|THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS - MAGAZINE COVERS|
|THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS - INTERVIEWS/ARTICLES|
|MELODY MAKER 10/01/87|
|SMASH HITS 10/02/87|
|RECORD MIRROR 04/04/87|
|RECORD MIRROR 1987|
|AHH PUSSY! (SOURCE UNKNOWN) 1987|
& The Banshees reminisce about the good 'ol days of punk, get
attacked by old ladies and smoke quite a bit. David Keeps and
Suzan Colón listen in to Grandma Punk.
Its just like in all the horror movies: You know you shouldn't, you don't want to, but you reach for the doorknob. Your shaking fingers close around the cool metal...you turn the knob...the door opens slowly, a slight squeal emitting from the rusty hinges. In a burst of bravery, you fling the door open, ready to confront whatever lies ahead.
But you can't see! The room is thick with swirling smoke. But you sense another presence in the room - no, two! Shapes are becoming clearer - the smoke is thinning - you can see them now!!! It's - IT'S -
Its Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin of Siouxsie & The Banshees! Trapped in a tiny little room for the day, they've wrapped themselves in a fog of cigarette smoke. And looking like the misplaced children of Vincent Price or dear relatives of The Addams Family, they lend a decidedly Gothic air to wherever they happen to be sitting. So you see, kids? There's nothing to be afraid of.
Siouxsie & The Banshees have graced us earthly creatures with a new album, Through The Looking Glass. Its made up entirely from songs from old influential bands that have been turned upside down into that definitive Siouxsie sound. Some Banshee purists have been tearing their crimped black hair out over the lack of new Sioux material, but its actually a pretty fresh concept when you consider how long the Banshees have been kicking around.
How long is that, you ask innocently?
According to Grandpa Punk (who was there), Miss Sioux, bassist Mr. Severin, drummer Mr. Budgie and recently added guitarist John Klein have been thrashing about making deadly exotic voodoo from heck for over a decade! And if you sashay down memory lane with Siouxsie, a veritable Grandma Punk herself, you'll find that the Banshees were started under very incredible circumstances.
"It was the biggest lie we ever told," says Sioux, lighting up a cig. "Two days before the band played their first concert, we said we had a band. We had to scurry around and make a band." As it turns out, this "band" had some soon-to-be-historically-famous members, i.e. one Sid Vicious, not yet of the Sex Pistols.
"Sid heard the lie and knew the truth and said 'I'll play!' " remembers Sioux. "The original band was us and Billy Idol, and then Billy Idol backed out," says Steve. "Billy Idol was advised by his mentor, Tony James," puffs Sioux. (And yes, she's talking about Tony James now of the pink pineapple hair in Sigue Sigue Sputnik.) "Mr. James said 'Oh, that wont be good for your career Billy. Nobody will take you seriously if you play with those people. They can't even play their instruments.' So it was Marco Pirroni (of Adam And The Ants) who bravely dived in the deep-end."
What was it that made the Banshees decide to go from making a joke band to making history? Was music that bad that they felt they had to change it? (Yes, it was - Grandpa Punk.) "I suppose to create another space," smokes Sioux. "Obviously there must have been something lacking for us to want to form a group. That should be why, you should really want to make your own space.
"Everyone needs a form of religion, whether it be music or books you like to read. I suppose kids need that and hopefully its just a transitory time when they'll be able to make their own space. They'll have felt a part of something. They'll be able to leave the nursery."
Has Siouxsie left the nursery?
"There's this film I saw, and in it there was this room - I think its called the 'colour room' or the 'mad room'. It was a necessary part in this mental home where it was one extreme from them trying to be organised and in control of themselves. They literally could throw the colour on the walls, and I suppose in a way we've created our own 'mad room'. "
And now that she and the Banshees have created their own room, how do they feel about punk eleven years on? "Its a bit dull, really," Steve says flatly, lighting up a cigarette. "When it was 'Punk '77' it was confused," explains Siouxsie. "The groups that really were doing something really weren't thinking about being part of a movement. The fakes thought about making it into a movement - y'know, 'WE LIKE TO SPIT! SQUUARRZZCK - Ptooey! It made it into that terrible cliché that everyone assumed you were the same as what they'd read in those horrible papers that said what a punk is."
After surviving that, did Siouxsie think the Banshees would last over ten years? "It was only supposed to last 20 minutes!" she laughs. "I'm not very good at predictions."
No predictions are necessary when it comes to the question of whether or not you'll be receiving a visitation from the Banshees. Touring is a major part of life with Siouxsie that has led them to exotic locations and even more unusual occurrences.
"Got a good one in the lobby in the hotel," smiles Sioux, lighting up a cigarette. "Beat up an old age pensioner for being cheeky." What? Luckily, she's joking. "They asked if I worked in a circus. I said 'No, I've got a strange talent for being able to communicate with monkeys.' " Well that's tellin' 'em.
Banshee-harassment goes from being teased by little old ladies to being chased by whacky Australians. "Wed just gotten out of a club, this taxi pulled up, we hailed it, went up this street where there were loads of parked cars, and these two apes jumped out with spanners (something like a hammer) going 'AAAAAARRRGH!' " Siouxsie recounts, taking a nervous drag off her cigarette. What is it that makes these guys so popular with the natives? "I don't know. Were charming, pleasant..."
Maybe there's some kind of curse on the Banshees. After all, weird things do happen when they're on tour, even during their concerts. " 'Christine' is pretty much a fated song," Sioux tells spookily. I did my leg in during 'Christine'. Some girl was getting beaten up in the audience, and John just went and whacked the man on the head with his guitar. John got arrested, he was handcuffed outside the backstage area." "That was 'Christine' as well, says Steve, puffing away.
Even though the Banshees shroud themselves in cobwebs and black (And cigarette smoke - Coughing Grandpa Punk) and all things supernatural, they (gasp!) have NOT ever seen a ghost! "No," says Siouxsie, "although objects seem to have been haunted. I've got a very noisy flat that doesn't settle down at night, it seems to come alive. The walls, the floors, things fall off the fridge. I've woken up and thought 'Someone's broken in!' and it's just a glass that's fallen off for no reason. It doesn't really freak me. I just think 'What a noisy flat I've got!' "
"Its odd to think that we've stayed in thousands of hotels in different places and nothing extraordinary ever happened," Steve ponders while lighting up a cigarette. "Although there was that place in Cornwall," remembers Sioux. "John was in the room that was reputed to be haunted." He thinks everywhere is haunted," laughs Steve.
If they've never seen a ghost, do they believe in life after death? Or do they don't? "No, I think the worms eat you," Steve says charmingly. Well, if the worms get cheated out of you, what would you want to come back as? "A cat!" squeals Sioux. "I love smokey-grey cats. A short-haired, sleek, smokey-grey cat with green eyes."
And who would this Siouxsie kitty belong to? "Someone who liked cats," she says quite logically. "I wouldn't want to be a cat where it got kicked around all the time. 'Bloody cat's crapped on the carpet again' But,' she purrs, "I wouldn't mess on the carpet anyway." We didn't think so.
David Keeps & Suzan Colón 04/04/87
Through the looking glass quietly...
Sssh, Budgie and Sev have been allowed out to talk. Trouble is, away from Sioux's frosty glare they don't seem to have much to say. Or do they?
Its one o' clock in the morning in the packed VIP lounge at London's mega-trendy Limelight club. In one corner, Mandy Smith is being enthusiastically chatted up by Ben from Curiosity, his eyebrows disappearing Gallically and flirtatiously into his cap as she whispers in his ear.
