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Siouxsie and the Banshees

Siouxsie and the Banshees were a British rock band, formed in London in 1976 by vocalist Siouxsie Sioux and bass guitarist Steven Severin. They have been widely influential, both over their contemporaries and with later acts. Mojo rated guitarist John McGeoch in their list of "100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time" for his work on "Spellbound". The Times cited the group as "one of the most audacious and uncompromising musical adventurers of the post-punk era".

Initially associated with the punk scene, the band rapidly evolved to create "a form of post-punk discord full of daring rhythmic and sonic experimentation". Their debut album The Scream was released in 1978 to critical acclaim. In 1980, they changed their musical direction and became "almost a different band" with Kaleidoscope, which peaked at number 5 in the UK Albums Chart. With Juju (1981) which also reached the top 10, they became an influence on the emerging gothic scene. In 1988, the band made a breakthrough in North America with the multifaceted album Peepshow, which received critical praise. With substantial support from alternative rock radio stations, they achieved a mainstream hit in the US in 1991 with the single "Kiss Them for Me".

During their career, Siouxsie and the Banshees released 11 studio albums and 30 singles. The band experienced several line-up changes, with Siouxsie and Severin being the only constant members. They disbanded in 1996, with Siouxsie and drummer Budgie continuing to record music as the Creatures, a second band they had formed in the early 1980s. In 2004, Siouxsie began a solo career.

History



Formation (1976–1977)

Siouxsie Sioux and Steven Severin met at a Roxy Music concert in September 1975, at a time when glam rock had faded and there was nothing new coming through with which they could identify. From February 1976, Siouxsie, Severin and some friends began to follow an unsigned band, the Sex Pistols. Journalist Caroline Coon dubbed them the "Bromley Contingent", as most of them came from the Bromley region of South London, a label Severin came to despise. "There was no such thing, it was just a bunch of people drawn together by the way they felt and they looked". They were all inspired by the Sex Pistols and their uncompromising attitude. When they learned that one of the bands scheduled to play the 100 Club Punk Festival, organised by Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, were pulling out from the bill at the last minute, Siouxsie suggested that she and Severin play, even though they had no band name or additional members. Two days later, the pair appeared at the festival held in London on 20 September 1976. With two borrowed musicians at their side, Marco Pirroni on guitar and John Simon Ritchie (already commonly known as Sid Vicious) on drums, their set consisted of a 20-minute improvisation based on "The Lord's Prayer".

While the band intended to split up after the gig, they were asked to play again. Two months later, Siouxsie and Severin recruited drummer Kenny Morris and guitarist Pete Fenton. After playing several gigs in early 1977, they realised that Fenton did not fit in because he was "a real rock guitarist". John McKay finally took his place in July. Their first live appearance on television took place in November on Manchester's Granada, on Tony Wilson's TV show So It Goes. They then recorded their first John Peel session for BBC radio in which they premiered a new song "Metal Postcard", introducing a "motorik austerity" in the drums patterns.. The band described their music as "cold, machine-like and passionate at the same time". Appearing on the front cover of UK weekly Sounds magazine, Vivien Goldman wrote: "they sound like a 21st century industrial plant".

The Scream and Join Hands (1978–1979)

While the band sold-out venues in London in early 1978, they still had problems getting the right recording contract that could give them "complete artistic control". Polydor finally offered this guarantee and signed them in June. Their first single, "Hong Kong Garden", featuring a xylophone motif, reached the top 10 in the UK shortly after. A NME review hailed it as "a bright, vivid narrative, something like snapshots from the window of a speeding Japanese train, power charged by the most original, intoxicating guitar playing I heard in a long, long time".

The band released their debut album, The Scream, in November 1978. Nick Kent of NME said of the record: "The band sounds like some unique hybrid of the Velvet Underground mated with much of the ingenuity of Tago Mago-era Can, if any parallel can be drawn". At the end of the article, he added this remark: "Certainly, the traditional three-piece sound has never been used in a more unorthodox fashion with such stunning results".

