THE MIS-EDUCATION OF
Ms SIOUXSIE SIOUX
For a CREATURE like SIOUXSIE SIOUX, where does persona
end and person begin? ANDREW DARLINGTON tries
to discover the girl behind the mask, but winds up talking
about ‘Hugely Inflated Breasts’ and spooky doppelgangers
from ‘THE TWILIGHT ZONE’ instead...!
‘THE NEW CREATURES…’
Two defining dates. 20 September 1976. And 1 December 1976. The ‘100 Club Punk Festival’. Then the ‘Today’ TV show.
Susan Dallion is there, from the Bromley contingent. Coming on stage, reciting a twenty-minute improvised ‘The Lord’s Prayer’, impromptu, with a one-off pick-up Banshees, their anti-musical technical inadequacies drenched in chilling cacophonies of electronic howl. Steve Havoc (Steve Severin) in bass, future-Ant Marco Pironi on guitar, and John Simon Ritchie (Sid Vicious) on drums – ‘Sid couldn’t play a fuckin’ note’ sneers John Lydon… then, TV talking-head Bill Grundy provoking a ‘tirade of filth’ from the Pistols – ‘not the nice clean Rolling Stones’ he snides. Picking on a punk-girl standing behind the Pistols, that same Susan ‘Siouxsie Sue’ Dallion straight-facing that she’s ‘enjoying myself, I always wanted to meet to you…’ ‘SIOUXSIE’S A PUNK SHOCKER’ howls ‘The Mirror’ the following morning.
Punk is a moment. Unrepeatable. Never intended to be a career. More an incendiary blast of apocalyptical discontent from the margins of society, intent on overwhelming the state in a blaze of insurrectionary filth. Punk said ‘everybody can be a star’. But not everyone was. Siouxsie Sioux is never less than a star. And always an Exterminating Angel. ‘We were never Punk’ she says now. But the Banshees weren’t Goth, and they weren’t New Romantics either. She and Severin have already gone far beyond such limiting definitions by the time of the first Banshees album, ‘The Scream’. Adapt and adopt. Mutate and survive. Neo-Expressionist. Art-Fetishism. Abrasive Outsiders. Austere Metal Postcards.
“Hong Kong Garden”, their debut chart single enters at no.25 on 2 September 1978, it will peak at no.7 a fortnight later, as the Commodores “Three Times A Lady” hangs in at no.1. Albums – ‘Join Hands’ (1979), ‘Hyaena’ (1984), ‘Through The Looking Glass’ (1987) with covers of “Strange Fruit”, and Television’s “Little Johnny Jewel”, ‘Peep-Show’ (1988), ‘Superstition’ (1991). And more. Streamlining into a more targeted dissonance, a more angsty unease, as the Cure’s Robert Smith, John McGeoch, John McKay, and Clock DVA’s John Carruthers drift through the line-up. The Banshees highest placing of their twenty singles chart entries comes a little later – 1 October 1983, when their cover of the ‘White Album’s “Dear Prudence” rises to no.3, under “Karma Chameleon”. Three more singles chart-hits happen between 1981 to 1983, coming under The Creatures alias (the dual alliance of Siouxsie and percussionist partner Peter ‘Budgie’ Clarke), whirling it into hypnotic ritual and repetitive electronic incantation, remix vocals reducing to samples of looped distortion.
Now, we talk. And she’s not difficult to talk to, despite what people say. From what it’s like to tour with Nico, and the Human League (through October 1978), to who it was who played ‘Steve Owen’ in ‘Eastenders’ – was it Spandau Ballet’s Gary, or Martin Kemp…?
‘SONGS FROM THE EDGE OF THE WORLD…’
ANDREW DARLINGTON: In the file of your press cuttings back at ‘The Italian Job’ there’s a quote about your ‘not liking to do interviews. SIOUXSIE SIOUX: I don’t think anyone does. It depends on the interview, really. The last interviews I did... for the Banshees, maybe they were just a bit disappointing. So we haven’t really done any for a long time. And it’s always hard doing your first interview when you’ve not done them for a while. It’s something you need to remember how to do.
