Strange things happen out on the edges of cities, suburbia produces all sorts of weirdness from serial killers and cross-dressing accountants to Goth. Picture, if you can, young Susan Ballion living in Bromley in the mid-70s. A girl with a Bowie and Roxy fixation who dreams of reinventing herself a la Ziggy Stardust (Bowie grew up in Bromley too) and escaping the dreary suburban hell she lives in. Maybe she has a Saturday job behind the make-up counter at Boot’s like other girls, but she also has a taste for “outsider” culture and spends her evenings at local gay discos. Then the Sex Pistols come along and she leaps at the moment, becoming part of the infamous Bromley Contingent that follows the band around, gets herself chatted up by Bill Grundy on national television, and plays her first gig with mates Steve “Spunker” Severin and Sid Vicious under the name Suzi and The Banshees.
And 25 years later she was still going. Long after all the Toyahs, Paulines, Poly Styrenes, and Hazel O’Connors had fallen by the wayside, Siouxsie was still standing proud — the Grande Dame of post-punk and a certified icon, surviving on strength of personality and sheer bloody-mindedness.
I had a bit of a Banshees fixation myself for a few years before I grew out of the whole teenage alienation thing (in 1983 to be precise). I think I saw them live more than any other band (four times) and they were always insanely great. Siouxsie ruled from the stage like a glorious ice queen, giving withering looks to anyone who incurred her displeasure (like the punks at one gig who kept gobbing at her and calling for “The Lord’s Prayer” — if looks could kill they’d have been pushing up the daisies). She radiated that certain je ne sais quoi which makes a person a star, you couldn’t take your eyes off her.
This version of “Mirage” is from a bootleg album called “Love In A Void” which collected together the two John Peel sessions they’d taped in 1977 and ’78 before putting out any official records. A lot of fans at the time preferred that to their proper debut album “The Scream” because it was rougher and more punky. Personally I like the official album version better but this is pretty great, raw and trashy with the metallic guitar sound that used to literally make me feel a bit queasy like someone was dragging their fingers down a blackboard (which Siouxsie would probably take as a compliment.)
Download: Mirage – Siouxsie & The Banshees (mp3)
(The Peel sessions finally came out officially last year on “Voices On The Air”)
Four years later they had guitarist John McGeoch and drummer Budgie in the band who added more colour to their old monochrome sturm und drang. I don’t listen to much Banshees these days but this extended 12″ version of “Spellbound” still sounds incredible, a blazing barrage of drums and swirling guitars. Apparently this is a bit of a Goth Disco favourite (I swear I wouldn’t know myself), perfect for modern-day Susan Ballion’s to whirl around to while dreaming about being someone else.
Download: Spellbound (12″ version) – Siouxsie & The Banshees (mp3)
The last Banshees album I bought was “A Kiss In The Dreamhouse” in 1982 which at the time I thought was their masterpiece and the single “Slowdive” one of the best things they ever did (though it was a flop on the charts). This still sounds great too, a tense dance number with a primitive, echoey beat and stabbing strings straight from the shower scene in “Psycho.” Shoegazer band Slowdive claim their name has nothing to do with this record. I believe them, millions wouldn’t.
Download: Slowdive (12″ version) – Siouxsie & The Banshees (mp3)