Anarchy no more

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In Morningside and just about everywhere else, she was every parents’ worst role model nightmare. Up and down our punk-infested land, mothers were terrified their little Susies would nick a pot of their dads’ Snowcem and paint their faces white, dye their hair with tar and stick their fingers in a socket for that just-electrocuted effect ... allowing them to come down to breakfast looking like a death-warmed-up dead-ringer for Siouxsie.

How quickly the world forgets. For today, in a hotel overlooking London’s Tower Bridge, Siouxsie Sioux - the Banshees’ bondage-breeked, Swastika-swinging leaderene - can barely attract the waiters’ attention in the bar.

True, it was a quarter of a century ago that she got up on stage at the 100 Club and murdered The Lord’s Prayer in the Banshees’ first public performance (with a certain Sid Vicious on drums). But she doesn’t look all that different now. Correction: she looks almost exactly the same but, like all former punks, healthier, now that she’s ditched the black PVC and abandoned a diet that seemed to consist of warm lager, amphetamines and other people’s spittle.

The French lifestyle obviously agrees with her: she lives about an hour’s drive from Toulouse, in a cathedral town the identity of which she prefers to keep secret, with her husband and fellow ex-Banshee, Budgie. "No-one knows me there - I like that," says Siouxsie, now 45 and dressed in what could almost be termed a girlie blouse, when she eventually succeeds in ordering herself a coffee.

She and Budgie share this rustic idyll-with-recording-studio with their three cats. And, in answer to the "tell me something about yourself that would surprise people" question, she enthuses about her passion for deadheading roses (once it was the Establishment and prog-rock dinosaurs - offences for which the Daily Mail wanted all punks locked up in the Tower across the river).

So what became of the Banshees? They disbanded in 1996, after two decades and 11 albums together, on a point of principle - to protest at the Sex Pistols’ decision to reform for punk’s 20th anniversary. In a statement, they declared: "As the ‘music industry’ prepares to revive the heady days of ‘punk’, when confusing opportunists with protagonists it proceeded to sign anything with a safety pin that could spit, we’d like to say goodbye."

But now, as John Lydon (ne Rotten) and the other surviving Pistols don their Rohan-designed, relaxed-fit punkwear for the Queen’s Golden Jubilee, Siouxsie is putting her band back together for some gigs and a greatest-hits album. So much for principles, but she denies this protagonist has turned into an opportunist.

"My attitude to the Pistols reforming is, ‘What, again? Have you run out of money already?’ I suppose it’s in the spirit of filthy lucre that they do it, but I don’t really approve. In our case, it’s sheer coincidence that this compilation is coming out now. We’ve been trying for ages to rescue the Banshees’ old stuff and remaster it. We want to re-release the entire back catalogue." The words "punk" and "remaster" might be a contradiction in terms for the purists, but Siouxsie reckons Hong Kong Garden and the other dozen hit singles sound even better like this, even more apocalyptic.

Married life suits her, too, although she’s surprised by this. "I grew up determined that I would never, ever marry," she says. "And I was convinced my parents had put me off for life."

Her mother, Elizabeth, was half-Scots and her father Marc, Belgian, and Susan Ballion - Siouxsie’s real name - was born the youngest of three in Chislehurst, a South London suburb which she cannot pretend was especially grey.

"Mum was the driving force in our family because Dad was a drunk," she explains, almost matter-of-factly. "It was Mum who went out to work - she was a secretary in the West End - and she also mended all the fuses."

Listening to her describe how Susan became Siouxsie, it is clear her mother was a huge influence. "She was an incredibly powerful woman and yet she was one of seven, born in the 1920s, and we know how society treated women of her generation. The war robbed her of her adolescence and she had to grow up very quickly, always with a stiff upper lip, never complaining."

But Siouxsie, whose brother and sister were much older, had to grow up fast, too. "I was 14 when Dad finally died, because of all the abuse he’d done to his body, and I remember feeling relieved - then ashamed that I felt that. Then I got really ill. There was a big question mark over what was wrong with me but I spent a long time in hospital. I had drips everywhere, then I ulcerated and needed an emergency operation. The doctors said I almost died.

"I came out of hospital feeling very angry. I’d ask questions about Dad but Mum wouldn’t tell me anything. My parents tolerated each other, sad to say, and while all the girls at my school used to talk of nothing else but getting married and having kids, I didn’t want any of that."

Touchingly, for two former members of a movement which espoused nihilism, Siouxsie and Budgie have been together for 21 years. "I tried to keep Budgie at arm’s length and warned him not to ask me to marry him," she says. This punk couple must have seemed a strange sight, she admits, with the man having to be physically dragged away from bridalwear shops by the reluctant woman. But, in 1991, they did marry. "By then I’d done what I had to do."

So how did Siouxsie become a punk? Already a latch-key kid with an overactive imagination, she returned home from hospital angry, confused and in a tearing hurry, and began expressing herself through fashion. "I used to shop at Let It Rock, which later became Sex, and I met Malcolm McLaren there and got to hear about this young band he managed. The first time I saw the Sex Pistols play, the crowd weren’t pushing to the front, they were clutching the walls, almost trying to get away - I’d never seen that kind of reaction before."

She became a member of the Bromley Contingent, a group of scenesters who followed the Pistols from gig to gig, sometimes dancing on stage with them, and who were heavily influenced by the movie Cabaret, hence the swastikas. "It was high camp rather than death camp but, of course, we wanted to shock. The older generation were forever telling us that what we needed was a bloody good war."

Punk was completely spontaneous, something she says McLaren never properly understood. "He didn’t know what he had and he was mortified when the Pistols swore on TV [in a show which got host Bill Grundy sacked]. It was that element of being uncontrollable that made punk so exciting."

And punk made Siouxsie an icon. "I can’t really get my head around that," she says. "Punk wasn’t really a revolution, it was just a pose. Something happened which was very liberating. No-one was self-conscious, we responded to what was happening round about us. But, at the end of the day, we were simply having a laugh."

Siouxsie Sioux. She makes her man wait until she’s good and ready. She likes cats and keeps her garden nice. Not such a bad role model after all, then.

Siouxsie and the Banshees play Glasgow’s Barrowland on Friday 5 July. The Best Of … album is released on Universal on 30 September.