Week 9 : 2nd March 1987 : Through the Looking Glass

Siouxsie and the Banshees – Through the Looking Glass is 30 years old

Accompany music : This Wheels on Fire

In 6 days time it will be International Womens Day, so what better time to play a strong female fronted album and review it with my wonderful partner, Steph.

We met 16 years ago, in a small rock club called Cuba Cuba. I headbanged and air guitared my way through nights to Classic Rock in my Levis and grandad shirts. Steph dressed in black but glowing like a beacon with UV makeup and reflective bits, would be swaying to the more Goth and Ska influenced music. Over the years we have meandered into each others musical territories, sometimes finding common ground and sometimes not. Every so often we find ourselves at each others gigs which we would never have thought of going to. Steph going to numerous Prog rock gigs, has struggled with some and loved others. At other times I have been to Goth gigs, some I really didn’t understand (EBM Goth) and others I have really enjoyed. One such night, I started recounting in week 2 in the David Bowie Post.

It’s 2013, and we are in London. Initially down for Akram Khan’s Desh at Sadlers Wells, we planned a visit to the David Bowie exhibition at the V&A but the trip was extended to take in a gig by one of Steph’s favourite artists, Siouxsie Sioux. It was at the Royal Festival Hall as part of the Meltdown festival, that year curated by Yoko Ono. I remember wandering around the hall before the gig, and being amazed at the committed fan base a lot dressed Siouxsie style. After a very good support from Viv Albertine, the atmosphere built highly until Siouxsie took to the stage and instantly she was in control and one with her audience. Her movement was so purposeful, as her PVC dress swayed to the music as she danced. The hits were played one after another, Siouxsie’s voice boomed out over the increasingly loud musicians. After each song her stage presence held everyone. It was seeing a master performer at work. Steph continues “I loved the dialogue as Siouxsie reminisced, and even though her voice doesn’t quite hit the notes and extraordinary range of her youth, she can still deliver a powerful concert for her loving fans. It was great talking to the people sitting near us, hearing their experiences of seeing her in concert in the early days. This was one of the best concerts I have ever been to.”

I knew little about Siouxsie before I met Steph. Of course I had seen her on Top of the Pops and found her always intriguing, slightly dangerous but strangely beautiful. Liked a lot of the singles, but never felt compelled to explore further. I also knew that she was part of the Punk scene, hung around with the Sex Pistols and appeared in the infamous Bill Grundy interview.  Like I said I didn’t know that much, over to Steph for her recollections….

“I think I first paid attention to Siouxsie and the Banshees when we were living in Sheffield in 1977, Hong Kong Garden was playing on Top of the Pops and because of mum and dad and my grandparents having spent time in the far east I was always interested in anything that hinted at eastern influences. Watching this extraordinary person sing and dance on the screen was thrilling for an 11 year old shy and sheltered girl. I loved everything about Siouxsie, her vocals, her style, her punk attitude, but I never tried to copy or emulate her myself. I just quietly admired.  The next time I really discovered Siouxsie again, was when we had moved to The Netherlands and I was at boarding school in Germany, this would be between 1979-1981. There was a sponsored 24 hour disco in Chatham House, the girls boarding house I lived in. One of the 6th form girls came dressed as Siouxsie, with back-combed and crimped hair, outlandish black eye make-up and a black bin bag. It was awesome. I must admit I did try and copy the dancing style and loved the few tunes the dj put on for Karen. That was when I rediscovered my love of the music. But I would need to wait until I had money of my own before I could buy and play her songs. We didn’t buy tapes or LPs very often in those days, so I never owned anything by her until I had started working. I settled for a compilation album which had most of the tracks I love, playing them over and over. Once upon a time….the Singles”

As part of the writing process we thought we would pick 10 of our favourite songs. We came up with Hong Kong Garden, Happy House, Dazzle, Swimming Horses, Peek-a-boo, Stargazer, Sea of Tranquility, Helter Skelter, Spellbound and Into A Swan. We played these whilst discussing our recollections.

Strangely we forgot to include  ‘Dear Prudence’ which I would have named if I had remembered. This version of the Beatles ‘White Album’ classic, utilises psychedelic guitars and Siouxsie hypnotic drawl to give a 60’s atmosphere whilst the power of bass and drums place it directly in the 80’s. It is said that after creating this single, the band felt compelled at some point to create an album of their favourite songs and so on the 2nd March 1997, ‘Through the Looking Glass comes out’. We will give it a spin and both myself and Steph will comment.

