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The New Cue #337 November 20: Budgie
"Marc Almond said, ‘Do you want to come up and see my boa constrictor?’"
Hope you enjoyed the weekend,
Before we get stuck in to today’s edition, can we say a quick thank you to everyone who came down to our live event with Bill Ryder Jones on Friday at the Social in London, a splendid night was had by all. If you didn’t manage to get a ticket, don’t worry, we’ll relive most of it in an early January edition of The New Cue around Bill’s new album.
Onto the newsletter: today we welcome Siouxsie And The Banshees’ drummer Budgie to discuss his new album with The Cure’s Lol Tolhurst and much more besides. As you’ll see, in addition to being one of the best drummers of his generation, Budgie is a tremendous interviewee and almost any question you ask him quickly finds him pivoting into a great anecdote like a post-punk Peter Ustinov.
Ted, Niall and Chris
Start The Week With… Budgie
One of the most thrillingly inventive drummers of the past 40 years, Peter ‘Budgie’ Clark joined Siouxsie And The Banshees in 1979, helping to forge some of the most distinct and visionary music of the following decade. Here’s just a taste of the sort of rhythmic juju Budgie can cook up…
In addition to erecting The Banshees’ gothic musical architecture, he and soon-to-be wife Siouxsie Sioux also put out a string of more experimental records as The Creatures through the ‘80s and ‘90s which are also well worth checking out. Budgie’s C.V. doesn’t stop there, though. Prior to being a Banshee, he drummed on The Slits seminal debut album Cut and as a face at legendary Liverpool punk club Eric’s, was also in Big In Japan alongside Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Holly Johnson, The Lightning Seeds’ Ian Broudie and Bill Drummond from The KLF.
Following his divorce from Siouxsie in the early 2000s, Budgie has played with a number of artists including John Grant and Anonhi. Over Covid he hooked up with original Cure drummer Lol Tolhurst, U2/R.E.M. producer Jacknife Lee and a stellar cast of guests including James Murphy, The Edge, Bobby Gillespie and Modest Mouse’s Isaac Brock for a new project, Lol Tolhust x Budgie x Jacknife Lee. Out earlier this month, the resulting debut album Los Angeles is an absolute belter and finds Tolhurst and Budgie drumming up a storm within a glorious cacophony of cinematic, post-punk powered thrillers…
A few weeks ago, Budgie hopped on a Zoom call with Chris from his home in Berlin to talk about the project, his life as a Banshee and much, much more…
Hello Budgie, how are you doing?
I’m good, I just got back just got in from dropping the kids off at school. I’ve got one of those electric cargo bikes with a battery on the which makes it a little easier. We’re all getting heavier all the time, so I need it.
You’d need to have calves like a rugby player carting your kids around, otherwise.
My dad always used to say, ‘You got to get legs like [‘60s Manchester United forward] Denis Law…’ That takes you back a bit. I’ve just always been skinny. I was never a bulky guy. People used to wonder where I put all the food and the booze.
I’d imagine drumming is a fairly good calorie-burner.
It’s funny, I used to see good drummers and they were all really quick with their hands but to me, drumming was more physical. I always took drumming to be more like a dance than a technical exercise.
You can really hear that in your playing.
That’s interesting. Well, there you go. That solves that mystery. It used to be the case that you’d go on tour and come back stick thin. More recently the gigs have been less demanding than the 150% energy required for powering up a Banshees, or even a Creatures show. Drumming with John Grant was a little more sedate. I was just the drummer in the band and songs were kind of easygoing.
You could take a bit more of a backseat.
Yeah, and I enjoyed that. For a while after Siouxsie and I split, I had four years of doing nothing wondering, ‘What happens now?’ Then my mate down in Brighton got me playing with [electro/world music outfit] Juno Reactor doing all these trance festivals around Europe. It was a totally different world that I didn’t know existed. That was about 2007-2009, then I’ve been playing in other people’s bands until now, really.
Did you have that sense when you and Siouxsie split up, that it wasn’t just your marriage that was over, it was your career too. You’d been playing together since your early 20s…
Definitely. It wasn’t just that the two bands had stopped. It was the relationship and the marriage, the whole thing. Me and Siouxsie did everything together. Your first reaction is to just go somewhere where you think you might pick up something, whether it be a gig or a connection. So as the divorce papers started to come together, I headed to Los Angeles. I had some friends there so I was couch surfing and people let me stay places, I got the keys to a motorbike. It became a therapeutic trip, I pieced myself back together in a small way, but it was four years before I really got back behind a kit. And that was a shock. But it was great and then slowly I kind of gravitated to being here in Berlin with a new life and a new beginning.
It must have been a very intense thing to have to recalibrate yourself from.
