The Evening Standard (London) (October 8, 2004)
NANNIES FROM HELL? I VE HAD MY SHARE
I'M FIGHTING MEDIOCRITY
BY FIONA MADDOCKS
THIS WEEK SAW HER TRIUMPHANT RETURN TO THE PUNK HAUNT WHERE SHE BEGAN. BUT SIOUXSIE SIOUX IS STILL EXPERIMENTING AND NEXT WEEK PERFORMS WITH CLASSICAL MUSICIANS
A call comes down to the hotel reception. Siouxsie Sioux is still upstairs in her room trying to dry herself. She won't be long. No, she isn't in the shower. She's just wet, sweaty, dripping. Ten minutes later another call: she's putting on her lipstick. Another quarter of an hour passes. This is some serious lipstick. But when you await the ice queen of punk, archetype of the red-lipped, black-haired, white-faced Goth look of the Eighties and Nineties, and the inspiration behind her one-time group, the Banshees, there is no point in being impatient.
Eventually, Sioux glides in with all the erect deportment of the dancer she once wanted to be, until she grew too tall. Her delay can be forgiven. The day we meet, she has just flown in from Los Angeles, hence the sweating, she says in between yawns. Since then she has had a triumphant return this week to the 100 Club, where she made her debut at the 1976 Punk Rock Festival with Sex Pistol Sid Vicious, her former partner Steven Severin and guitarist Marco Pirroni, later of Adam and the Ants.
Next Friday and Saturday, in a new departure - working with classically trained musicians - Sioux appears at the South Bank with her ex-Banshee drummer husband, Budgie, their group The Creatures and the former Kodo drum master Leonard Eto. 'Yeah. It's a chance to go from the ridiculous to the sublime,' she says, without giving much away. 'The Festival Hall is so orthodox. We'll be like gate-crashers. It's a nice irony.'
Though never long absent from performing, Sioux's shows mark a comeback after months of sinus-related illness. 'I quit smoking last year. I'm a lousy advertisement for it as I suddenly got ill - bronchitis, sinusitis, operations, allergies, the lot.'
In LA last week she walked off stage mid-performance in protest at the aggressive air-conditioning. 'There I was,' she recalls, 'sweating, pores open, larynx open, chest exposed, and this bloody freezing air starts blowing. It was like throwing a bucket of cold water at someone getting amorous and finding they can't do it.'
She returned a few minutes later, covered in a bath towel, and sang the classic 1983 Banshee hit, Dear Prudence, borrowed from The Beatles, before going off again, announcing 'This is the last time we play this f***ing s***-hole.' Backstage, Budgie, always gentle and emollient, persuaded her to return for her fans, which she did, 'but only after the f***ing air-con was switched off'.
Off-stage, without her full regalia, she looks almost normal; a well-maintained, 47-year-old. Her bottle-black hair, on stage famously big and spiky or crowned with a feather headdress, is scraped back smoothly in a ponytail. She wears a tight slashed T-shirt and black trousers adorned with several zips, though she seems to have given up on yesteryear's scissors, swastikas and striped hair. Her boots, which also have buckles, peep toes and sort of bondage thongs are, well, best let her describe them: 'They're a strappy sandal stiletto boot,' she says, slightly snappily. 'Dressing up should be fun. English people dress so, so ...' she looks at me, searching for a word, 'so drably.'
Sioux doesn't deal in niceties. If a fan mobs her on stage, she's quite likely to push them away. She snorts at the mention of other solo women artists. 'Madonna? Kylie? They're not like me. They're ...' again, I provide her with inspiration as she reaches for the worst insult she can muster, 'small.' So what? 'I'm just being very facetious,' she drawls, flat-vowelled and husky. Even the most mild questions elicit barks. 'What do you mean?' 'Who told you that?' 'What gave you that idea?' Her replies, when they come, are formulaic, terse. 'It's all in the book,' she says at one point, referring to a biography on the Banshees by Mark Paytress, published last year by Sanctuary.
Sioux, born Susan Ballion, changed her name because she fancied herself as a squaw, always preferring Indians to the more commonly favoured cowboys. Her Walloon father was a bacteriologist who worked with snakes in the Belgian Congo, where he met her mother, then working as a bilingual secretary. They moved to comfortable, middle-class Chislehurst, Kent.
Sioux was a late third child, born after her much older brother and sister. Her father, an alcoholic, died when she was 14. 'We weren't like our neighbours. Our house was a mess, overgrown, leaking roof, mildew. My mother went out to work, which was odd at that time. She was very strong, very independent. When you're young, you're especially sensitive to not sticking out. That changed later.'
Her childhood was troubled. She has said she 'toyed with the idea of suicide' when she was six, dropping a pile of books upstairs in her room so that everyone would think she'd fallen down. At the age of nine she was sexually assaulted by a stranger. In her words, 'Chislehurst seemed to be knee deep in wankers' at the time. After her father's death, she suffered from ulcerative colitis. Her weight dropped to four-and-a-half stone and she missed a lot of schooling.
Only when she was 16, hanging around the clubs and pubs in which her sister worked as go-go dancer, did Sioux begin to find her own identity and her idiosyncratic, chest-strong voice. Three years later, she hit the 100 Club and the Banshees, bottom of the bill, self-taught and still musically incompetent, were born.
Record promoters, aghast at the group's dangerous, edgy glamour, were slow to sign them up. Their first hit, in 1978, was Hong Kong Garden, followed by 29 more entries into the UK singles chart until their break-up in 1995. 'We were flat. We needed to move on. It just wasn't happening.'
An attempted reunion faltered when Sioux realised she still wasn't on speaking terms with Severin. They had fallen out over Budgie, the Banshee's drummer, who she married in 1991. Nothing has changed since she called Severin 'a poisonous old toad' last year. This famous rock war still rages. But on disc the group lives on: a greatest hits CD was released in 2002 and a box-set of Banshee B-sides is out at Christmas, title Downside Up, on Polydor.
For the past decade, she and Budgie and their cats have lived in France. Sioux now fancies a change. Barcelona, perhaps, for no other reason than that she loves the city. She speaks Spanish, but isn't sure Budgie will want to tackle this new language.
She has no plans to stop performing. 'I've improved. I love it, being physical. It's a very emotional experience. But don't try to pigeonhole me. Don't call me Goth or punk or ice queen. Sure, I feel punk in attitude. I'm still fighting against mediocrity. I'll kiss its arse any day.'
Siouxsie and the Millennia Ensemble are at the Festival Hall (0870 382 8000) on 15 and 16 October as part of the Mind Your Head Festival.
Contributed by Jerry Burch.