of them have fastened on the ‘alienation’ Steve mentioned, an alleged gulf between the Banshees and the world. Talking over the inspiration of the songs as we did you may have noticed more material accruing which appears to support this accusation.
This line of thought about them seemed fairly persuasive to me for a while but on reflection it’s false. It is absurd to say that your emotions when watching say a TV news item in Iran (the starting point of ‘Regal Zone’) are unreal just because you aren’t out on the streets of Teheran yourself.
The energy of the imagination is the key counter-balance to physical detachment and it’s a factor the Banshees are profoundly aware of.
Sioux: "There is a big danger with TV and the other media that you get cold to these events but I can’t. I’m really curious about these things happening to people. It’s hard not to imagine what it’s like. They are real people." So is the observer, no less flesh-and-blood because (s)he’s sitting in an armchair.
Still, that said, I would also suggest that their very best pieces such as Severin’s ‘Jigsaw Feeling’ and Sioux’s ‘Mother’ are among the few which come entirely from within.
‘Mother’ especially is a raw wound of a song offered by Siouxsie from her own life and surely shared and picked and scratched at by everyone who hears it. Two voices (indecipherable without the lyrics on the sleeve) sing simultaneous love and hatred for the same (universal) mother.
Sioux: "It’s very close to home. It’s personal but I’m not hung up about it. I’ve deeply loved my mother. I’ve gone out and got pissed with her. Called her by her first name. But at times she’s been this disapproving figure and I’ve hated her I think.
"It’s not just me though. I haven’t met anyone who hasn’t got a confused relationship with their mother. What role they’re supposed to play, whether they should guide you without commanding you or.. it’s such a dilemma. Also a mother is the thing I’m most confused about becoming."
‘Mother’ is quite a shaker. Not exactly recreational but the sort of fusion of experience and imagination which will make Siouxsie And The Banshees a landmark group if they continue developing and delivering.
And now, having considered the essence of a band’s artistic nature, I’d like to conclude by presenting you with a more industrial view through this account of a phone dialogue between the Banshees’ manager/partner Nils Stevenson and someone at their record company, Polydor.
Nils: "There’s some bad news I’ve got to tell you. The band have split up."
Polydor person: "Oh. What’s happening?"
Nils: "Sioux and Steve are getting new people and carrying on."
Polydor person: "Oh. Good. Bye."