The Day the Banshees Split in Aberdeen

What a Line-Up

It’s almost inevitable that bands will eventually split up. However it would be hard to top the break-up of Siouxsie and the Banshees for sheer drama as it played out over a crazy day in Aberdeen.

The 7th of September 1979 would have been a momentous day for the band anyway. Their second album, Join Hands, was released that day to positive reviews. The day was to down in the bands history as memorable for rather less positive reasons though. The group, singer Siouxsie Sioux, bassist Steve Severin, guitarist John Mckay and drummer Kenny Morris had embarked on a tour to promote the album. There had already been a simmering tension between Siuoxsie and Severin on one side and Mckay and Morris on the other. It was to all boil over during a somewhat bad tempered record signing session in The Other Record shop on Aberdeen’s Union Street. (This was back in the days when record shops were a familiar sight on the High Street.)

Polydor had only sent a paltry amount of albums to the shop resulting in the bands management selling the shop owner a couple of hundred promo copies  to satisfy demand. Much to the shop owners dismay Mckay and Morris decided to hand out copies for free. Mckay also removed their own album from the shops turntable and replaced it with the Slits album. This lead to verbal and physical exchanges between the various band members and ended with Mckay and Morris storming out of the shop.

With a gig to be played at The Capitol you would expect that peace talks back at the bands hotel would have calmed things down. After all, as the saying goes, the show must go on. It didn’t turn out that way. The rebel pairs backstage passes were found wrapped round their pillows, their room unoccupied.

Apparently they had jumped in a cab and asked to be taken out of town. That turned out to be a few miles down the coast to Stonehaven where they hopped on to a train south, their Banshee careers abandoned in the Granite City.

Opening that night was Edinburgh band The Scars. They were followed onstage by The Cure who were asked to play a longer than usual set as the promoters tried to locate the long gone insurgents. As The Cure left the stage it was obvious that the Banshees could not perform.  An announcement was made over the public address system offering the crowd their money back.. The story could have ended there but Siouxsie Sioux stepped out of the back stage shadows to address the crowd. Her anger was clear as she embarked on a ferocious attack on her  former band mates.

“Two original members of the band are here tonight. Two art college students fucked off out of it. All I can say is we will be back here with some friends who have got some roots. If you’ve got one per cent of the aggression we feel towards them if you ever see them you have my blessings to beat the shit out of them.”

It must have been an electric moment for the crowd. There was more to come. The Cure returned to the stage to play a few more songs before announcing that they had a couple of special guests coming on. To tremendous cheers Siouxsie Sioux and Steve Severin reappeared with Siouxsie again taking to the mic  to condemn the deserters.

“I hope you realise these guys know nothing about the ‘Lord’s Prayer.’ It’ll probably be all the better for that. John and Kenny were doing it for the money and you can’t do a good ‘Lord’s Prayer’ with that attitude. We will be back!”

And that’s how the night ended,  with a rendition of the closing track from their new album. There are lots of things I love about this story. I love that rather than being the end of the band it acted as a catalyst to greater things. Ex Slits drummer Budgie was soon recruited with Robert Smith helping out on guitar on tour dates. The record shop rebellion sounds almost comical now, particularly McKay’s ditching of the Banshees own album for The Slits. It’s hard not to smile at the thought of two musicians jumping in to an Aberdeen taxi and asking to be taken out of town. And I love that despite participating in a part of musical history and witnessing a one off Cure/Banshees supergroup performance the canny Aberdonians still queued up at the end for a refund.

21 thoughts on “The Day the Banshees Split in Aberdeen”

  1. John and Kenny’s legendary ‘running away’ act, still a Banshees legend! They got a taxi to the train station, but Kenny knew that’s where Siouxsie would go looking for them so they diverted to Stonehaven, then found a small plane going to Manchester and made it to London in stages! John and Kenny disappeared (in 1984, Morris went out on the pish with Severin and told him that they’d barely seen each other after 1979!). The killer ending couldn’t even be dreamed up, though – summer 1987, McKay and his girlfriend, Linda Clark, booked into a hotel in the Lake District on their way to get married in Scotland – and the only other guests in the hotel turned out to be…Siouxsie and Budgie! True!