In another corner, Ray from SSS is serenading a giggling crowd of rockettes with his Billy Idol impersonations. It's wall to wall celebs (for once), and as I duck the flying champagne my eyes fall upon a strange sight. For there, shimmying on the spot with glass in hand and a dazzling grin in his face, is Steve Severin. He twirls around, coat flying, giggling, and disappears off into the darker recesses of the room.
Nothing odd about that, you may say. Maybe not, but only two days previously I had interviewed Mr. Severin and fellow Banshee Budgie, and the person I met that afternoon seemed a million miles from the person I've just seen doing the dance of the seven champagne glasses.
Flashback to Monday: we meet in an Edwardian hotel off Oxford Street to discuss the Banshees' album and its second single, Iggy Pop's 'The Passenger'. Steven is formal in his greeting and offers tea. He's dressed in a plain black coat which covers a rather loud but tasteful peacock blue suit. Budgie smiles and leans forward to greet me. He reminds me of an après nose-job, leather-clad Barry Manilow. Both make me feel a mite uneasy.
The Banshees are a very private group. So private that even an afternoon in their company leaves you none the wiser about them as people.
"We have a notorious reputation that isn't really anything. You cant really put your finger on it."
Well try, Steven. "People are scared of coming to talk to us, we're hard to get along with, but then we know exactly what we want to do and that's a bit tough for people."
The Banshees have just released 'Through The Looking Glass', an intriguing set of cover versions, some for better ('Hall Of Mirrors') and some for worse ('Strange Fruit'). It strikes you that any of them could have been Banshees originals, but as Steven says: "Everyone said we had brilliant taste!"
How did they decide which songs to record when so many just begged to be covered by them?
Steven: "Lyrics were important. There had to be a certain lyrical content that Sioux felt happy singing."
Elvis songs were apparently, considered, along with 'What's New Pussycat'.
"We also tried 'Paper Sun' by Traffic and again 'Arnold Layne' came up and went away," adds Budgie. Surely that's a difficult lyric for a girl like Sioux to sing?
Budgie: "Well, that's what we kept finding out! One of the main things that did keep cropping up was 'this lyric stinks'."
Steven: "Especially on the Tamla ones..."
It seems strange that you should pick 'Sea Breezes' as your Roxy track.
Steven: "We tried 'Pyjamarama' and 'Street Life' for about two seconds, and we thought that it was too obvious to do. I think Sioux found it in the end, she really liked the melody."
Steven also mentions that he did consider a Bowie track (the most glaring omission) but when they tried 'After All' from 'The Man Who Sold The World', Sioux didn't want to do it - she didn't like the lyrics much.
"I think she thought they were too personal to him," offers Budgie. I keep forgetting about the Budgie/Sioux romantic connection, and they way Budgie speaks about her hardly belies the attachment.
In contrast to Budgies effusive manner, Steven is so quiet and reserved that he puts me in mind of the Dormouse in 'Alice In Wonderland'. (In fat, did he not play that very role in their 'Play At Home' TV spot three years ago?) If he'd fallen asleep face down in his tea, I wouldn't have been surprised. Not that he's discourteous you understand, just distant, maybe feeling that this whole interview business is somehow an unnecessary tedium.
Aren't they worried that doing an album like this will be construed as an attempt to revitalise a career somewhat bruised by two relatively unsuccessful albums?
Steven bristles, quietly. "People can think what they like."
Budgie: "I think the reviews kind of say that, but it doesn't really seem such a clever career move. Its like laying yourself open to these kind of questions. If it hadn't worked within a week, we would've tipped it anyway."
Steven: "Some of the reviews have steered away from slagging it off simply because it's so obvious to do that, which is quite interesting. It's sort of a double bluff in itself."
Did you find that playing songs you loved gave you a new lease of energy?
Steven: "It gave us a chance to have a breather and it was a really good exercise in itself to see how other people put songs together and maybe remember things you'd forgotten, like how simple things could be."
They both mention how making the album was less of a pressure as the songs had already gone through the process of being worked on. Their next studio album is already half written, and it would seem that lessons learnt in 'Through The Looking Glass have been borne out in more ways than one.'
Steven: "We're now working as a three piece, so it gives us greater freedom to use the things we learnt from doing this last album."
Upon until this point, I've neglected the great question of John Carruther's departure. However, Steven is very forthcoming.
"We virtually did the last album as a three piece, because it was more to do with making decisions and the three of us are very good about that and know which way a Banshee song should go. John's contribution never really went into that area at all. He was just playing guitar."
So was that the last straw?
Steven: It was one of the straws! There's a lot more involvement than just playing guitar if you want to be in the Banshees. We had two and a half years of trying to push John into taking many of his responsibilities and it didn't really work in the end. Once we were halfway through this last album we started to get the inkling of an idea that maybe he was holding us back."
Budgie: "But to give him a bit of credit, each time its been harder for someone to come along and fit in."
But did he jump, or was he pushed?
Budgie: "He needed a push and we gave it 'im."
Steven reckons that the Banshees will stay as a three piece and just bring people in to highlight various instruments the way they do on 'Looking Glass', which is probably how it should be. After all, Sioux herself recently admitted that she "Watched the group with the love of a jealous mother." and seeing how Budgie is her current lover and Steven her ex, its no small wonder that the unit of three is so tight and impenetrable.
Does she treat them like sons and rule them with a cricket bat and a tawse? Budgie laughs and looks thoughtfully at the ceiling. "Well, she hasn't got a cricket bat!"
She's usually the one doing the interview, though "That's why she says things like that!" says Steven. "I think it's that people tend to think that a woman in any commanding position would have to work like that. It's not true at all!"
"Its certainly different being in a group with men." puts in Budgie. "I was with an all-girl group once and I got battered around a lot then!"
"We'd be the same if we were in a group with all men." protests Steven, as loud as he'll ever get. "We wouldn't suddenly get in the tour bus and belch and fart all over the place!"
"Yes you would!" laughs Budgie. Well, I should've known that Sioux was an impregnable subject. The interview eventually dwindles to a close on a humorous note as Budgie, who's only recently given up smoking, finally cracks up in the face of Steven's puffing. All of a sudden sentences have no endings and he jumps up and down like a jack-in-the-box.
"I spent all last night cleaning the windows in my flat! See, this is what you do!" Ever tried knitting?
"My sister tried to teach me to knit but the needles wouldn't move 'cos the stitches were so tight!"
Steven suddenly loosens up and I glimpse a teeny bit of the person I'm to see two days later. "I was very good at embroidery at school," He smiles, and suddenly seems younger and not quite so damn serious.
"Yeah, I remember bringing the needle through and stitching it in to someone's head by mistake!"
He chuckles again like a conspiratorial seven-year-old.
How I wish though, that I'd had my tape recorder at the Limelight. That evening told me more about Steve Severin than the interview ever could have. Ah well, the gates of Fort Banshee crash down yet again, and their true selves remains intact.
Nancy Culp 1987
Why is Siouxsie standing here with a
snake coiled around her? Because we made her...
"Oh no. No really I'd rather not... er, I don't mind them - I can touch them - but, well, that's another thing..."
Oh dear, Siouxsie Sioux - the woman who practically invented grizzly 'n' spookified Gothic music - is cowering wide-eyed in a corner. Ver Hits thought she might like to visit London Zoo and have her photograph taken wearing a five foot boa-constrictor for a lark. Ver Hits was much mistaken.
