Thursday, 25 July 2019

Siouxsie & The Banshees - At The BBC


There are a fair few of these "Live At The BBC" box sets around. I have several, and they are all are excellent, particularly in their sound quality. Thin Lizzy, David Bowie, Free and Big Country are all superb ones. The "BBC Sessions" material is "live" in as much as the bands turned up at the BBC studios and played their music live. So, the "BBC Sessions" material is not concert stuff, although the "BBC In Concert" recordings are directly from live concerts. This box set is a mixture of both and mightily impressive it is as well. 

Regarding Siouxsie & The Banshees, I was never a huge fan, in the way I was for The Clash or the Jam, for example. I think I respected them more than I liked them. I have all their albums, however, and have the occasional session of them. Personally, though, I find I enjoy listening to this more than any of their individual albums. There is a real energy and verve to the material, even if it was recorded on different dates over several years. 

It kicks off with the buzzy, guitar-driven punk (or post punk) of the first phase of the band, with industrial, energised tracks like Love In A Void and Mirage. The sound quality, right from the start is really good - clear, warm and deep, which is especially good, given the tinny nature of this early material. These tracks are taken from the John Peel Sessions in 1977. Metal Postcard just sounds great. Check out those huge, thumping drums and that searing guitar attack. It has a great Talking Heads strummed guitar riff right at the end. The version of Hong Kong Garden is great. This is as good as you will hear the band in a "live" situation. If anything, for me, these recordings are better than the studio originals. There is something even more vibrant and arresting about them. Turn it up and it hits you right between the eyes. Listen to that drum/guitar interplay on Overground. The cover of The Beatles' Helter Skelter is just marvellously visceral. This was The Banshees at their punky best.

The 1979 tracks, like Placebo Effect and Regal Zone showcase the band at their nihilistic fully post punk peak. By the time of Halloween, it was early 1981 and The Banshees has gone from punk to post punk and even the latter was now something from the past as New Romantics were all over the place. Gothic-looking Siouxsie was able to override all that with ease, however. They were now a mainstay of "alternative" music - inventive and innovative, no longer militant, acerbic iconoclasts. Use Voodoo Dolly as an example. Its different uses of percussion and guitar sounds. The same applies the intoxicating, drum rhythms of But Not Them. Things are definitely starting to change now. 

The Richard Skinner material from later in 1981 sees even more development in the band's sound on stuff like Arabian Knights, with its recognisable guitar sound and Red Over White, featuring more of that infectious drum sound. The quirky bass on Supernatural Thing is something that would not have been heard a few earlier.  Both of these tracks were not on albums and are comparative rarities.



From John Peel Sessions 29/11/1977

1. Love in A Void
2. Mirage
3. Metal Postcard
4. Suburban Relapse

From John Peel Sessions 6/2/1978

5. Hong Kong Garden
6. Overground
7. Carcass
8. Helter Skelter

From John Peel Sessions 9/4/1979

9. Placebo Effect
10. Playground Twist
11. Regal Zone
12. Poppy Day

From John Peel Sessions 10/2/1981

13. Halloween
14. Voodoo Dolly
15. But Not Them
16. Into The Light

From the Richard Skinner Show (Recorded 4/6/1981)

17. Arabian Nights
18. Red Over White
19. Headcut
20. Supernatural Thing

Another year passes by the time the Kid Jensen material introduces CD Two. Songs like the relatively obscure 'b' side Coal Mind and Painted Bird are soundscapes considerably removed from the earlier output. all sorts of different instrumentation occurs, despite the guitar still driving things along. Sioux's voice is still sonorous and strong, but even on that there is more variety, subtlety and texture. Green Fingers is deeply atmospheric, with the emphasis on bass and depth. This is one of my favourite cuts so far. the same can be said for the wonderful Painted Bird too. Cascade swirls and darts like its title suggests it should.

So, strangely, that's it for nearly four years until the band return on John Peel's show in early 1986. They were now the "elder statesmen of punk" led by the "high priestess of goth" or whatever idiotic name the media chose to give them. Back to the music, though, and while Sioux's voice is still instantly recognisable, the music is considerably different, far more melodic, less abrasive, more subtle and nuanced. Listen to Candyman for proof. This is music quite far removed from the 1977-1979 offerings. In many ways, while I like the all-out assault of the early stuff, this is my preferred period. Cannons and the beguiling Lands End are both similarly impressive. 

Another year on takes us to early 1987. Shooting Sun is a delightful, rhythmic and addictive number that originally appeared as a 'b' side. The cover of Tom Verlaine's Little Johnny Jewel is another quirky and inventive number, that sort of sounds like Patti Smith meets The Pretenders

Then on the rest of CD Two and CD Three gives us two live concerts - from Oxford in late 1985 and from London in September 1988. the sound quality from the BBC radio sessions is better than from the live shows, but they are still good. Interestingly, at one point in the London show, Siouxsie says to the audience "shut up and enjoy what we're giving you...". I am not sure in response to what, though. 


From the Kid Jensen Show (Recorded 13/5/1982)

1. Coal Mind
2. Green Fingers
3. Painted Bird
4. Cascade

From John Peel Sessions 10/2/1986

5. Candyman
6. Cannons
7. Lands End

From the Janice Long Show (Recorded 11/1/1987)

8. Shooting Sun
9. Song From The Edge Of The World
10. Little Johnny Jewel
11. Something Blue

From In Concert At The Apollo Theatre, Oxford 14/11/1985

12. Something Blue
13. Green Fingers
14. Bring Me The Head Of The Preacher Man
15. Sweetest Chill
16. Cannons
17. Melt!
18. Candyman
19. Lands End


From In Concert At The Apollo Theatre, Oxford 14/11/1985

1. Night Shift
2. 92 Degrees
3. Pulled To Bits
4. Switch
5. Happy House
6. Cities in Dust

From The Royal Albert Hall 12/9/1988

7. The Last Beat Of My Heart
8. The Killing Jar
9. Christine
10. This Wheel's On Fire
11. Something Blue
12. Rawhead And Bloody Bones
13. Carousel
14. Rhapsody
15. Skin
16. Spellbound
17. Hong Kong Garden