Archive for the ‘siouxsie and the banshees’ Tag

Join Hands 11.11.1918-11.11.2018

In 1979 I went to see Siouxsie & The Banshees playing at Hammersmith Odeon – it remains one of the best gigs of my life. Just before the tour half the band had gone AWOL so new musicians had to be drafted in including Budgie on drums (formerly the token man in The Slits, one of my favourite drummers – Stewart Copeland considers him one of the most interesting drummers for his “very economical and offbeat” playing, that offbeat being what I most like about him) and John McGeoch on guitar (formerly of Magazine). That tour marked the release of the LP ‘Join Hands’. The hands joining are those of four bronze WW1 Tommies on the war memorial between Horseguards Parade and St James’s Park (the Guards Memorial) – I passed it regularly when I was working at Channel 4 and it always brought me back to that music and excitement. The LP opens with the tolling bells of a 2-minute track called Poppy Day.

In the same way that Punk (especially The Clash) introduced me to reggae, through this track it introduced me to the First World War poetry of John McCrae, a typical example of the less known poets who emerged in the Great War, the one-hit wonders and offbeats. McCrae was a high-ranking Canadian army doctor serving on the Western front. In Poppy Day the resonant bells give way to the distinctive driving guitar wailing of The Banshees and then just a few short lines, delivered in a distorted Siouxsie voice:

In Flanders fields
The poppies grow
Between the crosses
Row on row
That mark our place
We are the dead…

I don’t think McCrae is credited for the lyrics which are very close to the opening of his In Flanders Fields, in fact every word is derived from the poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Siouxsie & The Banshees filtered out the patriotic and the warmongering/cheerleading to open their record with the zombie or heroic or haunting dead, we don’t know which. What we do know, two years after the Silver Jubilee and the Pistols’ God Save the Queen (the Fascist regime), with rubbish piling up in the streets of strike-bound London, is that these dead were neither glorious nor patriotic in the establishment way.

The band were inspired not only by the chaos and crapitude of the late 70s Home Front but also by conflict witnessed on their suburban Kent TVs, particularly in Iran. (Plus ça change).

siouxsie and the banshees join hands vinyl record album LP cover design

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The LP cover was extracted from this shot – L to R Steve Severin (bass), John McKay (guitar), Siouxsie Sioux (vocals), Kenny Morris (drums) – before McKay and Morris went AWOL

Banshee stalwart, bassist Steven Severin in the wake of watching the two minutes of silence in memory of the war dead on TV on Sunday 12th November 1978 explained about Poppy Day: “We wanted to write a song that would fittingly fill that gap”. On the inner sleeve of the record (which sits still in the room just below me, alongside its vinyl sisters The Scream, Kaleidoscope, Juju and A Kiss in the Dreamhouse) beside the lyrics of the song is specified (with echoes of John Cage): “2 minutes of silence”.

So here we are on Sunday 11th November 2018, 40 years after Severin watched that broadcast, 100 years after the world watched that bloodbath, that futile wiping out of a generation, and we are still all struggling to join hands. The irony of The Banshees brooding in the studio while recording this masterpiece of an LP and splitting up in its aftermath is as nothing to the irony that we mark this centenary at a time when the world’s international institutions are being deliberately dismantled, Europe re-fracturing and the zombie voices of patriotism, nationalism and fascism wailing more discordantly than John McKay’s guitar. We are the Dead. We are turning in our graves row on row between the poppies.

siouxsie and the banshees paris 1980

Reinforcements arrive: L to R John McGeoch (guitar), Budgie (drums), Siouxsie & Steve – Paris (1980) where 70 world leaders are arriving this morning to mark the centenary of the Armistice including Macron (accordion), Merkel (tuba), Trump (mouth organ) and Putin (triangle)

 

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1978 in Music

I wrote about 1971 as the key year in music this time last year and this week David Hepworth has released a book on exactly the same theme. I started thinking about this in 2013 when I had a discussion at BAFTA with Malcolm Garrett, designer of the covers of Another Music in a Different Kitchen and Love Bites (referred to below) – Malcolm argued for 1970. Today my friend & best man Stuart Rubenstein proposed 1978 as an alternative. I don’t really buy it as the most significant year but it was a landmark, dynamic one.

Here are a dozen of the LPs that got my blood racing that pivotal year of my youth and I write this listening to Stuart’s 1978 playlist.

1978 was the year I fully got the punk bug thanks to Buzzcocks who released 2 great LPs during those palpitating 12 months. So in no particular order:

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(1) Give Em Enough Rope – The Clash

I trudged through the snow to Loppylugs in Edgware to buy this. I saw the tour at the Electric Ballroom in Camden Town with Mikey Dread and Joe Ely supporting, one of the greatest gigs of my life.

