IT REALLY WAS A CRACKING DEBUT SINGLE (43)

Today’s featured 7” piece of vinyl was seemingly named as ‘Single of the Week’ in August 1978 within the pages of all four of the main UK music papers – Melody Maker, NME, Record Mirror and Sounds, something I find hard to believe given that the papers projected themselves towards slightly different audiences and it was incredibly rare for all of them to simultaneously champion one band or singer.

But such was the fate of this:-

mp3 : Siouxsie and The Banshees – Hong Kong Garden

In an era when many a new band sounded fresh and exciting, particularly to my teenage ears, there was something about Hong Kong Garden that made it stand out even more so, that, of course being the Oriental sounding opening. The reviews in the music papers, to their credit, did nail things very well, offering the sort of soundbites that could be added to a poster if it was being used to attract further custom:-

“a bright, vivid narrative, power charged by the most original, intoxicating guitar playing heard in a long, long time”.

“strident and powerful with tantalising oriental guitar riffs”.

“ catchy, original….coupled with an irresistible sing-along chorus”.

“I love every second”.

The introductory notes come courtesy of a xylophone. The song had originally been aired on the John Peel Show on Radio 1 some six months earlier, with a quite different sound courtesy of a toy glockenspiel. The drums were also quite different….

mp3 : Siouxsie and The Banshees – Hong Kong Garden (Peel Session)

Ah, the drums. The instrument that played a huge part in making Hong Kong Garden one of the earliest smash hits of the new wave era – it’s #7 placing made it one of the few to go Top Ten in those days. Polydor Records had hooked the band up with an American producer named Bruce Albertine and had hired the expensive Olympic Studios in London for the sessions. The band didn’t like the results and the decision was taken to work with a little-known producer in a tiny basement studio in London. The producer got it done and dusted in two days, concentrating on the drum sound, insisting that Kenny Morris play the bass and snares first of all and then cymbals and tom-toms later on. These were matched up, with a bit of echo added, thus giving the song a bigger, fuller and more ambitious sound, arguably making the first new-wave single that didn’t sound just one step up from a great, live sounding demo.

The producer’s name was Steve Lillywhite and Hong Kong Garden was his first hit in that role….the first of many hundreds.

You can get a real sense of the difference that Lillywhite made by flipping it over to the b-side:-

mp3 : Siouxsie and The Banshees – Voices

This was salvaged from the Olympic Sessions with Bruce Albertine. It is distinctly average……(feel free to differ!!!)

The band would return to the studio with Steve Lillywhite to record debut album The Scream. As it was a separate session, and in a different studio to where they had first worked on the single, the decision was taken to leave Hong Kong Garden off said debut album. An act of artistic merit, but something of a commercial folly.

JC

THE DISCO THAT WAS DIFFERENT

A killer riff, the perfect punk rock ‘n’ roll riff, written by Ricky Gardiner. Iggy, narrator and punk outsider, riding around Mitteleuropa in David Bowie’s car, seeing the city’s ripped backside, the hollow sky and everything else, through the window of the car. Little touches can make such a difference in recordings- note the bell ringing at the start. I read somewhere that The Passenger is Johnny Marr’s favourite song. A song that is both impossibly exciting and as numb as it can be.

I really can’t better Swiss Adam’s description from the Iggy Pop ICA.

mp3 : Iggy Pop – The Passenger

I will always associate The Passenger with Friday and Saturday nights in the Student Union of Strathclyde University, 1982-1985. Please indulge me… and some of the details may be slightly wrong as it is now almost 35 years since I last set foot in the building (except on one occasion in 1995 when I had reason to visit with a politician whom I was working for at the time).

The building is eight levels in height. The first level had a games room, the second level had a bar and shop, immediately below a large canteen known officially as the dining room. Floors 4-7 were a mixture of bars, meeting rooms, a debating chamber, staff offices and places from where the likes of the student newspaper was produced. Level 8 was the home of a purpose built venue where bands played and discos took place….it was imaginatively called ‘Level 8’.

In my first year at uni, I never ventured much beyond the dining hall/canteen, shop and bars. I was still living at home and a lot of my social life was based around where I stayed. I began to venture out a bit more in second year and then I was never away from the place in third and fourth years, thanks to my moving out of the parental home and into a flat less than 800 yards away from the front door of the union.

Level 8 was a great venue for bands and almost as good for the disco nights, where the music was a mix of the current chart stuff, disco classics, bands who were on the student union circuits and the occasional bit of what we were increasingly referring to as indie. The gender mix was 50/50 and it was the type of place where blokes plucked up the courage to ask an already gyrating female if they could temporarily invade their space – no words needed to be exchanged, and if the female wasn’t up for it, she would simply turn her back on the bloke who would then shuffle awkwardly off to the side of the space and return to his drink. It was through such a method that I found myself of an evening when my ‘asking’ was accepted for a boogie by none other than Clare Grogan, only for me to blow it big time by talking to her during which I drunkenly asked for her hand in marriage, with my proposal turned down with the words ‘Fuck off creep’.

