Siouxsie & The Banshees - Biography
By Scott Feemster
Siouxsie and The Banshees emerged from the first flowering of Britain’s punk movement the late 70's, and grew to become one of the most influential bands of the 80's, paving the way for post-punk and goth bands. By the time they had disbanded in 1996, they had developed an entirely individualistic brand of ornate, theatrical rock.
Siouxsie Sioux (real name: Susan Dallion) was a music fan early on and after completing secondary school and a little college, she started hanging out with a group of friends that shared her interest in music, more specifically many of the harder-edged glam rock bands that were around in the early 70's, including Roxy Music, T. Rex, The Stooges, David Bowie, and the New York Dolls. Her gang of pals included such future punk luminaries as Philip Salon, Bill Broad, (later known as Billy Idol), and Steven Bailey, later known as Steven Severin. Siouxsie and Severin got along especially well, sharing much of the same musical taste. The group, who mostly lived in the Bromley section of London (and would later be called by British music journalists the “Bromley Contingent”), started hearing about a new type of music, “punk,” that was developing around Malcolm McLaren and Vivienne Westwood's clothing store Let It Rock, located on Kings Road in the Chelsea section of London. The shop featured 50's-style attire and bondage clothing, which flew in the face of the prevailing rock uniform of long hair and flare jeans. The shop renamed itself SEX in 1975, and McLaren recruited some of the kids hanging out at the store to form a band, the Sex Pistols. Many of the people who hung around the store became Sex Pistols fans, and many of them went on to form bands, including Sioux and Severin.
In September of 1976, McLaren organized the “international punk festival” at the 100 Club in London, which featured many of the bands that had formed around his clothing shop. The bill included The Clash, Sex Pistols, Buzzcocks, The Damned and Siouxsie & the Banshees (at this point an ad hoc group made up of Sioux singing, Severin playing bass, future Adam and The Ants member Marco Perroni on guitar, and John Ritchie on drums, who would later become Sid Vicious). The band played one long twenty-minute improvisation based on “The Lord's Prayer” and included bits of “Twist and Shout,” “Knockin' On Heaven's Door” and “Deutschland Uber Alles.” The band made a huge (mostly negative) impression on the audience, with Siouxsie's riveting stage presence noticeable throughout the chaos. As intended, the band broke up after the gig, but Sioux and Severin felt they had found their calling and chose to carry on.
The pair recruited guitarist Pete Fenton and drummer Kenny Morris, and started playing shows around London to build up their own fan base outside of McLaren's cronies. Fenton was soon replaced by guitarist John McKay, and the band developed a stripped down, stark sound behind Sioux's distinctive vocals. The band secured a recording contract with Polydor Records in 1978 and later in the year had their first single, “Hong Kong Garden,” (Polydor) reach the British top ten. The band released their first album, The Scream (Polydor), in late 1978 to great reviews from both critics and the record buying public.
The Banshees toured and re-entered the studio to record their second album, Join Hands (Polydor), released in 1979. The album included a shorter studio recording of their infamous “The Lord's Prayer.” The band continued with the same stark, percussive sound of the previous album, though quite as well-realized as The Scream. The band started a tour of Britain to promote the album, but two days into the tour both McKay and Morris suddenly quit. With live dates booked and contracts already signed, Sioux and Severin saw the need to continue the tour, but needed a drummer and a guitar player fast. Guitarist Robert Smith of opening act The Cure was a fan of the Banshees, so the pair tapped him to finish the tour and contacted former Slits drummer Peter Clarke (aka Budgie) to occupy the drummer's stool. After the tour, Sioux and Severin asked both musicians to stay on as permanent members, but Smith was committed to his own band. Budgie stayed on and became the third permanent member of The Banshees, contributing his distinctive percussion work to the various projects the band would undertake in the future.
The Banshees decided to try to record another record with just the three of them, bringing in ex-Sex Pistols guitarist Steve Jones and ex-Magazine guitarist John McGeoch to fill in parts the trio couldn't perform. The result was Kaleidoscope (1980 Polydor). The record featured synthesizers, drum machines, acoustic guitars and Eastern Indian touches, and included two of the Banshees biggest singles, “Christine” and “Happy House.” Severin, Sioux and Budgie were so impressed with McGeoch's contributions that they asked the guitarist to become a member, and he accepted. The band now toured again as a four-piece, and performed their first dates in the US.