  2. There is a story that after the Aberdeen gig a fan asked for a Banshees badge, or something, and the band had run out, so Nils Stevenson gave him John McKay’s guitar, a semi-acoustic Gibson, I think. A news item appeared in Sounds or NME a few months later with a message from John McKay asking for the guitar back and offering a reward – or it may have been a paid advert. I wonder firstly if it was true, and secondly if McKay ever got the guitar back.

    I really liked that first stable line up of the band, and saw most of their London gigs – I became slightly obsessed with seeing them. Though I liked the odd thing they did after the split, I liked the McKay/Morris recordings much better.

    Still, a snidey way to leave the band, when punters have paid for tickets. PROBABLY among the worst decisions any band members ever took.

    1. It’s true, Nick. In an early 1980 fanzine interview, Severin said that McKay’s guitar hadn’t been given to a random fan, it was a someone ‘from Derby or somewhere’ who followed the Banshees around and that Nils Stevenson knew who he was. Sioux said that they’d got it back and returned it to McKay after that solicitor’s letter was printed in NME, as they were advised that it was the only thing John and Kenny could successfully sue them over. ‘Duff guitar anyway,’ said Severin! Kenny found out how bad a decision it was when he’d spent the 500 quid that Polydor paid them off with and he went to sign on. He thought he’d been an employee of Pure Noise Ltd and so could get a giro – but it turned out he was a partner in Pure Noise and he couldn’t get a penny cos he’d not paid his own NI. McKay found out how bad a decision it was when he ended up working behind the counter in a charity shop in 1985…

      1. hi You seem to know more than most about McKay & Morris. i tried to follow them after the split expecting them to resurface with their own music but other than Zor Gabor there was nothing. No social media then, so it was just listening to rumours ( i went banshees gigs and there was usually someone who allegedly knew what they were up to , always turned out false). Where did you get the info is there anything I can read up on?

      2. Well, still happily married 32 years later, and has had a successful career…
        Not too sure where you found the story of his work in a charity shop in 1985.

        1. Marco Pirroni revealed it an interview- he said that he and Kenny went to the first Zor Gabor gig, but both of them thought it was ‘a bit rum’! Kenny later ran off with, and subsequently married, Marco’s girlfriend. Marco’s not fond of either John or Kenny now: ‘They read lots of books and thought they were clever’!

      3. [Just saw this. I’m a slow reader…] Thanks for that update, Michael – retro update, maybe. Good to hear the end of the story!

        John McKay had some disco project that never got anywhere, and Kenny did various art/arty things that seemed to be very niche. Though I liked that line up a lot, a recent listen to Join Hands made me think it was a good time for them to move on anyway.

    2. No that’s not true siouxsie said onstage John wont be needing this anymore and gave away his guitar to a fan ( not acoustic) in front of the whole crowd

  3. Remember the story very well from NME days. It was somewhat of a drama, since The Banshees were such a cool outfit , and such an unlikely way to part company….
    Strange also the way John & Kenny found it necessary to leave Aberdeen , an indication things weren’t right within the band…..as if they were scared to be found and made to finish the tour….
    Especially how the two opposite careers went, ..Morris and Mckay will have regretted their impulsive reactions for the rest of their lives…..You don’t leave a charismatic performer like Siouxsie behind, which is chance offered once in a lifetime…
    As such it was probably the best for Severin and Siouxsie , because they emerged stronger because of it….

