A repeat post from a couple of years back for this series:
I find the early Siouxsie & the Banshees an interesting band in the sheer, unashamed nastiness that's on display which seems such an important part of the artistic statement they were trying to make. I still really like a lot of their early records because for me they try to say something about the human condition that we spend most of our lives trying to deny and repress. The important original incarnation of the Banshees split in 1979 depending on how you look at it in spectacular or grubby circumstances. Here's an oral account of how it happened from Mark Paytress's authorised biography. Cast is Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Severin (bass), Kenny Morris (drums), John McKay (guitar) and Nils Stevenson (Banshees manager).
Sioux: If there's a song at the heart of Join Hands it's Poppy Day which was created as a soundtrack for the Remembrance Day two-minute silence. There was something hugely appealing about creating music for a silence. We used a lot of First World War imagery and that imbued the whole album. It was a very un-rock'n'roll subject for a record, but one that was incredibly powerful.
John and Kenny hated the artwork. As far as Severin and I were concerned, the image we used of soldiers on the sleeve was perfect... There was conflict in Iran and bombings in London and it all seemed to fit. It wasn't any pro-military message; we just wanted to catch the spirit of what things were like at the time.... Musically Join Hands was an uncompromising album and it still sounds modern today. We were lonely and isolated and that comes across in the music. It's an extreme record, but a very brave one and that's why I still have a soft spot for it.
The single from the album had been Playground Twist which was about as far removed from Hong Kong Gardens as we could get. It's about the cruelty of children and the whole aspect of being thrown out into the playground in winter in howling gales and left to fend for yourself. It's not the sort of thing you're supposed to write pop songs about.
Morris: We'd be on the tour bus and all sitting separately. Steven would be in his own seat, Nils and Siouxsie would be sitting together. Me and John would be sat at the back.... we were all very sad and all very silent. There was no point in talking. When conversation stops, everything stops. It was obvious that things were going wrong. We disagreed over so many things, and every time there was an issue we were outnumbered three to two.
7th September 1979. Capital Theatre Aberdeen
Sioux: We only played a couple of gigs before we got to Aberdeen. Cracks were already showing in the band. Although Steven and I weren't aware how wide they were.
Severin: It was a Saturday morning and we had an in-store signing scheduled at the local record shop. Yet again no-one had told John we were doing it, so he was in a strop by the time he got there. This was about lunchtime and we were supposed to be going down to the soundcheck immediately afterwards, but the signing was a fiasco right from the off. There were loads of people waiting to get the new album signed but Polydor hadn't sent enough copies up to the shop, so we were having to sign copies of The Scream and the singles instead.
When we walked into the shop they were playing Join Hands, so of course the very first thing John did was say, ' I fucking hate this record.' He walked up, lifted the needle and put on The Slits album which had come out the same week. Siouxsie started fuming.
Sioux: Because Polydor had forgotten to get enough records for us to sign, we used these copies that had been stamped "For Promotion Only - Not for Resale", and John and Kenny started giving them away. I pushed John and had a go at him, calling him an idiot or something. Nothing too nasty.
Morris; I remember that moment so vividly, Seconds before it Nils said to me, 'The manager in the shop wants to take a photo,' Nils noticed my face was really down and said, 'I saw your face. I saw the way you looked.'
Severin: Then the most bizarre thing happened. It was almost like it was prearranged, like a union downing tools and going out on strike. Without a word, not even to each other, John and Kenny stood up and walked out of the store. It seemed like they were waiting for the signal and that shove from Siouxsie was it. Our initial thought was 'Fuck 'em - another day another strop, we'll see them at the soundcheck'.
Morris: We found ourselves outside. I remember crushing an empty can of Coke with my eyes welling. We walked down the street in tears, had a cup of tea and went back to the hotel. This is it. We'd had enough. It was always Sioux, Steven and Nils. That's the story. We were always outnumbered. Nils thought we'd never leave; What the fuck else would we do? Well he took us for granted. We were never interested in money. We were interested in taking an artistic stand against the establishment, musically and socially. It was about principles.
Sioux: We were supposed to meet at the venue for the soundcheck and John and Kenny didn't turn up. It didn't seem too out of the ordinary. I thought they were probably sulking in their rooms.. Then we found out they'd stuck pillows under the blankets with their tour passes on them and had just run off. Nils went to one of the train stations to see if he could catch them. But they'd gone.
Morris: We had about £200 between us and had to pay the taxi driver £50 to take us to the airport. John freaked. He kept looking behind us and saying 'They're going to send the police after us'. I said, 'John they're not gonna do that. We're not that important'.
Severin: From the venue we went back to the hotel and then back to the gig. They still weren't there and that's when it began to sink in that they really had run off. I was devastated. I thought my whole life had collapsed. The Cure who were supporting us were doing an extended set in the vain hope that John and Kenny might turn up but it was pretty obvious that they wouldn't.... I think it was Robert (Smith of The Cure) who said ' Well why don't we all go on and do 'The Lord's Prayer'? He'd seen us do it before, so he knew what to do.
Sioux: It actually felt really good to have played rather than gone away with our tails between our legs. I seem to remember telling the audience that if they saw John and Kenny they had my permission and blessing to kick the shit out of them.
Smith played for the rest of the tour with the Banshees which continued without McKay and Morris.
Morris: John and I were on the run. We were in hiding. If any punks had seen us or found us we could have been murdered.
Sioux: A couple of months later Blondie had a party at the Notre Dame Hall in London and I saw Kenny there...
Severin: I was sitting with this girl, a friend of Kenny's who was defending John and Kenny for leaving. Then she suddenly pointed Kenny out, sitting four or five tables away.. He was with three or four other people, so I walked up to him and whacked him. Nils had seen me approaching the table and was there in an instant, as was Siouxsie. Kenny half fell off his chair and went to stand up, and as soon as he did, Nils hit him. He fell down, and as he was lying on the floor, Siouxsie started kicking him. People from all sides were pulling us apart so it was over very quickly. Nils explained the situation to security and Kenny was asked to leave, not us, which made it even more satisfying.'