After writing about Shakespear’s Sister a lot on here, I have decided to do a piece looking back at their career. Not only did they make some great records, but their rise to fame was an incredible story. It’s similar to what happened to Strawberry Switchblade who I wrote about on here recently, they were also a female duo with a distinctive look who suddenly found success which caused tension between the pair of them, but this all happened to Shakespear’s Sister on a much larger scale.
In 1988 Siobhan Fahey (born in Dublin in 1958) left the successful pop group Bananarama to work on a new solo project. After a while she was joined by the American singer/songwriter Marcy Levy (born in Detroit in 1952) and they made an intriguing double act. Marcella had already been in the music business for a long time, working alongside the likes of Eric Clapton in the 1970s, having a US hit single in a duet with Robin Gibb in 1980, and releasing her first solo album “Marcella” in 1982, although this wasn’t a success. This will be a look back at some of their various TV appearances and music videos on YouTube from 1988-1996 and it will be in two parts.
It all started so quietly. In October 1988 the first single the double A-side “Break My Heart (You Really)”/”Heroine” was released, but it wasn’t a hit. All of the videos from this era (with the exception of “Dirty Mind”) were directed by the award-winning Sophie Muller, and they were all marvellous, with a lot of hard work put in to make sure that their image was as striking as their sound. At this point it seemed highly unlikely that Siobhan would transform into someone trying to beat Siouxsie Sioux at her own game but that’s how it turned out. One of Siobhan’s earliest TV appearances talking about her new project was on ITV’s Night Network where she was interviewed by Pat Sharp’s mate Mick Brown.
Also around the end of 1988 a 15-minute film was made of their visit to the USSR which featured some bizarre behind the scenes action along with performances live on stage in Leningrad of “Dirty Mind” and “Heroine” (where Siobhan looked uncannily like Jessie J oddly).
In July 1989 the big breakthrough came when “You’re History” became their first Top Ten hit single, reaching no. 7, and leading to their first appearances on Top Of The Pops and The Chart Show. This was the first video to feature Marcella who was now a full-time member and by this point she had changed her surname to the city of her birth. What was noted by many people was the contrast between Siobhan’s low voice (her vocal style was once described by Q magazine as “honking from the bowels of Hades”) and Marcella’s high voice.
Also in July 1989 Siobhan appeared as a guest on Channel 4’s Star Test. This was a great show so it’s very good to know that Siobhan once sat in the chair to be interviewed by the disembodied voice. She revealed some interesting things about herself including the first single that she ever bought was “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Michael Jackson, she does believe in ghosts, and she is totally fascinated by world events. When asked to promote “You’re History”, she said that making the video was “a scream to do”, and concluded “it’s fabulous actually, I just love it”.
In September 1989 the first album “Sacred Heart” was released which reached no. 9. In October 1989 the next single “Run Silent” was released which reached no. 54, and the video was shown on The ITV Chart Show. It was also around this time that Siobhan appeared on the cover of music magazines Record Mirror and Smash Hits, where we were given a chance to enter her spooky world. A VHS containing the videos of the singles from “Sacred Heart” (plus the Russian film) was released in 1989.
In March 1990 the final single from the first album “Dirty Mind” was released, but it reached a rather disappointing no. 71. This was a remixed version which was totally different to what was on the album and it featured a rap from Marcella! Also in 1990 they were nominated for a Brit Award in the Best British Newcomer category, but they didn’t win.
When work began on the second album “Hormonally Yours”, they must have decided although they had done well they wanted to take their success to the next level. Some of the album’s songs and videos were influenced by the unintentionally bad low-budget 1953 science-fiction film Cat-Women Of The Moon. There was a song that was beginning to stand out and look like it had the best chance to finally take them into the upper end of the chart. Siobhan didn’t want this song to be released as a single though, saying that she felt that it wasn’t representative of the band’s sound as a whole (and possibly because it the only song where Marcella took the lead vocal). So instead, the first single off the second album was chosen to be “Goodbye Cruel World”.
In October 1991 “Goodbye Cruel World” was released and it was accompanied by another great video that was influenced by such classic films as Sunset Boulevard and Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? and featured some marvellous acting by Siobhan. It was also 1991’s Best Video Of The Year on The ITV Chart Show. However, it didn’t get the second album off to the high-profile start that they wanted and it only reached no. 59.
After this setback, it was at this point that the decision was made that they would now have to release this song with potential as the second single off the album, they were practically sat on a Number One single and it was felt that people would enjoy it and it would finally bring them huge success, but Siobhan was still rather reluctant. Would this song revive their faltering career? Well as we’ll discover in part two, at the beginning of 1992, a phenomenon was born…