ARTICLES

The Guardian (9.11.98)

Heavenly creature

Her Banshee days and heavy goth make-up behind her, Siouxsie Sioux is now officially fortysomething and enjoying every minute of it. She tells Caroline Sullivan about the new band in her life

Cultural historians have reason to be grateful to Susan Dallion of Chislehurst, Kent. She may now be a respectably married 41, and owner of a house in France and three cats, but 22 years ago she inadvertently changed the face of popular music.

For the year or so up until December 1, 1976, punk rock had been trundling along in a relatively low-key fashion, trendy but of little import outside the music business.

Everything changed on that day, the day the Sex Pistols and some of their retinue made their famous appearance on Bill Grundy's Today show. Susan Dallion was part of the entourage, and it was her four-second exchange with Grundy that brought punk to the attention of the nation.

In the course of the interview, the Pistols had unleashed a few cautious expletives, but these would have passed unnoticed if, right at the end, Susan hadn't smirkingly told Grundy that she'd always wanted to meet him. "We'll meet afterwards, shall we?" riposted the TV presenter, thus inducing a paroxysm of uncontrollable swearing ('You dirty fucker,' etc) from guitarist Steve Jones. It was that moment that shot the Pistols and punk to national prominence.

"It was so sad when they reformed," drawls Susan 'Siouxsie Sioux' Dallion two decades later, remembering the Pistols' 1996 'Fat, Forty and Back' tour with a curl of an elegantly glossed lip. "We were planning to split up the Banshees anyway, but their tour really hurried along our official announcement." Siouxsie & The Banshees took a bit longer to benefit from what she'd created on the Bill Grundy show.

A combination of her penchant for swastikas (which she wore "in an attempt to arouse some passion about nationalism in Britain. It was childish") and the band's musical ineptitude meant they were the last of punk's first wave to get a record deal. Once they did - their debut album The Scream came out in 1978 - they suddenly began producing albums and singles that were not only among the best of the genre, but sowed the seeds of a whole new genre. Yes, the Banshees unintentionally invented the Drac-chasing, sub-horror-movie movement known as goth, but they'd be obliged if we'd forget about that.

Siouxsie made a marvelous goth, though, her raven's-wing hair, Vampirella makeup and froideur rendering her a touchstone for thousands of aspiring gothettes (a look that persists to this day in a number of Central European cities). But she was far more than just Morticia Sioux. She was punk's first female icon, its matriarch, an inspiring and formidable example of female artistry, who has never stopped influencing women musicians.

Upon hearing that elegiac appraisal of her talents, Siouxsie makes a muffled noise that sounds suspiciously like a giggle. "Really? To him, I'm just 'the old bag'." "Him" is Budgie, her professional and personal partner since 1979 and husband for the last seven years. The former Banshees drummer was born Peter Clark, but acquired his nickname from his fondness for birds, which he relates in an endearing anecdote he probably did well to keep quiet back in the punk days. "I got the name from defending a bird that was being teased. I told these guys to leave it alone, and (ex Frankie Goes To Hollywood singer and fellow Scouser) Holly Johnson, who was there, goes, "Ooh, Budgie!" and from that night on I was Budgie. "Slightly bashfully," he adds, "I used to breed budgies, and I was a member of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds." "Yeah, and when I've had enough of him, I put a blanket over his cage," Siouxsie drolly avers.

The Banshees may be history - their last album, 1995's critically-well-received The Rapture, was followed by their dissolution the following year ("Nostalgia had been bugging the band for years and the name had been around long enough," Siouxsie eulogises unsentimentally) - but Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie continue to thrive professionally - as the Creatures.

Essentially, just the two of them and the odd session player, the Creatures have also been around for years, a parallel drum'n'voice project that engrossed them during Banshee downtime. There have been two Creatures albums and a 1983 hit single, a perverse cover of croonster Mel Torme's Right Now. But for the first time, their former hobby band is now their top priority. An EP, Eraser Cut, came out last month; a single follows next month and an album, Anima Animus, is forthcoming next year.

"The Creatures are untainted by nostalgia," explains Budgie, whose perennially bleached hair presents a striking contrast to his wife's black-dyed locks - shorter than before, complementing features that turn out to be surprisingly soft and youthful without makeup. "I've never worn much makeup during the day," Siouxsie claims, tranquilly facing the unforgiving late afternoon light in an upstairs room of East London's shiny new Lux Cinema, where they're rehearsing for a gig that night.

"It was hard to bring ideas to quick and simple fruition in the Banshees because we were a democracy, whereas, as the Creatures, we're more instinctive," Budgie goes on.

"We were so connected to the Banshees' image that I've never been asked to do anything interesting outside the group because we're still so identified with the band."

"We wanted to do something new, because we both have really eclectic tastes," Siouxsie interjects. So they are doing something new, for them. A chance meeting with south London dance consortium Hydrogen Dukebox opened their eyes to the possibilities of pairing Siouxsie's frostbitten vocals with dance beats. The result is surprisingly subtle and very palatable.

But enough of that. What about the rumour that the pair are so settled into a cosy French lifestyle that they even keep goats at their maison de maitre in a village near Toulouse? "Goats!" she echoes, stunned. "Are you sure you don't mean cats?" One of Siouxsie's enduring passions, she has three cats in residence, on whom she dotes. "I've never wanted children, only cats. I'll cross the street to stroke one." "Budgies and cats are symbiotic," her other half points out. "They need each other." "I'm always eyeing him, wanting to bite his neck," Sioux coos, with more than a hint of feline intent.

So what's it like for a youth-culture symbol to have hit her forties? She considers it for a while.

"I'm quite comfortable in my skin now. When I was approaching 30, I panicked, and in my late thirties, I thought, 'Oh, God, I'm going to be 40,' but I've decided now that I probably won't feel old till I'm 60."

"I just wish other people would grow up and there wasn't this shitty double standard people impose on women once they're over 25." Budgie, who's several months younger ("And he's always reminding me") nods, and admits he feels the need to protect her. "I always saw her as just Siouxsie, not this icon, even before we were an item, or even a twinkle of an item. It's an interesting conundrum when you see someone onstage - is it a reflection of the real person, or just a role they create?" But Siouxsie isn't listening. Looking out at the East End back street, she muses, apropos of nothing, "I never fitted in when I was growing up." So what would you have done if punk hadn't come along? "No," she corrects me crisply. "What would punk have done if I hadn't come along?"

The Creatures play the University of London Union tonight and tomorrow.

The single, 2nd Floor, is out on October 5 and the BBC2 series Rock Family Trees devotes its September 25 show to Siouxsie & The Banshees.

Copyright Guardian Media Group plc.1998


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