A Return To The Spooky World Of Shakespear’s Sister.

Don’t talk of revolution as a thing of the pasts11

Well, this is something that is rather remarkable. Two years ago I wrote what I think will always be my favourite blog piece, and I never thought that there would be so many twists and turns since. It all centred around the pop group Bananarama. They consisted of Sara Dallin, Keren Woodward and Siobhan Fahey, who released their first single in 1981, but it was a flop. 

ss1

Where it all began… an advert for the first-ever Bananarama single “Aie A Mwana”, released way back in September 1981

But their career soon took off with many Top Ten hits in the UK, they contributed to the first Band Aid, pushed the boundaries for women in music long before the likes of Lady Gaga come along, and for about a week in 1986 they were the biggest pop group in the world (now that may seem sarcastic, but they did have a Number One single in America with “Venus”, the toughest music market to break). Despite this success, Siobhan was unhappy with the change in musical direction, and left shortly after marrying Dave Stewart in 1987. vlcsnap-00037

In 1988 Siobhan went on to form Shakespear’s Sister, and she was joined by Marcella Detroit. They made many great singles that played on their contrasting vocal styles and personalities that were accompanied by some excellent award-winning videos and memorable TV appearances. Siobhan’s transformation into a Siouxsie Sioux-esque goth goddess was rather startling too. In 1992 they unexpectedly had the longest-running Number One single by an all-female group in UK chart history with the stunningly successful “Stay”. 

ss3

Videos for “Break My Heart”, “Heroine”, “You’re History” and “Run Silent”, all singles from the first album “Sacred Heart”

ss4

Videos for “Goodbye Cruel World”, “Stay”, “I Don’t Care” and “Hello (Turn Your Radio On)”, all singles from the second album “Hormonally Yours”

ss5

Siobhan appears on the cover of Smash Hits in October 1989. Fame at last!

This increased level of fame created tension between them leading to a rather bitter falling out, and in 1993 Siobhan waved her hands. Like a magic man. And Marcella disappeared. I concluded “they are never ever getting back together”. I thought it was a shame but that’s just how it was, sometimes it’s better to leave things in the past and not reopen old wounds. It was such a disappointment that something they had worked so hard for to be achieved had to be almost instantly dismantled. vlcsnap-00001

vlcsnap-00561

Siobhan and Marcella at the height of their fame (probably??!)

But their image was striking and popular enough to become much imitated, including by French and Saunders in 1993 and on Stars In Their Eyes in 1994. When I reviewed that performance, I said that the imitators are all we’ve got left now as we’ll never see the original duo together again. Siobhan continued Shakespear’s Sister alone, but in 1996 her record label refused to release her new album, and although she continued to make music she had a rather low profile for the next two decades. In more recent years I presume that she was happy with where she was in her career but I did feel that a woman of her stature in pop music should be achieving more than performing in small-time pubs and clubs. ss9

The original Bananarama lineup didn’t reform and go on tour until 2017. In some interviews to promote the tour they said that the first step towards reconciling with one-another was in 2014 when Sara and Keren went to Siobhan’s house in Bethnal Green. Now this is where I live in London. I was so thrilled, especially as I thought she had long since gone to live in America, but clearly she hadn’t and would rather live near me, how flattering. Around this time, when Siobhan was asked if she would also work with Marcella again, she simply said “it’s certainly not on my agenda at the moment”. 

b7

Really?

b10

Yes, really!