"Ooooooh..." she squirms, viewing the snake coiled lovingly round its keeper's arms. "It's just that I saw this programme once where the handler was bitten right in the arm!" she grimbles, clutching her arm.
"Oh go on," pipes her drummer Budgie, patting the snake. "I've held them before; it's alright really."
"I don't think I would..." sniffles her well suspicious "bass" player Steve Severin.
The keeper, however is a patient man. "There's absolutely nothing to be frightened of - they don't attack unless provoked and this one's very used to being handled blah blah..."
For the next half an hour Siouxsie probes the keeper with such questions as "Do they asphyxiate their prey?" (i.e. squash the living breath out of them - answer: "Yes"), "Do they recognise people?" (answer: "No"), "Would it wrap itself around my neck?" (answer: "Maybe"). "Is it true there's an anaconda in South America that's 75 feet long who murders people?" (answer: "I doubt it!"), "Aren't snakes very temperamental?" (answer: "Yes").
In other words, Siouxsie Sioux is not being entirely convinced of her safety. BUT! in a moment of weakness she relents and suddenly...swirl!...the snake is coiled slowly around her extremely thin arms.
"Ooooh my God its heavy." she cheeps and looks a mire perplexed. A few photographs are hastily "snapped" and the dreadful reptile is whisked away.
"I can still feel it," she shivers five minutes later on the way out from the reptile house. "It's sort of... continually undulating on my arms.. It was just the heaviness that surprised me about it because I already knew they were warm and dry, but... oooh you could feel every muscle in its body sort of waving along. Strange, I'm glad I did it though!"
That's alright then. For the moment, we're off to the aquarium because Siouxsie rather wants to have her photograph taken with some fish.
"It's strange the way people have these irrational fears, isn't it?" she ponders on the way. "A lot of people are scared of rats and things but they don't bother me at all - I can quite happily hold them. And frogs. Oh yes, if there was a frog indoors (?) I could quite happily catch hold of it and take it outside no problem. And I've just gotten over being able to remove spiders from the bath. I still can't do it with my hands though - I get a long glass because before I used to use an envelope and they could always crawl up your arm, but with a long glass you can just scoop it up! I suppose I've got a lot of unreasonable fears really..."
The aquarium looms and Siouxsie is nigh ecstatic, slinking from glass case to glass case husking, "Ooooh there's some great colours in here" and peering inches away from the tropical shimmersome fish who ignore her completely.
"I wonder if they've got any of those fish with the huge flat bit coming out of their faces like platypuses...they're great. I wonder if there's any sea horses..." etc., etc. But wait! What of the famed Gregory - Siouxsie's very own sponsored London Zoo peccary?
"Oh, he's gone to Whipsnade now - he was a bit bad tempered and nobody liked him. But we've got Amy now, she's our sponsored armadillo. When we came down to sponsor her we got to stroke her under-belly - it was brilliant!"
Ooooer. Unfortunately, Amy and her chums have been whipped out of the public eye because it's a mite chilly i.e. 468º below freezing (or thereabouts). In fact there aren't many animals a-frolicking in the zoo today at all: three penguins and two seals to be precise.
"Aw, look at the penguins!" squawks Siouxsie, espying them perched on a stone ledge gazing at the ice-bergs in their "pond" with glee. "Oh you must get a picture of me with them! Aw.. they should make a chute for them, shouldn't they? Just imagine them... 'Yeeaaaah! (mines flinging herself down a chute as if she was a penguin). Aw they look like they're frozen in that position... Aw... etc., etc. for quite a bit longer.
Trudging over the icy wastes of the Zoo we decide were going to die of hypothermia in a jiffy and thus retire to a cosy office where Siouxsie reveals that as well as being pop music's greatest lover of the non-human creatures...
SHE LIVES ALONE IN A GOTHIC FLAT IN LONDON!
"It's a basement flat in West Kensington and it's gothic alright! It's got its cold patches I can tell you - all wooden floors. I only go there for sanctuary - to be alone. It's mostly white and red and black with arms coming out of the walls holding candles. (?) Well, if you're going to do a place yourself you might as well get what you want! A friend of mine made a plaster-cast of a friend's arm and just made loads of them - so I stuck them to my corridor walls. It looks wonderful. A few of them have fallen off since though."
THEY'VE DONE A COVER VERSION OF AN ANCIENT HIPPIE SONG! (Bob Dylan's "This Wheel's On Fire")
Steve (who has now seated himself down too): "It's not an ancient hippy song! It doesn't sound anything like an ancient hippy song. We can't tell you what the other cover versions on the new album are either" (looks huffed).
Siouxsie: "We want it to be a surprise for the people who are going to buy it. People will think doing covers is a cop-out of course, but then they usually think that no matter what we do anyway. We've always wanted to do this since 'Dear Prudence' so now we are. We're just doing what we like - like we always have done."
SHE'S NOT BOTHERED ABOUT BEING "OLD"!
"I'm 30 years old at the end of May and it doesn't bother me in the least because I can look at an 18 year old and they look and behave like they're 45 years old. Er... you know, a good wine is a good wine and some get better as they get older and some turn to vinegar. I certainly don't feel like a bottle of vinegar. It's only when people ask me what I feel that I think about it and it's quite hard to answer really. I don't feel that different from when I was 18. I don't think so anyway."
Steve: (extremely sarcastically) "The thing is, when you get to our age you tend to lose your memory."
Siouxsie; "Ha ha ha! Well, I mean, all these people keep saying 'Oooh you've been going 10 years gasp horror and all that and, well, there's a lot of people have carried on well past 10 years, perhaps not in the same guise or in the same band, but they're still around. It just doesn't occur to me or worry me - why should it?"
THEY RECKON THEY'RE VERY SOPHISTICATED!
"We were never un-sophisticated. When we started we were the most glamorous group around. In fact, we always were and still are bemused by being called a punk rock group. We started out in the first place because we didn't want to be a rock group or a blues group or a punk group or a reggae group - we hated those brackets that people got lumped into. It's pretty ironic that we went down in history as one of the first punk rock groups. Do we think we invented Gothic music? Nonsense!"
Steve: "Pthtpththph! That's just the people who look at the pictures who think that, isn't it? If we ever did want to influence people it would be to go out and do something in exactly the same way as we did. Not by doing what we did but by doing something completely different - doing what they wanted. Being selfish."
THEY'VE JUST SPONSORED A MEER CAT THIS SECOND!
Budgie (Sidling his head round the door): "Does anyone fancy sponsoring a Meer Cat?"
Siouxsie: "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! And I'll look after the kittens!"
Budgie: "It's only got a few sponsors you see. It's Abyssinian!"
Siouxsie: "Aw! Can you get any pictures? Are they the ones that are sort of..." (mimes being an Abyssinian Meer Cat i.e. her hands up like a begging dog and jolts her head from side to side).
Budgie: "Yeah - like a possum!" (and zings off to sign the sponsor form).
Siouxsie: "They come out of the ground and look around like that ((mimes being an Abyssinian Meer Cat again). They're brilliant. I've always wanted to sponsor a Tasmanian Devil actually (murderously vicious dog-like thingie with massive teeth) - maybe that's next! As long as they don't have too many sponsors already - we try to sponsor the ones who don't have many, the unloved ones."
WHEN THEY GO ON HOLIDAY THEY GO TO FUNERALS!