1. This Town Aint Big Enough For The Both Of Us:
BH: Love this Sparks cover, the fab manic Mael brothers songwriting and lyrics is carried off superbly by an intense demented Siouxsie performance.
SL: Rhythmic drumming, pulsating, magical, eastern exotic excitement.

2. Hall of mirrors:
BH: From Kraftwerk’s TransEurope Express. The electronic keyboards background replaced cleverly with hypnotic guitar and drum. Siouxsie’s delivery of the ‘Alice’ like lyrics is paired back and almost Teutonic.
SL: Perfect pitch and pace for Siouxsie’s throaty, gravelly vocals. With a melodic weaving refrain. Love the lyric “Even the greatest stars”.

3. Trust in me:
BH: This performance moves the track away from the dangerous threat of man-eating snake to a totally different type of domination. There is a huge amount of harp on this song including some mad fills. Needs More Harp…. only kidding.
SL: From the zippy, discordant harp opening to the hypnotic and suggestively lilting phrasing, we are coaxed into a slumberous somnambulistic state of serenity.

4. This wheel’s on fire:
BH: Always thought Siouxsie is having a ball on this Bob Dylan song. From the fanfare start, juddering guitar and uplifting chorus. Feels so much movement and fun in this track.
SL: This upbeat and exciting song is one of my favourites, setting toes tapping, hips shaking and head nodding. I want to leap around the room like a whirling dervish.

5. Strange fruit:
BH: One of the greatest protest songs originally sung by Billie Holliday and written by Lewis Allen. This version is great with violin and Siouxsie’s soulful delivery. The ‘New Orleans’ brass section adds to the atmosphere. Can’t replace the original but adds a different version to the canon.
SL: Powerful pathos and a bonus trumpet open the sheer magnetism of this song, which builds to a slow crescendoing finish. Boom. Bang. Crash. Whoosh.

6. You’re lost little girl:
BH: Into the psychedelic world of The Doors, acoustic start builds into sixties (copyrighted) song structure. Siouxsie’s vocals carry the same intonation as Morrison’s throughout. It has a mad, scary fairground section in the middle before jumping back into Sixties pop.
SL: Chaos descending into madness is soothed by the reassuringly measured Siouxsie.

7. The Passenger:
BH: Think this is one of the strongest covers on here, mixing the old and new. Cleverly takes from Iggy’s original, the urgency and vocal delivery and adds the new horn interludes which improve the track. Beautifully manic, uplifting song.
SL: Siouxsie had fun with this cover, her deep, clear delivery matching and meeting the triumphant brass fanfare to perfection. A brilliant song performed with aplomb.

8. Gun:
BH: Stop start guitar, drum, offbeat percussion, introduce Cales ‘Gun’. Siouxsie belts out verses and choruses to this enjoyable track which tilts between the traditional and experimental, with increasingly off-kilter percussion.
SL: Choppy, charismatic tale of murder and mayhem. The harsh beat and nails scratching down a chalkboard vocals from Siouxsie are well matched.

9. Sea Breezes:
BH: Chilled atmospheric start, with limited guitar and percussion, slowly builds in intensity to Roxy track. The finale spiralling drums probably comes too late. Too drawn out for it’s own good. Not one of my favourites.
SL: Peace and harmony abound at the beginning, echoed by the musicality of this song. But this is Siouxsie and songs are not that simplistic. The middle opens the complex, jarring lessons to be learned.

10. Little Jonny Jewel:
BH: Siouxsie’s husky delivery is so great for (this version of the song), half commanding, half whispering. There are great bits where her vocals play alongside the distorted guitar riff. The track feels trapped until it breaks out into an upbeat mid-section and then a more choral section.
SL: Wow, another marvellous mix of extraordinary rhythms to complement Siouxsie’s vocal range. I really like the time changes and switches in pace and melody with angelic harmonies soaring heavenward.

This is a very good album of cover versions full of great performances by the band and Siouxsie. There are some unusual arrangements which fit the style of the band but also stretch their own and the songs capabilities. What’s really distinctive is that this album has such a range of tracks on it from the electronica of Kraftwerk, to the sternness of Television. From a western by Cale to a Disney Jungle scene. All the songs are very different but like many great cover version albums, the songs become owned by the performer.

I understand that Bowies ‘Pin-ups’ is one of the influences of the album but I think its closer in kin to the later Cash’s ‘American IV – The Man Comes Around’. Cash’s album (not wholly covers) has some versions of Witchita Linesman/Bridge over Troubled Water which you expect to be great as they fit his style. The album also throws some amazing curveballs such as Nine Inch Nails Hurt/Depeche’s Personal Jesus which Cash changes and makes his own. In some limited extent Siouxsie manages to mirror this, with songs being very Banshee at the end of it. We will talk more about the art of the cover version later in the year.