  4. I was there that day they had the battle in The Other Record shop Aberdeen.Being a local lad,I had started my 2nd year at secondary education and was still in my school uniform.Siouxsie thought I looked cute (I`m anything but),and gave me a bright red lipstick kiss on the cheek.A lipstick mark I was still sporting the following day 🙂 Aye,and I had a good mate,and neighbour,who`s Granda worked in the Capitol,and would usually get us free/complimentary tickets whenever a gig did/didn`t sell out.Some of the audience were a good bit pissed off and threw their tickets away,which we gladly scooped up,handed back,the following day or two,and got the money.We made quite a bit of free cash because of that.Thank you Granda Harvey 🙂 Oh aye,what was the Other Record shop,is now a popular City centre pub,and I would gladly take anyone there and bore them to death about the day they broke up.The shop counter where it all happened is still there and very much in use as the pubs main service area.I would gladly take anyone there,and bore the shit out of them about the day they broke up 😉 🙂

  5. the later music is great but alas the first 2 records will always be the best, what a waste to just leave and do nothing else, the tension must have been really bad to have done that in the first place

  6. Great post! I remember this moment like yesterday, having bought The Scream as an impressionable teenager beginning the deep dive into different sounds than what Top 40 offered at the time.

    >Morris and Mckay will have regretted their impulsive reactions for the rest of their lives…..You don’t leave a charismatic performer like Siouxsie behind, which is chance offered once in a lifetime…<

    Especially when you consider, that, yeah, that Zor Gabor single is hard going –I'll have to give it another go, but on that listen, you'd never realize this was the guy whose guitar powered all that early Banshees stuff. John McKay is one of my favorite players from that era — he's wild, and he really goes for it. He sounds like a metal shredder let loose in a boiler room — that's how I've described his sound to anyone who hasn't heard it.

    So what did he end up doing for 32 years? I assume he still has a guitar at home, though the only other musical thing I've seen on him is a blurb about him and Morris popping up to sue their ex-colleagues over the Peel Session release (on Strange Fruit, I think). I'd love to hear more details about any of these things, if anybody feels so inclined. Thanks.

  7. I worked in the other record shop on the day of the signing and I saw everything with my own eyes and I obviously went to the gig in the evening not knowing that it was gonna get cancelled

  8. Absurd bickering but without question those two McKay Morris Lps are two of the best ever. The Scream is mesmerising whilst being pure punk but like wire’s pink flag raising out of it at the same time. Join hands being a stark encapsulation of everything goth/disorientated/dark punk/heartfelt passion for the here and hereafter and full of vision and empathy for people with insight . At the time overshrouded by the joy Division vogue and that is no slur on Curtis et al, in retrospect this music is stronger and more original. Brilliant and seminal though the Mcgeough work is I can’t think of a better post punk work than join hands.. and seeing them at the Nashville many times- witnessing the strange over vivid interplay between static and kinetic, those four musicians linked by siouxsie as the female vox populi of the punk movement..this wasn’t Debbie Harry and a holiday outing but great pulsing life and art..scintillating.

  9. I got Siouxsie and Severin to sign my Banshees Peel bootleg Lp that night on the door at the Station Hotel after the Capitol fiasco. Siouxsie was not a happy lady but she signed it, just ask Jasmine Minks roadie and Clash nut Chris Narayan, I aslo did a pull out for The Granite City fanzine based on the Banshees, and until recently i forgot/cant remember but apparently as recalled by Kev Anderson , she’d ask me for my Marc Bolan Banshees home made Tshirt, and ………

  10. I remember it well, i was 16 at the time. Best tour from the Banshees was defo the Ju Ju tour though, saw that in Aberdeen & Edinburgh.

    1. The Juju tour was was my first Banshees concert at The Edinburgh Playhouse. I was still at school, and had just turned 16. Most memorable part of the night was the guitar shriek in Nightshift, It got a massive cheer from the crowd. It was also the first gig that left my ears ringing for a long time afterwards. I might still have the tour programme somewhere.

  11. A good read, Does anyone know why mckay and morris were so disgruntled , i’m sure they didn’t leave just because of the record shop incident, that must have been things coming to a head. I thought it might have been to do with mckay and morris being left out of the songwriting , but that’s not the case, at least for McKay, as he was a co writer on at least two thirds of The Scream, but on Join Hands most tracks are credited to the band. so this would have been a reduction in royalties for him. It seemed such a career suicide move, since mckay and morris were not the focal points of the band, and would have found it hard going to get another band off the ground. Maybe they should have studied the career of cook and jones post pistols, before they rang the taxi.

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