Are you difficult to work with? No. I’m lovely to work with. I’m very very nice. You couldn’t find a nicer person to work with.
Last time I saw you, you were preparing to do dates in Ireland. Yes, we hadn’t played in Ireland for a long time, ‘cos – I know the previous tour we did, didn’t go there. And – I don’t even know if the Creatures ever played in Ireland before then. The Creatures only toured once. So, they didn’t have a clue what to expect. And that’s good, it’s really exciting in a way because it’s good not to have any preconceptions. I don’t even think the Banshees ‘Peep-Show’ tour went there in the late eighties. I know we were banned from the Belfast Hall in Ulster for some reason. I remember we were trying to get to play there around the time of ‘Peep-Show’, but we were still banned from the late-seventies. Which is funny.
It must be nice to know that you’re still considered dangerous, though? YEAH! – well, y’know.
The Creatures third album is called ‘Anima Animus’. That means male/female, right? It’s the woman within the man, and the man within the woman. That there are both elements in both sexes. Interchangeable. It’s just something that I think exists, certainly within a lot of popular music. There’s a lot of stereotype-playing, still. I mean, it used to be really bad, and maybe still is really bad. This sort of macho Rock bullshit. I’ve never liked it – AND I NEVER WILL (done in a gruff comedy Old Codgers voice). Also for the roles that females are supposed to play within music. I always find it really insulting. It usually has been something that’s ornamental, more steered.
Aren’t Boy-Bands marketed in exactly the same way – as decorative sex-objects? I know. And I find it really vacuous. Totally vacuous. And it is very much that the industry seems to be grooming acts visually more and more and more. It seems to be much more the criteria. And it’s something that I was talking about with a friend of mine. It’s like – when we grew up, if we saw somebody – not always, ‘cos there’s always been record-hype to an extent, there’s always been that there, but obviously the ones that were a bit different – they looked that way because they dressed themselves that way. Rather than now it’s gangs of stylists. Y’know – even for a lot of people who are so-called credited with being highly individual and weird and freaky. There is a team of stylists and make-up artists there. You know – you’re talking armies!
You’ve also published a high-profile interview with ‘Attitude’, the Gay magazine. Was that done as a deliberate gesture of solidarity with the Gay community? Oh yes. During my first excursions up to London, my first sort-of pals were always Gay, it was only within the Gay community that I felt any kind of lack of pressure from the clichés that girls seem to go through, about the age of my late-teens. And it was the first sane place I felt I was in, whether it was a Gay Club or whatever. And as far as anyone being homophobic – I’ve never understood that, in the same way that I could never understand racism – or any kind of ‘ism’.
But there’s always been home-erotic elements to the way male Pop Stars have been presented. Even Elvis... Oh yeah... he wore make-up and dyed his hair, didn’t he?
I’d interpreted the song lyric as being about your reactions to seeing a ‘Siouxsie-clone’. I didn’t write it purely from that angle. But there is that element about it, even though it was inspired more directly by the film. I like things that have that ambiguity and different levels to them. I don’t tend to write from just a flat one-way point-of-view. I tend to like to look at things from a number of angles.
Another interpretation that occurred to me was that perhaps it was about your reactions to watching old videos of yourself, and seeing a person there that you no longer quite recognised. Er... possibly. I mean, subconsciously. That’s very weird. It is very strange to think that you are there on film – as you were, and that it is never going to age. That kind of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ thing... yes, that’s a very weird idea.
‘MORE KISSES IN THE DREAMHOUSE…’
What do you remember most strongly about your appearing on the ‘Bill Grundy’s Today TV Show’ with the Sex Pistols? I remember after the TV show we were sort-of whisked off into this Green Room, and you could feel this, like… we’d just opened Pandora’s Box. Y’know – ? Pandemonium. And they put us in the Green Room which is where the switchboard was with all these phone-calls coming in from irate members of the public saying ‘I JUST WATCHED THIS DISGUSTING…’, and we were picking up the ‘phones and saying ‘FUCK OFF YOU SILLY OLD CUNT’ or ‘PISS OFF YOU OLD GIT’. No matter how much McLaren would like to take the credit for orchestrating all that, that was definitely… no-one knew what had happened. A lot of people were taken by surprise by it. He (Malcolm McLaren) had tried various tactics, and none of them really worked. But as usual – when you’re not really trying, something just… happens!
