The YouTube Files – The Exuberant World Of Fuzzbox.

After looking back at the careers of Danielle Dax and Strawberry Switchblade, I thought to myself are there any more women with strange-coloured hair who made terrifically quirky records in the 1980s… and there are! (We’ve Got A) Fuzzbox (And We’re Gonna Use It) formed in Birmingham in 1985 and originally consisted of frontwoman Vickie “Vix” Perks, along with Jo Dunne (1968-2012), Maggie Dunne and Tina O’Neill. They didn’t have any Top Ten hit singles but they made lots of great songs which brightened up pop music in the mid/late-80s. This is a piece telling their story through their various TV appearances and music videos on YouTube (plus some magazine covers) from 1986-1990. fuzzbox0

In April 1986 they had their first hit single, an EP featuring “Rules And Regulations”, “XX Sex”, “Do I Want To?”, and “She” which reached no. 41. They made one of their earliest TV appearances on a show in Belgium. This consisted of an interview where they were sat on the floor, followed by oddly-framed performances of “She” and “XX Sex” where one of them was up a ladder and another one was down a hole. vlcsnap-00174

Before I started putting this piece together, I would never have had any idea that they appeared on TV in Belgium, never mind it being as odd as this, YouTube really is the gift that keeps on giving. And also, if my maths is correct it seems that most of them including Vickie would only have been 17 years old at the time of this performance, and I didn’t realise that they started out as young as that. vlcsnap-00177

Also around this time the video for “Rules And Regulations” was played on the first-ever Indie Chart on Channel 4’s The Chart Show, and they were also interviewed on CITV’s Splash and CBBC’s Lift Off, as we’ll discover they seemed to be very fond of appearing on children’s TV shows. Also around this time they appeared on BBC2’s Whistle Test where they were described by Radio Times as “exuberant” and performed a couple of songs including their cover of “Spirit In The Sky”. vlcsnap-00264

In May 1986 they appeared on the cover of music magazines Record Mirror and Melody Maker. Fame at last!  fuzzbox1

In July 1986 they took part in the single “Rockin’ With Rita (Head To Toe)” as part of the Vindaloo Summer Special, a supergroup consisting of various acts on that record label which reached no. 56. They performed this on CITV’s Razzmatazz, part of the 1980s Tyne Tees music show trilogy along with The Tube and The Roxy, and afterwards they were interviewed by David Jensen. Also around this time they played at the Glastonbury festival. vlcsnap-00211

In November 1986 their next single was released which became their first Top 40 hit, another EP featuring “Love Is The Slug”, “Console Me”, “Spirit In The Sky”, and “Justine”. It reached no. 31 and earned them their first mention on Top Of The Popsvlcsnap-00312

They also performed “Love Is The Slug” on TV-am’s Wide Awake Club, where they were then interviewed by Tommy Boyd as Garfield looked on. In December 1986 their first album “Bostin’ Steve Austin” was released but this wasn’t a hit. Also in this month they performed a lively concert at the Astoria Theatre in London which has turned up on YouTube. vlcsnap-00188

In February 1987 the final single off the album “What’s The Point” was released which reached no. 51. They also performed this song when they appeared on German TV and American TV’s The Late Show where they were interviewed during the brief time that their frontwoman was Christina Aguilera (well not really of course but Vickie really does look like her there don’t you think?). They never really made the breakthrough in America though. vlcsnap-00274

They also performed this song on CITV’s No. 73 and none other than Neil Buchanan could be seen clapping along in the crowd to their performance, you only see things like that happen on children’s TV. “What’s The Point” had a great video too. vlcsnap-00234

After a break in 1988, Fuzzbox returned in 1989 for what would turn out to be their most successful year. They also had a new look, no more pink hair for these ladies, and frontwoman Vickie had become something of a flame-haired sex symbol. In February 1989 the first single off their second album was released, the Thunderbirds-influenced “International Rescue” which featured Adrian Edmondson in the video and became their biggest hit, reaching no. 11, and this earned them their first Top Of The Pops appearance. vlcsnap-00261