I then wrote a piece on when I found a picture of Siobhan on Instagram in a pub in Bethnal Green that I am familiar with alongside Brix Smith (of The Fall and The Adult Net fame). Indeed, it’s a very short distance from my home and I have been in it myself. I wasn’t there at the time though, if I had been and I saw her walk in I can assure you because I am overawed by celebrities it would’ve taken a rather long time for me to pick my jaw back off the floor. brix4

The reunion tour in 2017 and 2018 was very well received, and somehow Siobhan was persuaded to perform “Stay” along with lots of other classic Bananarama hits which was a rather emotional moment for a lot of people (it is surprising how many pop stars don’t seem to be fond of playing their biggest hit, but it was worth it). I didn’t go myself but I bought the CD and DVD that was released of the tour as I thought that it would be the best offer we were going to get and no other reunions were going to happen. vlcsnap-00129

Then about a year ago a picture of Siobhan and Marcella together appeared online, by all accounts the first time that they had seen one-another for 25 years. It was a meeting that was planned, Siobhan was finally convinced to reconcile. I said that this was terrific and I hoped that they had made their peace, but I felt there was no chance of them doing new songs and tours together, we’re lucky to have got this far. Well, it seems that I was wrong about that, and I am pleased to be wrong. ss2

Not so long ago Shakespear’s Sister reactivated all their online presence, and started to upload pictures of Siobhan and Marcella together from the old days. Wait, there’s an official Shakespear’s Sister account actually acknowledging the existence of Marcella? Now this is intriguing. Then there was a big announcement that confirmed that Siobhan and Marcella had indeed got back together, and it was finally revealed that they had made some new songs as part of a best-of to be released in July 2019, and were also going to tour the UK in October and November 2019, including a gig at the London Palladium. I mean it’s not as prestigious a venue as The Sun Tavern of course but it’ll do. ss7

I was so shocked by all this I was trembling and sweating (although I am usually like that anyway), and the joy from fans around the world really was something. Who thought that we all would’ve lived so long? I was thrilled to bits, I honestly felt like all my Christmases had come at once, there was zero chance of this happening even a year ago, I wonder what made Siobhan change her mind? Maybe she accepted Marcella’s 16th apology. ss2

Both women are in their 60s now so maybe it was a case of sooner rather than later, but I never honestly thought I would see the day. I feel it really is something worthy of being described as unbelievable. But to be a little more serious, I know that I shouldn’t really expect “Stay II” and lightning doesn’t strike in the same place twice, their commercial peak was almost three decades ago. What caused a stir then will probably mean nothing to today’s generation of young music buyers. Well, it’s their loss. ss8

The Bananarama reunion tour was great, but this really is something else. I hope you’ll appreciate just how much this means to me. The only thing that could top this now was if Siobhan did a duet with Danielle Dax! Maybe in preparation for the tour Siobhan will show Marcella all the sights of Bethnal Green (which shouldn’t take long), and then they’ll go for a pint down the pub together. If they want to rehearse for the tour in my kitchen they’re welcome. ss6

To think that this is an active project again is a dream come true, and whatever happens next, I do wish them well, I hope they’re aware of the pleasure they’ve brought people over the years. I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait. Their last TV appearance together was live on BBC1 at the Smash Hits Poll Winners Party in December 1992, but that’s no longer the case. If you had told me back in 1992 when I was nine years old that they wouldn’t perform on TV together again until May 2019, I probably would’ve said “2019? We’ll all be living on the moon by then”. Ah yes, the moon, that’s where the catwomen come from…

Another story about pop music!

I was planning to finally begin putting together my piece looking back at the hit singles of pop group Bananarama in the 1980s and 90s, when I got somewhat distracted after I discovered a further twist in the remarkable “Bananarama decided to reform after they met up at Siobhan’s house in Bethnal Green which is where I live in London” story, it seems that they aren’t the only 80s pop stars round here! b8

In recent years the area where I live in London seems to have become one of those places that is suddenly trendy and all those hipster types like to hang around, and my mum often says “when I was out earlier there was some bloke walking along the street who looked as if he might be in a band”. I don’t know how many there really are, but here is another example of one.

