The Daily Telegraph (10.25.03)

In black and white Siouxsie and the Banshees were the punk band who lasted - and whose full story is only now coming to light. Siouxsie Sioux and Budgie talk to Andrew Perry


I am in Pall Mall, waiting for one Susan Ballion, better known as Siouxsie Sioux. The ice maiden of punk rock, she led her band, Siouxsie and the Banshees, for close to 20 years, outlasting all her peers from the class of 1976. In the process, Sioux invented goth, an entire youth movement inspired by her idiosyncratic use of black clothes, black hair-dye and white make-up. In the 1980s, goths were to be found on every high street. In fact, these ghostly specimens never really went away.

Raised in Bromley, Kent, Sioux attended many of the Sex Pistols' early gigs and quickly entered the band's outrageously dressed inner circle. Taking on board their DIY spirit, she soon fronted her own band. But where other groups burnt out all too quickly, Sioux's came to sculpt their own distinctive, deeply spooky sound. From their debut with 1978's Hong Kong Garden through to their eventual break-up in 1995, they made 29 entries into the UK singles chart.

Sioux and her husband, former Banshees drummer Budgie, now lead a life of seclusion in south-west France. They continue to release on their own label spellbinding records as the Creatures. They make the odd public foray (Sioux makes a guest appearance on the new album by dance duo Basement Jaxx), but rarely bother with the treadmill of the music industry.

I have been pursuing an interview with Sioux for some months. In May, I seemed close to securing an audience when word came back that, rather than speak to Britain's biggest-selling quality daily, she would be staying at home to watch her team, Wolverhampton Wanderers, in the First Division play-off final.

Worryingly, Budgie appears alone in the hotel foyer at today's appointed hour. After half an hour's polite chat, their publicist sets off to call Sioux's room. "Oh, I wouldn't do that," Budgie warns. "She'll be down when she's ready." It seems that the notion that nobody, not even her spouse, should consider incurring the wrath of Sioux is as true today as it was when she first took to the stage in 1976, clad in a bra, a Nazi arm band and thigh-length leather boots.

Eventually, the lift doors open and the clack of high heels, like ice-picks on marble, announces her arrival. Her inky black hair is swept back, rather than spiked up as of old, and although today's outfit is perhaps more befitting of a lady in her mid-forties, she is sporting a tight pair of black satin trousers with zips all over.

Unlike most artists of the punk era, Sioux's history has remained untold - until the recent publication of Siouxsie & The Banshees: The Authorised Biography. There, all the main players speak with rare candour and bitchiness. "And that's only the half of it!" roars Sioux, once she has joined us. Despite her reputation, she is rather good fun. "At the beginning, you can see how we bonded. But really, it's a story of crap managers."

"With our first three managers," says bassist Steve Severin in the book, "the score was: heroin two, cocaine one." The real Banshees story, though, concerns the torridly complex relationship between Sioux, Budgie and Severin.

Sioux started the band with Severin. Early on, the two became an item, but under pressure from everyone around them, they were forced to split up for the good of the band. Thereafter, their relationship was a purely creative one, and very strained.

It became a great deal more complicated when Sioux secretly started seeing the band's newly enlisted drummer, Budgie. Pretty much the first Severin knew of their affair was when he was shown pictures intended for the album cover of Sioux and Budgie's new side project, the Creatures, which they set up in 1981. It depicted the duo naked in the shower, apparently having sex.

Instead of resolving these tensions, they tended to let their aggression out on their live audiences, who had turned Sioux's look into the goth uniform. She hated it. Having first trodden the stage amid punk's mayhem, she began to cut a rather snooty figure. 'Doing a gig during the early days was an assault," she says, "and there was a thrill in that. So when it turned into this audience that was ours, all these mirror images looking back at me, it was quite freaky. I'd try and figure out, 'How am I nasty to someone who's nice?' It accentuated my feeling of alienation from the audience."

Somehow, amid this turbulence, the Banshees cut astonishing tunes such as Christine and Happy House, forging Sioux's outre tastes - tribal chanting and percussion, Hitchcockian suspense, S&M menace, the Velvet Underground - into ever more outlandish pop music. Esteemed producer Bob Ezrin once told them that they had to decide whether they were an art project or a rock band. It was perhaps their unwillingness to do so that made the Banshees so special.

Eventually, of course, the band did collapse, and very messily, but Sioux and Budgie already had their safe haven set up in France. "We learnt to enjoy doing nothing," says Sioux of their life post-Banshees. "We do more reading, more visiting places, getting in the car driving somewhere, but also just enjoying where we live."

These days, they make Creatures records in their time off from everyday living. Last summer they laid their Banshees past to rest with a relatively amicable reunion tour. The day after the final date in Tokyo, Budgie enjoyed a brief recording session with Leonard Eto, former creative director of the Kodo drummers. In just two hours, they recorded the improvised rhythms which form the backbone of the new Creatures album, Hai! It's a work of strange power, exotic atmospheres and fierce independence.

Certainly fierce remains an appropriate description of Sioux. "After all this time," she says, "I still feel like, 'F*** off to the industry!' Age hasn't tamed me. 'Oooh, you've got to be nice to them.' Well, I'm not interested. They can all hang themselves, for all I care." 'Hai!' (Artful Records) is out now.

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