How do you define the difference between The Banshees – who now presumably no longer exist, and The Creatures – who once ran parallel to the Banshees, but are now your on-going project? The Banshees were very much a working band. Very much a live band. Four people. A democracy of sorts, and it had its – y’know, its way of doing things. It had its baggage that came with it. Erm – and, I think, the first time we did the Creatures it happened as a mistake. It wasn’t by any kind of design. It was while writing for the ‘Ju-Ju’ (1981) sessions. And it was during rehearsals. Me and Budgie happened to be in the room at the time while the other two were out of the room. And we just did something together. And I remember it was John McGeogh who actually said ‘oh – this track doesn’t need anything else doing to it’. And that was a song called “But Not Them”, that subsequently ended up being on an EP. At the time we were still going to include it on the ‘Ju-Ju’ album, but we had so much material we decided to hold it back. And we just put it aside for a weekend and thought, because it was just drums and voice it was quite unique sonically. Very unique. Just having those varied primal elements. Almost like using just primary colours. Just very simple and basic. It really had a sound of its own. And an approach of its own. It kinda seemed a lot more visceral. It is a very different dynamic. There’s a lot more air. A lot more space. And because of that, I think, it was just very immediate, and just the combination of elements was very immediate as well. And so – once we’d done something like that we said ‘well – it’d be nice to keep it separate’. So – then we did some more ‘Creatures’ material at the end of the sessions for the ‘A Kiss In The Dreamhouse’ (1982) album, that was New Year’s Eve 1982 into 1983. But, of course, the Banshees schedule got more and more busy, and it was only really when they allowed us some down-time from the Banshees schedule that we had time for anything else. And it was – I think, round about the time of the final Banshees album that I found I was actually looking forward to doing the Creatures. Before, it always kinda just happened when there was a break or some kind of window in there. I actually remember I was longing for a kind of ‘back to basics’. A real simplicity, I think – generally. It coincided with a lot of real changes in my life.
And the demise of the Banshees – after twenty years (longer than the Beatles!), was one of those changes? As a band evolves and grows together, the characters in the band become much more defined and developed. And you tend to... I think it’s inevitable, and it happens with all bands that do last for a long time. It’s not normal that it does last for a long time. Because you know each other so well, or you relax a bit because you know each other so well, but the intuition and the spark of things just happening doesn’t happen the same. There seems to be less surprises with people you know really well.
When you put the stage make-up on, are you putting ‘SIOUXSIE’ on over Susan? No. It’s kind-of... that’s a very cartoony idea of what my ‘image’ is. It’s not always – I’ve never worn white pan-stick make-up. And I don’t just wear black, that’s a real misnomer. If the external attraction is all there is then I find it quite worthless. There’s got to be more than that. But the make-up is an important part of the spectacle. It’s almost a ritual. Part of the ritual is the preparation. It’s like any drug culture – it’s not just the drug, it’s the whole paraphernalia that goes with it. And with any fetish or obsession of some sort, it’s not just the end result, it is the build-up, the preparation, the lead-up and the whole ritualising of it.
There is a Fetishistic element to your stage persona. I hope so. I suppose there is a lot of Fetishism within the performer/voyeur relationship. That’s what it is really. People are watching something happening. And obviously – to an extent, the performer is responding to the voyeur. And it is two-way. It is interactive. It’s not a bad thing. But you can’t claim that it isn’t that.
You’ve always had a high ‘cool quotient’. Yes and no.