I am not a member of the website Instagram, but you might remember when I looked at Siobhan from Bananarama’s page and noticed that she was putting pictures of herself on there in places not too far from where I live. I also noticed that there was another woman who was appearing in a lot of these pictures with her called Brix Smith. Now she was someone who I didn’t know much about so I decided to discover more. brix2

American born-Brix found fame in the 1980s when she became a member of indie band The Fall, and in July 1983 she married their frontman Mark E Smith (who actually died while I was putting this piece together), and around the same time she was in another band called The Adult Net who had a few minor hit singles. She also appeared on the cover of a lot of music magazines in the mid/late-80s including NME, Record Mirror and Sounds. A couple of years ago she published a book about her career. brix1

When I was putting together my piece on The Roxy and was looking for videos of performances from that show on YouTube, I found The Fall’s “Hit The North” from 1987 which features Brix on stage, and it seems that a lot of people thought that it was rather unusual for them to appear on primetime ITV. Then when I was channel hopping one night around the same time there was a documentary on Channel 5 about classic Christmas films which Brix contributed to where she was credited as a “TV presenter”. I thought it was weird that she was suddenly turning up a lot. vlcsnap-00225

As well as her music career, it seems that Brix has also had success in the world of fashion and for a while she owned a clothes shop with her second husband Philip Start in Shoreditch, which again is very close to where I live. So I decided to do a search for “Brix Shoreditch” and sure enough I found a few articles with interviews where she spoke about her career which stated “Brix lives in Shoreditch”. So she didn’t just have the shop there, she actually lived there. This is starting to get interesting… brix6

So I thought I might as well take this to its natural conclusion and searched for “Brix Bethnal Green”. Has she been anywhere that I would know? The results were rather surprising. I found a post from September 2017 saying that Brix was going to perform a gig at a place called The Sun Tavern in Bethnal Green. Now I do actually know where this is and it’s only a couple of minutes walk from where I live. So how did it all go? Did anyone turn up to this? brix3

And well, ooh yes, there’s only a picture of Brix alongside Siobhan at the gig at The Sun Tavern (where she describes Siobhan as “my dear friend”). Well again, I couldn’t believe it. You should know by now that I am into Shakespear’s Sister and I remember their epic run at the top of the singles chart in 1992 with “Stay”, so to think that one of the women who sang on that classic song is often here really has shocked me. It’s something that’s so strange that it reminds me of what Alan Partridge once said: “it’s like The X Files… but a pleasant X Files“. I wonder how they met and how long they have known one another? brix4

Not long after, Siobhan joined Brix onstage during a gig to perform the old The Fall song “Totally Wired” with her, at a venue called Oslo in Hackney, which again isn’t too far away. So if you saw the Bananarama tour recently, as much as I’m sure Siobhan enjoyed performing such classics as “Cruel Summer” and “Venus” across the UK, it seems that she’d sooner be down the pub performing The Fall songs round the corner from me. Sorry everyone! brix5

I have said before that I have no real interest in the cult of celebrity, but I wondered if Brix and Siobhan (or indeed any other pop stars) have ever been to other local trendy hotspots including the Working Men’s Club (which hit the headlines recently when Liam Gallagher performed a surprise gig there) or The Star Of Bethnal Green, which really is just about literally across the road from me. It does make me wonder just how many more 80s pop stars could be round here. Is Kim Wilde always in the local supermarket? Does Siouxsie Sioux live next door? Well in the future, if I see a woman walking along the street dressed like this, I’ll know who it is… b9

The Comedy Vault – special bonus edition!

When I was watching the sitcom The Mighty Boosh again recently, I remembered that there was a reference to Bethnal Green in an episode. Now this is the part of London that I live in, and I always find it surprising to hear a reference on the TV. I started to think about how many other comedy shows feature a reference. I don’t know why it seems to turn up so frequently, clearly it must be a big cultural reference point. I thought of six comedy shows that reference Bethnal Green, so here they are, although if anyone out there does know of any others, you are welcome to tell me.

