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Siouxsie & the Banshees: A Brief History

It is rather troubling to realise that very few people are aware of the influence that punk/post-punk/goth/post-goth/post-pop group Siouxsie & the Banshees has had over many of the artists that we listen to regularly today – Garbage, PJ Harvey, Björk, Marilyn Manson and LCD Soundsystem to name a few. Without them, the world of rock would be blander than a plate of wet rice.

This article will serve as a rough guide for anyone who wishes to delve further into the band, which I say is a fabulous idea.

Brief History

Beginning life as an impromptu bunch to fill a slot at Malcolm McClaren’s 1976 Punk Festival, the original line-up comprised Siouxsie Sioux and Steven Severin (the only two ubiquitous members from start to finish), alongside Marco Pirroni (who would later go on to become a member of Adam & the Ants) and John Simon Ritchie (later to become Sid Vicious of that other famous punk band). Their first gig – a raucous night at the renowned 100 Club – was to be filled with a bizarre, but brilliant, improvisation of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’. The band would then split up after this…

…Until they were asked to play again. This then gave Siouxsie and Severin the impetus to take in Kenny Morris (drums) and – eventually, after deciding Peter Fenton didn’t fit the band – John McKay (guitar).

SiouxsieBanMcKay

Siouxsie & the Banshees were actually one of the last punk bands to be signed to a record label, doing so with Polydor in 1978 – prior to this a graffiti campaign had taken place with the phrase “SIGN THE BANSHEES DO IT NOW”, which was plastered across various label offices in London.

Instantly cementing their popularity and justifying their live reputation, debut single ‘Hong Kong Garden’ broke into the U.K. Top Ten in August of 1978, climbing to number seven. Debut album, The Scream, was released in November 1978 and became a Top Twenty hit, eventually gaining a Silver sales certification.

A year later, Join Hands dropped and gave the Banshees their second Top Twenty hit. However, John McKay and Kenny Morris would quit after an argument, leaving the Banshees without half a band in the middle of a national tour (Listen to the song ‘Drop Dead/Celebration’ to hear what Siouxsie thought of them). Siouxsie and Severin recruited Peter ‘Budgie’ Clarke (drums) and frontman of The Cure (the Banshees support band at the time), Robert Smith (guitar). Budgie would remain the Banshees’ drummer from hereon in, but Smith left – temporarily – once the remaining tour dates had been completed.

Yet again without a guitarist, the trio looked to post-punk outfit Magazine (‘A Song From Under the Floorboards’, ‘Shot by Both Sides’) to fill their vacancy, in the form of John McGeoch. Working on albums Kaleidoscope (1980), Juju (1981) and A Kiss in the Dreamhouse (1982), this is seen by many as Siouxsie and the Banshees most fruitful creative period. It was certainly a commercial success, with two out of three albums hitting the Top Ten and A Kiss… just missing out.

Despite this, the band were not without problems – John McGeoch would be fired from the band due to alcoholism, which led to Robert Smith returning to the fold in 1982. On a lighter note, Siouxsie and Budgie furtively became a couple and started side project The Creatures, unleashing the Wild Things EP upon the U.K. Top Thirty and perfoming as a duo on Top of the Pops in 1981.

From 1982 to 1984 – a time that saw the release of debut Creatures album Feast, Glove (Severin and Smith side project) album Blue Sunshine, a hugely successful cover of The Beatles’ ‘Dear Prudence’ and two Siouxsie & the Banshees LPs – Robert Smith split his time equally between the Banshees and his other band The Cure, who were just beginning their ascent into international success. The intensity of being in two bands full-time caught up with Smith, however, with exhaustion forcing him to leave between the releases of Nocturne and Hyaena in May 1984.

RobSmith

The next guitarist to see if they could go the distance was to be John Valentine Carruthers, who helped record The Thorn EP in 1984 (an orchestra-based reworking of four songs from the Banshees first two albums), the Tinderbox LP (1986) and Through the Looking Glass (1987), an album of cover versions. Unfortunately, Carruthers became yet another casualty of the Banshees somewhat cursed guitarist spot, leaving as he did in January 1987.

The end of the 80s for Siouxsie and the Banshees musical output came in the form of Peepshow (1988), which was more of a success in the U.S. than their homeland and was the point where the group was now a quintet, recruiting Martin McCarrick (keyboard) and Jon Klein (guitar). Continuing as The Creatures, Siouxsie and Budgie released Boomerang to critical acclaim, but was not a commercial achievement (the album failed to chart in the U.K.).

Klein and McCarrick stuck with the group for the 1991 long-player, Superstition – another commercial success in the United States. 1991 was also the year that Siouxsie and Budgie moved to France and became husband and wife (Siouxsie announced the two had divorced while promoting her solo album Mantaray in 2007).

Rumours had abounded that Siouxsie was asked to play the role of Catwoman in 1992 film Batman Returns. This didn’t happen obviously, but the group as a whole did feature in the film, with the song ‘Face to Face’ – in collaboration with Oingo Boingo lead singer and The Simpsons composer, Danny Elfman.

Then came a brief hiatus for the band, but Siouxsie herself, in 1994, performed a duet with former Smiths frontman Morrissey on the Top Thirty hit ‘Interlude’. The following year came the release of the last Banshees LP, the John Cale-produced The Rapture – with Polydor dropping the band shortly after. Jon Klein would not feature on the band’s tour to promote this album, but instead the former Psychedelic Furs guitarist Knox Chandler was used.

April 1996 became the end…until 2002. The Seven Year Itch got the better of them and Siouxsie, Severin, Budgie and Chandler undertook a brief tour of the U.K. and U.S. as a final farewell.

Okay! History lesson done! Still with me? Good. Now on to what you should get hold of.

Beginner’s Playlist

Hong Kong Garden
Spellbound
Dear Prudence
Happy House
Christine
Peek-A-Boo
This Wheel’s On Fire
Cities In Dust
Fireworks
Arabian Knights

Intermediate Playlist

The Killing Jar
O Baby
Icon
Night Shift
Obsession
Melt!
Swimming Horses
Monitor
Paradise Place
The Last Beat Of My Heart
Stargazer
Jigsaw Feeling
Kiss Them For Me
The Passenger
Helter Skelter

For the Initiated

Little Sister
Eve White/Eve Black
Pulled to Bits
I Could Be Again
B Side Ourselves
Bring Me the Head of the Preacher Man
The Rapture
Suburban Relapse
Placebo Effect
Red Over White

These are just an idea of what you could listen to, as the group have recorded around 200 songs and The Creatures/The Glove/Siouxsie solo have another 70-80 on top of that. Find out your favourites!

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