It was a huge carpet being pulled out from underneath me. It was like, ‘Oh shit, which way is the ground?’ I knew where the ground was because I felt like I’ve collapsed onto it. It was really emotional, physical, psychological. I didn’t know how to function. Quite soon after, there was a remastering of the old Banshees catalogue going on, repackaging the albums into nice little CD boxes and everything. I was getting this stuff sent from Metropolis studios where they were doing the remastering and I just looked at it and I thought, ‘I can’t even listen to this…’ It was just too raw. I can’t remember if we were doing Juju or Hyaena or whichever one it was, but each one had its package of music and then the memory of how it came about. You rarely go back and listen to your music unless it’s for technical reasons, but I was just being open and said, ‘I can’t even listen to her voice.’ It was too much. It was all of what happened afterwards rushing up to meet you. Now, I’m fascinated by it. Now, I revisit it and listen to it and go: Woah! That’s a killer track, or a killer album, or a great beat or an amazing lyric or piece of music. Every now and then I even go, ‘[bassist and founding Banshee, Steve] Severin did a good bassline!’ You can put that as the headline. [In The Banshees] our relationships were as rough and tumble as a gang, you’re a lot more attached. Whatever you do with your personal life affects everybody and you learn to roll with it. I was there from the day I joined until the day Severin decided to quit. Managers fell by the wayside, we had several guitarists, we had Robert Smith in the band a couple of times.
I was going to ask you about that…
Robert coming in was amazing. We were doing an album and it was going nowhere fast, then I was sitting writing songs with Robert, he was on piano me on the kit. That was half of [sixth Banshees album] Hyaena. Siouxsie and I had just come from finishing The Creatures’ album and we were trying to piece the Banshees back together again. So there’s a few things that lead up to this album, this connection with Lol.
When did you and Lol first meet?
I joined The Banshees when The Cure were opening for us. So the first picture of me with Siouxsie and Severin taken has got Robert, Lol and [original Cure bassist] Michael Dempsey altogether as one big happy crazy gang. It was a bad time for The Banshees because they had to reinvent themselves, successfully as it turned out. [Third album] Kaleidoscope was Siouxsie and Severin and me joining in. We still didn’t have a guitarist full time, we eventually got [Magazine guitarist] John McGeoch and it became a band. What I sense now looking back on it, was that The Creatures was a good hiatus for me and Siouxsie. It was kind of a busman’s holiday, of course, but it meant that we could work quickly. Siouxsie was doing lyrics, the top line, the occasional instrumental passage but the music was all me. It was a simple construction, I’d get a beat going and just flesh it out. It was usually a one take affair.
When did the conversation with you and Lol start about collaborating on what would become this album?
Well, the instrumental project came off the back of the idea for the podcast [Budgie and Lol have an excellent post-punk themed podcast, Curious Creatures]. Lol suggested that we just do something together. I was on tour with John Grant at the time. If I hadn’t been on tour with John, I wouldn’t have met James Murphy backstage at T in the Park and I wouldn’t have bumped into Bobby Gillespie again. Bobby sent his lyrics in, we knew James Murphy was keen. Jacknife Lee had been working with Lonnie Holley. We had some other people that took some stuff away but didn’t really come back with anything, so the whole thing started to change. Our manager Mark met with Modest Mouse and Isaac [Brock]. What I love was the connections you got out of it. People would say, ‘Oh I was listening to that when I was doing this…’ you think, ‘Really?!’
Did you find in the ‘90s for The Banshees, and The Cure too, that you’d fallen out of favour, but in recent years the light is coming back onto what you did?
It might be a bit more general. Like what we did is we’d listen to T. Rex and find out a riff was from Howlin’ Wolf or something, you do your research backwards. It’s easy to do that now. I dunno. We seem to have got the mantle of goth pioneers or whatever, but we always kept it at arms’ length. [The goth tag] was always odd because certainly as The Creatures we’d get put in all the wrong places. You’d end up being booked at some really severe black metal places in Germany where the audience would look the other way like, ‘[Thick German accent] This is not what we want!’ So we stuck around to see what it was they were listening to and it would be like German body builders in rubber and spikes going: Warrrrrgggggh! It was weird.
You didn’t fancy getting the rubber and spikes out then?
I tried! I polished the rubber off, I did get into that guise at one point. But with the legacy, Jacknife said to us that we should just own it. Like we see our old mate Johnny Marr owning his legacy and Morrissey slagging him off for it every time. He’s wicked. But not as wicked as Pete Burns, bless him.
Did you know Pete from [Liverpool punk club] Eric’s?
