Siouxsie & the Banshees
were a British rock
band which formed in 1976. Led by Siouxsie Sioux
(vocals) and Steven Severin
(bass), the band's only constant members, the Banshees formed at the advent of the British punk rock
scene and from 1977 with the arrival of guitarist John McKay
and drummer Kenny Morris
, soon became one of the major bands in the post-punk
movement. After an enforced change of musical direction leading to a redefining of their image, together with new drummer Budgie
and a procession of guitarists including Robert Smith
and John McGeoch
, the Banshees also became instrumental in the creation and development of gothic rock
into the next decade. The group released several successful albums and singles throughout the 1980s and 1990s, including "Cities in Dust
", and "Kiss Them for Me
", while its members also dabbled in side projects. The Banshees disbanded in 1996, with Sioux and Budgie continuing to record music as The Creatures
, a side project they had started in the 1980s. The band reunited briefly for a tour in 2002.
Formation and early releases
Siouxsie Sioux and Steven Severin met up at a Roxy Music
concert in September 1975. Severin remembered : "At one time, you could see something every week New York Dolls
, but that was changing. Glam rock has faded. Roxy and Bowie were getting too big. There was nothing new coming through that we could identify with". From February 1976, Sioux and Severin began to follow the Sex Pistols
. Journalist Caroline Coon
dubbed them the Bromley Contingent
as most of them came from the Bromley
region of London. Severin later despised the label. "There was no such thing as the 'bromley contingent', said he. "It was just a bunch of people drawn together by the way they felt and they looked. Severin also said, "The Sex Pistols inspired us all. For the first time in my life I saw that anyone could do it. You didn't have to be able to play your instruments.". When one of bands scheduled to play the 100 Club Punk Festival
organised by Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren
pulled out from the bill, Sioux suggested that she and Severin play, even though they had no band name or additional members. Siouxsie & the Banshees played their first show at the festival, held at the 100 Club
on 20 September 1976. With two borrowed musicians, Marco Pirroni
on guitars and John Simon Ritchie, later famous as Sid Vicious
of the Sex Pistols, on drums
, their set consisted of a 20-minute improvisation based around "The Lord's Prayer
While the band intended to split up right after the gig, several people asked the band to play again. Sioux and Severin recruited guitarist Pete Fenton and a drummer named Dixon, who was soon replaced by Kenny Morris. Fenton was subsequently replaced in July by John McKay. While the band was able to obtain a publishing deal, they still did not have a record contract. Sioux speculated, "All I can think of is that record companies saw no future in the concept of a woman fronting a band - at least a woman with attitude . . . Perhaps they thought if they didn't sign us we'd go away. The only label that offered the band a recording contract was Polydor Records, which signed the band in June 1978. Polydor released the Banshees's first single, "Hong Kong Garden", which reached the top ten in the UK.
The band released their debut album The Scream in November 1978. Nick Kent wrote in the NME about The Scream: "the band sounds like some unique hybrid of the Velvet Underground mated with much of the ingenuity of Tago Mago-era Can, if any parallel can be drawn." At the end of the article, he added this remark : "Certainly, the traditional three-piece sound has never been used in a more unorthodox fashion with such stunning results.
The Banshees's second album, Join Hands
, was released in 1979, and included a version of "The Lord's Prayer". The Banshees embarked on a major tour to promote the album that August. A few dates into the tour, Morris and McKay left an in-store signing and quit the band. In need of replacements to fulfill tour dates, the Banshees's manager called Budgie
(real name Peter Clarke, formerly of The Slits
) and asked him to audition. Budgie was hired, but the band had no success auditioning guitarists. Robert Smith
of The Cure
offered his services in case they couldn't find a guitarist, so the band "held him to it after realising everyone else was rubbish", according to Sioux. The tour resumed in September 1979. After the completion of the tour, Smith had to deal with his obligations to The Cure, so the Banshees hired John McGeoch
, formerly of Magazine
, to replace him.
The lineup soon went into the studio and recorded the "Happy House" single. The Banshees then recorded their third album Kaleidoscope (1980) with Police producer Nigel Gray. The group had a concept of making each song sound completely different, without regards to whether or not the material could be performed in concert. During the recording of the album Budgie and McGeoch were officially hired as full-time members of the band. For their fourth album, Juju (1981), the band practised the songs in concert first before recording them. Juju, according to Severin, became an unintentional concept album that "drew on darker elements". During the tour for the album Sioux and Budgie secretly became a couple. At the same time they began a side project called The Creatures.
The band followed with A Kiss in the Dreamhouse (1982). The album was an intentional contrast to the "creepy" Juju, with Sioux later describing it as a "sexy album". The British press greeted it enthusiastically. Richard Cook in the NME finished his review with this sentence: "I promise. This music will take your breath away. At that time McGeoch was struggling with alcohol problems, and was hospitalized on his return to a promotional trip to Madrid. The band fired him shortly thereafter. Severin asked Robert Smith to take over guitarist duties again; Smith accepted and rejoined the group in November 1982. Smith insisted on documenting his time with the group, so the Banshees recorded a live album, Nocturne (1983), and began work on its sixth album, Hyæna (1984). During 1983 the band worked on sideprojects; Sioux and Budgie recorded another Creatures album, while Severin and Smith recorded as The Glove. The band released a cover version of The Beatles' "Dear Prudence" in September 1983, which became their biggest hit, reaching number three on the UK Singles Chart. Smith left the group once again in early 1984 before recording on Hyæna was complete, citing health issues as the result of massive drug use and exhaustion.
