Article by Phil Sutcliffe
Cover headline: BANSHEES SPLIT!
IN ABERDEEN... NO-ONE CAN HEAR YOU SCREAM
‘I’m sorry that I hit you / but my string snapped / I’m sorry I disturbed your cat-nap / but whilst finishing a chore / I asked myself "what for?" / then something snapped / I had a relapse... a suburban relapse’ (‘Suburban Relapse’, Sioux / McKay)
Aberdeen, Friday, September 7. The geezer standing next to me in the urinal said "Hey, have you heard the rumour? Two of the Banshees have run off. They’re not going to play. The bouncers are expecting a riot."
My jaw joined other appendages in hanging slackly. As a newshound this is the sort of thing I’m supposed to tell other people, not learn from a pisser-by in the gents at Aberdeen Capitol an hour before the band I’ve travelled 500 miles to see are supposed to come on stage.
Back to my seat behind the mixing desk and Chris Parry, main man for the Cure and Fiction Records, is muttering something about his boys being asked to play a long set which they did and, fortunately as it turned out, captivated the audience.
Then as they left the stage an officious Scottish voice adopting the unmistakeable tone of a British Rail announcer regretting the late arrival of almost everything except Christmas droned through the PA: "Attention. Your attention please. Owing to the disappearance of two members of the Banshees the gig will not take place. If you would stay in your seats arrangements will be made to refund your money."
Groans. Boos. A lot of milling about swiftly arrested by the sight of Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin centre stage - ergo it was guitarist John McKay and drummer Kenny Morris who’d done a bunk. The same undertaker’s apprentice intoned:
"Attention. Siouxsie would like to speak to you."
Suddenly everyone was dashing towards the front as Siouxsie took the mic: "Two original members of the band are here tonight. Two art college students fucked off out of it."
She sounded as though she’d been fuelling anger for enough hours to be burnt out, all but emotionally dead. With no ‘performance’ to give, no beat to move to, she and Severin stood awkwardly in the bland house lights, decidedly humble.
"All I can say is we will be back here with some friends who have got some roots. If you’ve got one per cent of the aggression we feel towards them if you ever see them you have my blessings to beat shit out of them."
Steve said a couple of dejected sentences, things like "We are as disappointed as you are" then Siouxsie added "Next time you see them... pow!" They waved and walked off, now to cheers from the whole audience who I suppose could easily have turned nasty but had been won over by the honesty of what they’d just witnessed and the thrill of being involved in an event which was probably more significant than the gig they had expected.
Anyway they had no doubts about the consolation they wanted and the bands, crews and Capitol staff strove to pour the required oil on troubled waters.
"Cure! Cure! Cure!" The Cure, troopers already, came back with a couple more songs from beyond the realm of their rehearsed set including a new piece called ‘S’ which they graciously dedicated to Siouxsie. Then, after an exchange of messages by the frantic traffic of managers and roadies scurrying up and down the hall and across the stage, they announced "some guests".
Re-enter Sioux and Severin hastily strapping on the bass. Michael Dempsey, Cure’s bassman, plonked his mike down for Siouxsie and while Steve gave the band some rudimentary advice on what was to follow she said "I hope you realise these guys know nothing about the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ (roar of approval from the crowd).
"It’ll probably be all the better for that. John and Kenny were doing it for the money and you can’t do a good ‘Lord’s Prayer’ with that attitude. We will be back!"
Steve started pounding away and in about five seconds the Cure were into it, a relentless electric groaning which in the context came out as a formidable statement, the outpouring Siouxsie and Steve needed.
A black-haired girl all raggy in a leather jacket, white tights and some kind of check tunic bounding across the stage, chanting, singing, wailing. Absolutely no kind of chic involved in this at all. A naked event, a moment of truth, a spit in the eye of disaster. Something happened.
Now I’m no particular fan of the Banshees and I think the version of ‘Lord’s Prayer’ on ‘Join Hands’ is too long and uneven but this was transfixing. My scalp prickled at the nameless feelings of it.
