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This Weekend I’ll Mostly Be Listening to… Sidi Bou Said June 7, 2014

Posted by WorldbyStorm in This Weekend I'll Mostly Be Listening to....

Sidi Bou Said are a fascinating group of women, Claire Lemmon, Gayl Harrison and Melanie Woods (and one man(?) I think, Lee Howton, at the start of their career and for their first album), who appeared and then faded away during the 1990s, informed by the Pixies, psychedelia and elements of prog rock. It would be difficult to argue that Throwing Muses were not also an influence, but there’s something all their own in the gleeful, near scatological, approach both musical and lyrical. Lyrically they were positioned in a strongly feminist discourse.

The Allmusic review of their second album Bodies is a single sentence:

Bodies shows the group as staunch environmentalists and concerned with women’s issues, while still displaying their own British wit and identity.

Okay, that sort of sums it up, but there’s a lot more to them. And even the Allmusic description is notable for what it leaves out rather than what it includes:

Brits Claire Lemmon (guitar, vocals), Gayl Harrison (bass) and Melanie Woods (drums, vocals) formed Sidi Bou Said, a band in which a British folk ideal is blended with standard alternative pop/rock. The trio has released a debut album and 1995’s Bodies.

Certainly their quiet, loud, quiet loud, dynamic owes a lot to alternative rock, but… there’s something else going on in there. Every once in a while something close to surf rock appears to wander through individual songs, or prog, or psychedelia or… And that prog influence? Big Yellow Taxidermist (unfortunately not available online) combines both the surf rock sound and prog elements. This latter was amplified, perhaps, by the fact the group became good friends with Tim Smith and the Cardiacs, and indeed he produced their second album, Bodies. It is to Smith’s credit that this manifests in a very low key fashion. The Cardiacs are one of my favourite groups – but their unique hyperactive abandon isn’t evident here – Sidi Bou Said are a much more measured outfit, for all that they swoop and soar. And so there may be elements of prog, repeated complex patterns and phrases, but these add tonality rather than swamping compositions.

Wormee, Hyde and Ode to Drink below come from Bodies, Twilight Eyes and Three Sides come from earlier.

It’s dispiriting to discover that none of their albums are currently available, either as CDs or download. As a group I think they deserve much better than that.

But, perhaps no surprise that drummer Melanie Woods who also did vocals has wound up as part of the extremely interesting psychedelic/prog Knifeworld in the late 2000s – another group coming soon to TWIMBLT.



Ode To Drink

Twilight Eyes

Three Sides


1. Phil - June 7, 2014

Blimey – who were these people and why have I never heard them before? I felt bad enough about having missed out on the Breeders, but at least I knew who they were; this lot passed me by completely. Amazing stuff – thanks!


WorldbyStorm - June 7, 2014

Phil, I’m delighted someone else likes them. I think they were very obscure, I only found out about them through the Cardiacs/Tim Smith connection. The third album is different to Bodies, perhaps a bit more prog like, but more angular in a way. The first I’ve never heard, appears it was deleted really quickly.


James Gardner - October 12, 2014

I remember owning Brooch (the first album) in the early 90’s on cassette. Thanks for the reminder – I’ll have to track down the album again!


WorldbyStorm - October 12, 2014

I can’t find that album anywhere. :(


James Gardner - October 14, 2014

Amazon in the UK have some copies in the Marketplace – that’s the best way to get hold of it. I’ll be doing this too!


WorldbyStorm - October 14, 2014

Nice one, handy to know.


2. Thomas E - May 20, 2015

I was a big fan back in the 90s , entering SBS’ world as a fan of Throwing Muses/Breeders/Pixies, their sound, twists and turns in every tune just really exited me and they do to this day. It really is a shame that this band should just disappear into forgotten history when they should at least be an important part of 90’s alternative history. I wish I could find them at spotify at the very least. Well I still have my albums. The 3rd album from 97 is also a gem btw.


WorldbyStorm - July 11, 2015



3. coca ebola - July 11, 2015

Lee Howton was female – it’s her lead vocals you hear on the songs she wrote e.g Thing. BROOCH was terribly produced (vocals buried etc), but I just discovered live versions of those songs on some of the free-download sites which are far superior! Grab ’em while you can.


WorldbyStorm - July 11, 2015

Thanks ce. I was confused by the videos. Is that a man in early ones? Anyhow, will follow your lead re live versions. Great if there was a rerelease. They deserve it.


4. Mark H - July 11, 2015

Coming to this late; but. Like the poster above, after hearing that Lee Howton has somehow turned into a bloke over the years I felt compelled to add something! Sidi Bou Said were my favourite band during a chunk of the nineties, and at a realistic estimate I think I saw them live around forty times, mostly in pubs and small venues around South East London.

They began as an all-woman four piece, but after the first two singles and the debut album Lee moved on from the band; the remaining members continued as a three-piece from then on. Interestingly (from the comments made about the production on the first album) Lee now appears to be married to the person who produced that album, Tim Friese-Green.

A central character to the Sidis story worth mentioning is Simon Aldous, who combined both being the band’s manager and also running his record label BoogleWonderland alongside his own full-time job. Claire and Melanie both also played (guitar and drums respectively) in Umbrella Heaven (the band which Simon fronted), and continued to do so both on record and live long after the Sidis had established themselves.

At the time of Broooch Lee had been married to Steve, who was in the band Spongefinger with Jack Hayter. Jack later went on to join Hefner (Simon Aldous had put out Hefner’s first two singles on his own record label), with Hefter’s Darren Hayman later producing Umbrella Heaven’s third and final album. Claire and Lee from Sidis had previously sung backing vocals on the Hefner song “Mary Lee”.

As well as the three Sidi Bou Said albums which have been mentioned, there was also a compilation entitled ”B Sides” which was sold at later gigs, but I believe pressed up by Simon and the band themselves as it was not an official release on Ultimate Recordings and I’ve never seen it come up on Amazon or through any other online sellers. Perhaps slightly annoyingly it does not include the band’s first two singles “Twilight Eyes” and “Three Sides”, which I still after all these years only own on vinyl and have never had an mp3 or equivalent. A reprise from a short section of “Three Sides” appeared on the band’s debut album, but not the actual song.

After Sidi Bou Said, Claire Lemmon went on to release a solo album “Cleaner” (on Simon’s BoogleWondferland Records) which was actually very good indeed, but again good luck in getting hold of that if you don’t have a copy already. Claire performed live shows at this time with Jon Poole (formerly of the Cardiacs) backing up on other instruments.

Poole remained with Lemmon on her next band Ventolin. Later, in their next band Tetra, the pair would be joined by Melanie Woods on drums. Despite what you might read on Wikipedia and the like about this being some kind of a reunion, both bands played new songs rather than Sidis songs in their live shows.

Anyway, there you go…


WorldbyStorm - July 11, 2015

Fantastic to get this background for which many thanks. Got to say SBS have a dedicated bunch of followers. And I’m almost amazed by another Cardiacs connection. Almost!


5. Hipsterdoofus - August 6, 2015

There’s also a very, very limited edition live EP called Entertain. Contains some beauties. I went to loads of the SBS gigs and even supported them in one of my bands. They were great live. The 3rd album is called Obsessive and in my opinion better than Broooch but not as good as Bodies.

I miss them still. Going back to ’em this weekend.


Thomas E - August 13, 2015

I totally agree with your assessment of the albums, but as another poster mentioned, Broooch had terrible production. Plus , it didn’t have the original version of Three Sides (with Lee Howton), instead it sported a dulled down version….


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