Big Train. This was the odd BBC2 sketch show from the makers of Father Ted. There is a sketch in the second series that is a parody of detective drama shows, where Mark Heap’s character says “Bethnal Green”. Well to hear one of my favourite comic actors say that right in front of everyone, I was very pleased. Fame at last! vlcsnap-01181

The Mighty Boosh. There is a reference to Bethnal Green in this sitcom when Vince (played by Noel Fielding) is trying to track down where someone is by using his Celeb Radar. Also around this time, when the show was popular on TV, there were suddenly a lot of people walking around here who seemingly wanted to be Noel, how great. vlcsnap-01150

Goodnight Sweetheart. I’m fairly sure that there is at least one reference to Bethnal Green in this sitcom, and that’s because the area where Gary Sparrow time travels to is supposed to be around here, you even see him walk past a branded bin in the first episode. One person pointed out recently that Gary was supposed to live in Cricklewood, and the only reason he ever came here was when he was a TV repair man trying to find an address. So to continue his double life he would have to travel from Cricklewood to here every time to access the portal, which is rather a journey in itself, but you’re not supposed to notice that… vlcsnap-01183

Saturday Live. This pioneering 80s comedy show featured some of the earliest TV appearances by Harry Enfield, and his kebab shop owner character Stavros, who would become very popular with viewers, was always talking about “the Bethnal Green Road”, which is good innit. vlcsnap-01185

Only Fools And Horses. This sitcom needs no introduction, and in the 1989 episode “Chain Gang” none other than Del Boy says “Bethnal Green” near the end of the episode. Isn’t that lovely jubbly. And that isn’t the only sitcom created by John Sullivan to feature a reference… vlcsnap-01186

Sitting Pretty. This was a sitcom that launched on BBC1 in 1992 which was written by John Sullivan. Because his other sitcoms had been so popular with viewers, this show was simply sold as “this can’t fail!”. The main character in the show was Annie, a woman who had been successful in the 60s who had now fallen on hard times, and her character was described by Radio Times as “the Jackie Onassis of Bethnal Green”. Within the first few minutes of the first episode, Annie does say “Bethnal Green”, and also her catchphrase “phenomenal”, which they really thought would catch on, but didn’t. Although Sitting Pretty ran for two series, it wasn’t a big hit with viewers, there has been no DVD release, and it is now considered the low point of Sullivan’s career. Also, because of the Bethnal Green connections, I remember seeing Diane Bull (who played Annie) once when she was chosen to turn on the Christmas lights here one year (I don’t remember what year, either 1992 or 1993 as they were the only years that the show was on BBC1), now that really was phenomenal. vlcsnap-01180

BONUS! Now to go on to pop music. I am aware of at least two pop stars who were born in Bethnal Green who have had UK Number One hit singles, who are Helen Shapiro and Cheryl Baker of Bucks Fizz fame. Also, I’m not aware of any UK hit singles featuring Bethnal Green in the lyrics, but again if you know better, you can let me know. And I know I keep going on about this, but I just want to emphasise this again because I still find it unbelievable.

Now imagine that there is a famous pop group who’ve had a Number One single, say for example, Bananarama, and say that they all visited Bethnal Green one day, and the reason that they would do that was because one member of the group had a house here, say Siobhan, who was also in the awesome Shakespear’s Sister, and here was where they became friends again and decided to reform, that would be a great story, but that’s never going to happen is it… oh wait… b10

Now the fact that Sara from Bananarama said “Bethnal Green” in an interview will probably mean nothing to about 99.8% of the readership of Classic Pop magazine where this article appeared, but when I read this I was practically on the floor. But the fact that she said that her and Keren were here because they were round “Siobhan’s house in Bethnal Green“, you remember Siobhan, the woman whose Shakespear’s Sister song “Stay” was at Number One in the UK for almost two months in 1992, the crazy goth woman who appears in the incredible video that I’m sure any early-90s pop music fan has never forgotten even 25 years on, you know, that woman… b9

…well, I was now in a right old state. Discovering that in more recent years she had probably been walking round here (although presumably not dressed like that), and she had a party in her kitchen with her old pop star friends practically around the corner from me simply blew my mind (there’s even a picture of them all together on Twitter and everything), I just can’t believe it really happened. I told you all the cool people live round here didn’t I, aren’t I lucky.