The Banshees' second album, Join Hands, was released in 1979. In Melody Maker, Jon Savage described "Poppy Day" as "a short, powerful evocation of the Great War graveyards", and Record Mirror described the whole record as a dangerous work that "should be heard". The Banshees embarked on a major tour to promote the album. A few dates into the tour in September, Morris and McKay left an in-store signing after an argument and quit the band. In need of replacements to fulfill tour dates, the Banshees' manager called drummer Budgie, formerly with the Slits, and asked him to audition. Budgie was hired, but Siouxsie and Severin had no success auditioning guitarists. Robert Smith of the Cure offered his services in case they could not find a guitarist (his group were already the support band on the tour), so the band held him to it after seeing too many "rock virtuosos". The tour resumed in September and after the last concert, Smith returned to the Cure.

Kaleidoscope, Juju and A Kiss in the Dreamhouse (1980–1982)

Drummer Budgie became a permanent member, and the band entered the studios to record the single "Happy House" with guitarist John McGeoch, formerly of Magazine. Their third album, Kaleidoscope, released in 1980, saw the Banshees exploring new musical territories with the use of other instruments like synthesizers, sitars and drum machines. The group initially had a concept of making each song sound completely different, without regard to whether or not the material could be performed in concert. Melody Maker described the result as "a kaleidoscope of sound and imagery, new forms, and content, flashing before our eyes". Kaleidoscope was a commercial success, peaking at number 5 in the UK albums chart. This lineup, featuring McGeoch on guitar, toured the United States for the first time in support of the album, playing their first shows in New York City in November 1980.For Juju (1981), the band took a different approach and practised the songs in concert first before recording them. Juju, according to Severin, became an unintentional concept album that "drew on darker elements". Sounds hailed it as "intriguing, intense, brooding and powerfully atmospheric". The album later peaked at number 7 in the UK albums chart and became one of their biggest sellers. McGeoch's guitar contributions on Juju would be later praised by Johnny Marr of the Smiths.

During the 1981 accompanying tour, Siouxsie and Budgie secretly became a couple. At the same time, they also began a drum-and-voice duo called the Creatures, releasing their first EP, Wild Things.

The Banshees followed in 1982 with the psychedelic A Kiss in the Dreamhouse. The record, featuring strings on several numbers, was an intentional contrast to their previous work, with Severin later describing it as a "sexy album". The British press greeted it enthusiastically. Richard Cook finished his NME review with this sentence: "I promise...this music will take your breath away". At that time, McGeoch was struggling with alcohol problems, and was hospitalised on his return to a promotional trip from Madrid. The band fired him shortly thereafter. Severin asked Robert Smith to take over guitarist duties again; Smith accepted and rejoined the group in November 1982.

Hyæna, Tinderbox and Through the Looking Glass (1983–1987)

During 1983, the band members worked on several side projects; Siouxsie and Budgie composed the first Creatures album, Feast, while Severin and Smith recorded as the Glove. Smith then insisted on documenting his time with the Banshees, so the group released a cover version of the Beatles' "Dear Prudence" in September 1983. It became their biggest hit, reaching number 3 on the UK Singles Chart. They also released a live album, Nocturne, and completed their sixth studio album, Hyæna. Shortly before its release in May 1984, Smith left the group, citing health issues due to an overloaded schedule, being in two bands at once.

Ex-Clock DVA guitarist John Valentine Carruthers replaced him. The Banshees then reworked four numbers from their repertoire, augmented by a string section, for The Thorn EP. NME praised the project at its release: "The power of a classical orchestra is the perfect foil for the band's grindingly insistent sounds". The new Banshees lineup spent much of 1985 working on a new record, Tinderbox. The group finished the song "Cities in Dust" before the album, so they rushed its release as a single prior to their longest tour of the UK. Tinderbox was finally released in April 1986. Sounds magazine noted: "Tinderbox is a refreshing slant on the Banshees' disturbing perspective and restores their vivid shades to pop's pale palette". Due to the length of time spent working on Tinderbox, the group desired spontaneity and decided to record an album of cover songs, Through the Looking Glass, in 1987. Mojo magazine later praised their version of "Strange Fruit". After the album's release, the band realised Carruthers was no longer fitting in and decided to work on new material as a trio.