Also around this time they were interviewed on CITV’s Motormouth. Most excitingly though, in April 1989 they appeared on the cover of Lookin magazine for the first time alongside the likes of Kylie Minogue and Scally the dog! fuzzbox2

In May 1989 their next single “Pink Sunshine” was released which reached no. 14, and although it’s a tough decision I would have to say that this is my favourite single of theirs. I remember watching the video to this on the “Hits 10” VHS compilation, and I also enjoyed their Top Of The Pops performance. vlcsnap-00208

They also performed this song on ITV’s My Secret Desire and live on CITV’s Ghost Train which featured something of a mishap when the backing tape began to rewind that revealed that they were miming and they laughed for about the final two minutes of the performance. Also around this time they were interviewed on BBC Midlands Today in a report about the Birmingham music scene, and they also appeared on CBBC’s On The Waterfront and met Andrew O’Connor! vlcsnap-00254

In August 1989 the next single “Self!” was released which earned them another Top Of The Pops appearance and reached no. 24. Also in this month the second album “Big Bang!” was released which made the Top Five. They also appeared on CBBC’s The O Zone where they were interviewed by Andi Peters at a fairground, and we found out some great facts about them including “Jo thinks that Tom Jones is the best-dressed man in pop!”, “Maggie’s favourite book is Simon And Schuster’s Guide To Cats“, and that they are big fans of the Reynolds Girls, but then who wasn’t at the time? vlcsnap-00002

Also around this time they appeared on lots more magazine covers including NMEJackieLookin and Record Mirror again, and Smash Hits for the first and only time. fuzzbox3

In November 1989 the final single released from the second album was a cover of “Walking On Thin Ice” which reached a very disappointing no. 76. They performed this on TV-am’s WAC ’90 (and again they were interviewed by Tommy Boyd), plus CBBC’s The Satellite Show and CITV’s The Disney Club. The video was also featured on the “Monster Hits” VHS compilation (essentially “Hits 11”) although it wasn’t a monster hit. Indeed, it wasn’t a hit at all. vlcsnap-00310

In June 1990 what was planned to be the first single from the third album “Your Loss My Gain” was released. They performed this on ITV’s The James Whale Show and Cannon And Ball’s Casino, along with appearances on CBBC’s The 8:15 From Manchester and CITV’s Ghost Train where they met Nobby the sheep. However, it reached a miserable no. 100, and after this disappointment work on the third album (which was to be called “Out Of This World”) was abandoned and Fuzzbox split, and they didn’t perform together again for 20 years, although in 2004 a best-of album was released called “Look At The Hits On That” which featured all their big ones.

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The YouTube Files – The Polkadot World Of Strawberry Switchblade.

After having a look back at the careers of Shakespear’s Sister and Danielle Dax, I wondered if there were any more charismatic female singers with a distinctive look who made some unusual songs in the 1980s. I then remembered that there was a group who I felt fitted that description who turned out to be one of the more extreme examples of how quickly fame can come and go.

Strawberry Switchblade were a female duo who consisted of Rose “the black-haired one” McDowall and Jill “the red-haired one” Bryson who were both born in Glasgow in 1959 and 1961 respectively. They both had an interest in punk music in the late-70s and formed the group in 1981. They wrote their own songs and had some of their earliest exposure in 1982 when they recorded some sessions for various BBC Radio 1 programmes, and their first single “Trees And Flowers” was released in July 1983. It wasn’t a hit but it was well received. Around this time they also moved to Muswell Hill in London. It wasn’t until their next single was released a year later that there started to be a buzz around them. This piece will look back at their various TV appearances and music videos on YouTube because it’s a story worth telling. Strawberry1

The decision was made to give their new single “Since Yesterday” which had been released in October 1984 to a quiet reception a big promotional push, and this started when in December 1984 they appeared on the cover of fortnightly music magazine Smash Hits for the first and only time. This was something of a surprise because also in this issue there was a behind-the-scenes article on Band Aid, and the fact that the pop music exclusive of the decade was passed over for the cover in favour of an almost unknown band does seem something of a curious editorial decision. It did give them a boost though, little did these self-described “scabby witches from Scotland” know that 1985 would be their year, they wouldn’t be unknown for much longer. 

