“Modern-Day Mata Hari”: Three videos from the reigning queen of gloom rock, Siouxsie Sioux

By on January 22, 2018

In this special 35-minute edition of Night Flight’s “Flash Tracks,” which originally aired on June 20, 1987, we highlighted three videos by the irrepressible Siouxsie Sioux, who Night Flight’s Pat Prescott calls “the reigning queen of gloom rock.”

Watch the episode — which also features three by Alison Moyet (one-half of the British duo Yaz, a.k.a. Yazoo) and three by eclectic folk singer Suzanne Vega — on Night Flight Plus!

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In her introduction to the first of the three videos in this “Flash Tracks,” Ms. Prescott calls Siouxsie — born Susan Janet Ballion in the London borough of Southwark — as a “modern-day Mata Hari.”

Ms. Prescott reminds us that Siouxsie and her band, the Banshees, first began performing in 1976, and that “she once employed Sid Vicious as a drummer and Billy Idol as a guitarist.”

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Indeed, Vicious was Siouxsie’s backup drummer during her wholly-improvised 20-minute performance of “The Lord’s Prayer” at the 100 Club London Punk Festival on September 20, 1976.

As for Billy Idol — who played in an early version of Siouxsie’s band — he was, like Siouxsie, a member of the so-called “Bromley Contingent,” fans who followed the Sex Pistols around to their shows in England before starting his own band, Generation X.

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Siouxsie Sioux (with blonde hair in the back row) appearing on the Bill Grundy-hosted “Today” show with members of the Sex Pistols and the so-called “Bromley Contingent”

A few of the “Bromley Contingent,” including Siouxsie, later because famous for appearing along with members of the Sex Pistols on the UK’s “Today” show, hosted by Bill Grundy and broadcast live on December 1, 1976.

After Grundy openly flirted with Siouxsie, the Pistols’ Steve Jones called him a “dirty sod.”

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Grundy then provoked Jones to say something outrageous,” which led to Jones calling him a “dirty bastard” and “dirty fucker” before adding “what a fucking rotter!”

Grundy, exposed as a drunk, was suspended for two weeks and “Today” was cancelled two months later, and the Pistols became front page tabloid news fodder (“The Filth and the Fury!”).

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By the time Siouxsie and the Banshees’s Juju album arrived in ’81, they were one of the top British bands of the post-punk era.

The UK press routinely called them “goth” despite their obvious art-rock edge (’70s-era David Bowie and Roxy Music were two of Siouxsie’s biggest influences).

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Throughout the rest of the 1980s, they finally began making inroads in America, where their videos had begun to get airplay on the more edgier, alternative-leaning cable network music video programs like MTV’s “120 Minutes” and, of course, “Night Flight.”

Read more about Siouxsie & the Banshees’s videos — two of which are popular cover versions of songs made famous first by Iggy Pop and the Beatles — below.

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As we told you in this previous Night Flight blog post profiling the Cure’s Tim Pope-directed videos, Pope also directed Siouxsie and the Banshees’s “Dear Prudence” video.

Footage of the band on the streets and waterways of Venice, Italy, was mixed with more footage that was psychedelically and colorfully filtered with what appears to be primitive early 80’s-style solarization effects.

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“Dear Prudence” — released on the U.S. version of their Hyaena album — was also issued as a single, landing in the UK’s Top Ten (#3).

The single’s cover art, by the way, featured a lovely photo titled Shiroi hana (“White flower”) by Japanese photographer Sakae Tamura, who died just a month after this “Flash Tracks” episode aired, on July 22, 1987.

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In October of 1985, Siouxsie and the Banshees’ video for “Cities in Dust” lyrically described the destruction of the city of Pompeii, which — along with the city of Herculaneum — was decimated by a volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvius on August 24, 79 A.D.

The single — their first issued from their seventh studio album, Tinderbox, their first 12-inch single for the U.S.-based Geffen label — would peak at #21 in the UK singles chart while becoming the band’s first song to chart on the U.S. Hot Dance Club play charts, climbing to #17.

The video — which we told you about in this previous Night Flight post — features dancing skeleton marionettes, ghostly apparitions, volcanic lava and other visual depictions meant to reflect the horror of Pompeii’s destruction.

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Finally, we have another cover, 1987’s “The Passenger,” written by Iggy Pop and Ricky Gardiner for Pop’s 1977 album Lust for Life.

“The Passenger” was first released by Pop as the b-side to that album’s only single, “Success.”

Over twenty years later, it was given the a-side when it was released in March 1998 — after its popular use in a Toyota TV advert — reaching #22 in the UK Charts.

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“The Passenger” was released as the second single from the Banshees’ 1987 all-cover-versions album Through the Looking Glass.

Siouxsie’s version — which peaked at #41 in the UK singles chart — was recently featured at the end of the Tonya Harding bio-pic, I, Tonya, released in late 2017.

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The video was filmed on the lawn and terrace of Portmeirion Hotel, located in Gwynedd, North Wales, and designed in the style of an Italian village.

The tourist village — built by architect Clough Williams-Ellis — was famously seen in the 1960s BBC series “The Prisoner.”

Numerous other artists have also filmed their music videos at the Portmeirion Hotel, many of them also making homage-like references to “The Prisoner” including Supergrass (“Alright”) and Iron Maiden (“The Prisoner,” from their 1982 album, The Number of the Beast).

We hope you’ll check out Night Flight’s “Flash Tracks” from June 1987, and be sure to also check out our previous blog posts about bands we’ve featured in the series, including Bauhaus, the Sisters of Mercy, the Fields of the Nephilim, the Cult, Amazulu, Aztec Camera, Thomas Dolby, and Timbuk3. You’ll find all of those episodes waiting for you over on Night Flight Plus!

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.