KENNY Morris is an eye- witness to rock ’n‘ roll history, writes Ed Power.
As friend and confidante of the tragic Sid Vicious and drummer in the definitive line-up of Siouxsie and The Banshees, he had a ringside seat to one of the most exciting times in 20th century youth culture.
Now an artist based in Cork City, he revisits the period in a new exhibition that opens on Culture Night. The Modern Raze is a selection of artwork, painting, and videos, much of it inspired by Morris’ experiences in the ’70s punk movement — an anti-authoritarian uprising that scandalised the establishment and saw its lead exponents demonised in the press.
As part of the opening night programme, Morris, 59, will also perform an improvised musical piece of indeterminate length, channelling the energy and irreverence of punk as the scene marks its 40th anniversary (it will be made available on YouTube from Tuesday).
“I felt I had to,” says the softly spoken north Londoner of his decision to honour punk. “I thought it was the right time — why not? It was a very exciting period, of course.
“There was a lot of competition between all the bands. People think we mixed but that wasn’t always the case.
“There was a rivalry even if some of us had been friends. It was hard to describe. There was an integral competition between us. I suppose there was a connection in so far as a lot of the people involved came from the suburbs and from the art schools.”
He was certain Siouxsie Sioux was going to be a star the first time he clapped eyes on her. The venue was a converted cinema in north London where Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren was putting on gigs. Siouxsie wasn’t performing but, dancing in the front row, she commandeered all the attention.
“This was before I’d even watched her perform,” says Morris. “She was up front and it was pretty clear she had something. She had already been on the Bill Grundy show [when the Sex Pistols and hangers-on including Siouxsie Sioux had scandalised the conservative host]. Seeing her in the flesh you knew she was different.”
Punk changed the face of rock music — and Morris was at the heart of the maelstrom. By the time Siouxsie asked him to join the Banshees — soon to become famous for hits such as ‘Hong Kong Garden’ and ‘Metal Postcard’, later sampled by Massive Attack, — he had already had a stint alongside Sid Vicious in the Flowers of Romance, a legendary early punk band that split before releasing any music or even playing a show.
“I had intended on going to study at the Royal College of Art in London. Then I got involved with The Flowers of Romance. Sid later left to join the Sex Pistols and I was asked if I wanted to become involved with the Banshees. It was a very exciting time.”
Morris left the Banshees in acrimonious circumstances after their second album, Join Hands, in 1979. It was the start of a difficult period in his life, though he found redemption when he gave up music to train as an artist (this after a stint collaborating with famed set designer and later Culture Club backing singer Helen Terry).
“I had seriously good offers. Several well-known outfits wanted me to join. But it was an odd year. It was in a dark hole. It felt like a divorce.”
He finished his training an as artist and ended up in Kildare, teaching and putting on exhibitions. His parents were Irish and he felt an affinity with the country. Eventually he found his way to Cork.
“I travelled around Ireland quite a bit. I had been to Cork quite a few times. It struck me that it was a real centre for arts and culture. Its absolutely astounded me. I’ve been here ever since.”
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