But Level 8 wasn’t the only place where you could enjoy a dance. As soon as the last student vacated the canteen on a Friday evening at 6pm, the tables and chairs were folded away and space was cleared for a decent sized dance floor with a raised platform brought in to host temporary DJ decks, all of which would remain in situ on the Saturday night, being put back into place by staff on a Sunday afternoon in time for Monday morning breakfasts.

Unlike up the stair on Level 8, there was no great lighting available and so the Dining Hall disco took on a cave-like appearance and feel, with the DJ making the conscious decision to play music that matched the ambience and atmosphere. It was also a venue where anything went as far as dancing, with no awkward shuffling up towards someone of the opposite sex and hoping they will take notice and/or pity on you. It wasn’t too long before I found myself being wholly attracted by its charms.

The thing is with the DJ, he knew what his audience liked and wanted. It was as if he was a finely-honed band out on a world tour with what felt like the same set-list being churned out night after night after night after night. – A Forest, Love Will Tear Us Apart, I Travel, Heroes, Enola Gay, Hanging on The Telephone, The Cutter, London Calling, Ever Fallen In Love and The Passenger were guaranteed among many others….and quite often he would play the songs more than once on the same evening with folk coming in, maybe after having watched a band upstairs, and complaining that they had missed out on a particular favourite. It was within these confines where I learned that dancing alone is no crime and carries no shame…..a trait I’ve continued to adopt ever since, often to the horror of work colleagues at Christmas nights out who just think it is weird behaviour, especially by a 50+ fat, balding bloke…..

I love dancing to The Passenger. It’s perfect for throwing all sorts of strange and awkward shapes, depending on whether you’re keeping time with the riff or reacting to Iggy’s vocal. It’s just magical.

Not too many folk will be aware of the fact that it wasn’t ever released as a stand-alone single in the UK until 1998, when it reached #22. It was only a b-side back in 1977 on the reverse side of this:-

mp3 : Iggy Pop – Success

Here’s a cover version, from 1987, by another of the bands who were given a regular spin in the Dining Hall Disco:-

mp3 : Siouxsie & the Banshees – The Passenger

Iggy is known to like this version, having said during an interview with MTV in 1990 : “She sings it well and she threw a little note in when she sings it, that I wish I had thought of, it’s kind of improved it…the horn thing is good.”

Sorry Mr Osterberg, we will need to differ on this occasion.

JC

A GREENOCK BOY MADE GOOD

The late John McGeoch (25 August 1955 – 4 March 2004) was a key part of many important and successful bands of the post-punk era. His guitar work was, if you’ll pardon the pun, instrumental in the way the sound of Magazine and Siouxsie & The Banshees developed and evolved over successive albums. He was also at the heart of the early material from Visage and in later years he helped fill out, especially in the live setting, the songs of The Armoury Show and Public Image Ltd. It’s worth mentioning too that he guested in the studio for the likes of Generation X, Peter Murphy and The Sugarcubes.

McGeoch hailed from the blue-collar town of Greenock, some 20 miles west of Glasgow. At the age of 16, his family moved to London and upon leaving school he successfully applied to attend Manchester Polytechnic to study fine art. One of his best friends, and indeed flatmate, was Malcolm Garrett who was part of the Buzzcocks inner-circle. It was Garrett who had no hesitation in recommending McGeoch to Howard Devoto, firmly believing that his friend, notwithstanding his key influences were the blues and Eric Clapton, was an exceptional talent who would be perfect for Magazine.

He was part of that band from 1977 to 1980, playing on the first three albums, but leaving before the largely underwhelming Magic, Murder and the Weather was written and recorded. Within a matter of months, he had become a Banshee. He played on three LPs, and was also part of seven hit singles, all of which are considered to be among the best ever recorded by the band – Happy House, Israel, Spellbound, Arabian Knights, Fireworks, Slowdive and Melt!

It was this period in particular that led the likes of Johnny Marr and Jonny Greenwood to later proclaim him amongst their heroes, pointing out how his style of playing was unique, effortless and incredibly creative. It is particularly telling that they both cite his work on this song as being particularly ground-breaking and influential:-

mp3 : Siouxsie & The Banshees – Spellbound

Released in May 1981, Spellbound reached #22 in the UK charts. It was deserving of much more than that but then again, it is hard for something as distinctive and unworldly sounding to get much in the way of daytime radio play. It did spawn this Top of the Pops appearance:-

The full gothic majesty of the song is probably best appreciated in its 12” version, which lasts some 80 seconds longer:-

mp3 : Siouxsie & The Banshees – Spellbound (extended)

Here’s yer b-sides for completeness (the latter of which is among the strangest things the band ever did) :-

mp3 : Siouxsie & The Banshees – Follow The Sun
mp3 : Siouxsie & The Banshees – Slap Dash Snap

The saddest thing about John McGeoch’s time with the Banshees is the way it ended in that he suffered a nervous breakdown due to the stresses of touring and his increasing fight with alcoholism, both of which contributed to him collapsing on stage during a performance in Madrid in 1982.