"We've only had two holidays in the past 10 years. Real holidays, as in no work. One was in Bali, which was fab, and the other was the Canary Islands which was... çomme çi comme ça (French for not much cop). I went to the Canaries mainly to repair my leg after I broke it last year and... it wasn't even that warm! Overcast most of the time - not what I expected at all. But Bali was brilliant. I went to a brilliant traditional funeral there - wonderful. They're Hindus in Bali you see, and depending on how wealthy or respected you are (i.e. were, haw not-very-haw) you're put inside this giant bull - a straw bull. And it's taken through the streets and loads of flowers and gifts and things are put on it and everyone's dancing and singing and there's loads of music. And finally they get to this one spot and turn the bull around and around and around to disorientate the evil spirits and burn the bull so the person's soul can go up to the sky. Brilliant!
"I saw my first shooting star there too - just looked up and there it was trailing along with its beautiful long tail. Ah... definitely one of the best places I've ever been to."
SHE'S A SPOOK-PERSON
"Yeahhahargh!" (lunges forward bearing her teeth and pretending to have claws - this is actually extremely creepy). "I am! Ha ha! Well, of people want to think of me in that way its preferable to them saying 'What a boring old bitch'. You know, I think that's why I started thinking Prince is so brilliant. He was getting so much slagging for being anti-social and weird and kooky that I thought he must be alright. Even if it's totally unfounded it's great that he can create that doubt. Really I couldn't care less what people think about me one way or the other - I'd much rather they were out there just having fun."
Sylvia Patterson 10/02/87
MR SPENCER looks at the Banshees' 'Through The Looking Glass' - their new LP of cover versions. But does it mean Siouxsie and friends have run out of creative steam?
'Through The Looking Glass' - an album of other peoples songs. You know what the gossips will say, don't you?
Siouxsie; "Well, its obvious, we wouldn't have done it if that had bothered us."
So what exactly are you anticipating?
"Blah blah blah... running out of ideas. Blah blah blah... doing cover versions. Blah blah blah...sold out..."
DATELINE: February 1987. Even at this late stage, the Banshees are standing to one side as their dreary chart cousins bumble past. As ever they tackle things with an intangible radiance - a civilised alternative to the clumsy, forced glamour dished out by a hapless and ever changing roster of competitors.
Bearing in mind the group haven't been in vogue since 1982 and 'A Kiss In The Dreamhouse' what do they do and do just as the critics are preparing for the final kill?
They only go and put out an LP full of cover versions - a stupid/funny/interesting thing to do by anyone's standards.
What's dafter still is the way these old things have been made to sound nothing like how they did in their original states. Each number, to all intents and purposes, is now A Banshees Original and the recent hit single 'This Wheels On Fire' is a perfect example.
You should hear the way the Banshees laugh, ready for the onslaught of grumbles.
Was this a jolly project to be involved in?
Siouxsie: "Yeah, and in fact as far back as 'Dear Prudence' we were considering putting an EP together of cover versions. The last two albums have been torture to finish, they've just taken too long; we decided it's time to have some fun and do it straight off. Give us two weeks and if its becoming laboured over we'll put it down to bad experience. In the end, it went really quickly and it was good fun to do."
Was the aim actually to conquer the songs, to make them your own?
"Yes, and the idea was not to do it as a cynical move, because some people who might do this sort of thing would pick the good old chestnuts that record company executives think would be good for their careers. It wasn't like that at all."
Steve: "We kept Polydor completely in the dark, as usual. They kept sending over terrible suggestions - Led Zeppelin's 'Immigrant Song' and Cream's 'I Feel Free' - but I had a close look at the lyrics and hated them. And then the Cream number was in an advert for a car or something."
Was permission required from all the relevant artists?
Siouxsie: "No, a lot of people were actually very eager and sent down copies of their songs - Ooh, you could cover this if you like. We got sheets and sheets."
Steve: "That was mainly the publishers, but people like Bryan Ferry were very keen to hear what we made of their tunes, and Iggy as well. I don't know what Jim Morrison thinks about it though." he smiles.
What about Bryan?
Budgie: "The last time I saw Bryan he was making a cup of tea at our studios, and he said to me, A watched pot never boils. And I thought, Wow, that's it! Made my day."
'Through The Looking Glass' is no 'These Foolish Things', though. Largely comprising songs known only to connoisseurs of Billie Holiday, The Doors, Iggy, John Cale, Roxy Music and Television, to most Banshees fans the LP will be as fresh as 'The Scream' was the very first time they heard it.
Only Sparks' bizarre, 1974 smash 'This Town Ain't Big Enough', along with 'This Wheel's On Fire' and 'Trust In Me' from The Jungle Book, will be familiar to the average punter.
Budgie: "We've had time to sit on the album for a while, so we've been able to think about other things it might mean, like the timespan it covers, our ages and the things we've listened to. It's a lot to do with where we all came from individually before the Banshees."
'Trust In Me', potentially a single, is quite astonishing. Whereas once it was about a python getting ready to crush a little boy to death, now it's a harp-laden lullaby of rampant, swirling eroticism.
"I thought it was very erotic anyway." Budgie points out astutely. "A seductive snake - what more could you want?"
He's right as well.
And it's at this point that Siouxsie sings a couple of lines from 'The Bear Necessities', another Jungle Book fave. Just snippets, but they're enough to send serpent-fixated Budgie into a daydream full of memories of times gone by at the St Helen's Odeon, which is now probably a bingo hall, or cut-price furniture showroom. But anyway...
"I used to hide under the seats when the films finished," admits the grinning percussionist. "We'd wait until everyone had gone and then we'd hide until it started again. We'd watch a film four or five times in a row."
Have you always had this penchant for mischief?
"It's just the way I am."
You're quite a mischievous band really aren't you, all of you?
Steve: "I think that's pretty true."
Siouxsie: "I suppose one thing is we're still on the outside of the business and I dunno, I guess people expect you to get sucked into it. Maybe a lot of people assume that just because you've been going a while you must be happy with the way the business operates, but it's still something we don't like to patronise."
Steve: "Mischievousness is one of the best ways of dealing with authority, it gets us in to lots of trouble."
Unbelievably, there are still those who criticise the Banshees for going on shows like Top Of The Pops; clearly these oddballs are oblivious to the implications of the group's unique and defiantly self-contained performances whenever they do appear on TV pop programmes.
Rather like Sparks from whom she now borrows - Siouxsie on television sticks out like a sore thumb. Even now the Banshees baffle people in high places.
Budgie: "Even when they've bent over to try and give us some kind of special treatment we've just turned around and refused it, because it simply wasn't us. For instance, when we did 'Fireworks' they had a flashing 'Siouxsie' sign behind us and pyrotechnics experts at the sides preparing to let off... fireworks!"
Steve: "They still haven't figured us out."
Siouxsie: "I'm not standing in front of a flashing 'Siouxsie' sign anyway. Good grief!"
Budgie: "In 1980, while we were away in America, apparently on Tom O' Connor's show they had the Joe Loss Orchestra playing 'Happy House', with Hot Gossip doing a dance routine. We'd like to see that somewhere along the line."
Do you think on the whole people take pop too seriously?
Steve: "No, I think it's really split down the middle - a lot of people take it very seriously and a lot couldn't care less. I mean, it's mainly those who couldn't care less who sort of numb the whole thing.
"It's like we went to the BPI Awards the other week and it just seemed like a bloody waste of time, everybody patting each other on the back."
Budgie: "The thing I've learned though over the years is that I may really like someone's company but nor necessarily enjoy their music."
