Saturday, 16 March 2013

Siouxsie And The Banshees 1978-1981

After they reformed and then split up again in the early part of the millennium, Siouxsie And The Banshees’ record label Universal then set about slowly revamping their back catalogue. A new best of album and a B-sides boxset were followed by a series of remastered reissues of the band’s early and mid period albums. Up until three or four years ago, this all looked very uniform and well thought out, but the label then decided that the band’s final four albums weren’t worthy of reissuing, and abandoned the project. The fact that this period of the band’s career includes what is seen by some as their best ever LP, 1988’s “Peepshow”, tells you all you need to know about the music industry.

The Banshees made a habit of releasing stand alone A-sides throughout their career, and all of them - in one form or another - from the pre-1987 period had subsequently found a home by being included as bonus tracks on these reissues. Several non album singles were issued thereafter, but with the reissue campaign now seemingly permanently abandoned, it has left such things high and dry.

It’s not all bad news. In 1992, the band released a best of called “Twice Upon A Time”, offering a history of the band from 1982 onwards via (most of) their singles. As the title suggests, it was a follow up to an earlier compilation, “Once Upon A Time”. Given that the Banshees’ lengthy career has seen plenty of music and plenty of line up changes, rather than try and cram it all in in one article, I thought I would break it down into two halves - one covering the period covered by the first best of, and the second one looking at everything released thereafter. Admittedly, one half will actually be bigger than the other.

So this month is part 1. Before we continue, it is worth pointing out that “Once Upon A Time” featured - kind of - all of the band’s nine singles released during this period, but to make up the numbers, an extra track from their debut LP (“Mirage”, from “The Scream”) was shoved onto side 1 so there were five songs on each side of the album. As for the article itself, I shall look at each LP in turn, what bonus tracks are on the most recent reissue(s), and then look at all the singles on all formats released in the UK. The catalogue numbers shown for each LP relates to the most important (usually the latest) reissue.

The Scream (Polydor 983 238-8, 2-CD edition)

You may well be aware of the band’s quite famous pre-debut LP history. Siouxsie Sioux was part of the Bromley Contingent, a group of Sex Pistols fans who travelled around with the band on tour. When the Pistols were invited to play the first night of the 100 Club Punk Special event in London in September 76, Siouxsie decided to get together a band, in true punk spirit, to play the festival after hearing a band had pulled out, and succeeded in getting the newly formed Siouxsie And The Banshees onto the bill. Joined by Steve Severin on bass, Sid Vicious on drums and future Adam And The Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni, they had no material at all to play, so simply did a twenty minute improvisational piece, a cover of “The Lord’s Prayer”. It was very much designed to be a true art statement, and the band promptly split thereafter, having proved that anybody could form a band if they wanted to.

But Sioux and Severin were later approached by gig promoters to see if they wanted to play again, and deciding that maybe they could make a career out of music, decided to resurrect the band with the help of guitarist John Fenton and drummer Kenny Morris. Fenton was later replaced by John McKay during the summer of 1977.

The Banshees soon built up a following on the London gig circuit, but record labels seemed reluctant to sign them. I think I heard a story once claiming that some labels, possibly sensing punk might be a fad, were only happy to sign one punk band each, and most labels therefore already had one by this time - although Sioux later said she was only going to sign with a label that gave the band artistic freedom, suggesting they were approached by several record companies. As the famous “Sign The Banshees” graffiti started to appear, the band caught the attention of John Peel, who invited them to record a session for his BBC Radio 1 show. The BBC considered signing the band themselves (such was the (alleged) lack of interest from the labels), but in the end, Polydor signed the group (despite already having their “own” punk band on their roster already, The Jam).

The band’s debut 45, “Hong Kong Garden”, was issued as a stand alone single in 1978. One of the few songs where the title gave you a vague indication of the sound of the song, with it’s “ching ching ching” xylophone riff, the single was a sizeable hit, although the band would later seem slightly “cool” towards it - it was never really a regular gig feature in later years. On the B-side was a track titled “Voices”, not to be included on the band’s next LP - indeed, every B-side the band would release for the remainder of their career would be of the “non album” variety. It was followed by another single, “The Staircase”, which again, would not be included on the band’s debut album. The b-side was a cover of T.Rex’s “20th Century Boy”, and the band would record plenty of more covers as the years went by.

