Shows which are anticipated as Events rarely live up to expectations. This was an exception. Siouxsie was playing the gig as a benefit for the mental health charity Mencap. Raw punk had long since disappeared into the ether, in its place, the more interesting New Wave had taken hold, diverse, adventurous, and bold.
A headliner at the Rainbow was a big deal, with the band’s first album, The Scream, shipping silver at no 12, and single “Hong Kong Garden” making No 7 in the charts. Siouxsie and the Banshees had arrived. The gig had quickly sold out and was eagerly anticipated
Siouxsie had a vision for the band, and was a glorious vision herself. Steve Severin was an inspired arranger and musician. John Mckay was lauded as one of the best, unorthodox guitarists of the era. Kenny Morris on drums just had to keep time. It was a moment when female singers found their voice, Poly Styrene of Xray Spex, Pauline Murray of Penetration, The Slits, and Patti Smith amongst the vanguard. But Siouxsie was in a league of her own.
Support was provided by the Human League, who had supported Siouxsie before, and who would go on to be feted by David Bowie and tour with Iggy Pop. Punk and New Wave had inspired them, they were not New Romantics, more Futurists in the mould of Kraftwerk, and Bowie’s “Low”. NME and John Peel had championed them, and their unusual synthesiser sound gave them an immediate identity.
The audience was an unholy mix of hardcore punk from the early gigs at the 100 Club and the Greyhound, new fans who had bought “The Scream” and “Hong Kong Garden” and the curious drawn by an eclectic bill.
When the house lights came down, and the band appeared on stage to chug into “Being Boiled” the initial reaction was bewilderment and curiosity. The band stood static behind synthesisers, dressed in black playing to an animated backdrop of images and movement supplied by Phillip Adrian Wright as Director of Visuals – no other band had one of those.
The sound was most easily associated with Kraftwerk and Bowie’s “Heroes” and “Low” albums, but with a more left field, psychedelic lyrical content.
Inevitably the lack of visceral energy onstage irritated some, and static figures make ideal targets for missiles which sporadically came their way. But for the overwhelming majority it was a sophisticated, intriguing, beguiling, performance whose highlight was a cover of “You’ve lost that loving feeling”, the best I had heard live, and have heard since. Unquestionably all the ingredients were there, the music, the sublime vocals from Ware and Oakey, and a distinctive identity. The thing that was missing was a self- penned catchy hit single, something which contemporary Gary Numan seized upon within the emerging electro-pop movement, until the Human League mk2 snatched it back with “Dare’s” irresistible pop singles.
The set list comes from a scrawled bit of paper from the day, and an imperfect memory, making it accurate in terms of what was played, but incomplete, and not necessarily in the right order.
Dance Like A Star
Rock n Roll ( Gary Glitter)
Circus of Death
Empire State Human
Dignity of Labour 1-4
I Don’t Depend on You
You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling ( Righteous Bros)
The Path of Least Resistance
The counterpoint as Siouxsie exploded onto the stage at 9.30pm could not have been greater. A blinding maelstrom of light, sound and kinetic energy as they launched into “Jigsaw Feeling”. The crowd went berserk, a heaving mass, surging over the stalls seats to the front, drawn by her mesmerising force. Huge black spiked hair, frilled neck and cuff white blouse, open battle dress jacket with black trousers and boots she looked fabulous, orchestrating, but barely controlling, the adoring masses in front of her. Spontaneously the stalls seating was torn out, a mixture of the mass surges towards the stage, and wilful vandalism, wiping out the donation to charity with the repair bill.
It was the perfect time to see the band. The set combined the best of their original punk material, with the best of “The Scream”, and a smattering from the forthcoming “Join Hands”.
The whole set was a triumph. Three singles demonstrated their grasp of a hit tune, “Switch” and “Placebo Effect” showcased McKay’s guitar, “Overground” s staccato rhythm steadied the pace before a majestic debut for “Icon”, and glorious finale of the anarchic “Lord’s Prayer” a staple of their live act since their inception.
Metal Postcard (Mittageisen)
The Staircase (Mystery)
Hong Kong Garden
Icon (Live debut)
The Lord’s Prayer
After a frenetic “Helter Skelter” we spilled out into the cool air of a Finsbury Park evening knowing that we had witnessed something special. We didn’t know that Morris and McKay would have left the band by September, and that this would be the last major London gig of that line up. Nor did we know how the band would metamorphose several times again, gaining strength as they did so.
Equally, we could not have guessed that the Human League would split the following year. As with Siouxsie and the Banshees, it would strengthen them, unlike them, the departing musicians would go on to considerable commercial and critical success as Heaven 17.
What united them both was a vibrant creative force and energy which would lead to far greater success as their respective careers progressed.