New Musical Express (7.29.78)

Banshees Make The Breakthrough

Siouxsie and the Banshees

Roundhouse [London, 7.23.78]

If Punks are currently being brushed off by "official sources" as a speedily-becoming-extinct species, why then is it damn near impossible to find a comfortable location here in the Roundhouse on a blisteringly humid Sunday night in order to watch billtoppers Siouxsie and the Banshees rising victorious before a capacity crowd?

Why the "sold out" sign spread grandly across the bill which, aside from the imperious Siouxsie & Co., has nothing *that* striking on offer (The Shirts from New York scarcely warrant a fraction of this turnout, while The White Cats, Chris Miller's past persona nothwithstanding, are still bound to club level status)?

That this was the Banshees' big breakthrough shot was obvious when John Curd first announced the billing for this gig, coming as it did hard on the heels of their record deal with Polydor. But I, for one, certainly never held out expectations for such a tumultuous turnout, nor did I expect to be as impressed by their current musical form.

From their initial baptism as non-musicians--the Bromley contingent plus Sid Vicious on drums--skiffling through a cacaphonus 20 minutes at the 100 Club during that official New Wave week in the summer of '76, the group have consistently maintained a feisty hard core punk image that, combined with their own musical deficiencies and particularly icy vision, has created them a niche that few other bands can lay claim to.

Parallels with Adam and the Ants seemed initially agreeable until said band became bogged down in a shallow outrage schtick. They were transcended by the Banshees when the need to shock was overpowered by the founding of a musical ambience and attitude that cut far deeper.

The Slits are another group the Banshees have been compared to, but the former's apparent lack of direction paired with only the barest hints of musical progression can now be viewed as being directly at odds with the Banshees' career thus far of constant gigging and self-improvement.

That's what hit home most forcefully on Sunday, see? Not merely that the Banshees' maverick attitude has reaped an army of support, but that the support is totally warranted. Here is group in the intriguing position of having started with all manner of musical shortcomings but with a coherent vision, who've worked consistently to overcome their liabilities and who've succeeded moreover in forging a style that is at once riveting and absolutely their own.

The air of amateurism apparent in the initial stages of The Banshees' career has been peeled away like so much dead skin to reveal a group whose music is stark but deadly effective, drawing the listener irresistibly into its aural cocoon.

Parallels and comparisons can now be drawn with gothic rock architects like the Doors and, certainly, early Velvet Underground.

The latter's sense of constructing a music implementing monotonous phrasing with icy granite-hard precision, each instrument forming a complementary layer, is certainly a strikingly kindered form. The Banshees' current repertoire contains material that sounds close to a mating of "Venus In Furs" and the juggernaut power of "Sister Ray."

Individual titles of these self-penned songs were hard to catch, although "Switch" certainly fitted the latter description well while "Hong Kong Garden," with its oriental guitar riffs, is the perfect introductory single as well as an inspiringly accessible example of the Banshees' particular musical pitch.

In fact, although their own songs now sound far more potent, the Banshees' chosen encore of The Beatles' "Helter Skelter" showcased just how far they've advanced this past year. What once seemed a number merely chosen for shock-horror associations with the Manson gore-in is now weilded out at the audience like it was created solely for the Banshees' style of vicious "heart-of-glass" rock action.

In conclusion, Sunday was memorable, not primarily for the lemming-like kamikaze stupidity of those clowns sequestered directly in front of the stage, or even for disproving any notion that punk is dead (the police outside the gig demonstrated that the force is still acknowledged and a cause for concern) but for the cool, clear victory scored by this band.

A word too about Siouxsie herself: forget all those facile performance comparisons with Blondie or any other female rock star extant for that matter, and start thinking in terms of a woman with the potential of a female David Bowie.

A more impressive coming-of-age celebration I've never witnessed.

Nick Kent

Back to Articles