Then she was done. The Cure crashed a few chords surplus to requirements before they noticed, then Siouxsie was telling the crowd "We’ll be back here in October." A bloke vaulted on stage with ambitions to give her a great big kiss and was intercepted by a bouncer. She urged him "Don’t get heavy" and the large gent obliged, drawing another cheer for Siouxsie.
For the hour she had become more of a heroine than a star and melted every trace of potential aggro in the place to warmth and sympathy (yes, contrary to image). Most people were still pragmatic enough to claim their money back but they drifted away peacefully.
Well. Clearly this was not going to be quite your standard tour-and-album type feature. The Banshees’ manager, Nils Stevenson, appeared for the first time and invited me and Mike Laye to come straight up to the dressing room where Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin wanted to talk and presumably use us to explain to their followers what the hell was going on. Here it is for you to take at face value or read between the lines whatever implications you will.
They were perched on plastic chairs in the middle of the usual tawdry chamber littered with the usual wreckage of running buffet. They were hardly pictures of joy but they did give the surprising impression of having already worked their way through the worst of their shock and despair into a more positive frame of mind - which Siouxsie emphasised by her first, somewhat sarcastic remark:
"This is the happiest day of my life."
Me: "What happened?"
Sioux: "It came to a head when we were in this record shop today supposed to be promoting the album. First time we’d ever done it and I didn’t see any harm in it because there’s a lot of people want to see us. But Kenny and Johnny had decided to fight against signing autographs."
Me: "Did they say why?"
Severin: "They said if somebody wanted to talk to them they didn’t need a signature on a piece of paper. Which is all very nice but they still came to the shop with us and hid behind us while we did all the signing. Then they took our album off the record deck and played the Slits instead."
Sioux: "It must have been the tits and arse that attracted them. Maybe that’s how they want to promote our album let it all hang out."
Severin: "And then when they saw our promotional copies of ‘Join Hands’ were being sold - because Polydor hadn’t supplied the shop in time - they started handing them out for free."
The background was that the supply of promos the Banshees took on the road to give to local press and DJs had been sold to the shopkeeper to save an embarrassing situation. He was in turn flogging them at the modest price of £3.80. It doesn’t seem like a very nefarious proceeding though perhaps McKay and Morris could have argued their point of principle though. Anyway it proved spark enough.
Severin: "So, right, Siouxsie thumped ‘em. Well barged John anyway."
Sioux: "Barged him across the other side of the shop! And that was it. They both disappeared. They fucked up the band, the tour and thousands of fans.
"It wasn’t just the albums, it was the whole pathetic attitude of them. It felt like they were, um, in it for the money. Like we played in Ulster for the first time yesterday and it was a big deal for me, but that wasn’t apparent for them. The only time I saw them getting excited on the trip was on the ferry when they were taking snapshots in a mirror. Poxy Polaroids of themselves! If they could have got that excited about the band it would have been great.
Even when we went into rehearsals for this tour I asked them outright whether they wanted to be part of Siouxsie And The Banshees or if they were going to be total voyeurs and dilettantes all their lives."
Siouxsie suspected their departure was premeditated. On the other hand Steve said she had already talked to him about kicking them out if they made it through to the end of the year.
Severin: "I was convinced they’d at least stay until we’d gone to America, simply for the joy ride. It can’t all be money. They’ve driven off and they’re each losing a fifth of what we’re losing."
Unusually the tour was being financed by the band, their manager and booker Dave Woods, who also manages Spizz Energi. Between them they stand to lose up to £47,000 depending on whether and how quickly new Banshees can be found and rehearsed. Astonishingly their target last weekend was to pick up the tour at Oxford this Friday (September 14).
Severin: "There’s no tour support from Polydor at all. We’ve always deliberately avoided that. At the moment we’d be the only group in Polydor who don’t owe them a penny because we knew as soon as they did they’d be able to ask favours. This tour we sunk everything into it that we’d got - all the royalties from the last album and ‘Hong Kong Gardens’. It looks as though it’s just, like - gone. I don’t understand why they’re stabbing themselves."
Sioux: "It’s not that. They don’t play that big a part in putting this together. I’m talking about conviction. They were talking about ‘the pressure. We can’t cope’. But they’ve had no pressure because they’ve refused to be a part of anything that’s got responsibilities. As far as press goes it was decided that they wouldn’t do any interviews."