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“Since Yesterday” eventually peaked at No. 5 in its 11th week on the chart and in January 1985 they made two appearances on Top Of The Pops. Unfortunately, both of these editions have been “Smithed” so it seems that they won’t be repeated and viewers will miss the chance to see their three minutes of fame on TV again, although these performances have been shown in more recent years on TOTP2 and the Goth At The BBC compilation. vlcsnap-00173

They were now famous and suddenly they were everywhere, being interviewed on various TV shows including The Paul Coia Show, TV-am’s Wide Awake ClubBBC Breakfast Time, and many others, and also frequently performing this song, including one where they seemed to be stood on a snooker table for some reason. Also around this time they featured in various other music magazines including NME and Melody Maker, plus Lookin and Jackievlcsnap-00170

I was only 18 months old when “Since Yesterday” made the Top Ten, my first memory of seeing the video was a while ago on The Hits Video, a VHS that was released in 1985 which featured 23 music videos of the biggest hits of the year, Hits being a rival to the Now compilation series at the time. The video has also had about two million views on YouTube so clearly some people out there remember them. Of course, I do have to refer to their famous look. They both had rather long hair with multicoloured bows in it along with heavy makeup and lots of fancy jewellery, and they both wore polkadot dresses. You certainly couldn’t mistake them for anyone else, and their music stood out just as much. Because I enjoyed this song, I thought it would be a good idea to find out more about them and was I pleased to discover that I liked their subsequent singles. 

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How could they follow the success of “Since Yesterday”? In March 1985, the next single “Let Her Go” was released. In the same month they appeared on the cover of weekly music magazine No. 1. Although it was seen by some as simply “Since Yesterday Part Two”, this was another good one with a fun video. They also performed this on CBBC’s Saturday SuperStore, but it reached just No. 59 on the chart. In April 1985, their self-titled debut album was released which reached No. 25. vlcsnap-00154

In May 1985 the next single “Who Knows What Love Is” was released, which was a ballad with a nice video where the ladies were featured in a strange dreamy world. They performed this song on various shows, they were also interviewed on CBBC’s The Saturday Picture Show, and they even appeared as contestants on Sandi Toksvig’s Sandwich Quiz on CITV’s No. 73! However, this song reached a rather low No. 84 on the chart. vlcsnap-00181

In September 1985 there was still hope that they would have another big hit when their next single “Jolene” was released. This was a cover of the Dolly Parton song. Now I must admit that Country music isn’t one of my favourite musical genres, but this electropop reworking was much more to my taste, and this was accompanied by a video that was made in Paris. They also performed this song on Channel 4 music show Bliss, CBBC’s Cheggers Plays Pop and BBC1’s Pebble Mill. “Jolene” reached No. 53 on the chart to become their second-biggest hit, but it was still rather disappointing. vlcsnap-00148

Although their fame in the UK was just about over, the ladies did have some success in other countries. Although they never broke America, they were rather popular in Japan, where they released a couple more singles exclusively in that country, made a few more TV appearances, and for a short while a lot of young Japanese women liked to dress like them. By the start of 1986 though, just a year on from their breakthrough, it was all over. vlcsnap-00234

It was another case of the all-too familiar story in pop music of a up-and-coming group at the beginning of the year being eager and looking forward to success, and then after having it a year later being left frustrated and with a broken friendship. After the split, Rose and Jill went their separate ways and haven’t worked together since, although they have continued to perform in various bands in more recent years, and a best-of album was released in 2005. vlcsnap-00166

They are both still around and nowadays also have something of a presence online with various fansites dedicated to their work. Although they are all but forgotten now and they only had one Top 50 hit over 30 years ago I do think that Strawberry Switchblade were something terrifically different and their brief moment in the spotlight is one of the more interesting stories in 1980s pop music.

The YouTube Files – The Mysterious World Of Danielle Dax.

