Here’s a story about when I was watching an old music video which led me to discovering something that I couldn’t believe. Often late at night I like to watch old videos on YouTube of Top Of The Pops and The Chart Show, it brings back memories of pop music throughout the 80s and 90s and reminds me of the time when in the days before social media if you wanted to find out what your favourite bands were up to you had to wait for the latest issue of Smash Hits to come out every fortnight or join a fan club or mailing list, and if you wanted to see them on TV you had to hope that they would appear on one of the few channels available. Not so long ago when I wanted to watch some videos of The Chart Show online, I picked out a Top Ten from May 1992 (when I was eight years old), and one of the videos that was played was “I Don’t Care” by Shakespear’s Sister. I can’t really remember the last time that I saw this video, and my thoughts while watching went from “I can’t believe that this song is 25 years old now”, to “this video is really weird” to “that was actually rather great”. I hadn’t thought about the group for such a long time, but because their music still clearly stirred feelings in me I wanted to have a reappraisal of their work and I decided because I was curious to take a look at their discography and biography, and I was satisfied to have learned a little more about them, and I then started to think to myself “those women who were in the group, they were really great and had personality, I wonder where they are now?”. I must admit that I am now at the age where current pop stars don’t really interest me any more, the last wave of singers that I really got into was around the late-2000s when the likes of Paloma Faith, Jessie J and Florence Welch came on to the scene, and I have always enjoyed a quirky pop star.
The story of Shakespear’s Sister is rather interesting, so here it is. Bananarama are a pop group that formed in 1979 consisting of Sara “the blonde one” Dallin, Keren “the brunette one” Woodward and Siobhan Fahey who had their first Top Ten hit single in 1982. They quickly became popular and appeared on the cover of various pop magazines including Smash Hits and Number One, and even the more rock-oriented NME and Melody Maker, and they were always good value in interviews. Although they never had a Number One single in the UK (excluding their contributions to charity records), they were consistently successful for a decade and even managed to crack America when their version of the Shocking Blue song “Venus” was a chart-topper in 1986 (this was even referenced in an episode of American Dad, now there’s a legacy). They worked on this song with Stock-Aitken-Waterman, the production team who were really in demand at that point, their work seemed to be all over the singles chart in the late-80s, they produced a huge amount of hits, and they collaborated with everyone from Sonia to Sigue Sigue Sputnik. Shortly after a performance at the 1988 Brit Awards Siobhan was reported to be unhappy with the increasing SAW-isation of their sound, and realising that she wouldn’t be able to achieve her plans for a different musical direction within the group, she decided to quit, and they didn’t appear on TV together again until an edition of TFI Friday in 1998. I’m fairly sure that my sister saw Bananarama live on stage at the 1988 Smash Hits Poll Winners Party at the Royal Albert Hall, by which point Sara and Keren were on their second line-up alongside newcomer Jacquie O’Sullivan.
It was a gamble that would definitely pay off though. Siobhan’s new project was called Shakespear’s Sister, named after a song by The Smiths, and after a slow start, she teamed up with the American singer-songwriter Marcella Detroit who had previously worked with the likes of Eric Clapton and had a vocal ability that was little short of operatic, which contrasted with Siobhan’s low singing voice, creating a unique sound. In the summer of 1989 they had their first Top Ten hit single with the great “You’re History”, and Siobhan was soon back on Top Of The Pops and the cover of Smash Hits. Something that was also noticed about Siobhan was her new look, in the space of just a few years she had transformed from a short blonde-haired dungaree-wearing tomboy into a stunningly seductive black-haired goth goddess, looking totally unrecognisable from her girl group days in what has to be one of the most amazing image changes in pop music history. Then followed a quiet couple of years (although they did win the highly prestigious honour of The ITV Chart Show‘s Best Video Of The Year award in 1991 for “Goodbye Cruel World”), and at the start of 1992 they suddenly hit the big time.
