reDiscover Siouxsie & The Banshees’ ‘The Scream’

November 13, 2017

Revered by generations of fans and cited as an influence by PJ Harvey, Morrissey and Sinead O’Connor, the enigmatic Siouxsie Sioux remains one of rock’s most iconic figures. Yet it was her devotion to her own favourite band – notorious punks Sex Pistols – which first brought her to the attention of the wider public. But it wouldn’t be long before they release genre-defining albums of their own, among them A Kiss In The Dreamhouse and debut album The Scream.

Members of a loose aggregation of hardcore Pistols aficionados dubbed the “Bromley Contingent” by Melody Maker journalist Caroline Coon, Siouxsie and budding bassist Steven Bailey (aka Steve Severin) initially followed Johnny Rotten and co everywhere. The pair even appeared on screen during the infamous Thames Television Today interview wherein presenter Bill Grundy openly flirted with Siouxsie.

At this stage, Sioux and Severin had already made their stage debut. Joined by Sid Vicious on drums and future Adam & The Ants guitarist Marco Pirroni, they performed a 20-minute improvisation of ‘The Lord’s Prayer’ as the formative Flowers Of Romance during the two-night punk festival promoted by Sex Pistols’ manager Malcolm McLaren at London’s 100 Club in September 1976. During early ’77, however, the duo formed the altogether more permanent Siouxsie & The Banshees with drummer Kenny Morris and guitarist John McKay. The new quartet grew up in public, the buzz rapidly building in London as they packed out renowned punk haunt The Vortex and sold out two consecutive nights at The Nashville Rooms prior to signing with Polydor in early summer 1978.

Unlikely as it now sounds, skinhead violence outside Siouxsie’s local Chinese takeaway provided the inspiration for the Banshees’ debut 45, August ’78’s evocative, Eastern-flavoured ‘Hong Kong Garden’, which catapulted her band into the UK Top 10 and yielded a silver disc into the bargain. Future U2 producer Steve Lillywhite’s first major project behind the console, the Banshees’ silver-selling debut LP The Scream (released on 13 November 1978) also shot to No.12 in the UK Top 40. In retrospect, its mainstream performance is all the more remarkable, not least as – the ballsy, if visceral ‘Carcass’ aside – hooks and radio-friendly choruses were low on the record’s totem pole.

The Scream’s contents were nonetheless compelling, not to mention significantly different from anything previously pigeonholed as simply “punk”. Built upon the bedrock of Morris’ tribal, tom-heavy drums and McKay’s guttural, metallic guitar, ‘Jigsaw Feeling’ and ‘Metal Postcard (Mittageisen)’ were stark and monochromatic; the domestic violence-related ‘Suburban Relapse’ (influenced by Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho) was brutally harrowing; and even the record’s lone cover version – an eerie deconstruction of The Beatles’ ‘Helter Skelter’ – provided little in the way of respite.

Contemporaneous critics, however, unanimously doled out five-star praise and Sounds enthusiastically proclaimed the record to be “the best debut album of the year”. Now frequently cited alongside PiL’s First Issue and Magazine’s Real Life as one of the post-punk era’s landmark releases, The Scream has never fallen from favour. Four decades on, its primal power still cuts through loud and clear.

Purchase The Scream here.

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