We could argue all day about whether punk started in the US or UK (it’s the US), but why bother? Why not spend our time doing more interesting things—like digging up rare historical artifacts from the earliest days of punk rock in London, New York and, yes, Detroit. Punk may have devolved into a prêt-à-porter signifier, but its golden age was dominated by bespoke personalities the size of Texas. And no origin story (except maybe this one) better exemplifies punk’s founding ethos than that of Siouxsie and the Banshees’ first gig in London in 1976, which you can hear in all of its definition-of-lo-fi glory in two parts above and below.
Siouxsie Sioux (Susan Janet Dallion) already stood out as one of the Sex Pistols’ dedicated followers, her Egypt-inspired eye makeup and black lipstick staking out the Goth territory she would conquer in just a few short years. She was a born performer, but up until this first appearance at 19, had never been on stage before or fronted a band.
The “band” itself didn’t exist until the last minute, when Siouxsie and bassist Steve Severin (then “Steve Spunker”) decided they should take the place of a group that pulled out of the 100 Club Punk Festival, a showcase for the Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned, and a handful of other unsigned (at the time) bands.
“Suzie and the Banshees,” as they were billed, consisted of the magnificently shrill Siouxsie, Severin, future Adam Ant guitarist Marco Pirroni, and the most infamous non-musician in punk, Sid Vicious, on drums, before he pretended to play bass in the Sex Pistols. They hadn’t written any songs, and so they smashed through a 20-minute medley of “Deutschland, Deutschland über alles,” “Knocking on Heaven’s Door,” “Twist and Shout,” and the Lord’s Prayer. Show promoter Ron Watts called it “performance art,” and not in a good way.
Summing up the eternal interplay between punk bands and club owners, Watts remembered their debut as “weak, it was weedy. You couldn’t say it was a gig…. It was just people, getting up and trying to do something. I let them do it, you know.” The supremely confident Siouxsie didn’t care. In an interview a couple of months later (above) she admits, “it got a bit boring in some parts, but it picked up.” So did the band, picking up actually very good drummer Kenny Morris and cycling through a few guitarists, including The Cure’s Robert Smith for a spell. A couple of the other bands at that notorious show made good as well. (One even got their own credit card.) Hear The Clash’s set from the night here, here, and here, and see a photo set of Siouxsie and friends from 1976 here.