“I knew from a really early age that I wasn’t going to be like what was on the cover of Jackie, that I used to get, like blonde, sun-tanned, smiling and approachable”.
Susan Janet Ballion grew up in the south London suburb of Chislehurst. She was ten years younger than her siblings, and has been quite open about the fact that she grew up in a sort of family imposed isolation. This isolation sprung from both the unpredictability and tension arising from her father’s alcoholism, along with her mother’s need to present a perfect front, so no friends were allowed to visit.
“I grew up having no faith in adults as responsible people. And being the youngest in the family I was isolated – I had no-one to confide in. So I invented my own world, my own reality. It was my own way of defending myself – protecting myself from the outside world. The only way I could deal with how to survive was to get some strong armour”.
Armed with some serious self-confidence and some Roxy Music and David Bowie records, Susan had already decided that the suburban housewife life was definitely not for her, and after leaving school at 17, she started to become a familiar face on London’s gay and underground club scene.
“When I was growing up, a lot of girls kind of had that cliché, of finding someone to look after them, you know with a car, with a job, and I just found that really boring. I wanted to be my own person, I wanted to be an actress or an artist or anything that didn’t have a 9-5 parameter to it”
Susan was already dressing in what would soon become her trademark glam and bondage attire, but a missed trick in November 1975, when a band called the Sex Pistols played at the local Art College in Chislehurst. After hearing about the singer from her friends, they soon all headed into town to check them out for themselves.
It was at this point that journalist Caroline Coon coined the term “Bromley Contingent” to describe this group of eccentrically dressed teenagers who would turn up to see the Sex Pistols.
Inspired by the advent of DIY punk culture, and now calling herself Siouxsie, she decided to form a band with bff Steve, and was quick to volunteer their musical services without ever having even rehearsed,
“Malcolm needed a band for this festival he was organising, and without thinking I said I’ll do it”.
“I do remember wanting to come across as all-powerful, and I wanted to kind of make it painful for people.” The improvised performance of the Lord’s Prayer lasted 20 minutes, but the effects of that show lasted a lifetime.
Viv Albertine of the Slits talks about Siouxsie’s performance the BBC’s “Queens of British Pop”,
“Siouxsie just appeared fully made, fully in control, utterly confident. It totally blew me away. There she was doing something that I dared to dream but she took it and did it and it wiped the rest of the festival for me, that was it. I can’t even remember everything else about it except that one performance”.
She appeared on the infamous December 1976 episode of ITV’s Bill Grundy Today Show alongside the Sex Pistols, where Grundy’s lecherous comments towards her launched Steve Jones’s “dirty fucker” tirade, which only went and changed the whole world.
Critic Jon Savage, has called Siouxsie “unlike any female singer before or since, commanding yet aloof, entirely modern.” and I think we’d agree.
The Grundy appearance, it turns out was just the beginning of something huge.
Siouxsie has always stood out as not just a unique and highly imaginative performer, but as a woman fronting an otherwise male band. It’s always been clear whose band it was, and who was in charge….it’s was Susan from the block, or maybe the Close, or the Crescent…