The second annual BBC Electric Proms got off to an entertaining start with the John Peel Night at the Electric Ballroom. And who better to headline than Siouxsie Sioux? About 30 years ago in their punk heyday, she and the Banshees recorded a series of sessions for The John Peel Show, and, now as officially a solo artist of course, the Queen of Goth made a royal return to the venue where all things gothic find a spiritual home.
The opening band Radio Luxembourg hail from Aberystwyth despite their name, which perhaps indicates the kind of ’60s music which has influenced them. With some songs sung in English, some in Welsh, the four-piece specialise in catchy, upbeat pop tunes, interlaced with more psychedelic ‘white noise’ material, sounding like a homelier, Celtic version of Syd Barrett’s Pink Floyd.
With their agreeable high-pitched vocal harmonies and swirling organ sound, their half-hour set seemed to pass very quickly. One of five acts to win the national competition Introducing Britain for featuring new musical talent in this year’s Electric Proms, their double-sided single Where is Dennis?/Cartoon Cariad comes out at the end of the month.
The second band up, Agaskodo Teliverek (Hungarian for rearing stallions), were apparently chosen by John Peel’s family, and no doubt the Great Man, famed for his open-minded repertoire, would approve of the band’s offbeat sense of humour if nothing else. Based in London, they are two parts Hungarian (male guitarists, dressed in quasi-military uniforms with absurdly tight shorts) and one part Japanese (female singer, in a spangly black outfit and police cap), who describe their music as ‘pyscho goulash’.
Playing with pre-recorded synthesizers as backing, their weird but undeniably attention-grabbing electronica sound and entertainingly kitsch show – bizarrely performed in front of a football goal! – went down well with the audience, especially their single The Gay Hussar, ending their set with a bang.
After an over-long wait of 50 minutes, when anticipation was beginning to turn to annoyance, Siouxsie finally took to the stage with her band as if she’d never been away. Dressed all in slinky black-leather, with trademark big, spikey black-dyed hair – like Catwoman’s dark twin – she has lost none of her stage presence. During the following hour she struck poses, swirled sinuously and performed her distinctive hand movements to an adoring crowd, including a number of goths who had slunk out of the shadows to worship their doomy diva.
Surprisingly, rather than start with songs from her new debut solo album MantaRay, and end up with some favourites from the Banshee years, Siouxsie kicked off with their biggest hit Dear Prudence (albeit a Beatles cover), followed by classic early song Arabian Nights and, to the delight of the audience, their first single Hong Kong Garden. It was great to hear the songs live again, with Siouxsie in full regal voice, but her present band doesn’t match the chillingly atmospheric bass lines of Steve Severin or the virtuoso expressive drumming of Budgie.
Alas, also, it has to be said that Siousxie’s solo material does not live up to the groundbreaking Banshees canon (or even the best of the more rhythmically based songs by The Creatures). Whereas they used synthesizers creatively to help develop rich cascades of angst-ridden sound from the horror movie in your heart, her new electronica stuff seems to be striving for similar effects but sometimes feels like it’s going through the motions: not bad at all but it doesn’t send a shiver down the spine.
As Siouxsie tells the audience, “Moving on the years…,” the band launch into the moody xylophone-led rollercoaster of They Follow You. The electro-pop dance beat of About to Happen gets more people moving their bodies. A raucous glam-rock version of Into a Swan (the first single off MantaRay) contrasts with the brassy swing sound of forthcoming single Here Comes that Day, which feels as if it should be in a James Bond movie. Sea of Tranquility strives too hard to impress with its epic waves of sound, but the ominous twanging guitars of If It Doesn’t Kill You bring the show to a good climax.
Siouxsie and her band return for two encores, both of which are covers: an unsuccessful account of Basement Jaxx‘s Cish Cash, then a nice’n'sleazy take on The Doors‘ Hello I Love You. Next time, how about one from Velvet Underground – Venus in Furs maybe?
Siouxsie has been relaxed all night, joking with the audience, in her element in this Camden Town lair. Now past 50, she seems ageless in her persona; her voice is in terrific shape, though lower than before, giving her vocals – at the risk of sounding like an advert for Green & Black chocolate – a richer and darker quality, with a hint of bitterness. It’s good to have her back.