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(2) The Scream – Siouxsie & the Banshees

Was transfixed by this band, not least the track Switch. Saw them at Hammersmith Odeon and the Music Machine in Mornington Crescent around this time.

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(3) Another Music in a Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks

Got this as a Christmas present (at my own request) from someone I didn’t much like. The single from it (which I got first from Smiths in Chichester), What Do I Get, was what opened me up to Punk. The sleeve design was really striking with its silver and fluorescent orange. It was a kick years later to meet its super-talented designer Malcolm Garrett through work. My copy now bears his signature.

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(4) Easter – Patti Smith

I was transfixed by the hairy armpit in the cover photo by Robert Mapplethorpe.

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(5) Plastic Letters – Blondie

I had a crush on Debbie Harry as Debbie had on Denis. I saw them for my 2nd ever gig at Hammersmith Odeon, as well as outside their record label, Chrysalis, near Bond Street.

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(6) Stage – David Bowie

One of the few things outside of punk to catch my attention.

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(7) Handsworth Revolution – Steel Pulse

Can’t recall how I came across this but it will have been thanks to the Punk-Reggae axis.

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(8) Public Image – Public Image Ltd

How could Johnny Rotten transcend the Pistols? With a single as startling as anything those bad boys did.

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(9) An American Prayer – Jim Morrison & The Doors

I still reckon Jim was a significant and talented poet.

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(10) Here My Dear – Marvin Gaye

As intense as records ever get – I pictured Marvin alone in the studio in the dark, laying his voice over and over itself.

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(11) Moving Targets – Penetration

Something a little exotic from the regions

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(12) Power in the Darkness – Tom Robinson Band

My very first gig at Hammersmith Odeon with PJE. I used the stencil which came with this on my school bag.

A parlour game for Easter

This has flown in from Dan McKevitt in Carlingford (via Facebook). A musical parlour game for the holidays.The emphasis is on records that have meant a lot to you rather than the all-time greatest.

“Here are the rules. Post up 12 albums on to your timeline that have stayed with you for whatever reason. One album per Artist/Band. Tag 12 friends and get them to do likewise, include me so I can see your choices. Don’t overthink it. Enjoy. No Compilations.”

1 Kind of Blue – Miles Davis [how to become tranquil in 5 easy steps/tracks]


2 Jesus Christ Superstar [as a young teen I used to spend hours and hours drawing and colouring to this]


3 What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye [I played it the night my fist born made his appearance]


4 Another Music In a Different Kitchen – Buzzcocks [my route into punk]


5 A Love Supreme – John Coltrane [took me somewhere higher]


6 Hot August Night – Neil Diamond [the first LP I bought myself – helluva jean jacket]


7 Let’s Dance – David Bowie [helped me find the joy in my first year away from home]


8 Glorious Fool – John Martyn [prompted me to recognise that JM was the greatest singer of them all …ever]


9 Give ’em Enough Rope – The Clash [trudging through the snow to get this from Loppylugs the day it came out – there’s never been such anticipation]


10 Moondance – Van Morrison [contains my eponymous wedding dance]


11 The White Album – The Beatles [teen memories of discovering the Fab Four and others with JRT]


12 The Scream – Siouxsie & the Banshees [will life ever get more exciting?]

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By the way, here are the Best Albums ever

And here are some more music lists

4 of the best

Pompeii_BodyThis week I’m staying in S. Agata, on the coast about an hour south of Naples, and today I’m off to see for the first time Pompeii, so buried stuff is on my mind. It’s in the nature of a blog that stuff gets buried – this post is me resurrecting 4 of my favourite posts from this blog:

1 Starless and Bible Black

on titles, jazz, Dylan Thomas and Joyce’s Ulysses

2 What Is It Worth?

on Buffalo Springfield, Belsen and what’s of true value

3 Fear & Sex

a survey of the Daily Mail, anxiety and sex

4 In the beginning of the End (serpent mix)

a remix of The Doors’ The End and the first chapter of Genesis (the bible book not the band)

And on the subject of great songs, the soundtrack for today (fortunately it’s on the ol’ iPod) must be Siouxsie & the Banshees’ Cities in Dust – after all these years it’s going to come into its own:

“Water was running, children were running
We found you hiding, we found you lying
Your city lies in dust
Ohh oh your city lies in dust, my friend

Hot and burning in your nostrils
Pouring down your gaping mouth
Your molten bodies blanket of cinders
Caught in the throes

Ohh oh your city lies in dust, my friend
Ohh oh your city lies in dust, my friend”

siouxsie sioux

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