“The Scream” was finally issued in late 78, consisting of entirely new material. It might seem strange that the debut album by a “punk” band was issued as punk, in it’s original form, was more or less on it’s last legs, but then again, it’s not quite a true punk record. Post-punk is a better description. Yes, there is an energy and snarling aggression that owes a debt to The Pistols, but there is a lot more darkness on this album. It’s also quite daring in it’s approach, the likes of “Jigsaw Feeling” and the closing “Switch” weighing in at five or six minutes in length, the exact thing that punk was supposed to oppose. Although later albums would overshadow this record due to their beauty and sophistication, “The Scream” has long been thought of as one of the most important records of the Punk/New Wave era.

In 2005, to kickstart the reissue campaign, the LP was reissued as a double disc Deluxe Edition. The original album was on disc 1, whilst disc 2 was full of BBC Session material, demos, and the A-sides of those first two singles. Whilst all of the BBC material later appeared on a compilation called “Voices On The Air”, the demos remain exclusive to this release.

For some reason, the decision was taken to reissue the record again the following year, but as a single disc expanded edition. All of the BBC and demo material was removed, leaving just “Hong Kong Garden” and “The Staircase” as bonuses. In other words, previously available material. I can only assume the decision was taken to do a one disc edition to tie in with future reissues, and that Polydor must have felt that putting the rare stuff on this edition would have angered anybody who had shelled out for the 2-CD edition to get hold of it all in the first place. According to Wikipedia, the release suffered from poor sound, but 2007 repressings are reportedly of significantly better quality.


Hong Kong Garden/Voices (7”, Polydor 2059 052, initial copies in gatefold sleeve)
The Staircase (Mystery)/20th Century Boy (7”, Polydor POSP 9)

Join Hands (Polydor 983 691-2, digipack pressing)

A bit like “No More Heroes”, or “Give Em Enough Rope”, I have always thought - as good as it is - that “Join Hands” also suffers a bit from “second album syndrome”. At times, it veers so left field, that it seems as though it is either struggling to match the power of the debut, or is deliberately trying to test it’s audience. This is most noticeable on side two - the hybrid of “Mother”/”Oh Mein Papa”, with Siouxsie more or less speaking the lyrics of two songs over a musical box backing, followed by the fourteen minute long version of “The Lord’s Prayer”, either an attempt to record on LP part of their history, or the sound of a band short of material. But, again, although the Allmusic review mentions that the album is “grim, with dragging tempos…and wandering free-form structures”, plenty of other people will tell you it’s a work of genius.

For the first time, the Banshees issued a single from an LP, as “Playground Twist” was released as a single to help promote the album. It even bagged the band their first “Top Of The Pops” appearance. Following the release of the LP, the band returned with a double A sided 45, consisting of a track from “The Scream”, “Metal Postcard”, but with the vocal newly sung in German, and now titled “Mittageisen”. On the other side was a track that had been in the setlists since their 1977 days, “Love In A Void”. Strangely, history later got rewritten, and not only was “Mittageisen” absent from “Once Upon A Time”, it later appeared on the B-side boxset, despite being “officially“ the lead A-side at the time of release. Conversely, “Love In A Void” was included on “Once Upon A Time” instead, and now appears on the expanded 2006 reissue, along with the previously unavailable “Infantry”.

The catalogue number above relates to the digipack edition, but copies were also released in a standard thick jewel case, with a different catalogue number, but an identical track listing.


Playground Twist/Pull To Bits (7”, Polydor POSP 59)
Mittageisen/Love In A Void (7”, Polydor 2059 151)

Kaleidoscope (Polydor 984 351-0)

During the “Join Hands” tour, the Banshees split into two halves. Sioux and Severin had a falling out with McKay and Morris at a record signing, and the latter two promptly walked out of the band there and then. In order to try and continue the tour, the band recruited a new drummer in the form of ex-Slits sticksman Budgie, whilst the lead singer and guitarist of The Cure, Robert Smith, who were supporting the band on the tour, offered to step in as temporary guitarist for the rest of the tour. Whilst this interim line up of the band never recorded any material at the time, Smith’s involvement with the band during this short period is quite well known. The recent “At The BBC” boxset has now succeeded in documenting this part of the band’s career, as the DVD included in the set includes the band performing “Love In A Void” and “Regal Zone” on the “Something Else” TV show in late 79, with Smith on guitar.

Once the tour was over, Smith left to continue with his day job, and the band recruited a permanent guitarist in the form of ex-Magazine member John McGeoch. The decision was taken to try and revamp the band’s sound, to move away from the three-chord limitations of punk, and so the group decided to try, for their next LP, to make every song sound different. That explains why it bore the title “Kaleidoscope”.