When I remembered that this year is the 25th anniversary of “Stay” by Shakespear’s Sister’s epic run at Number One on the singles chart in the UK, I decided that I wanted to do a blog piece sharing my memories of that song and give the group a reappraisal. Whilst putting the piece together I discovered something about Siobhan Fahey that I couldn’t believe and I ended up writing about that remarkable story instead. I then started to wonder if there were any other women with an extrovert personality who made similarly spooky or just plain weird records around the same time, and I was very pleased when I discovered someone who just about perfectly fitted the criteria of what I was looking for.

When I decided to review the Channel 4 interview show Star Test recently, I was very pleased when I discovered that Siobhan had appeared on the show as a guest. Whilst trying to find some other editions to watch on YouTube, I found one which featured a musician called Danielle Dax. I must admit that I knew nothing about her beyond remembering seeing a couple of her videos played on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart in the late-80s on YouTube, but seeing her on this show finally made me curious to discover more about her, and I was very surprised by what I discovered. It seems that Danielle could be described as one of the best-kept secrets in British music in the 1980s.

Danielle Dax was born (in the same month as Siobhan in an almost interesting coincidence) in Essex and throughout the 1980s she made several creative albums. She was also in total control, writing her songs (which sometimes featured rather hard-hitting lyrics), playing a wide variety of rather unusual instruments, and she even organised her tours and interviews, not settling for any interference from record labels or anybody else on the direction of her career. In the articles that I found about her work online, words such as “unique”, “experimental” and “cult” turned up several times, and she was often compared to the likes of similarly out-there singers Kate Bush and Siouxsie Sioux. However, despite her obvious talent, pioneering work and interesting personality being acknowledged, she had precisely zero hit singles and albums in this country, before she dropped off the scene, and a lot of people still can’t believe that she was never a huge success. This piece will take a look back at the small amount of Danielle’s TV appearances and music videos that I have found on YouTube as I wondered why she never hit the big time… dax

1983: After leaving the Lemon Kittens, Danielle released her first solo album “Pop-Eyes” (which had a famously grotesque cover) and made one of her earliest TV appearances on the BBC2 music show Riverside shown on Halloween where she was simply described by Radio Times as “mysterious” and performed her song “Pariah”. I must admit that my jaw almost dropped the first time I saw this. Not only because it’s a very odd song featuring strange squeaking and buzzing noises with bizarre lyrics that showed off her remarkable vocal range (“walking sick sick they walking the town“), but I was also surprised by Danielle’s distinctive look with her massive red hair and heavy make-up which made her look like a long-lost cast member of post-apocalyptic drama The Tribe, or maybe pop group Strawberry Switchblade (ask your dad), which is a great thing of course. It was a fascinating performance and it was the moment that I realised what an intriguing talent she was. Who knows, maybe in a parallel universe somewhere “Pariah” spent eight weeks at Number One on the singles chart. vlcsnap-00010

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The “mysterious” Danielle Dax appears in Radio Times in October 1983 (image courtesy of @woodg31 on Twitter)

1984: Danielle made a brief but memorable appearance in the horror film The Company Of Wolves. Although she only appears for a couple of minutes and has no dialogue, you certainly noticed her. She played a wolfgirl who is taken in by a priest (played by the old boy in early-90s sitcom Waiting For God, I’ll never look at that show in the same way again). She spent four hours in makeup! According to the IMDB this is Danielle’s only acting credit, I wondered if I would ever see it on TV, and then the film turned up recently late at night on the London Live channel, which was an odd coincidence. vlcsnap-00064

Also in this year, Danielle appeared on Channel 4’s music show The Tube where she was interviewed by Paula Yates and performed her song “Hammerheads”. The only article about Danielle in Smash Hits that I have been able to track down is a paragraph from a November 1984 issue about “Jesus Egg That Wept” including the fact that she likes to play the honkytonk piano. Described as “weird“, unsurprisingly. vlcsnap-00011

