The Making Of “Hong Kong Garden” by Siouxsie And The Banshees

Siouxsie Sioux, Steve Severin, John McKay and Kenny Morris tell all about their classic debut

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STEVEN SEVERIN
Bassist, co-writer
We were finding our feet not only as songwriters, but as musicians. McKay would bring in to rehearsal a chord sequence that he liked, but nothing you could call a full-fledged song. We would then work out our own parts and start arranging everything into shape. Even though Siouxsie and I started the band in 1976 we felt it was important to credit everyone equally – it was very much in the spirit of “all for one and one for all”.

No-one was happy with the Olympic session. We found it difficult being so far apart from each other, isolated in booths. We’d never recorded like that before. We were used to hearing each other in close proximity and loud, not through headphone mixes. It was very disconcerting.

Hong Kong Garden” wasn’t written as a single but it was the catchiest thing we’d written thus far. We grew up with our favourite singles not being on albums – “Virginia Plain“, “Pyjamarama“, “John, I’m Only Dancing“, “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” – and that was a precedent we were keen to follow, not least because we felt “Hong Kong Garden” was a sore thumb compared to the material that was being honed for The Scream. Once I heard the final mix I knew it was a hit.

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Oh, it was a great feeling, after slogging around the UK for two years on blind faith and little else. We felt supremely vindicated and actually a bit pissed off it didn’t get higher! We had an intense and righteous belief in ourselves and what we were starting to create. We planned to be there for the long haul, to make a difference… and some of us were and did.

The version of “Hong Kong Garden“, and its use in the film Marie Antoinette is magnificent. I’d heard a rumour that Sofia [Coppola] was a fan but nothing prepared me for the orchestrated intro. Brilliant.

STEVE LILLYWHITE
Producer
It starts with Johnny Thunders. I’m in the studio with him recording So Alone, and Johnny is friends with Nils Stevenson, who was Siouxsie’s manager. Nils came to the studio and liked what he was hearing.

He said they’d recorded a version of “Hong Kong Garden” but didn’t think it was good enough. Did I want to have a go at it? I thought, “Wow!” The vibe was so big with Siouxsie And The Banshees, it felt like it was going to happen. I said let’s do it without having heard it. It wasn’t so much about the song, it was about the movement – punk was really cooking – and I was at the epicentre of the whole thing.

We recorded it at the Fallout Shelter at Island Records in maybe a couple of days. There were other bands around whose interest was more in getting loaded and having a party, whereas with Siouxsie And The Banshees, it was art.

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In those days, we were serious about not liking to spend too long on songs. I would never let guitar players bend a note. The moment you bent a note, it was considered like Pink Floyd – the “bad stuff”. I remember getting Kenny Morris to play his drums separately so not to hit the cymbals at the same time, which is something that I’ve done a lot.

Hong Kong Garden” was recorded to be a single. It was also a test to see whether we would get on, to be able to do the album. It was my first hit. I’m very proud of it. It sounds even better now than it did then. Some records in your career you think are good and are hits but just sort of die, and others have a life of their own, and “Hong Kong Garden” does a little bit of that.

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