In the meantime, I will leave the last words to Steph “After taking part in this shared review, I felt the need to revisit some of the albums I have now collected over the years. Siouxsie remains one of my favourite artists and I should play these songs more. It was great to see the different ways we heard the same song, whilst still following the short review brief Billy wanted for this post. Hopefully we can do another shared session again, it was great fun. And a great bonus is that now I have a Siouxsie mask!”

For Christmas 2016, Steph went to a masked ball with work. We discussed the idea of making a suitable mask but as usual we ran out of time. So to make up for that disappointment I thought, it made a lot of sense for Steph’s Siouxsie album to be celebrated in this way. I think the mask idea also conveys an idea of theatrics and as such is very Siouxsie, whilst the act of hiding oneself is also a good metaphor for cover versions as well.

After measuring Steph’s head, an image of Siouxsie’s eye make-up is manipulated on the computer to vaguely similar proportions. This was traced onto 3mm white foam board and the eyes coloured in using a black Sharpie. I then proceeded to cut out a stylised mask shape and two holes for eyes. Next came the madness of sequins and the glue gun. Black sequins of two sizes are used for the make up whilst one lot of white sequins covered the background. This was my first use of the glue gun, so ended up covered in glue strands, burnt fingertips and sequins found later glued to clothing. From the same foam board, a stick was made by creating a sweeping line and spiral. This creates a sort of ‘Trust in Me’ snake like handle. This is glued into place on the back of the mask.

Billy & Steph (aged 19 & 20 respectively at time of album release)

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October 2014 : Libran birthdays

“The fallen leaves that jewel the ground. They know the art of dying. And leave with joy their glad gold hearts In scarlet shadows lying…” – October Song – Bert Jansch

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“We are born at a given moment, in a given place and, like vintage years of wine, we have the qualities of the year and of the season of which we are born. Astrology does not lay claim to anything more.” Carl Jung

“Librans will be at the centre of the social circle with friendship, good eating and drinking featuring heavily. The coming together of stars on the 12th will bring about situations requiring specific diverse strategies. Indecisiveness will hit heavily when presented with a range of graphical images although artistic Librans will later make colourful patterns which helpfully sets up others for success. Some quick wits and a balanced prismatic strategy will be required for situations with unfathomable rules. Seek the path that leads to success, be clever and choose the one that doesn’t fall off life’s board. Don’t be lazy, grab the wheel of the car, travel at speed but avoid that last corner or you will crash and burn. If you play fair and avoid life’s pits and conveyor belts you will reach your flag. Useless someone has a big gun and knocks you off course…”

A Libra Horoscope for weekend October 11th-13th 2014

Charming, Open Minded, Fair,  Detailed, Artistic, Social, Co-operative, Idealistic, Creative and Balanced are all positive traits associated with people born between September 23 – October 22 according to various Astrological websites. In the negative column there is Procrastination and Laziness. I was born on October 14th and strangely, I look at these descriptors and would assign the a lot of these towards me. Personally, I don’t believe in Astrology at all (especially the nonsensical prediction of events) but I do agree in part with Jungs quote above. In my training as a Youth Worker, I looked at how people develop over time and the roles played by nature and nurture. Maybe as Jung seems to imply, I have these traits because I was born in the Autumn, early in the morning, into a certain family in a town in  Northern England. Equally I may have these traits because my Mother constantly pointed out that me being creative, fair, open minded, indecisive and lazy were all Libran traits and I may have unconsciously adopted these. More importantly, I believe I was brought up by great parents to accentuate these positive traits which happened to be ‘LibraIMG_4200n’.

Famous Librans include Eminem, Mark Rothko, Oscar Wilde, Arsene Wenger, Mahatma Gandhi, Harry Hill, Le Corbusier, Lee Harvey Oswald, Friedrich Nitzsche, Margaret Thatcher, Bob Geldof, TS Elliot, Vladimir Putin, John Lennon, Chevy Chase, Alfred Nobel, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Bridget Bardot and Sting. I look at this list and I see some of the positive elements in some of these people, in others I shudder to think that I share the same traits as them.