1985: Danielle performed a concert at The Camden Palace, which in 1986 was shown on LWT as part of their Live From London series (I haven’t been able to track down when exactly, but probably rather late at night and only in the LWT region). I was rather surprised to discover that this concert has been released on DVD, where she entertained the crowd by playing 15 songs including such bangers as “Here Come The Harvest Buns” and “Yummer Yummer Man”, and it was a great experience to see one of her shows and be in her company for an hour. vlcsnap-00052

1987: Danielle made a video for her single “Big Hollow Man”. She also performed this song on a German TV show. vlcsnap-00058

Also in this year Danielle also appeared as a guest on ITV’s late-night entertainment show Night Network, where she reviewed the latest singles alongside snooker champion Steve Davis which made for an unlikely pairing. And Danielle performed a concert in Tokyo which was shown on Japanese TV. I’m not sure how successful she was in other countries but it seems that she has fans all over the world. vlcsnap-000081988: Danielle’s single “Cathouse” which featured some fancy visual effects was played on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart on Channel 4. Also around this time, Danielle was interviewed in various music magazines including NME and Melody Maker, although I’m fairly sure she never appeared on the cover of any of them. vlcsnap-00063

1989: Danielle appeared on The Chart Show‘s Indie Chart on ITV with her great single “White Knuckle Ride”. vlcsnap-00084

Also around this time, Danielle made what must be one of her most high-profile TV appearances when she was a guest on Channel 4’s prime-time interview show Star Test and she faced the computer’s probing questions. She introduced herself by saying “I write and record all my own music, I produce it, I paint, I design record covers, I make clothes”. She revealed some interesting things about herself, for example when asked “which is your best physical feature?”, she said “ooh, my hair!”. Also, when asked “what’s the one thing you don’t have in your life that you would really like?”, she said “a cat”. According to her website, Danielle now owns four cats, so I suppose it is sometimes possible to get what you want in life. vlcsnap-00062

1990: In what was seemingly a final attempt to push Danielle into the big time, she signed to a major record label and released the album “Blast The Human Flower”, which featured a psychedelic cover of the Beatles song “Tomorrow Never Knows” which was fairly mainstream by her standards. Her look in the video was somewhat toned down by this point, although she still had a rather large red beehive hairstyle. It seems that also around this time she appeared on BBC2’s Juke Box Jury but that doesn’t appear to be online. However, once again this wasn’t a success and Danielle missed out on fame. She was then dropped by her record label, and about a decade after her first album was released, she practically vanished off the music scene altogether, but it was also rumoured that around this time she became ill. Intriguingly, although there was a best-of album released in 1995 called “Comatose Non-Reaction: The Thwarted Career Of Danielle Dax”, there seems to be almost zero audio or visual evidence online of Danielle’s existence post-1991, which just adds to her mystique. Danielle is most certainly still with us though and the story doesn’t end here… vlcsnap-00080

After that..: In more recent years after leaving music behind Danielle’s career took an unlikely swerve and she has gone to have some success as an interior and garden designer, with her Brixton home which she designed herself featuring in several magazines. In May 1997 Danielle featured in BBC2’s interior design show Home Front when she was one of the three finalists nominated for the Radio Times/Home Front Amateur Decorator Of The Year award. dax0001

The finalists were challenged to decorate a room on an estate in Nottinghamshire. They had 48 hours, a limited budget, and four of their own items to decorate the room. The winner was determined by a judging panel of the show’s presenters, along with a phone vote that was open to viewers to choose their favourite. “I’ll be looking for someone who is courageous with bold and original designs and ideas” said judge and Home Front presenter Anne McKevitt. As it turned out, Danielle won the competition and appeared on the show a few times, and her work in this area has gone on to be much acclaimed.

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.

The YouTube Files – A classic Stars In Their Eyes moment.