Steve: "Actually, speaking for myself, I think that's a really good maxim. Normally if a person makes a crappy record they're a crap arsehole themselves. That's what I've usually found anyway."
Is there a lot that you hate about the world of rock and pop?
Steve: "Where do you start? It's such a shameless, tarty business."
Any characters you'd like to wipe out?
"Most of the people in that hall the other night, the world would've been a better place if they'd all disintegrated on the spot."
Yet I guess you have to go along in order to fuel your rage?
Siouxsie: "oh, yes."
Steve: "We caused quite a stir by going there, it was like, You're still alive? What are you doing here? You haven't sold ten million platinum records!? It's quite good to do that."
If you had won an ward would you have been prepared to get up and shake someone truly unpleasant by the hand?
Steve: "We'd have made sure we were busy."
Siouxsie: "Or at least elsewhere, unable to make it."
Steve: "We've actually just won Best European Band To Play Live In Brazil - an award from a Brazilian magazine..."
Siouxsie: "Tough competition too. I think we were the only group that went there!"
Budgie (obviously still mulling over dreadful TV presenters and those ridiculous BPI Awards): "You can always tell a person by their handshake."
Do you ever find yourselves wishing punk had never happened, what with the way people go on at you about it all the time?
"Oh... no... Steve sighs, his head in his hands.
Siouxsie: It is boring to keep having to talk about it."
Had it not happened do you think you'd have ended up on a council estate with five kids, a beer-bellied husband and a morbid preoccupation with Tesco's and the laundrette?
"No." she answers without hesitation.
Budgie: "The people who would've done that have done it anyway. Even those who made a brief venture into all that stuff because it's what everybody else was doing failed to carry on. To be honest, they have ended up how you've just described, working as bookmakers or something."
So what makes being a jet-setting rock star so great by comparison?
Siouxsie: "Well, it's not the travelling, but finding yourself somewhere different is always nice."
And the hotel breakfasts? Do you enjoy the hotel breakfasts?
"Yeah, I'm actually a sucker for eggs. I love eggs, I'm mad about 'em."
Fried? Poached? Scrambled?
"Any which way you care. I'm not into cereals much, although when I was a lot younger I used to be crazy about them. I used to eat Shredded Wheat and Corn Flakes continuously, and I must have made myself ill. I'd get up, have a huge bowlful of Weetabix or whatever and when I got home from school it'd be the same again, and even more if I got peckish."
Important Note: the Banshees only went for kiddies' cereals when the packets contained free snap-together gladiators or glow-in-the-dark prehistoric fish.
As a matter of interest, Siouxsie (who once had a gang of remorseful workmen sweeping up soot from her living room carpet, such is the respect she commands) once appeared on TV-am's Wide Awake Club without having had any sleep the previous night.
"So there I was trying to make these chocolate bumblebees and I hadn't even taken my gloves off," the singer recollects with amusement. "It was a bit like Vivien from The Young Ones trying to be delicate, y'know?"
When are you at your happiest Siouxsie?
"When I'm in bed, I reckon, when I know I don't have to get up early the next morning and I think... a lie in, and I just go, Mmmm... I love my bed. Now that's true contentment."
She stretches. It's good to see her looking satisfied, but I'm not entirely happy.
'Through The Looking Glass' may be fun, a novelty, a top quality breeze, but alongside 'Join Hands' or 'Juju' it begins to look terribly insignificant and about as relevant to the Banshees' career as an illicit collection of light-hearted studio knockabouts; all that's missing is the 20 minute rendition of 'Johnny Be Good'.
There's no doubting that Siouxsie remains a cut above the rest, but by the same token she's not a patch on her former self; the momentum's all wrong.
Deep down you can't but help running through tracks such as 'Christine' and 'Israel' and notice that the mystical sheen is so depressingly absent from the second-hand material on offer from the Banshees today.
How good it would be to hear the charts swoon once again to the sound of authentic Banshee music; formidable, graceful and triumphant.
For now, that seems an unlikely event.
Mr Spencer 28/02/87
DONALD McRAE takes us through the
Banshees' latest pop
exercise and questions STEVE SEVERIN on the use of cover versions.
Soft option? Money for old rope?
Ten years ago, Siouxsie & The Banshees' first performance consisted of one song; a funeral version of 'The Lord's Prayer' was shredded alive by the Banshees' disembowelment of religion and rock.
'The Lord's Prayer' allowed Siouxsie to spew scorn over something traditionally sacred while enticing her to parody equally worn rock clichés. The mangling of 'Twist And Shout' and 'Knocking On Heaven's Door', in the middle of regurgitated religious dirge, still smacks of the hopelessly romantic nihilism which was used to turn punk into a myth.
A decade later, the Banshees' fascination with 'the cover' finally comes full circle with the release of their tenth LP, 'Through The Looking Glass'.
The mythical glamour of that edgy opening cover now recedes into bleakly double-edged irony. That badly-executed, jarring 'Lord's Prayer' purgation has been replaced forever by a competent Banshees concept album of cover versions - released in the week that 25% of TOTP is given over to old songs and reinterpretations of classic ditties, with the top four slots being held down by covers and re-releases.
Siouxsie & The Banshees - for so long at spikey odds with contemporary revivalism - are at last reduced to the stasis of being firmly in step with conventional pop scheming.
In a pop time so desperately bereft of inspiration, so infected with plagiarism and nostalgia, 'Through The Looking Glass' is merely adequate and mildly interesting when the Banshees really needed to release a record with the impact - if not the sound - of 'The Scream'. And that this LP of covers is actually an improvement on their more recent "original" offerings is an even more cutting indictment of the Banshees' inability to restore the faded pertinence of their pop subversion.
Tired of such carping and doubting, Siouxsie chooses to avoid our mild-mannered encounter and it's Steve Severin alone who's confronted with the tedious task of trying to justify the release of a covers LP in a copyist-infested pop climate. With seemingly unconscious irony, Steve sports a blonde crop which is not dissimilar to that favoured by the current top-selling cover artist, Boy George. However, we decide to ignore this irony and Steve begins the defence.
"I know that people have been saying that we lost our spark of inspiration during the last few albums, but it's almost inevitable that things change over the years. The most important thing about our decision to do this record of covers was that it allowed us to work at a very fast pace again - that really was therapeutic.
"The last couple of albums have been a case of us going into the studio without enough material to record or else that we've gone into the studio too soon after writing so that we haven't been able to look at the songs with any real detachment. Obviously with this record all the material was already written and we just had to rethink and rearrange the songs. We became especially interested in the exercise of delving into other people's songs and seeing how simple a song can be again. Maybe we also realised that we were putting too many elements in our songs and making them over-complex."
Contrary to cliché, Steve Severin is not the "arrogant and difficult bastard" he's made out to be by pop writers who mistake an initial reticence for surly conceit. Severin does open himself up tentatively to criticism and, in a similar way, the Banshees almost willingly set themselves up for their critics by accepting the easy option in 'Through The Looking Glass'.
"Yeah, of course we knew that people would criticise us. But we've been thinking about this project for a long time... ever since we did 'Dear Prudence'. What a lot of people seem to have missed is the point that most of the cover exercises before have been done by solo artists. It's unusual for a band who've got a very distinctive sound to attempt an album of covers. We aren't compared to many people. It's usually the other way round, the people are compared to us."