Its fair to say though, I am lucky that the people I know, born between the above dates are not like this. I have two good friends Sam and Cath who are the easiest of company. They are social, open minded, intelligent, calming and both have a “degree” in geek. For a number of years I have been happy to share our celebrations together. It started with me and Sam, as our birth dates are 2 days apart and we share the same group of friends. Then Cath joined in on a couple of occasions. In October 2014, one such shared birthday event was planned which included good food, fine alcohol and gaming madness. I just needed to make some cards

I love making birthday cards for friends as they give the opportunity to be completely different and create something unique and bespoke. See my single post of 2014 about making record shops and Bryan Adams cards for Chris and Lisa. It a license to be very Creative. My fellow Librans excelled in this also in 2014. IMG_4232Sam creating me a book based on the word -opolis. Knowing my love of doodled city landscapes, Sam started putting words into google linked to me with the ending –opolis… ie Billyopolis. This was produced into a fantastically barking tome. Cath had earlier in the year produced a series of letters which we received in December 2013/January 2014 in time for a Cthulthu game playing session. Each dated 100 years ago from Edinburgh, they follow a Lovecraftian theme of mysterious locations, tormented victims and everyday objects that turn menacing. In this case silver birch leaves, which just happened to fall out of the last letter received. These letters were so compelling and mysterious as we didn’t know who was sending them and also made a perfect short story.

IMG_4210So when I looked at making a unusual card for Caths special birthday, this story leapt to mind. I decided to make the letters into a book, which would be trapped inside a frame and surrounded by silver birch leaves. The initial element was creating a book. Steph (as the fastest typer) typed out the letters and then I tried a number of times to create the pages. The difficulty was not only getting pages in the correct order but also getting the text size right.  The text needed to be small but not too small that it was unreadable. I was also conscious that I wanted a number of pages which could be spaced out. These layout issues IMG_4203took a while until finally deciding on a Cambria size 5 font which gave 10 pages of text and 2 pages for a name plate and credits page. To get over the printing on both sides, all pages were printed out on a single sheet in pairs and once cut out. These were stuck back to back with their corresponding pair. This sounds as confusing as it was to do. Once dry, we were left with 3 thick sheets of paper which were folded down the centre and put together became the 12 pages of the book. Each page measures 4.5×6.4cm. A cover of black card, a little larger than the pages was cut and  a front title plate revealing the made up title ‘The Mystery Of The November Crags’ created. On this a single black embossed leaf was printed. Pages were placed inside the cover with a little PVA glue and once in place, Steph added a few stitches to secure.

IMG_4207Next leaves were required. We are lucky that over the years we have collected lots of printing equipment including a really good set of leaf stamps. One of which closely resembled a birch leaf, so after a bit of trying out ink and paper colours. Steph printed a sheet of green leafs of different hues on off-white card. As I started cutting them out I realised that these were probably a little too large. With some creative cutting I was able to cut down the leafs to more accommodating size whilst adding some randomness to the shape.

IMG_4208The frame’s were a great find, only £5 each at Debennams’s. These measure 10cm x 15cm (with a cm more on either side if using the border). Importantly it had enough depth of 1.5 cm to allow a paper element to reside comfortably. Assembly started with a backing piece of paper in slate grey being glued to the back plate of the frame to give a little stability. Spacers were then placed on either side of the spine of the book forcing the book to open at an angle when it was placed on the backing sheet. Further spacers were used to separate pages to add more depth and movement. The 40 leaves were then added at first to the book, some fully on pages (and sometimes hidden away), others poking out as though falling out. Then the rest were added to the background and the border. The border along with the use of spacers on some of the leaves added a little more depth. The whole piece was delicately put into the frame and looked great. Final job was to create another little book to hand over at the same time. This was a very satisfying build.

IMG_4218Sam’s card then followed along from this. Being the tree person the obvious link to the leaf stamps was inevitable. Issues abound over the size of the leaves as before as its difficult to build a tree when its foliage is a third of its height. So after a couple of practices to try a build a complex pop up leaf holding tree to live inside a frame, I went for an easier option.

IMG_4214A silhouette of a tree was used as a template. This was specifically picked for its lack of leaves and its general spookiness. Two versions were printed onto dark brown card and cut out. Assembly of the tree was a simple task with having one of the brown tree’s on top and then on the bottom having a darker reverse version by flipping the tree over onto its black printed silhouette. These were folded down the middle and with a little PVA down the Valley fold and a couple of stitches the two trees were held in place. Later small spacers were used the separate these elements at an angle.

IMG_4215Whereas Caths card had taken on Lovecraft colours on black, grey and green, this card was destined to be more Autumnal. The palate of the leaves were to be reds and golds, to go along with Sams house. Much experimentation ensued from Steph of printing a variety of leaf style, in various colours on selections of Red, Gold and off-white card. All leaves were glittery and  embossed. This time I didn’t want to fill the frame, and try to give the impression of leaves in the foreground blowing off the tree in the distance, so only the 12 best ones were cut out and used.