Strengthened by a solid and secure line-up, the band recorded their fourth album, Juju (1981 Polydor). The album was heavy on guitar, but also continued some of the East Asian and Middle Eastern sounds of the previous album. Juju also showcased Budgie's intricate percussion style and Siouxsie's increasingly morbid lyrics. The Banshees had two more successful singles off of Juju, “Spellbound” and “Arabian Nights.” Because of the string of successful singles the Banshees had released over their short career, Polydor released a greatest hits package in 1981, Once Upon A Time: The Singles. During this time Siouxsie and Budgie (who were also a romantic couple) started work on a side project involving just the two of them called The Creatures. They released an EP in 1981, Wild Things (Polydor), and went on to also release the album, Feast (Polydor) in 1983. Both releases emphasized Budgie's myriad percussion and Siouxsie's strong vocals. The Creatures continued on after the dissolution of the Banshees, releasing the albums Boomerang (Geffen) in 1989, Anima Animus (Instinct) in 1999, and Hai! (Sioux) in 2003.
Siouxsie Sioux and the Banshees continued to tour and quickly returned to the studio to record another album, 1982's A Kiss In The Dreamhouse (Polydor). The band had become increasingly influenced by psychedelia, and the new record included sounds of chimes, synthesizers and a full string section, creating a lush, multi-dimensional sound. Soon after the release of Dreamhouse, guitarist McGeoch became ill and had to be hospitalized. The band needed to tour, so they contacted old friend Robert Smith to take over guitar duties once again. . After McGeoch recovered, he chose not to return to the band, so Smith took over as permanent guitarist. Both Smith and the rest of the Banshees remained heavily influenced by psychedelia. (Smith and bassist Severin collaborated on a side project, The Glove, which was a dark love letter to psychedelia and the late 60's and produced the 1983 album Blue Sunshine, released by Wonderland Records.) The group released a cover of The Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” in early 1983. This was followed up by a live document of two shows the band played at Royal Albert Hall in London in late '83 called Nocturne (Polydor).
The Banshees' next release, Hyaena (1984 Polydor), continued the lush psychedelic sound started on A Kiss In The Dreamhouse. The album also included the “Dear Prudence” single. Continuing with the Banshees revolving-door guitar player problem, Smith left the band in 1984 to concentrate again on the reconstituted Cure, so the band tapped former Clock DVA guitarist John Valentine Carruthers to join the Banshees line-up. The new version of the band immediately enteded the studio and recorded the EP The Thorn (1984 Polydor), featuring re-worked versions of old Banshees songs and utilizing a full orchestral backing on four of the tracks. Tinderbox (Polydor), the Banshees' seventh studio album,was released in 1986. The band scored a worldwide hit with the album's first single, “Cities In Dust.” In 1987, the band released a covers album, Through The Looking Glass (Polydor), which included their own versions of songs that had influenced them, from artists such as Iggy Pop, Kraftwerk and Roxy Music. Oncea again, the curse of the Banshees' guitarist hit again and Carruthers quit the band. He was promptly replaced by ex-Specimen member, John Klein. Also added to the revised Banshees line-up was keyboardist, Martin McCarrick. Inspired by the rave culture spreading rapidly throughout Britain, the Banshees' next release, Peepshow (1988 Polydor) mixed rave-influenced techno sounds with their usual dark, mysterious gothica. The single “Peek-a-Boo,” was a worldwide dance hit.
After a short break, the band returned with the 1991 release, Superstition (Polydor). The album had a much more polished sheen and was miles away from the austere post-punk sound of Join Hands. Three singles off the album became hits, “Kiss Them For Me,” “Fear (Of The Unknown)” and “Shadowtime.” In 1992, Polydor released another album of greatest hits, Twice Upon A Time: The Singles. For 1995's The Rapture (Polydor), the band decided to work with former Velvet Underground member John Cale as co-producer. The album produced no notable singles and was not greeted enthusiastically by critics or the band's fans. Guitarist Klein left at the end of recording the album, so the band recruited ex-Psychedelic Furs guitarist Knox Chandler to join them for what turned out to be the band's last tour in 1995. During this period of time, Siouxsie also recorded a one-off single with her admirer, ex-Smiths singer Morrissey, called “Interlude.”
After seeing the media circus surrounding the Sex Pistols reunion tour, the band issued a statement in 1996 saying, in effect, they wanted to keep some dignity as one of the last remaining bands of the initial punk explosion, and in so doing had decided to disband rather than become a parody of themselves. Despite this statement, Severin, Sioux and Budgie briefly reunited for what was called the Seven Year Itch tour in 2003, producing the Seven Year Itch (Sanctuary) live album and DVD. A year later the Downside Up (Universal) box set appeared, a collection bringing together deleted b-sides and The Thorn EP.
Siouxsie and Budgie continued on with their Creatures project all the way up until 2007, when it was announced the couple was divorced and would no longer be working together. Siouxsie issued a well-received solo album in 2007, Mantaray (Universal). Since the dissolution of the Banshees, Steven Severin has been very busy producing instrumental albums and soundtracks for films and dance companies as well as publishing a book of erotic prose. He has also been instrumental in preparing and remastering much of the Banshees back catalog for reissue.