The most immediate comparison that has to be made now is between 'Through The Looking Glass' and Nick Cave's 'Kicking Against The Pricks', a far superior record of covers. Whereas the Banshees rework other singers' songs with polite restraint, Cave strips his covers of their original identity so that they become easily controlled vehicles for his own obsessions. Cave can make songs as diverse as 'By The Time I Get To Phoenix' and 'The Carnival Is Over' sound like they were written especially to exorcise his own personal trauma. In contrast, The Banshees treat the cover version as a pop 'exercise' and, consequently, their record lacks the wit and substance of 'Pricks'.
Steve, is naturally, more reticent about Nick Cave. "Well, quite a few others have mentioned the Nick Cave record to us in passing. I haven't heard it but, just by looking at the choice of songs, it seems to be merely an exercise in ego. And I don't think Nick Cave will ever turn into Johnny Cash... he does seem to be trying hard though."
'Through The Looking Glass' is less a warped glance into the prism of past pop than a strangely unsatisfactory mix of the soothingly familiar and the unexpectedly bizarre. Iggy Pop's 'Passenger', an obvious Banshees choice, mingles awkwardly with something like their 'Strange Fruit' which is a weak and absurd interpretation of Billie Holiday's version.
The Banshees scheme is clear enough - inclusion of songs by Iggy Pop, Roxy Music, Television, The Doors and John Cale allows the group to remember their own favourite influences while the insertion of 'Strange Fruit' and The Jungle Book's 'Trust In Me' possesses a twist of surprise.
As Steve stresses: "Something like 'The Passenger' is an obvious favourite and we really wanted to do a Roxy song; we've been playing 'Little Johnny Jewel' at soundchecks for years - basically because we've always liked it. But we also wanted an element of surprise on the record, we wanted to do songs which people wouldn't expect us to cover."
This willingness to stretch Banshee pop apart to accommodate a song as different as 'Strange Fruit' is admirable; the execution, however, is infinitely less desirable with Siouxsie getting nowhere near the stark sorrow that swelled Billie Holiday's singing.
Steve attempts a struggling explanation of the 'Strange Fruit' choice: When we decided to formulate a list of possible songs we could cover, a big stumbling block was the lyrics. You just couldn't imagine Sioux singing any Tamla song because they all seem to be about rejection and pitiful lovers.
The reality of Siouxsie singing 'Strange Fruit' - in a way which suggests that the song might actually be about eating unusually large apples in a Holland Park back garden - is admittedly less absurd then the idea of her tripping through 'Baby Love'. But did Siouxsie experience any qualms about singing such a harrowing Billie Holiday song about the Deep South?
"Not at all. I don't think Siouxsie had heard Billie Holiday before we listened to 'Strange Fruit'. And I think that anyone can sing a protest song. But what interested us most about 'Strange Fruit' was the fact that originally there was no set music, what with it being based on an old poem."
It still doesn't work and the Banshees are much more at ease working with familiar loves like 'The Passenger' and 'Little Johnny Jewel'. But even here they encountered difficulties: We tried a few early Stooges songs but it just sounded wrong... we felt just stupid trying to play 'Gimmie Danger'... and then we thought for about a week that we couldn't possibly get away with covering 'Passenger'. Eventually we said, 'let's just do it and see what it sounds like'..."
"And the Roxy Music choice was really hard. We tried 'Pyjamarama' and 'Street Life' but we just decided that there wasn't much point. It was difficult to find a Roxy song which we could change for the better. So we eventually choice 'Sea Breezes' which is not a particular favourite of anyone... but at least we could add something to the original."
'The Passenger', 'Little Johnny Jewel' and a slinky reworking of 'Trust In Me' are the exceptions on an otherwise bland workout of old songs. With such a low return of inspiration it makes one wonder what still motivates the Banshees.
Inevitably the answers creep around slowly. Money and travel - from Hungary to Argentina - would appear to be the most tangible reasons but Steve chooses instead to emphasise a more abstract argument for the Banshees' continued existence.
"Like most people we probably don't live up to our ideals... like everybody else we have to adapt and to compromise. But we do have a very firm base which means that the compromises that we do concede are insignificant. My own idea of what a Banshee is will probably go to my grave. Even if the group ended today my whole 'Banshee' vision would remain. And we will continue for some time because that vision motivates us to do things with a certain amount of dignity... it makes us spiritually motivated to do things properly, to be moral..."
There is still an undeniable "dignity" and "morality" about Siouxsie & The Banshees - even when they're reduced to covering an album of old songs in a pop world bent on destroying anything deeper than shallow conceit and slavering money-lust.
For that alone, they "matter" - but after ten years of post-punk Banshees pop it's clear that creativity and inspiration have been devoured by competence and efficiency..
As for radical reworkings of old songs and standards, who really needs the Banshees when we've already heard the same idea opened up more scathingly, more searchingly, by John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Youssou N Dour and hip-hop?
Donald McRae 21/03/87
Cats, masks, huskies, and Joan Collins haven’t got that mush in common - except that Siouxsie loves them all. She told David Martin exactly why.
On Food: I love food! At the moment my favourite is Thai food. I also really like Japanese. The only food I don’t like is Arabic sheep's’ eyes and all that. I think my favourite dish is pasta with seafood. I’m a real pig. But I’m not as bad as I used to be. At one time, I was living on McDonalds until I got sick of them.
On St Paul's Cathedral: We wanted to do a show in there complete with an orchestra and choir but they wouldn’t let us.
On Joan Collins: When I get a bit of time, I always love to zombie out in front of the telly and watch films and documentaries. I used to watch EastEnders, but I lost touch because we are away so much. But I always try and see Dynasty just to see Joan Collins’ latest outfit.
On Record companies: We still fight them, even after 11 years. They didn’t want to let us put out the current single, Song At The Edge Of The World.
On Cats: I’ve wanted one for ages. I just love them because everything about them is so good, the way they look, their manners, the way they walk, their purring. I definitely prefer moggies though; pedigrees are a bit too inbred - like Hooray Henries.
On Make-Up: Actually I don’t wear much during the day. Sometimes it looks really inspired but I just make it up as I go along. That can take anything from half an hour to two hours. I just love playing around with colours. (And what’s worse, she doesn’t even get spots because of the make-up).
On Glamour: It’s not difficult being glamorous, it just takes a bit of thought, that’s all. And I’ve been known to wear jeans, but only black ones.
On Jewellery: I’m thinking of spending £1,500 on this bracelet made out of animal claws and silver rings. It’s beautiful.
On Prince: All I can say is looking at the charts, thank God for Prince. I saw him last year when he came to Britain. But that was only because I was five rows from the front. I wouldn’t have gone to Wembley stadium because it is more like a cattle market than a concert.
On Catfish: I was watching Animal Roadshow the other day and I saw this brilliant catfish which was more like a cat than a fish. It actually came to the top of the water to be stroked. You could almost hear it purring.
On Home: I still love living in London. My favourite countries are Italy and Spain because of the people and architecture.
On Aliens: Me, Budgie and a few others went to see Aliens Two and this woman next to Budgie just screamed the whole way through it, it was really funny. The last film I saw was Blue Velvet. I enjoyed it.
On Huskies: I don’t really like dogs, but huskies are great with their wonderful Batman eyes.
On Dosh: Nobody is really poor in this country. When we went to Brazil, there were people living in cardboard houses. I saw someone begging and I just threw everything I had in my pocket at them.
On Politics: I don’t trust people on soapboxes.
On Ambition: To have a castle to lock yourself away in.