Peepshow (1988–1990)

Following a lengthy break, the band recruited multi-instrumentalist Martin McCarrick and guitarist Jon Klein. The quintet recorded Peepshow in 1988, with non-traditional rock instrumentation including cello and accordion. Q magazine praised the album in its 5-star review: "Peepshow takes place in some distorted fairground of the mind where weird and wonderful shapes loom". The first single, "Peek-a-Boo", was seen by critics as a "brave move" with horns and dance elements. Sounds wrote: "The snare gets slapped, Siouxsie's voice meanders all around your head and it all comes magically together". "Peek-a-Boo" was their first real breakthrough in the United States. After the tour, the band decided to take a break, with Siouxsie and Budgie recording as the Creatures and releasing their most critically acclaimed album to date, Boomerang, and Severin and McCarrick working on material together.

Superstition, The Rapture and break-up (1991–1999)

In 1991, Siouxsie and the Banshees returned with the single "Kiss Them for Me", mixing strings over a dance rhythm laced with exotica. The group collaborated with the then unknown Asian Tabla player Talvin Singh, who also sang during the bridge. The single received glowing reviews and later peaked in the Billboard Hot 100 at number 23, allowing them to reach a new audience. The album Superstition followed shortly afterwards, and the group toured the US as second headliners of the inaugural Lollapalooza tour. The following year, the Banshees were asked to compose "Face to Face" as a single for the film Batman Returns, at director Tim Burton's request.

In 1993, the Banshees recorded new songs based on string arrangements, but quickly stopped the sessions to play festivals abroad. On their return home, they hired former Velvet Underground member John Cale to produce the rest of the record. At its release, 1995's The Rapture was described by Melody Maker as "a fascinating, transcontinental journey through danger and exotica". A few weeks after its release, Polydor dropped the band from its roster and Klein was replaced on the band's last tour in 1995 by ex-Psychedelic Furs guitarist Knox Chandler. In April 1996, the Banshees disbanded after 20 years of working together. Siouxsie and Budgie announced that they would carry on recording as the Creatures. In 1999, they released the album Anima Animus to critical acclaim.

2000s–present

In 2002, Universal Music kicked off the band's remastered back catalogue by releasing The Best of Siouxsie and the Banshees. In April, Siouxsie, Severin, Budgie and Chandler reunited briefly for the Seven Year Itch tour, which spawned the Seven Year Itch live album and DVD in 2003. The day after their last concert in Tokyo, Japan, Siouxsie and Budgie stayed in town on their own and entered into a recording studio as the Creatures. Their fourth and final studio album, Hái!, came out a few months later.

In 2004, Downside Up, a box set that collected all of the Banshees' B-sides and The Thorn EP, was released. The Times wrote in its review: "for here is a group that never filled B-sides with inferior, throwaway tracks. Rather they saw them as an outlet for some of their most radical and challenging work".

In 2006, the band's first four records were remastered and compiled with previously unreleased bonus tracks. Several recordings made for the John Peel radio show from 1978 to 1986 were also compiled on Voices on the Air: The Peel Sessions. AllMusic described the first session as "a fiery statement of intent" and qualified the other performances as "excellent". The second batch of remasters, concerning the 1982–1986 era, was issued in April 2009. It included four other reissues (including their highly regarded A Kiss in the Dreamhouse from 1982). The At the BBC box set, containing a DVD with all of the band's UK live television performances and three CDs with in-concert recordings, was also released in June of the same year.

In April 2014, their debut single "Hong Kong Garden" was reissued on double 7-inch vinyl. It was announced that this would be part of a three-year plan with Universal. In late October, their last four studio albums (1987's Through the Looking Glass, 1988's Peepshow, 1991's Superstition and 1995's The Rapture) were reissued on CD in remastered versions with bonus tracks. Siouxsie and Severin curated a compilation CD called It's a Wonderfull Life for the monthly magazine Mojo, issued in September with Siouxsie on the front cover. On this CD, the pair honoured several composers of film music and classical music that had inspired them.

In 2015, after releasing another compilation called Spellbound: The Collection, which included singles, album tracks and B-sides, the band reissued 1979's Join Hands on vinyl for Record Store Day, with different cover artwork. A CD box set titled Classic Album Selection Volume One was released in January 2016, containing their first six albums newly remastered by Kevin Metcalfe. Classic Album Selection Volume Two, including the other last six albums, followed in April. A vinyl picture disc edition of The Scream was released in November.

