Siouxsie and the Banshees in 1981

Many people reading this won’t remember 1981. You can listen to the Banshee’s fourth album Juju, released in June ’81 and read the many reviews online about what this ‘post-punk classic’ represents in the history of rock music. Loads of blogs tell you about the songs, the musicianship, the legacy of Juju, but we’re here to put things in context. What was it like to be Siouxsie and the Banshees? Let’s try to understand what life was like for a touring band undertaking endless dull interviews at a time when women musicians were even rarer than they are now.

Here’s a taster: “When Siouxsie stalks into the bar and buys a drink she throws the scene into sudden, sharp relief.  There is stunned silence. Tall and upright with a foot of thigh between boots and leather skirt, she has long white arms, blue-black hair around a porcelain pale face.  An exquisite, half-human mask of make-up is drawn to emphasise ice-blue eyes elongated like an Egyptian’s. One of the businessmen recovers his composure enough to ask for her autograph and whistles softly to attract her attention. Sioux turns on him calmly with awful intent.  “I’m not a bird to be whistled at, you know,” she tells him fiercely with savage sarcasm.”

Lynn Hanna 15/08/81 NME

The two main problems for Siouxsie and the rest of the band were 1) that interviewers asked TERRIBLE questions that tended to be the same standard ones for any old band, and 2) that the Banshees had no-one advising them, protecting them or speaking for them – for example to swiftly call a halt when yet another guy asks Siouxsie about her make-up influence on girls across the world, or even ‘What’s it like to be a girl in a band?’ If you search out old TV interviews on YouTube – often from European countries which adds a language issue – the same dull serious questions are ladled out, and Siouxsie or Severin look blank, pull a face, or give a completely facetious answer. Faced with ‘How did the band start?’ ‘Where do you get your inspiration from?’ every single time, you can’t blame them, but none of the interviewers get the flippancy that keeps the band from punching them.

In a particularly excruciating interview in July 1981 at Amsterdam Paradiso, on YouTube, two trendy guys – one bleach blonde with a red scarf, the other all in serious black ask things like, “Are you living in a Happy House?” Severin looks blankly disdainful. Interviewers, please don’t do this kind of thing. Just don’t.

Interviewer: What’s your favourite food?

Severin: Potatoes.

Interviewer: What’s next for you?

Siouxsie: I’m booked for a musical tap dance show with Freddie Starr and Spike Milligan.

When the guy with the camera films Siouxsie up close, she rants, “Frustrated musicians with a camera in your hand … I wish you could see his face!” and grimaces. Later, she grabs the microphone and asks the other band members questions before turning on the camera man.

And there are loads of examples of this – from TV chat show hosts to music press to local media guys – they all want to interview Siouxsie and the Banshees, but have no knowledge, no briefing or research and it’s a car crash every time. Siouxsie even tells an Australian host, “I just don’t like to talk”. These things probably wouldn’t happen now because the band would be taking advice; they’d have been trained how to maximise their followers by staying on point and eternally cheery as they tell the same approved anecdotes several times a day. But we like the old style punk snarl and eye-rolling!

Because everyday life as a touring Banshee was so tedious, taking a month out to record an album in Surrey with Nigel Gray again must have been welcomed. Compared with some of the band’s later albums, the songs for Juju were already shaped and had been played by the Banshees live during a heavy year of touring. Called a ‘post-punk classic‘ by All Music, and ‘One of the most influential albums of all time‘ by Cathi Unsworth writing in Melody Maker in 1995, Juju is also listed as influential by nine top muso guys on its Wiki page – from Jesus and Mary Chain to Suede, Smashing Pumpkins to Red Hot Chili Peppers to The Smiths and Radiohead. They’re all guitarists, obviously, but we suspect that there may be also some female artists that could be included as taking inspiration from Juju. The Banshees’ previous album Kaleidoscope had been a mixture of pop songs and growly sounds thrown together following a major band member change-over. But once drummer Budgie and guitarist John McGeoch were integrated and touring constantly with Siouxsie and Steve Severin, the sound and concept of 1981 Banshees could form. Commentators argue about Juju being the birth of Goth; the band deny it, so we respect that.