IMG_4217This time a wood veneer frame was used from the same range. The slate grey background replaced by a warming delicate brown colour and the assembly followed a similar route. With tree placed on the backing sheet, with slithers of spacers providing the depth. The 12 leaves were then scattered around the tree without touching it, some on the background others on the border. Again some were raised up to add to the movement.

These two were really enjoyable to make and with very Libran procrastination it is very difficult to say which is my favourite.

IMG_4231The weekend of the 11th to the 13th was an excellent celebration. Food and drinks on the Friday night with friends listening to music and generally catching up. Card and Present swapping took place, and we were all overjoyed with what we recieved. The next day (the 12th) after a small meander into Newcastle, the madness of board gaming began. Games played throughout the day (from top left clockwise) Dix It, Tsuro, Ice Towers, Formula D, Quirkle and Roborally. I won’t go into the games in detail, as a gaming post will follow later in the year.

I won no games but as the pretend horoscope explains above, it was full of the usual close calls. In a last lap of Formula D, I threw all caution to the wind, racing along at full speed only to crash on the last corner. In Dix it, it was a one bunny race until I stalled half way, bamboozled by the images being presented. The most gutting experience was Roborally, I love this game but I am totally useless at it. I inevitably get stuck on a conveyor belt or fall down a pit. This time, unbelievably I ended up 3 squares away from the finish, only to get pushed back and didn’t recover.

In the end, winning was not important. Having a laugh with good friends, playing fab games, drinking great beer and sharing my birthday with my fellow excellent Librans is all I needed.

Collaboration Corner 2 : Tree Branch and Leaves


IMG_1934A further exploration into joint pieces of work. This was a card created for our friend Sam who has an affinity to Trees.

It all came about with Steph creating a felt leaf by taking designs from a leaf spotting guide, and making templates which were used to cut out a basic shape. These were cut out of green felt, stitched around the outside and slightly padded out. Finally a number of vein lines were added giving definition. The leaf by itself was to be given to Sam but we felt that more leaves were needed (and Steph would create two more) and it needed something to hang from or be attached to.

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I concentrated on the card. Realising very early on that I could not create a whole pop-up tree big enough to accommodate this leaf alone, I scaled back to create a single branch. Cut out of the brown card which would form the basis of the main card, a roughly hewn branch was created with enough hanging spaces for leaves. This was folded down the centre creating a mountain fold. At the bottom two tabs had been left on the branch. When attached to the card these faced downwards and were slightly sprayed apart allowing the branch to spring forward when the card opened, to roughly 45 degrees. To get over the messy tab arrangement I created an green card insert which covered the mechanism, this also allowed a bit of imagination to create a green leafy canopy. This added a lot of stability to the branch which looks delicate but is actually very secure and strong.

Finishing touches were a large green leaf for the front of the card (cut out of the same canopy green with scores cut in for veins) and an envelope for the leaves on the back.

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Collaboration Corner 1 : Pirate Mouse

First of a new feature. Following on from the June Diary entry of Steph and myself’s artwork, I thought I would celebrate some of other shared work. So expect cards that have been developed with other people. And first the Pirate Mouse Card.

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Made for Caths Birthday October 2012. Steph had created a felt mouse from the excellent craft book ‘Felties – How to Make 18 Cute and Fuzzy Friends‘ by Nelly Pailloux. The book is filled with cute and slightly bizarre animals that when created make fantastic tiny gifts for people. When we initially looked through the book, the pirate mouse stood out with eyepatch and bandolier and was begging to be made. Completed in deep purple felt, and standing tall at 8cm, the mouse is fab by itself but needed a method of transportation/protection to get up to Scotland. So I created a crows nest card.. A light blue (sky coloured) card was made. Twice as tall as wide to give height for the mast, the card was folded with a deep spine (the same width as the crows nest attachment). This was a simple boxed envelope attachment. A large rectangular front with smaller side and bottom sections with tabs to attach to the card which once assembled provides a snug and safe space for the mouse. The crows nest is done in mid brown card with bark like scribbles drawn in a dark brown fine liner. A mast and a skull and crossbones flag was added for extra pirate effect. The finishing touch was using a quarter of the mouses head as the image on the front of the card. It gives an additional cute, cartoony feel and teases a little of what maybe is inside.

Further listening – Horrible Histories – Blackbeards Song