A vinyl reissue series on Polydor of all of the band's albums, remastered from the original ¼" tapes in 2018 by Miles Showell and cut at half speed at Abbey Road Studios, began in August with Tinderbox, Juju, Through the Looking Glass and Join Hands. The second batch of vinyl reissues, released in September, included Superstition, A Kiss in the Dreamhouse and The Scream. The third batch, arriving in December, contained The Rapture, Peepshow, Kaleidoscope and Hyæna. A blue vinyl edition of The Scream, limited to 1,000 copies, was also released in November for the 40th anniversary of the album, on indie only record stores' websites.

Musical style

Siouxsie and the Banshees have been described as developing "a form of post-punk discord full of daring rhythmic and sonic experimentation". The Times wrote that "The Banshees stand proudly [... as] one of the most audacious and uncompromising musical adventurers of the post-punk era". With some of their darkest material, the band also helped spawn the gothic scene. The band is also considered a new wave act.

They were also one of the first alternative bands; music historian Peter Buckley pointed out that they were at "the very front of the alternative-rock scene". In 1988, "Peek-a-Boo" was the very first track to top the US Modern Rock chart after Billboard launched this chart in the first week of September to list the most played songs on alternative and college radio stations. Simon Goddard wrote that the "Banshees - Mk II would become one of the biggest alternative pop groups of the 1980s". Spin described them as "alternative rockers" in 1991 when referring to their presence in the top 40 chart. Noting the band's participation in the first Lollapalooza festival, journalist Jim Gerr saw them as one of the "elements of the alternative rock community". Mojo retrospectively presented them as one of "alternative rock's iconic groups".

Legacy and influence

Siouxsie and the Banshees have had an impact on many later genres including post-punk, new wave, synth pop, gothic rock, alternative music, shoegazing and trip-hop, influencing a wide range of musicians including Joy Division, the Cure, the Smiths, Depeche Mode, PJ Harvey, Radiohead, Tricky and LCD Soundsystem.

Joy Division's Peter Hook, who saw the group in concert in Manchester in 1977, said: "Siouxsie and the Banshees were one of our big influences [...] The Banshees first LP was one of my favourite ever records, the way the guitarist and the drummer played was a really unusual way of playing and this album showcases a landmark performance". Joy Division producer Martin Hannett saw a difference between the Banshees' first main lineup and the other bands of 1977: "Any harmonies you got were stark, to say the least, except for the odd exception, like Siouxsie. They were interesting". The Cure's leader, Robert Smith, declared in 2003: "Siouxsie and the Banshees and Wire were the two bands I really admired. They meant something." He also pinpointed what the 1979 Join Hands tour brought him musically. "On stage that first night with the Banshees, I was blown away by how powerful I felt playing that kind of music. It was so different to what we were doing with the Cure. Before that, I'd wanted us to be like the Buzzcocks or Elvis Costello, the punk Beatles. Being a Banshee really changed my attitude to what I was doing".

The two songwriters of the Smiths cited the band; singer Morrissey said that "Siouxsie and the Banshees were excellent", and that "they were one of the great groups of the late 1970s, early 1980s". He also said in 1994, "If you study modern groups, those who gain press coverage and chart action, none of them are as good as Siouxsie and the Banshees at full pelt. That's not dusty nostalgia, that's fact". When asked "who do you regret not going to see live", guitarist Johnny Marr replied "Siouxsie and the Banshees mk 1. But mk 2 were even better". Marr mentioned his liking for John McGeoch and his contribution to the single "Spellbound". Marr qualified it as "clever" with a "really good picky thing going on which is very un-rock'n'roll". Smiths' historian Goddard wrote that Marr "praise[d] the McGeoch-era Banshees as a significant inspiration". U2 cited Siouxsie and the Banshees as a major influence and selected "Christine" for a Mojo compilation. The Edge was the presenter of an award given to Siouxsie at the Mojo ceremony in 2005. In December 1981, Dave Gahan of Depeche Mode named the Banshees as one of his three favourite bands along with Sparks and Roxy Music. Gahan later hailed the single "Candyman" at its release, saying, "This is a great Banshees record[...], I like their sound". Jim Reid of the Jesus and Mary Chain selected "Jigsaw Feeling" from The Scream as being among his favourite songs. Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth cited "Hong Kong Garden" in his top 25 all-time favourite songs, and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine also mentioned them as being among his early influences. Dave Navarro of Jane's Addiction once noted a parallel between his band and the Banshees: "There are so many similar threads: melody, use of sound, attitude, sex-appeal. I always saw Jane's Addiction as the masculine Siouxsie and the Banshees". Primal Scream's Bobby Gillespie liked the group's ability to produce pop songs while transmitting something subversive. He said, "They were outsiders bringing outsider subjects to the mainstream. We’re not trying to rip off the Banshees, but that's kind of where we’re coming from".