Even journalists from the respected music press became frustrated about Siouxsie refusing to play the rock n roll game and ingratiate themselves with their interviewer – as this painful encounter with John Gill reveals:

“The current single, ‘Spellbound’, isn’t indicative of the material on the new album, ‘Ju Ju’, they say. Is the album more inshore or mainstream than the last two? Miming incomprehension, Siouxsie deigns,

“I think it’s more direct. Much straighter.” And smiles, as if to say who let this klutz in here. At this point there are a number of optional explanations for their attitude: they’re cautious, or tired, or lazy, or suspicious, or snide, or wilful, or they don’t have an original thought in their heads. Which is it to be, viewers?

I’ve no fear the Banshees will go pop!, but I am in two minds. I came away still admiring their music and respecting them as individuals, but angry to the extent of wanting to slag them off for putting me through this preposterous ritual of put-ons, petulance and deity/supplicant role playing. You can only allow The Artist so much leeway before you might as well give up and ask what they eat for breakfast. Their PR says they’re extremely shy, unsure of the media and – quite probably – modest. But in my book you get as good as you give. I’m prepared to put myself on the line, Siouxsie. Are you?” John Gill in Sounds 20/06/81

In a more straightforward interview with Pop Elecktron, speaking about the mystic magical ideas and concepts in Juju, Siouxsie clearly expresses a dislike of all things witchy:

“It’s not text book magic. We use terms like VooDoo and Spellbound but it’s not to be taken literally. The best magic is when something good happens and you don’t plan it … it’s a feeling” 1983 Interview with Pop Elektron

Juju reached number 7 in the UK album charts following its release on 6th June 1981. For many Banshees fans it’s their second favourite album. We think it’s pretty good to come up with a complete guitar-led mystical-sounding fresh album after months of travelling around being asked constantly about your clothes and your inspiration. And so we at punkgirldiaries totally understand why you don’t talk with the media now, Siouxsie.

4 thoughts on “Siouxsie and the Banshees in 1981

  1. What an album this was! I’d heard “Christine” on college radio but had not really Seen any copies of “Kaleidoscope” to buy. Primed by showings of the “Spellbound” video, I rushed out to buy “Juju” as an import and it was my first Banshees album. McGeoch was on fire and in many ways, the band were in peak form, though I’d now say “A Kiss In The Dreamhouse” was equally excellent. The only time I ever got to see the band was on the “Through The Looking Glass” tour. So my run-ins with John McGeoch live were down to a couple of PiL concerts.

    I was most impressed by The Creatures “Exterminating Angel” from their “Anima/Animus” album. Rarely does an artist that far into their career manage to create something that galvanizingly powerful. But I never heard the first note from “Mantaray” and now it seems as if she’s fully retreated from the public eye. A toast to her good works.

  2. Hi, the interview me and Terry did with Siouxsie and the Banshees in 1981 for our fanzine, plus Tiel Banshees concert review, and photos, is now on the internet at last. See In the interview, especially John McGeoch spoke critically about the music press. In Amsterdam, Siouxsie threw an interviewer’s microphone into a glass of water, as that interviewer kept mentioning his own band Soviet Sex. Terry and me during our interview, at a different place in Amsterdam, didn’t say we were half of Cheap ‘n’ Nasty.

  3. I am not a musician or celebrity, but I am an author and can relate to the inanity of unprepared and clueless interviewers. Souixsie was and is the titular goddess of post-punk music and culture. Your piece does her justice.

  4. It just so happens 41 years ago TODAY I saw Siouxsie and The Banshees perform at the I-Beam in San Francisco – 1981 Juju tour!

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