Stars In Their Eyes (ITV, 1994)

Recently I wrote a blog piece about when I discovered something about the pop group Bananarama that really blew my mind, if you haven’t read it yet, you should! Whilst putting the piece together I was reminiscing about Siobhan Fahey’s other group, top goth-rockers Shakespear’s Sister, and when trying to track down some more information, I had an odd thought: “were they ever done on Stars In Their Eyes?”. As far as I know, people could only take part individually, performing as solo artists or the frontman or woman from groups, I’m not aware of duos being able to appear, so I thought it was rather unlikely, oh well, it would’ve been good but it was just a thought, it doesn’t matter. vlcsnap-01020

I’ve already written about Stars In Their Eyes on here and I’m sure you remember how it all works, the main elements being Matthew Kelly and his waistcoats, people coming on stage to perform as their pop idol for five minutes of fame, an entertaining Saturday night show on ITV throughout the 90s. When I was fiddling about on Google recently, I noticed an image of a YouTube video thumbnail of what appeared to be Matthew welcoming two women to the stage. I thought that duos didn’t take part. Then I thought, well, two young women, performing as a duo, how many successful female pop duos were there in the early-90s… wait a moment, they’re not going to be… are they? You are kidding me. vlcsnap-01018

So I tracked down the video to watch on YouTube (in fuzzy YouTube-o-Vision, but it’s better than nothing for now), and Emma and Julie who both work in a pub in Oswestry, Shropshire (who can also do a great impression of Zig and Zag) went through those famous doors, and well shut my face, they only did come back out as Siobhan and Marcella didn’t they? I know that Stars In Their Eyes liked to feature a wide variety of pop acts, from 50s crooners to 90s indie blokes, but I never expected this, the show was about to get a little weird. And of course they go on to perform the 1992 chart-topping blockbuster “Stay”. The performance is also rather faithful to the famous award-winning video, there’s even a dead man (well probably) wheeled on to the stage to crank up the emotion. (I should also point out that this edition is from 1994 by which point Siobhan and Marcella had gone their separate ways.) vlcsnap-01050

How did they do? Well they definitely didn’t do too badly at imitating them, as if there could ever be another, and then at the end Matthew kindly congratulated the ladies on their performance, the experience really had been a dream come true for them. They didn’t win though however, they were beaten by Jim Reeves who went into the final. I am so thrilled to discover that it actually happened though, two ladies wanting to do that on ITV prime-time in what must be the most bizarre moment in the 16-year history of Stars In Their Eyes, I can only wonder what viewers made of it. I’ll try and stop going on about Shakespear’s Sister now, I really should buy their album one day… 

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EXTRA! They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so along with Stars In Their Eyes, here are three other occasions that I’m aware of where people donned the old make-up to imitate Shakespear’s Sister in various TV shows in the early-90s. First, the most famous one is by French and Saunders (with Dawn French as Siobhan and Jennifer Saunders as Marcella), who memorably parodied their videos “Goodbye Cruel World”, “Stay”, and “I Don’t Care”. (In 1989 French and Saunders did a parody of Bananarama for Comic Relief as Lananeeneenoonoo, With Dawn French as Keren, Jennifer Saunders as Sara and Kathy Burke as Jacquie. Also, Marcella Detroit appeared in two episodes of Jennifer Saunders’s sitcom Absolutely Fabulous). Second, in the sketch show The Mary Whitehouse Experience, there was a parody by Robert Newman (as Marcella) and David Baddiel (as Siobhan), who were introduced as “that equally talented vocal partnership”, the joke being that Siobhan literally honked her way through the songs and was outshone by Marcella. Best of all, proof that they had become a cultural reference was when the video for the 1993 Christmas Number One by Noel Edmonds’s mate Mr Blobby also featured a parody of the “Stay” video. Now there’s a legacy to be proud of! vlcsnap-01057

Musical Memories – A Story About Pop Music.

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. 

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Ooh, now I remember this one!

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. 

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Keren, Sara and Siobhan do their impression of the Thames ident

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. 

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Shakespear’s Sister make their debut on the UK Top 40 singles chart in 1989

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. 

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Marcy gives it her all on live TV

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.

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Sara and Keren perform “Movin’ On” on CITV’s What’s Up Doc in 1992, their first hit single as a duo

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. 

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They’re back!

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. 

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At the what and where was I?!

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. 

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What more can I say?