“Hong Kong Garden” was the long-awaited debut single by Siouxsie and the Banshees, it was released on 18th August 1978 by Polydor Records, and reached number seven on the UK Singles Chart.
Groundbreaking from the offset, this is the track that truly heralded the arrival of the post punk era. “Hong Kong Garden” made it very clear that Punk could no longer be written off as being about four blokes making a shouty racket – The Banshees, fronted by Siouxsie, presented themselves as the front-runners of a whole new way of writing, recording and listening to music. Catchy chorus aside, Hong Kong Garden was imaginative, provocative, rule-breaking, stylish, seductive, sophisticated and a whole new bench mark for the post punk world. Its importance as a single, can not be overstated.
The magnificent opening riff which led the way was composed by Banshees guitarist John McKay, and its original working title was “People Phobia”. Re-worked into a song by the whole band, the title refers to the Hong Kong Garden Chinese take-away restaurant in Chislehurst, near their hallowed home-turf of Bromley.
To some, it was an obvious single choice, the song “Hong Kong Garden” was already a live favourite, and a session version had been recorded for John Peel, which was first broadcast about six months earlier in February 1978 – the same session that also included equally early versions of “Overground”, “Carcass” and “Helter Skelter”.
The lyrics, taken literally, might appear somewhat questionable. They riff around the tune name-checking “Chinese” things – “Slanted eyes meet the bright sunrise, a race of bodies small in size”. This troublesome point has been raised before, but we can stop worrying as according to Siouxsie, the lyrics were a reference not to the Chinese themselves, but as a response to some of the racist comments that was frequently hoofed in the direction of easily identifiable immigrants. Siouxsie has always claimed that the lyrics were merely echoing the taunts of the local skinheads who would allegedly cause trouble at the restaurant, upsetting both owners and customers,
“I’ll never forget, there was a Chinese restaurant in Chislehurst called the ‘Hong Kong Garden’. Me and my friend were really upset that we used to go there and like, occasionally when the skinheads would turn up it would really turn really ugly. These gits would just go in en masse and just terrorise these Chinese people who were working there. We’d try and say ‘Leave them alone’, you know. It was a kind of tribute” and “I remember wishing that I could be like Emma Peel from The Avengers and kick all the skinheads’ heads in, because they used to mercilessly torment these people for being foreigners. It made me feel so helpless, hopeless and ill.” – Siouxsie Sioux
Along with The Slits, The Banshees were one of the last of the original 1977 bands to sign a record deal, hanging on for one that offered them full creative control. Eventually the band signed to Polydor, who put them into London’s Olympic Studios in June 1978 with American producer Bruce Albertine. The band hated the results and so their manager Nils Stevenson made the emergency decision to call in Steve Lilywhite who, at that time had been recording with Johnny Thunders. Especially impressed with Lilywhite’s approach to recording drums, Kenny Morris found himself playing the song, initially just on the kick and snare, overdubbing the toms and cymbals later. Recorded in two days, the track would be the first of many hits for both the Banshees and newbie producer Lilywhite.
Upon its release Hong Kong Garden earned the band Single of the Week status in all four of the major music papers, NME, Melody Maker, Sounds and Record Mirror.
Groundbreaking in 1978, Hong Kong Garden was both a battle-cry and a glorious manifesto of all the things to come.