He rebounded in some style, and one of the obituaries at the time of his death in 2004 said, “he transformed PiL from a left-field, experimental outfit into a provocative, marauding rock band, becoming their longest-serving member bar John Lydon, staying until the band dissipated in 1992.”

I’ve contemplated pulling together an ICA featuring songs to which John McGeogh has contributed. It’s something I will turn my attention to in the fullness of time, unless someone else fancies volunteering.

JC

THEIR BIGGEST SELLING 45 : A COVER FROM 1983

Here’s another quiz question I’d have got wrong.

Siouxsie and The Banshees released 30 singles between 1978 and 1995 – how many of then went Top 40?

The answer is 18……my guess would have been much higher than that, I’d likely have gone for 25 as I can’t recall too many flops.

Turns out that a number of the songs I had always assumed had been chart hits were nothing of the sort – Metal Postcard (Mittageisen), Israel, Slowdive and Melt! all stalled in the 40s as too did their admittedly limp version of The Passenger.

Possibly even more surprising is that just five of their singles have cracked the Top 20, of which two were cover versions, including what proved to be their biggest selling 45 back in 1983:-

mp3 : Siouxsie & The Banshees – Dear Prudence

This got to #3 and it was all over the music press that it was a cover of a song by The Beatles that had originally appeared on The White Album. I was glad to have been furnished with such info as, back in 83, I hadn’t heard the original. And here’s the thing…….36 years on, I still haven’t! This isn’t the time nor place to go into great detail as to why I have no great affection for the works of Harrison, Lennon, McCartney and Starr – the songs I do know of theirs tend to be the ones that got heavy rotation on the radio as I was growing up (i.e. the hit singles) and Dear Prudence, which wiki tells me was written for Prudence Farrow, the sister of the actress Mia Farrow, was an album track only.

The hit came when the Banshees were going through a difficult but extremely productive period. John McGeoch, whose guitar work was so important to their sound, had succumbed to the rigours of touring, and combined with the first signs of what would become full-blown alcoholism in later years, had suffered a nervous breakdown on stage in Madrid in late 82 which led to him being fired and Robert Smith being asked in as his replacement. He accepted but only on the basis that he could continue to perform with The Cure.

1983 was some year to try to keep up with everything that was happening.

Siouxsie and Budgie resurrected The Creatures two years after the hit debut EP and found themselves enjoying a Top 20 debut album in Feast.

Steve Severin and Robert Smith were the principal members of The Glove but their two singles and album from that year were relative flops.

The Cure enjoyed the fruits from the singles compilation Japanese Whispers with The Walk giving them their first Top 20 hit and its follow-up The Love Cats doing even better by reaching #7

The Banshees spent much of the year recording Hyaena, although it wouldn’t be released until May 1984; they kept their own profile up amidst all this activity with the release of Dear Prudence as a stand-alone 45 in September and Nocturne, a live album from two shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London performed on successive nights on 30 September and 1 October.

It’s no real surprise that Robert Smith, on the point of complete exhaustion, left the Banshees just before Hyaena was released and the extensive promotional work that was associated with it.

Looking back, there’s a case to be made for an ICA from that year, comprising the side projects, the live album and the one-off single. It would, by its nature, be a patchwork affair, but there would be more than enough to keep most satisfied. Instead, I’ll stick to just offering the two tracks from the 12” single:-

mp3 : Siouxsie & The Banshees – Tattoo
mp3 : Siouxsie & The Banshees – There’s A Planet In My Kitchen

The former is a paean to inky designs on the skin and is something of a grower…..the latter has a wonderful title – the ‘tune’ doesn’t quite match its majesty and it could well be the most out-there thing the band ever did!

All tracks were produced by Mike Hedges, who himself would have a busy year working with The Beat, The Undertones, Southern Death Cult as well as The Creatures and the Banshees, all the while basking in the glorious work he’d done the previous year on Sulk by Associates, an album which has a big influence on the three songs on Dear Prudence

JC

OVERDOSING ON COVER VERSIONS (8)

Is it really any wonder that all us adolescents fell for Siouxsie Sioux when she had been photographed ‘dressed’ like she is above

The finest moment in any of her records comes, and I use the word advisedly, at the 4:55 mark on the 12″ version of this marvellous single from 1982:-

mp3 : Siouxsie & The Banshees – Slowdive (12″ version)

A mate of mine once took that one second gasp and recorded it back to back something like 30 times in a row just so that he could imagine the punk/goth goddess was having an orgasm.

Twenty three years later, a very intriguing version of it, originally recorded for a radio session, was snuck out on a b-side:-

mp3 : LCD Soundsystem – Slowdive

As far as I know, the band Slowdive never made a cover of the song albeit they did record a song by that name as their first ever single back in 1990:-

mp3 : Slowdive – Slowdive

Enjoy