Ex-Clock DVA guitarist John Valentine Carruthers replaced Smith. The Banshees then reworked four numbers of their repertoire with a section of strings for The Thorn EP. The NME praised the project at its release : "The power of a classical orchestra is the perfect foil for the band's grindingly insistent sounds". The new Banshees lineup spent much of 1985 working on Tinderbox. The group finished the song "Cities in Dust" before the album, so they rushed its release as a single prior to their longest tour of the UK ever. Tinderbox was finally released in April 1986. Due to the length of time spent working on Tinderbox, the group desired spontaneity and decided to record an album of cover songs, releasing Through the Looking Glass in 1987. After the album's release, the band decided Carruthers wasn't fitting in and fired him.
Following a lengthy break, the rest of the band recruited Martin McCarrick and the ex-Specimen guitarist Jon Klein and recorded Peepshow in 1988. The first single "Peek-a-Boo" used harsh hip-hop sounds over a pop texture : it was their first real breakthrough in the United States. After an elaborate tour to promote the album and sorting through band tensions, the band decided to take a break, with Sioux and Budgie recording a new Creatures album and Severin and McCarrick working on material together.
Superstition, The Rapture, and breakup
In 1991, the Banshees returned with the single "Kiss Them for Me
", mixing Beatles
strings over a dance rhythm. This single peaked in the U.S. singles charts at number 23, allowing them to reach a new audience. That same year the group toured the US as part of the first Lollapalooza
tour. The following year the Banshees recorded "Face to Face
" as a single for the film Batman Returns
In 1993, The Banshees showed their new album The Rapture to Polydor, which didn't think the record was finished. After some tour dates, the band hired former Velvet Underground member John Cale to produce the record. Klein was fired over contract disputes; he was replaced on the band's last tour in 1995 by ex-Psychedelic Furs guitarist Knox Chandler. Days after the release of The Rapture in February 1995, Polydor dropped the band from its roster. While touring to promote the album, Sioux suggested to Severin that they end the band; Sioux told the bassist, "It's not doing anyone any good and it's not any fun". The band split up after playing the final date of the tour at the Beach Festival in Belgium on 21 July 1995.
After the Banshees broke up, Sioux and Budgie carried on recording as The Creatures. In 2002, Sioux, Severin, Budgie and Chandler reunited briefly for the Seven Year Itch tour, which spawned the 2003 Seven Year Itch live album and DVD. The year after was published the long awaited Downside Up box set which collected all of their B-sides and the out-of print The Thorn EP.
When they started, Sioux saw rock music as "flaccid and perverted", and the band expressed the "rock is dead" philosophy of the post-punk movement. Many of their musical traits were determined through negation. Severin said, "It was a case of us knowing what we didn't
want, throwing out every cliche . . . Never having a guitar solo, never ending a song with a loud drum smash." Sioux wanted a guitar sound that sounded like "a cross between the Velvet Underground
and the shower scene in Psycho
", Severin said, and the band added flanger effects to the instrument.".
Siouxsie & the Banshees influenced many musicians of all kinds and genres. The Cure
leader Robert Smith
declared in 2003 in Mark Paytress's Siouxsie biography : "Siouxsie and The Banshees and Wire
were the two bands I really admired. They meant something. He also pinpointed what the Join Hands tour brought him musically. "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. The Banshees also had a strong impact on two main trip hop
covered the b-side "Tattoo" to open his second album Nearly God
as the original version of that song helped Tricky in the creation of his style. Another trip hop group Massive Attack
sampled "Metal Postcard prior to record Mezzanine
: one of their leaders 3D
also explained that for this album, his band "let the sounds of the new wave acts like Siouxsie get in their music".
stated in 1994, "None of them are as good as Siouxsie and the Banshees at full pelt. That's not dusty nostalgia, that's fact. Another ex-member of The Smiths, Johnny Marr
mentioned his liking for Banshees'guitarist John McGeoch
. Shirley Manson
wrote in the foreword to Paytress's Banshees biography, "I learned how to sing listening to The Scream
. She also stated that her all-time favourite singers are Siouxsie and Frank Sinatra. LCD Soundsystem
leader James Murphy
was marked by certain Banshees albums during his childhood. Later in 2005, his band LCD Soundsystem payed tribute to the Banshees by finishing off their shows by a rendition of "Slowdive". Dave Navarro
of Jane's Addiction
also made a parallel between his band and the Banshees in Siouxsie's official biography: "There are so many similar threads : melody, use of sound, attitude, sex-appeal. I always saw Jane's Addiction as the masculine Siouxsie & the Banshees.
- Paytress, Mark. Siouxsie & the Banshees: The Authorised Biography. Sanctuary, 2003. ISBN 1-86074-375-7
- Johns, Brian. Entranced : the Siouxsie and the Banshees story. Omnibus Press,1989. ISBN 0-7119-1773-b
- Reynolds, Simon. Rip It Up and Start Again: Postpunk 1978–1984. Penguin, 2005. ISBN 0-14-303672-6