Although the band didn’t quite manage to make every song sound like it had been recorded by a different band, it was still quite a varied record sound-wise. As much as I love punk, I always feel a bit sorry for the punk bands whose ninth album sounds like their first, because they want to “keep it real“. Anyway, “Kaleidoscope“ was certainly a world away from the earlier albums, and is seen as one of the band’s greatest moments. Many have claimed that McGeoch’s distinctive guitar sound helped to give the band a vibrant and almost poppy vibe that “Join Hands” simply didn’t have.

Listening to “The Scream” and then this, it does really sound like a band who had matured overnight. The insistent riff that runs through “Happy House”, the minimalist near-techno rumble of “Tenant”, the saxophone versus drums thrill-fest of “Trophy”, the - of all things - acoustic guitar twanging of “Christine”, the astonishing synthesized thud of “Red Light”, the beautiful “ooh ooh oohs” that inhabit “Paradise Place”, the snarling finale of “Skin” - had the Banshees split after the record signing bust up, then they would have just been another band who released a couple of good post punk LP’s. But “Kaleidoscope” elevated them to another level, and in part, helped the journalists to rebrand them as a Goth Band now, rather than a punk one.

“Happy House” and “Christine” were issued as singles, and the latter was followed by another stand alone 45, “Israel”. This single appeared on both 7” and 12”, and both came in die cut sleeves, although the 7” came in a fancy designed one with custom labels - the 12” just came in a plain sleeve with the vinyl having standard red Polydor labels. Initial copies claimed both the A-side and the B-side (“Red Over White”) were both twelve minutes long, but this was an obvious typing error. Both the mixes were the same as the 7”, and it could well be that this typing error resulted in the 12” edition being pulled from sale - reportedly - after only a week in the shops.

The 2006 reissue includes a big chunk of bonus tracks, unlike the meagre extras tagged onto the reissue of “Join Hands”, although the B-sides from the period are absent because they can all be found on “Downside Up” - but you do get a (rubbish) demo of “Eve White Eve Black”, originally the flip of “Christine”. “Israel” now closes the album. Again, a digipack edition also exists.


Happy House/Drop Dead/Celebration (7”, Polydor POSP 117)
Christine/Eve White Eve Black (7”, Polydor 2059 249)
Israel/Red Over White (7”, Polydor POSP 205)
Israel/Red Over White (12”, Polydor POSPX 205, plain die cut sleeve)

Juju (Polydor 984 351-2)

Another year, another classic. “Juju” continued where “Kaleidoscope” left off, with the attendant singles hitting the charts, and the critics foaming at the mouth with excitement. McGeoch’s guitar is all over the thumping “Into The Light”, whilst the droning snarl of “Nightshift” is the nearest the band got to their earlier post-punk days. There is, to be fair, an element of savagery in “Head Cut”, whilst the epic album closer “Voodoo Dolly” also exhibits an air of menace - but side 2’s stand out moment could well be “Sin In My Heart”, which has a momentous opening, starting slow, then building and building in tempo, McGeoch’s guitar driving it along until Siouxsie eventually comes in, repeating the title again and again and again with an air of manic urgency. Amazing stuff.

With the band now having dabbled briefly in the 12” format, both singles from the LP - “Spellbound” and “Arabian Knights” - were issued on the format alongside the standard 7”. The 12” editions featured an alternate mix of each A-side, although this was not mentioned on either the sleeves or the labels of either single. The 12” of each also added a bonus B-side in addition to the standard B-side that was also to be found on the 7” singles.

It’s all academic now, as the four b-sides from the period are now all on “Downside Up”, whilst the 12” mixes of “Spellbound” and “Arabian Knights” appear on the expanded version of “Juju”, issued in 2006 (including, again, a digipack edition). Also included is an early take of a track called “Fireworks”, later issued as a stand alone 45, and a version of which can also be found on the expanded “A Kiss In The Dreamhouse” - the band’s fifth LP, and one which we shall look at in the next article.


Spellbound/Follow The Sun (7”, Polydor POSP 273)
Spellbound (12” Mix)/Follow The Sun/Slap Dash Snap (12”, Polydor POSPX 273)
Arabian Knights/Supernatural Thing (7”, Polydor POSP 309)
Arabian Knights (12” Vocoder Mix)/Supernatural Thing/Congo Conga (12”, Polydor POSPX 309, green p/s)

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