The Banshees have been hailed by other acts. Thom Yorke related that seeing Siouxsie on stage in concert in 1985 inspired him to become a performer. Radiohead cited McGeoch-era Siouxsie records when mentioning the recording of the song "There There", and rehearsed Banshees' material prior to their 2008 tour. Jeff Buckley, who took inspiration from several female vocalists, covered "Killing Time" (from the Boomerang album) on various occasions. Buckley also owned all the Banshees' albums in his record collection. Suede singer Brett Anderson named Juju as one of his favourite records. Red Hot Chili Peppers performed "Christine" in concert, and their guitarist John Frusciante cited the Banshees in interviews. Garbage singer Shirley Manson stated, "I learned how to sing listening to The Scream and Kaleidoscope. Today, I can see and hear the Banshees' influence all over the place". Siouxsie has also been praised by other female singers including PJ Harvey and Courtney Love. PJ Harvey has stated, "It's hard to beat Siouxsie Sioux, in terms of live performance. She is so exciting to watch, so full of energy and human raw quality", and selected Siouxsie's album Anima Animus in her top 10 albums of 1999. The band had a strong effect on two important trip hop acts. Tricky covered "Tattoo" to open his second album, Nearly God; the original 1983 proto-trip-hop version of that song aided Tricky in the creation of his style. Massive Attack, sampled "Metal Postcard" on the song "Superpredators", recorded prior to their Mezzanine album. Air's Jean-Benoît Dunckel cited the group as one of his three main influences. Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins cited the Banshees as an important influence on his music. Faith No More covered "Switch" in concert and cited The Scream as one of their influences.

The Banshees continue to influence younger musicians. Singer James Murphy was marked by certain Banshees albums during his childhood. His band LCD Soundsystem covered "Slowdive" as a B-side to the single "Disco Infiltrator". The Beta Band sampled "Painted Bird" on their track "Liquid Bird" from the Heroes to Zeros album. TV on the Radio said that they have always tried to make a song that begins like "Kiss Them for Me" where all of a sudden, there's an "element of surprise" with "a giant drum coming in". Santigold based one of her songs around the music of "Red Light". "'My Superman' is an interpolation of 'Red Light'". Indie folk group DeVotchKa covered the ballad "The Last Beat of My Heart" at the suggestion of Arcade Fire singer Win Butler; it was released on the Curse Your Little Heart EP. Gossip named the Banshees as one of their major influences during the promotion of their single "Heavy Cross". British indie band Bloc Party took inspiration from "Peek-a-Boo" and their singer Kele Okereke stated about that Banshees' single: "it sounded like nothing else on this planet. This is [...] a pop song that they put out in the middle of their career [...] to me it sounded like the most current but most futuristic bit of guitar-pop music I've heard". The Weeknd sampled different parts of "Happy House" for his song "House of Balloons", and also used the chorus of the initial version.

Band members

Discography

Studio albums

  • The Scream (1978)
  • Join Hands (1979)
  • Kaleidoscope (1980)
  • Juju (1981)
  • A Kiss in the Dreamhouse (1982)
  • Hyæna (1984)
  • Tinderbox (1986)
  • Through the Looking Glass (1987)
  • Peepshow (1988)
  • Superstition (1991)
  • The Rapture (1995)