Their epic song “Stay” went on to spend eight consecutive weeks at Number One, making it the longest-running chart-topping single by an all-female group in UK chart history, even the Spice Girls at the peak of their popularity in the mid-90s didn’t spend longer at the top with any of their hits. Part of the success of “Stay” is down to the famous (and much parodied) video, featuring Marcella’s memorably emotional performance alongside Siobhan’s rather crazed delivery of her lines, which created a huge buzz around the song and got the public talking. They became the band of the moment and I still honestly can’t believe that it’s the same woman who just five years earlier was making songs like “I Heard A Rumour” and “Love In The First Degree”. The fact that a song and video as out there as “Stay” was able to touch a mainstream audience on such a scale really was remarkable, it went platinum and was one of the UK’s biggest-selling singles of the year. (“Stay” also spent six weeks at Number One in Ireland and reached the Top Five in America and Canada). “Stay” won over a new generation after it was performed on The X Factor in 2010 and looking back 25 years on I’m still so pleased that they reached the top. They then had some more success including their third and final Top Ten hit single “I Don’t Care” (they even appeared on Parallel 9 and everything), and they rounded off their incredible year with one final rousing performance of “Stay” live on BBC1 at the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party which took place at the Olympia Arena, but it was clear that things were beginning to go wrong, and barely a year after “Stay” was released, their moment had passed.
Shortly after winning at the 1993 Brit Awards for which only Marcella turned up it was all over, and unfortunately the lyric from “Goodbye Cruel World” “you’re never gonna see my face again” became all too appropriate. There was a clear clash of personalities between the two and one rumour is that Siobhan and Marcella had a huge falling out, Marcella was receiving most of the plaudits for their success, and wanting to regain sole control over her own project, Siobhan threw Marcella out the group. Marcella was never informed directly about this, only discovering the news through a statement that was released, she never really forgave Siobhan for the way she was let go, they haven’t spoken to one another since, and they are never ever getting back together. After this, Marcella had success with a solo album in 1994, Siobhan returned in 1996 with Shakespear’s Sister now a solo project again, and more singles and albums have been released under the name since in various musical styles, whereas regarding Bananarama, Jacquie left in 1991, and Sara and Keren decided to carry on as a duo, having more hits and touring the world.
The reason I am telling you all this is because there was then a rather odd coincidence. In April 2017 there was the surprise announcement that Siobhan had decided to rejoin Bananarama after 29 years and they were going to go on tour across the UK. After wondering what she was up to now, it was great suddenly seeing Siobhan and indeed all three of them back in the spotlight appearing on various TV shows and the news of the reunion seemed to make a lot of people very happy. I do like lots of Bananarama singles of course including “Cruel Summer”, but Shakespear’s Sister were more to my style really. I should also point out that I never thought to try and track any of them down on social media or fansites or anything like that because I hadn’t thought about them for such a long time.
Then it began to get rather weird. In one of the many articles that have appeared in newspapers and magazines looking back at their careers since the announcement, it was mentioned that the first step towards their reformation was when they met one another for the first time in goodness knows how many years in Bethnal Green. Now this is the part of London that I live in, and I was rather amused to think they are familiar with this area and have been here, and this was where they built their bridges, started to look at one another and began to think about doing it all over again. It made me feel a part of it a little more to think that one of the most successful pop groups that there has ever been who paved the way for the likes of the Sugababes and Girls Aloud know all about here. Then, doing a little more research, I managed to find a picture that had been posted on Twitter featuring the ladies looking somewhat emotional and clearly having a good time reminiscing about the old days, and Sara stated that they were all having a dance and a barbecue round Siobhan’s house in Bethnal Green. I thought to myself “wow, so one of them had been living here, that’s really great, I never would’ve expected that, I…” waitasec.
Siobhan lived in Bethnal Green? The woman who was in Bananarama and Shakespear’s Sister actually lived in Bethnal Green?? I thought she was great and wondered where she was now and it turned out that she was almost literally living across the road from me all along??? It just had to be her out of the three didn’t it! She had a number one single in America for goodness sake!! To say that I couldn’t believe it is something of an understatement, I was totally shocked and blown away by this news. I first went online about two decades ago now, and I honestly think that this is just about the most extraordinary thing that I have ever discovered in all that time. I still can’t believe it, she lived in the same part of London as me, the woman who sang on “Stay”, she was there… yes, really… just… how? What an incredible coincidence, this pop music eh, who would’ve thought? It does make an impact on your life and it really can sometimes do great things.