Me: "They backed out of that did they?"
Severin: "No, they didn’t back out (chuckle). They were told to back out."
Sioux: "No they weren’t. They were asked."
Me: "In that instance weren’t you rejecting them then?"
Severin: "Yeah, but simply because they weren’t pulling their weight. Like with the songwriting everyone was getting an - already talking in the past tense - it was all split five ways with Nils on an equal share too. But that wasn’t how the songs were written."
Sioux: "It was the way we wanted it though because we had faith that we could work as four equal members of the band."
Severin: "It was fine for 18 months, up till we finished writing ‘Join Hands’."
Sioux: "But then they were acting like real prima donnas, not working, ‘This is below us. We won’t dirty our hands with that’... it just didn’t seem fair that they were benefitting financially."
Me: "So did you end up quarrelling over money?"
Severin: "The only time they came into the office was to get their weekly pay cheque. That may sound harsh but it was true. Now they’ve gone off thinking they’re not involved but they are, right up to their necks. Completely. Legally and everything." (The Banshees are likely to be sueing McKay and Morris for the losses their departure may cause.)
Severin: "They were always going on about how we were slippin’ into being a real rock’n’roll band just like anybody else and then tonight they left their hotel room with their pillows upright on the beds with their tour passes clipped to them as if to denote effigies of themselves. There was no, um, passion in the way they left. I mean who stops to prop up their pillows and stick their tour passes to them if they’re really mad?"
Me: "What had they been expressing concern about over this thing of being ‘just like any other rock’n’roll band’?"
Severin: "They were always really paranoid about the whole ‘complete control’ thing. That things were starting to slip out of their personal control. The first major thing that happened was over the ‘Staircase’ sleeve which John and Kenny both hated and they had an alternative..."
Sioux: "Which was disgusting. Horrible."
Severin: "Sioux had written the lyrics and she knew what it was about but they had a different interpretation and they wanted a different sleeve. So me, Nils and Sioux wanted to go one way and they wanted the other... and that was the democracy of it."
Me: "Did you work on a strict democratic basis. If there was disagreement would you come down to voting?"
Severin: "It never got to that before. Then after that they started to lose faith in me, Nils and Sioux."
Me: "What about the immediate future? You said on stage that you’d be back here in October. How much of a shot in the dark was that?"
Severin: "We’ve got some friends who would like to be in the Banshees..."
Nils Stevenson (across the room): "Who are fun."
Severin: "It was like claustrophobia. In interviews you’d go to stay something and then you’d get a comment behind your ear going ‘People are this’ and ‘People are that’, massive, what’s the word, generalisations about the whole human race. If you look back that never comes from me or Siouxsie. That’s from John.
"And the whole thing about the intensity of it all and the artistic aspect comes from Kenny. Well tonight we were like total nutcases - we jumped on stage and the Cure said ‘What are we doing?’ I said ‘Just play E’ and that’s what it’s all about."
Sioux: "When we first went on at the 100 Club we didn’t even know what E was."
Me: "It’s very early to sort out what this might mean to you but..."
Severin: "It’s just Phase Three. Me and Sioux built a band from nothing before and we will again as soon as we get the right people."
Nils Stevenson came over and described the afternoon’s absurd dramas. He’d spotted the prodigals in a cab about to leave. He raced over to them and they wound the window up on his hand. Hotel reception had booked the taxi to Stonehaven, about 20 miles down the coast, so he chased after them in the band mini-bus (a hired six-litre Chevrolet). He combed a train waiting at the station there and checked the register in the main hotel without success then gave up.
He said: "They come out with all this stuff about not wanting to be superstars but what’s plain is they don’t give a fuck about the punters."
I went down to the bus to drive back to the hotel with the remnants of the band and for some minutes Siouxsie sat in the open door signing autographs. One fan was asking for a badge and they hadn’t got any left but then Nils noticed John McKay’s guitar lying beside his seat. He picked it up and told the lad "Here, take this. A souvenir."
It was accepted with wide eyes and the fan went off into the night almost as bemused as Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin at the turn of the day’s events.