But are you really having the time of your life on stage? Yes – but it’s not... having the time of your life isn’t always – ‘YEEEAAAHHH!!!! – like that, y’know. It can be quite... I don’t know, that’s not the only expression of having the time of your life. It can be frightening. But it can also be very emotional, it can be very uplifting. I think to be uplifted is kind-of... the REAL hooked drug of it. That kind of... elevation, and kind-of getting over frail human weakness and limitations. That is the real thing that makes it so appealing and mesmerising. It gives that addiction quality to it. Keeps you coming back for more.
An adrenaline thing? That as well. But you know – there are down-sides to it. When you’re failing. When you’re not quite making it in your own terms. Quite often you can come off and everyone says ‘great gig, great gig’, but you can NOT be consoled. YOU know IT WAS FUCKING SHIT…! And that’s the worst feeling in the world.
When did you first write your name ‘SIOUXSIE’? Were you practising it while you were at school by writing it on the cover of your school-book during algebra? No – I didn’t. Although I had written ‘SIOUX’ a lot, I hadn’t made the ‘SIOUX-SIE’ connection until just literally – when I opened my big mouth, and said I had a band that could play at the Festival that Malcolm McLaren was putting together in 1976. It was then that ‘SIOUXSIE’ just slipped out, very quickly and easily. I didn’t have to rack my brains too much. So yeah – I suppose, again – a lot of what’s happened to me is all pure accident. There’s certainly not been any design on my part. I just seem to have been responding or reacting at the right time to certain things.
Which Pop Stars did you stick up on your bedroom wall when you were fourteen? Marc Bolan (you did do a Banshees cover of his “Twentieth Century Boy”!). OOO – Mick Ronson. Bowie. Bolan. David Cassidy even – but that was when I was eleven! And pictures of horses. I think it was horses I was really into. But actually it was more Mick Ronson. I loved his first solo album – ‘Slaughter On Tenth Avenue’ (1974). And he had such a pretty face.
I never saw Mick Ronson as a glamorous figure. He always looked more like a Brickie. NO! NO! That picture on the cover of ‘Slaughter On Tenth Avenue’? He wasn’t at all like a BRICKIE! No – some of the others (in David Bowie’s Spiders From Mars band) were. Trevor Bolder. And Woody Woodmansey with the HUGE sideboards – gross, gawd they were HORRIBLE! They were Brickies in Glam-Rags. And I hated Sweet as well. I really wasn’t fooled by the likes of Sweet. But no – Mick Ronson was a sweet pretty face. Not a BRICKIE!
Did you have a difficult adolescence? Julie Burchill once wrote that ‘no sensitive person survives adolescence unscathed’. I tend to agree. To an extent, when adolescence hits you, you tend to – depending on your background, if you’re feeling particularly vulnerable or whatever, you either kind of shrivel up and go hide in the corner, or you deal with it by finding some really good armour. By standing in the middle of the road and screaming at the top of your voice. And... that’s the way I went (she laughs). And that’s really what’s underneath. It’s still something that... I know it takes a long time for you to actually understand and feel confident with it. And that’s part of just growing up. The hardest lessons are the ones you learn at that age. If you don’t have a skin like a rhino. They’re very hard lessons. And you learn from that. And you end up toughening the exterior. Hopefully without becoming totally cynical and losing that innocence. ‘Cos I find that really ugly, when people lose the ability to look at things as a child. And that’s what... there usually is a price to pay for over-protecting yourself. You can just harden yourself to everything, and lose what’s really precious. I think people are convinced that cynicism is the modern attitude, they really are convinced of that. And – y’know, to an extent, yes – there is a veneer, and yes – being sensitive and stumbling at every stone that’s thrown at you can be destructive – you’re not going to survive it. But I think you are killing a part of you off when that hardness penetrates the centre…
What TV programmes do you video when you’re away on tour. ‘Eastenders’? ‘Star Trek’? I don’t. No – it’s not the first thing I’d think of. Maybe if there’s an interview with Stanley Kubrick, or a programme on about Man Ray, or one of those documentary-type programmes about ‘The Sex-Life Of A Dwarf’ or ‘The Sex-Life Of A Newt’.
