Fast rising punk icons Siouxsie and The Banshees braved the hostile atmosphere of High Wycombe Town Hall on Friday 28th April 1978. The eagerly awaited gig was promoted by Ron Watts and came as a band initiated campaign was underway to get The Banshees signed to a major record label. Support on the night came from El-Seven plus ‘Special Guests’, sparse guitar and vocal duo Spizz Oil.
Siouxsie and The Banshees had played The Nag’s Head twice in 1977 in an earlier incarnation of their line-up. The Town Hall show came as their popularity had snowballed following their debut sessions for John Peel – the first broadcast in December 1977. Just over a week before their trip to play at The Town Hall they had sold out London’s Music Machine venue in near record time.
The campaign to wake record companies up to The Banshees was shifted to a different level when the London offices of the likes of EMI, CBS and Polydor suffered graffiti messages saying ‘SIGN THE BANSHEES – DO IT NOW!”
The graffiti coincided with the broadcast of a second John Peel Session – broadcast in February 1978. The session included ‘Hong Kong Garden’ and stark version of The Beatles ‘Helter Skelter’. Other new tracks were ‘Carcass’ and the haunting ‘Overground’.
Lead singer Siouxsie was quoted in Mark Paytress’s 2003 Authorised Biography of SATB as saying: “We picked up a publishing deal before we got a record contact. All I can think is that record companies saw no future in the concept of a woman fronting a band – or at least a woman with an attitude. The Sex Pistols were rooted in rock ‘n’ roll tradition. They were just The Who or Small Faces with an edge, whereas what we doing didn’t fit into anything they could relate to quite so easily. Perhaps [the record companies] thought if they didn’t sign we’d go away?”
For anybody who attended the gig at the Town Hall on Friday 28th May 1978, their memories will be sure to include the intimidating atmosphere that boiled over on a number of occasions. Support acts El-Seven and the then two-piece Spizz Oil attempted to warm up the audience for The Banshees but crowd trouble was always bubbling under – with band members and some of the audience having to run for cover during the most violent parts of the evening.
Once again, I call upon the diary of my music loving friend Buzz for his musings – written within 24 hours of the end of the gig. “For long periods the gig was in a state of complete chaos as the most horrific mass violence erupted repeatedly from 9pm onwards. And it didn’t only affect the audience – the groups were forced to stop playing, especially when [Spizz Oil] were literally chased off stage by a mob. It seemed for a time that SATB would not appear, and certainly that future gigs are seriously jeopardised by the incidents.” Buzz had also witnessed violence at the Generation X gig at The Town Hall two weeks previous but this was far worse in comparison.
The set-list for The Town Hall gig remains unconfirmed but bootleg recordings of gigs during the same tour suggest the songs and order would have been something similar to this:
- Helter Skelter
- Nicotine Stain
- Metal Postcard
- Make Up to Break Up
- Hong Kong Garden
- 20th Century Boy
- Suburban Relapse
- The Lord’s Prayer
- Love in a Void (possible encore)
Buzz concluded: “The fear seemed to anaesthetise the atmosphere rather than add to it. Siouxsie and her group, forced to stop on a couple of occasions, showed disgust at the situation and showed that they were not prepared to tolerate it, but also that they were prepared to play for the real fans if they could. Siouxsie was magnificent. Obviously scared at times, but also angry, she handled the tense situations superbly. The group played a little warily, but I was lost in admiration for Siouxsie and her group. They are the greatest on Earth…”
Record companies agreed and at last started to think there were hits in the making. They eventually signed for Polydor records in June 1978 for a rumoured £400,000 advance. They never returned to High Wycombe.
For your listening and viewing pleasure
Siouxsie and The Banshees – John Peel session audio – February 1978
Spizz Oil – 6,000 Crazy – John Peel session audio – August 1978
Did you survive the evening at High Wycombe Town Hall back in April 1978?