Pete and I were never good buddies at Eric’s. I saw a photograph recently of him on stage and Julian Cope on bass, Ian Broudie on guitar, Bill Drummond on guitar and me on drums. You can’t really see me, but I recognised my elbow behind Ian. Pete Burns is singing and I know the song because I remember rehearsing it with him, it was R. Dean Taylor’s There’s A Ghost In My House. I saw Pete more when he arrived in London. He almost hospitalised our guitarist at the time who took something that Pete said probably more seriously than Pete meant it. Pete and his partner Lynn didn’t mince their words. They didn’t take kindly to having a pint of beer thrown over them. That was me off to a night in A&E. The next day we were in the studio with John Cale trying to put the finishing touches to The Rapture, the last album we did. We walked in and John just looked at us and said, ‘Oh god, where have you two been?’ Pete went through massive changes, way before he did the whole Big Brother thing, I loved what he did in the pop world, it was like he finally had his moment. It was nice. It was nice meeting Marc Almond outside Madame Jo Jo’s in Soho. Marc had a flat opposite. He said, ‘Do you want to come up and see my boa constrictor?’ It was amazing, that cast of characters.
Do you look back and realise how incredible it was at that time that all these different characters all broke through the barricades and ended up on Top Of The Pops?
I didn’t know what was going on. Somebody asked me if it political. There was a lot of disenfranchisement from everybody involved. Everybody was after the fifteen minutes of fame. It’s like Big In Japan. Collectively, we couldn’t get signed anywhere. But individually everyone walked off, Ian eventually got his deal, Bill went into the KLF…
It would be nice to now show one of those A&Rs that turned you down just how many records the members of Big In Japan have sold collectively. [As well as featuring Budgie, Ian Broudie, Holly Johnson and Bill Drummond, Big In Japan also had Teardrop Explodes/Food Records boss Dave Balfe and Madness/Elvis Costello producer Clive Langer in its ranks]
I know who’s probably sold the most. Bill will forever have to explain burning a million pounds. I’m sure it would come in handy right now!
That generation of pop stars of all these different musical stripes had all come out of punk initially but very quickly moved on to something else.
We couldn’t get far enough away from it. Leave that to The Damned. Nobody wanted it. The Pistols didn’t want it. Sid [Vicious] took on the mantle of everything that it was. He lived that, and it was not pleasant. It was his demise. He believed the myth. You had to then think, Where does that take us? The contemporary bands we were listening to were Wire and The Psychedelic Furs. Magazine, who I supposed we grabbed the sound of [by taking John McGeoch]. That was Severin’s work. Magazine’s bassist Barry Adamson, he played with Nick Cave forever. I remember seeing The Birthday Party in Covent Garden, I must have had a few drinks because I stormed into the dressing room when they came off – they were very scary, but I didn’t care – and told them they were amazing and they just looked at me like, Yeah? I ended up playing with Nick in West Kensington somewhere. It was just one track and Nick was on piano, it was a very Tom Waits-sounding thing, I was piecing together percussion from found objects. It was a very late-night affair. Years later, Anni Hogan was compiling these songs she’d written and it turned out it was one of hers, this track Vixo.
I thought it was one of those things that was lost forever but now it’s out there. It’s really crazy hearing a young Nick Cave finding this new voice. It was a nice cool moment to be part of. I couldn’t tell the band though. Nick Cave?!? Ugh, no! It’s a strange mindset being in a gang isn’t it? You’re like that, then you meet George Michael and he’s lovely – can we hang out again next week? But you’d go down to Steve Strange’s club and there’d be the guys from Haircut 100 or George Michael and Boy George would be there and everybody would be going [mimes flicking the Vs], but really, everyone was in the same boat.
If you and Lol play this live what might we be able to expect? I’m guessing it’s not going to be Hong Kong Garden, Happy House and Love Cats…
I should be so lucky! What was that other song that Kylie did? Can’t Get You Out Of My Head, what a bassline. I got to share a stage with Kylie when I was with John Grant at The Royal Albert Hall. She came on for one song. Her in-ear monitors hadn’t been switched on so she came on, opened her mouth and nothing. You wouldn’t have known, but when she walked off stage she looked at the sound engineer and it was one of those looks that said: you will never work in this industry again. All these moments of magic and funny moments…
Do you think you and Lol will make another album?
I want to. It’s been four years since we did this one, so I think we’re ready. If we could take a bit less time on this one to get from A to B. It would be nice to see what the next one would be like, would it sound vastly different? I don’t know.
Maybe you could get Kylie on the next one.
Mmmmm. She looks very green on her new posters, I’ve seen them around town. But there are a few people I would still like to work with.
Anyone in particular?
PJ Harvey. She’s such an intense, class act. We’ve met a few times over the years. Actually, if there is somebody who you really want to work with it often doesn’t work out the way you think it would. It’s more often : who’d have thought we’d be doing that with them! It’s more laying the roots for it and seeing who comes. We’ll set the table and see who comes along to The Mad Hatter’s tea party.
Thank you so much for talking to us Budgie, it’s been great hearing all your stories
I got wrapped up in it! I’m writing my memoir at the moment, everyone keeps pushing me to do it, it’s become more clear and the arc is really forming, so all of this really helps, so thank you giving me some time to go back over it all.
My pleasure, enjoy the rest of your morning.
OK thanks, bye now.