DOWN TO RIO
Pioneering down South of the border, SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES have just returned from a tour of Brazil and Argentina. Chris Roberts gets to look at their holiday snaps, swaps anecdotes with Sioux, calls her Linda and still doesn't know which tracks they've recorded for their album of cover versions.
The best Christmas present Siouxsie ever had (when she was eight) was a Sindy doll. With hair.
I bet you broke it before February.
"Oh no. The rabbit bit its nose off."
What was the rabbit's name?
Go on! Really?
"Yeah. It bit the noses off all my dolls."
Did it have a thing about noses?
"Fingers, too. It bit all the noses and all the fingers off. And it scared the cats. You know like ladies are supposed to be when they see mice?"
You mean "Eek", on chairs and that?
"Yeah. Well, this rabbit..."
"Yeah, Snuggles. He'd have that effect on the cats."
Animals get a lot of mentions in your songs, don't they?
"Cats do. I know one thing - if I find someone doesn't like cats, I don't like them. It's quite that black and white with me. There must be something lacking in them if they don't. They tend to be jealous of cats' superiority, I think. The morons."
Quite. Do you follow fashion, Siouxsie?
"Don't be silly."
Siouxsie Sioux's yawn is a very fine yawn, but her laugh is even better.
Three boring things to do:
Dance with a bus top;
How Siouxsie Sioux orders a margarita in Clerkenwell:
Orders one. Gets a pink thing which isn't it. Sends it back;
We're all on her side. Some gracious ladies are born to sow chaos.
So Siouxsie Symbol and The Banshee Brothers are all there, only too keen to speak of their travels around Brazil and Argentina and only too reticent about the album of cover versions which will follow their new single, "Wheels on Fire".
Budgie is lively and saucer-eyed and sporting new blisters on his hands. John is hungry and humorous. Severin thinks very seriously about everything he (and anybody else) says, rarely smiling. He keeps an eye on Sioux like he's terrified she's suddenly going to blurt out How Everything Really Is. Siouxsie strikes me as being quite capable of managing whatever she feels like managing without any extra eyes, thank you. Siouxsie does not try to intimidate me, as someone had predicted.
Siouxsie's favourite record of recent times is "Love Can't Turn Around" by Farley Jackmaster Funk, and her voice is a kind of street-cred Maggie Smith. She likes jokes, dolphins and singing bits of Wagner. She pulls open a Christmas cracker and out comes... a little purple ring.
"Have you seen 'Dumbo'?" she asks.
Yes, I say, too fond of the memory to lie.
"The pink elephant on parade bit! It's outrageous! I'm sure that was the year when all the Walt Disney poeple did acid. It's brilliant; it's so mental!"
"Freaky-deaky," comments Budgie.
What would you send off as a time capsule into the next century? Just one thing, mind.
"What's Opera Doc?" mutters Steve Severin, deadpan. "It's a Bugs Bunny cartoon that says it all."
"I'd love to see a Banshee cartoon where we all got squashed flat under lifts and scraped down the sides of walls," muses Budgie. "But if we did a video like that, it'd be banned."
Although it's just dandy for animated hares to do it at teatime?
"Or when Shakespeare writes about it," observes Siouxsie. "Underage sex and gross violence is alright if Shakespeare says so."
Heat and cities in dust: Siouxsie And The Banshees are now pioneers again, official, because no-one from England goes touring around Brazil and Argentina, other than a one-off date. But this is what they just did. Siouxsie is eager to narrate:
"We were treated like royalty. It was on the front page of all their serious papers that we were coming. People from Chile, Paraguay, and Uruguay came to our press conference in Buenos Aires. They called us 'the darks'!"
Severin: "We'd been working out what to say with regard to politics, but the record company had already sorted it all out and told the press not to ask political questions."
John: "So they asked us if we were vegetarians instead."
Siouxsie: "We don't hold political debate in every country we go to, so what's the relevance of doing it there? I think both sides were to blame for all that, anyway."
Severin: "We could've been seen as the first 'ambassadors of British youth' to play there since The Falklands, but they didn't really seem very interested in that."
So what are you the ambassadors of?
Siouxsie: "The Banshees. A separate entity."
There would appear to be multitudinous anecdotes stemming from The Banshees' invasion of said territory. These include a ticket vendor and his cubicle being trampled underfoot, Siouxsie's minder ("seven foot six with tattooed muscles all dancing" - attrib. Budgie), and finishing off in Rio with rejuvenated readings of "She's A Carnival" and "Helter Skelter" which "stung".
"When we played Buenos Aires the biggest shock was that there was a football pig element in the crowd," begins Sioux. "They were gobbing and throwing bubblegum an all that crap, and it was like - oh my God, all this way after all this time and it's like back in Hemel Hempstead eight or nine years ago! But that was just a few idiots, everyone else we saw - whether it was the huge menacing ones or the pretty ones - said they loved it."
Budgie: "It wasn't as hot as you might expect. In Los Angeles, earlier, we'd been taken by surprise. You come off and they say 'Do you want your oxygen cylinders now?' and you genuinely think 'Oh. That's a good idea'."
Siouxsie: "You know how they talk about The Olympics, and the athletes having to acclimatise and so on... we were given no time to acclimatise. We just had to!"
Do you, erm, adapt your dress sense or anything?
"No. Should've. But I didn't. No-one wore white shorts or anything."
I should think not!
"We'd rather suffer!"
Did the whole experience make you re-evaluate? See fresh perspectives?
Sioux: "I've never seen poverty before like we saw in Sao Paolo. There's shacks on the roadside made out of corrugated iron and bits of cardboard, and little kids in the street with placards in Portuguese saying 'Feed me'. There is a lot of wealth there too but it's just very badly distributed; it's one extreme or the other."
Was any of this useful for imagery? was it inspirational?
"Well, that'll happen when it sinks in properly, when it becomes conscious rather than subconscious. Our favourite country is Italy, it's so passionate and hot-blooded, and Brazil's comparable to that."
Do you feel "English" yourselves?
Severin: "I think we're almost uniquely British. The way we sound is ridiculously British."
But Britain's so drab and grey!
Siouxsie: "Oh we're not patriotic, but... there's nowhere I'd rather live, really, than London. It's absorbed so many different cultures without making a big deal out of it. Of course it's much easier to be positive about it when you've just come back. We certainly don't have tax problems!"
I must be crumpling my nose a bit, because...
"One irony - as soon as we came back to Heathrow we all got searched and the gear got delayed, so we had to blow out a radio show. Whereas, despite all the speculation, we sailed through Argentina and Brazil, everything was fine, everyone saluted us. Back in England it's - hold it! When are they gonna smarten up and start searching the nuns? And the men in three-piece business suits?"
"I'd brought back more than one stuffed armadillo," confesses John.
"They'll have you!" hoots Siouxsie. "They'll be knocking on your door!"
Frankly you haven't lived until Siouxsie Sioux's thrust an imaginary microphone into your face.
This happens when she's telling me how their Latin-American reception was like that The Beatles get in old film clips. She also wondered why the natives persisted in calling her Linda. "Ah! Linda!" Shut up sillies, Siouxsie would say, don't call me Linda. It's Siouxsie. It was only later that she found out "Linda" means "beautiful one".
Of course it goes without saying now that punk failed to alter all that much of the popular consciousness because it was so full of spit and snot and ugliness and so devoid of glamour, elegance and romance. The most successful record of the "punk years" was "Saturday Night Fever", a full-price double album. How could your Jimmy Pursey's (gag) hope to compete for influence with your John Travoltas?