But not ‘Eastenders’? I used to watch it, but of course, since I now live largely in France I’ve got a bit out of touch with ‘Eastenders’. Of course, when I come to London I watch the omnibus thing on Sunday. And I see Gary Kemp’s in it…!
ALBUM BY ALBUM
– “the surface shiny and silken…”
JOIN HANDS (Aug 1979) with “Icon”, “Premature Burial”, “The Lord’s Prayer”, “Placebo Effect” etc
KALEIDOSCOPE (Aug 1980) with singles hits “Christine”, “Happy House”, “Lunar Camel” and more
JUJU (Jun 1981) with “Into the Light”, “Voodoo Dolly”, “Spellbound”, “Sin In My Heart” and more
ONCE UPON A TIME: THE SINGLES (Nov 1981) Compilation, with “Hong Kong Garden”, “The Staircase (Mystery)”, “Playground Twist”, “Spellbound”, “Israel”, “Christine”, etc
A KISS IN THE DREAMHOUSE (Oct 1982) with “She’s a Carnival”, “Circle”, “Slowdive”, “Melt”, “Obsession”, “Painted Bird”, “Green Fingers”, “Cacoon”, and “Cascade”
NOCTURE (Nov 1983) Live versions of “Dear Prudence”, “Spellbound”, “Cascade”, “Israel”, etc
HYAENA (Jun 1984) with “Belladonna”, “Swimming Horses”, “We Hunger”, “Dazzle” and more
TINDERBOX (Apr 1986) with “Candyman”, “Cities in Dust”, “This Unrest”, “Lands End” etc
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS (Feb 1987) Covers of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”, Sparks’ “This Town Ain’t Big Enough For The Both Of Us”, Doors “You’re Lost Little Girl”, etc
PEEL SESSIONS (Feb 1987) recorded 29 November 1977 with “Love In A Void”, “Metal Postcard”
PEEP SHOW (Sept 1988) with “Peek-A-Boo”, “Killing Jar”, “Scarecrow”, “Turn to Stone” etc
SUPERSTITION (Jun 1991) with “Shadowtime”,” Silver Waterfalls”, “Kiss Them For me” etc
TWICE UPON A TIME (Oct 1992) Compilation with “Fireworks”, “Slowdive”, “Melt”, “Dazzle” etc
THE RAPTURE (Jan 1994) Produced by John Cale, with “Stargazer”, “Sick Child”, “O Baby” etc
+ BY ‘THE CREATURES’…
WILD THINGS (Sept 1981) EP with “Mad-Eyed Screamers” – hits no.24
“Miss The Girl” b/w “Hot Spring In The Snow” (May 1983) no.21 single
FEAST (May 1983) includes “Dancing On Glass”, “Festival Of Colours”, “Flesh”, “Sky Train” etc
“Right Now” b/w “Weathercade” (July 1983) singles cover of Mel Torme song, no.14 hit
“Standing There” b/w “Divided” (Oct 1989) single, also on 12” vinyl
BOOMERANG (Nov 1989) with “Pluto Drive”, “Manchild”, “Venus Sands”
“Fury Eyes” b/w “Abstinence” (Feb 1990) single, also on 12” vinyl
ERASER CUT (Aug 1998, SIOUX CD/Ltd ed 10” vinyl) EP on ‘Sioux’ label, with “Pinned Down”, “Guillotine”, “Thank You”, “Slipping Away”
“Second Floor” (Oct 1998, SIOUX 3CD) with “2nd Floor”, a stripped-down 5:10min “Turn It On (Bound ‘n’ Gagged Mix)” + “2nd Floor (Girl Eats Boy Remix)” with 6:11min dance-friendly looped-voice samples
ANIMA ANIMUS (Feb 1999) on ‘Sioux Records’, ten tracks including “Another Planet”, “I Was Me”, “Say”, “Exterminating Angel”, “Don’t Go To Sleep”, “Disconnected”, “2nd Floor”, “Take Mine” etc
“I can see a lot of people getting confused
about us, it’s amusing…” Siouxsie (1981)
‘CHAOTIC ORDER no.17’ (UK – May 2004)