Few people embodied the transition of punk into post-punk than Siouxsie Sioux. Alongside her band The Banshees, the singer emerged from punk’s royal family, The Bromley Contingent, to encapsulate a brand new subversive sound and take it into the mainstream.
One song that has always typified both Siouxsie and The Banshees and the singer herself was the group’s mesmeric debut. Arguably one of the first true post-punk hits and the first flickers of the cresting new wave, the angular brilliance of ‘Hong Kong Garden’. We’re taking a moment to revisit perhaps the most powerful piece of the track, Siouxsie’s vocals.
The track was composed as an instrumental by guitarist John McKay in 1977 and was first played to the band while they were on a tour bus and the angular guitar provoked a stark reaction in Siouxsie. The singer-songwriter decided to write a song aimed directly at the racist skinheads beginning to infiltrate punk.
The song was named after the Chinese takeaway in Chislehurst High Street in South London in which she saw constant racial assault and aggravation. “I’ll never forget, there was a Chinese restaurant in Chislehurst called the Hong Kong Garden,” she once commented. “Me and my friend were really upset that we used to go there and like, occasionally when the skinheads would turn up it would really turn really ugly.
“These gits would just go in en masse and just terrorise these Chinese people who were working there. We’d try and say ‘Leave them alone’, you know. It was a kind of tribute.”
Siouxsie later explained to Uncut: “I remember wishing that I could be like Emma Peel from The Avengers and kick all the skinheads’ heads in, because they used to mercilessly torment these people for being foreigners. It made me feel so helpless, hopeless and ill.” Siouxsie did everything she could to put all of those emotions, conflicting and infuriating as they were, into her vocal performance.
The isolated vocal of the song has been floating around the internet for many years and is a stark reminder of the power of Siouxsie Sioux’s unique vocal. Often seen as more of an icon of music than an iconic musician, her vocal delivery is far too often overlooked.
This performance not only gathers up all of the masses of emotion that surrounds such a potent subject but spits it out like a firecracker all over this debut release. It was the moment Siouxsie and The Banshees announced themselves to the world, the song that started the new wave and a strong message that below you can hear clearer than ever.