Once frustrated kids do get jobs, and one or two do, "How Deep Is Your Love" sounds a lot less hassle than "White Riot". You don't wash the car (complete with stereo cassette deck) to the strains of "Gary Gilmore's Eyes". Unless you're me, in which case you haven't got a car.
What Siouxsie always did, which was quite a clever thing to do, was to suggest (partly through visual appearance, partly through effective use of imagery) that she and the air immediately surrounding her looked good, and was a bit outside of it all. Thus to find the Siouxsie cult attractive was to align oneself with something not a million miles removed from style. There was always cream in the scream, scope on the Kaleidoscope, jewels in the eyes of the ju-ju, and that kiss in the dreamhouse.
the banshees were more Roxy Music that The Roxy. This meant survival beyond the initial adrenalin rush. A few sly references to art and mysticism later, the group find themselves still straddling The Big Time, managing a miraculous balance between The Cure and Kate Bush, between fey will o' the wisps and barrel-chested stadium-rock organs. It's a fortunate and realistically admirable achievement. For every comfortable (and comforting, like candy) regurgitation of their own clichés there has been a moment of dangerously bright red and green beauty. "Spellbound." Dazzle." Just words? I like a bit of dazzle now and again myself.
Are you still writing about obsessions and insatiable desires and people having extreme reactions to situations?
Siouxsie (after a long pause): "I suppose... for it to have a point we'll always write that way. And perform theatrically."
With violent crimes-of-passionesque imagery? (This is me laying it on with a trowel.)
Severin: "You must realise the whole idea of being on a stage is always much larger than life. Therefore, strong things will come out grandiose in songs. You have to really hit people over the head with a mallet to make them understand, to show them there's something other than what's just forced through their eyeballs. In the age we live in we just get blasted with bland mellow things, so it's important to have powerful and, yes, sometimes violent imagery about what you do."
To wake the children up from their slumbers?
"To wake yourself up, first."
Are you afraid of routine?
"Not afraid of it, because we know we can do it. We just get bored by it very quickly."
You've always been seen as style icons...
Siouxsie: "Of a certain style... probably..."
Severin: "You have to have a lot of substance to make the style work. We usually attract quite a pretty audience anyway!"
What do you think of glamour?
Siouxsie: "What... glamour in general?"
"We all admire Prince, even though it's clichéd."
Mmm. Saw you at Wembley.
Severin: "We've always been interested in the Hollywood Babylon side of it. The tackiness."
"In a ways. A its best it leads to there."
What about pop-art? (I just throw these things in y'know?).
"Oh we're - ah - post-modernist glamourbilly, yes. I always think it's the dickheads who say they're whatever artistically, while the people who are actually being creative and innovative just do it without talking too much about it. Obviously we're in a business where we have to talk about it but it's not the most enjoyable or rewarding part."
Siouxsie: "things come out first and get discussed afterwards."
Severin: "You can use influences directly or indirectly. A book - 'Painted Bird' - a story, a film. It's quite faddish, I suppose, and that's what makes it pop still. You get involved with something. They're miles away from each other but you can pull them all together. Cross-reference the images you want. And then you can watch something like 'Cinderella'..."
Does anything still surprise you?
Siouxsie: "That people have heard of us."
Severin: "Or that they haven't."
Siouxsie: "Well, that's the difference between us."
Budgie: "Or... that we've just done 'Razzmatazz'."
What's the most common misinterpretation of The Banshees?
John: "That we're a bunch of miserable bastards."
Severin: "We haven't had too much of a bad time from the media, really. What's the biggest thing we can moan about? Being called 'darks'? I can live with that."
Can you live with bizarre letters from unexpected sources?
"We used to get a lot from people in prison, or in the navy, who wanted to assert it was some sort of lifeline, because they were trapped within a certain situation and saw us as an escape. Which is quite ironic because we never deal with the question of escape; more with facing things. A Madonna record or something, which is just simplistic, cannot alleviate..."
But you trade in dreams! All of you!
Siouxsie: "Yes, but people who consider dreams to be nothing to do with reality are being narrow-minded. At least a quarter of your life is dreaming; how can you dismiss it? You're a fool not to be affected by it. It's usually quite harrowing, and it's usually telling you something..."
Your nightmares don't always come true?
"Only in that usually the dreams as 'larger-than-'life', they're a more frightening version of your everyday situation... that you're in a rut. Or confusion. They're a warning, at least."
Severin: "We've always just striven to be as in control and independent as we can be. In everything you do you're achieving that, because you're gaining more experience and knowledge as to what's the best way."
Siouxsie: "Your ideals can stop you doing things if you're too scared. You have to keep working while learning - that's the hardest and the best way of doing things. And of keeping your morals intact."
If there's a place for everything in this wibbly-wobbly world, then a Banshees album of cover versions is not so much a bitten nail in the coffin of teen revolt as a long overdue Party Trick Revisited. "Dear Prudence" was one thing. The Creatures' carvings were another. "Wheels On Fire", I'm told, is full of Eastern strings and Western whims and nothing like the Julie Driscoll with The Brian Auger Trinity version. "I played it to my brother and he was trying to sing along to it, says Siouxsie. "But he couldn't." The group aren't very forthcoming about the forthcoming album, which will be in the shops in February, unless you buy it, in which case it'll be in your home in February.
The choice of songs is apparently "interesting" but a "surprise". I persevere, nagging - can this be as "challenging" as creating your own new songs?
Siouxsie: "In a way, because we have to make them ours. The lyrics mattered. There were certain suggestions I just would not sing because the lyrics were dreadful."
Do they have to possess an enigmatic quality? (Fortunately for interview purposes I'm one of the few people in the world who can says words like "enigmatic" with a straight face.)
"Well... one we didn't do was 'What's New Pussycat?' We seriously considered it, but... it didn't quite work out."
Severin: "I was sick."
John: "All we had to do was find a certain charm in a song and elaborate on it. Deconstruct it and free it."
Budgie does not harbour secret desires to go into market gardening but John plans a solo project, eventually with non-musical friends. "You've always got things on the go," laughs the drummer. "It's not as if you sit at home thinking - 'oh, one day I'll build this matchbox castle.' But I guess I've left it too late for the ballet-dancing now."
Nevertheless, I'm trying to tell Linda she should be a movie star.
"It's not an ambition of mine, I'd rather be on the other side of the camera."
Really? To capture what?
"Just... camera angles. I'm really pissed off with cameramen. I'd like to be in a position where you can explain what you're visualising, and get it."
Get what? What sides of life?
"I don't think it matters what you represent as long as you do it well, and with that tension. I like it to have an edge to it. Scary. Exciting."
Do you dislike censorship?
"Yes, cos the censors don't have that much sensitivity. They just throw a blanket over."
So. Would you say you'd done most things?
"No! If I thought that, I'd get my pipe and slippers. Go sit on a cushion."
A gaggle of office workers trump into the winebar and begin their annual party... surprise, it's about 7pm on a Friday. Paper hats are donned. Hair down or what? Siouxsie reckons they'll all be paranoid about catching AIDS this time round; it's the in phobia. We agree that Bruce Springsteen is a much more chic aversion. Any which way, Argentina had a very good year in 1986.
"You should see the look of sheer horror when you say 'No-one backstage beforehand, no flotsam and jetsom, just keep it clear...' And they say 'But Blah Blah the surf punk is here'. And you say 'I don't care if it's The Queen...'"
Oh, but what a meeting that would be.