Attitude (September '05)
This icy glam punk queen has never stopped bewitching with her proto goth styles and sounds. SIOUXSIE SIOUX, we love you
Few of those involved in London's mid-70s punk phenomena could have predicted that Siouxsie Sioux, one of the most prominent 'faces' on this burgeoning scene, would enjoy both commercial and critical success as a singer, songwriter and performer - not to mention a bona fide style icon - throughout many of the subsequent 30 years. After all, the principles of punk in its earliest, angriest moments were to dispose of the pomp and ceremony of established (i e, dull) rock stars. Not to mention challenge the stale old music industry, by using the combined elements of youthful rebellion, shock tactics, subversive fashion, and raw energy over skilled musicianship. Career longevity was never part of the equation... was it?
Nonetheless, as testament to her unique talents, Miss Sioux is still with us, still recording and performing new material, still rocking a fantastic look. She continues to be adored not only by those old enough to remember the icy glamour of Siouxsie and the Banshees' debut Top of The Pops appearance, singing Hong Kong Garden back in 1978, but by scores of younger fans, too, for whom punk is now a fascinating cultural studies topic.
Furthermore, Siouxsie has influenced countless female performers over the years, not only musically but also thanks to her resistance to the deeply entrenched sexism in the biz. Hence, the likes of Madonna and the Spice Girls all owe a debt to her trail-blazing Take-Me-as-l-am-or-Fuck-Off attitude. This debt was noticeably acknowledged when Scissor Sisters' Ana Matronic collected the Best International Album prize from Siouxsie at the 2005 Brit Awards ceremony. Matronic enthused about Miss Sioux: "If she weren't in existence I wouldn't be standing here today." Later on that evening she admitted, "I did cry after I met Siouxsie Sioux because she's my hero."
The story begins in humdrum Chislehurst, Kent,where Susan Janet Ballion (her real name) was born in 1957. By the early 1970s she felt stifled and frustrated by these suburban surrounds, and like any wise teenager began to seek out excitement and escapism in music and style. Captivated by the innovative art-rock sounds and looks of bands and performers such as Roxy Music and David Bowie, plus films like Cabaret and TV starlets like Catwoman from the 1960s Batman series, she began to wildly experiment with her own image. While others were in thrall to the era's obligatory flared trousers and platform shoes, Siouxsie was going somewhere else altogether. Net curtains duly twitched when she paraded past in ensembles fashioned from any combination of men's suit jackets, fishnet stockings, spiky, multi-coloured hair, teetering stilettos, a swastika arm band and garish make-up. When she dressed up a like-minded male friend in rubber and walked him on a lead to a local wine bar - proceeding to order a bowl of water for her 'dog' - the angry punters practically choked on their Chablis.
Various other youngsters from surrounding outer- London boroughs were by now beating similar paths to Siouxsie. Obsessed with style and music, bored to death with the prospects of dead-end jobs, they inevitably gravitated to each other. This gaggle of newly nicknamed misfits - including Billy Idol, Steve Severin, Berlin and Debbie Wilson - became known as The Bromley Contingent, named after said drab district.
A deliciously decadent crossover between the worlds of gay and straight and sleaze and vice also began to occur, akin to what had happened a decade previously at Andy Warhol's Factory scene in New York. The gang would hang out at underground Soho gay-clubs such as Louise's, and various of their friends were either rent boys, trannies or, in the case of Linda Ashby, a Park Lane-based prostitute specializing in S&M. The Bromley Contingent were also the first bona fide fans of the Sex Pistols.
Siouxsie was by now beginning to garner attention and notoriety in her own right. In 1976, she attended a highly controversial exhibition titled Prostitution (used tampons were included in the show) at London's Institute of Contemporary Art. She and her grinning friends' faces appeared on the cover of the Daily Mail the following morning. The headline insisted, "These People are the Wreckers of Civilization," a rather extreme reaction to say the least. The same year saw the now-legendary Sex Pistols interview on BBC's Nationwide. It prompted scathing newspaper headlines galore, scores of furious complaints to the BBC and, paradoxically, overnight mainstream success for the band. Of course, Siouxsie was on the set with the band as this happened, and could clearly be seen loving all the cod-outrage.
The Punk Rock Festival of 1976 took place at the 100 Club in Central London, and was arranged to showcase the Sex Pistols, along with other bands who had sprung up in their wake. Siouxsie plus friends Marco Pirroni, Steve Severin and Sid Vicious - who had not at this stage become a member of the Sex Pistols - decided to hastily form a band and play at the event. "I was into the idea of being in a band despite having absolutely no experience or ability or songs," recalls Siouxsie, in Mark Paytress' biography Siouxsie and the Banshees. "I wanted to take the ethos to its extreme." The inspired chaos of their 20-minute rendition of The Lord's Prayer, interspersed with Knockin' On Heaven's Door, astonished yet delighted the crowd with its sheer spontaneity and strangeness. The seeds were sewn...
From these impromptu origins came a real band (albeit comprising of a different line-up) who instigated a graffiti campaign across the capital, urging record companies to "Sign The Banshees!" By 1978, Polydor Records obliged and debut single Hong Kong Garden cantered up the charts to number seven, becoming the first of many hit singles, including Happy House, Christine and Playground Twist, and albums such as The Scream and A Kiss In The Dreamhouse, throughout the following two decades.
As the 1970s gave way to the 1980s and band members quit and were replaced, Siouxsie's image transformed from hard-edged punk princess to a no-less iconic, wildly back-combed, white-faced proto Goth, a look which was imitated by young women around the world. Siouxsie and Budgie, the Banshees' drummer and her long-term partner, formed an offshoot duo named The Creatures in the early 1980s, which enjoyed hits including Mad Eyed Screamer and Right Now, and continued to record and release music until recently.
Not one to rest on her laurels, Siouxsie has branched out over the years, and, despite The Banshees splitting in the mid-90s, has worked with Morrissey (on the 1994 song Interlude), The Cure and Basement Jaxx, providing vocals to the electro-clashy track Cish Cash on their 2003 Kish Kash album. Late last year, her live Dreamshow event at the Royal Festival Hall - for which tickets sold out ultra-fast - came complete with a full orchestra and proved, yet again, her talent for commanding and captivating an audience. Indeed, Mojo magazine recently presented Siouxsie (now recording her first solo album) with their Mojo Icon Award, in preference to other contenders including David Bowie, Kate Bush and Marc Bolan. Editor Phil Alexander confirmed what many have long since known: "She has possibly attained iconic status though her image, but it's her music, and the humanity in it, that people connect with." Long live Queen Siouxsie!!
Dreamshow DVD released on Demon Vision on July 25, recorded at the Royal Festival Hall in Oct 2004. It features 27 Banshees and Creatures classics, plus rehearsal and interview footage
Contributed by Bonnie Bryant.