Here’s a question for you. Who holds the record for having the longest-running Number One single by an all-female group in UK chart history? Little Mix? All Saints maybe? It’s got to be the Spice Girls hasn’t it? Well actually it’s none of those, it’s Shakespear’s Sister. Everyone who enters the music business must hope that they can write that once in a lifetime song that will bring them fame and fortune, and it appears that they had done it with “Stay”, so it became the second single to be released off the second album.
There was little indication of what was to come when “Stay” entered the singles chart at a modest no. 27 in January 1992, actually one place lower than “You’re History” did in 1989. One of their earliest performances of the song was on Jonathan Ross’s Channel 4 show. But what really gave the song a boost was when the video started to be shown on TV. People were stunned by Marcella’s emotion and Siobhan’s rather crazed performance as they battled it out somewhere in space. “I Heard A Rumour” it ain’t. It is remarkable to think that Siobhan successfully left her girl group days behind and became a terrific goth rocker, what a transformation!
What would the public’s response to all this be? They wouldn’t go anywhere near all this strangeness, wouldn’t they? Well incredibly… they loved it. “Stay” spent eight consecutive weeks at Number One and ended up as the fourth biggest-selling single of 1992 in the UK, behind “I Will Always Love You”, “Rhythm Is A Dancer”, and “Would I Lie To You”, and it was the fourth longest-running UK Number One single of the 1990s decade, behind “Everything I Do (I Do It For You)”, “Love Is All Around”, and “I Will Always Love You”. “Stay” also made the Top Five in the US and was featured on “Now 21”. “Stay” was also one of two 1990s UK Number One singles co-written by Siobhan, the other one was 1993’s “Young At Heart” by The Bluebells. It still stirs feelings in me 25 years later and to think that all of this actually happened and it wasn’t all a dream I had really is terrific.
In February 1992 the second album “Hormonally Yours” was released which reached no. 3 and spent over a year on the chart. They were now one of the biggest bands around. But how do you follow “Stay”? In May 1992 the next single “I Don’t Care” was released which reached no. 7, becoming their third and final Top Ten hit single. This was another terrific song accompanied by a classic video, the highlight being the moment when Siobhan’s head appears on a theatre stage to recite a nonsense poem from the 19th century. They don’t make them like that any more.
It’s very difficult to pick my favourite single by them, but “I Don’t Care” is definitely up there with the best. They also performed this on Top Of The Pops, American TV’s The Late Show With David Letterman, and best of all, BBC1’s Bruce’s Guest Night, an entertainment show hosted by Bruce Forsyth. I’m sure that he was a big fan. In June 1992 they performed in front of a huge crowd on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury festival.
In July 1992 “Goodbye Cruel World” was given a second chance, and this time it did make the Top 40, reaching no. 32. Around this time Siobhan was interviewed live on TV-am by Lorraine Kelly. They were also interviewed on CBBC’s The O Zone and performed on Parallel 9. It seems that they didn’t make many children’s TV appearances, but to discover that they appeared on the first series of Parallel 9 which is one of my favourite Saturday Morning shows is something of a dream double. Also around this time they appeared on the cover of The Face magazine.
In November 1992 the next single “Hello (Turn Your Radio On)” was released, which reached no. 14. This is a song that’s so downbeat as to make “Stay” seem a right old knees-up by comparison. Once again, it had an eye-catching video and they really were making songs that sounded like no-one else on the scene at the time. Around this time they appeared on BBC2’s Later With Jools Holland and they were also scheduled to play at the Royal Albert Hall which would have been their most high-profile concert to date, but Siobhan pulled out and it was cancelled. Also in 1992 a VHS was released containing the videos for the singles from “Hormonally Yours”.
In December 1992 they performed at the Smash Hits Poll Winners’ Party live on BBC1 at the Olympia Arena. Siobhan looked rather exhausted and unhappy, performing “Stay” for what must have felt like the 500th time, it had been a relentless year for them, they had successfully toured around the world and crowds always enjoyed them, and they were hardly ever off MTV, but there were rumours growing around this time that Siobhan and Marcella no longer enjoyed working with one another. Indeed, this would turn out to be their final performance together.
In February 1993 the final single off the album which had been milked somewhat by that point was an EP featuring “My 16th Apology”, “Catwoman”, their cover of T-Rex’s “Hot Love”, and a live version of “Dirty Mind” which reached no. 61. There were no new videos as such. The video for “My 16th Apology” was compiled from highlights and outtakes from the other second album videos, and the “Catwoman” video was a compilation of some live performances. They also performed “Hot Love” alongside Tom Jones on his ITV music show The Right Time. Also around this time was the memorable parody by French And Saunders.
Also in February 1993, they won the Brit Award for Best Video for “Stay”, could any other video have won it? Marcella accepted the award at the ceremony shown on ITV, but Siobhan was absent. In May 1993, they won an Ivor Novello award for their songwriting work on “Hormonally Yours”. Again, Marcella made an acceptance speech. An announcement was then made on Siobhan’s behalf (who was absent again) that Marcella was leaving the band. This was the first that she had heard of it, essentially meaning that she was sacked live on stage. Marcella was reported to be unhappy with how her departure was handled, and went off to resume her solo career. Siobhan and Marcella haven’t seen or spoken to one another since.
In April 1993 Siobhan contributed a guest vocal to “Walk Into The Wind”, a song by Vegas, a duo consisting of her husband Dave Stewart and her old Fun Boy Three mate Terry Hall, it reached no. 65. A video was made and they also performed this live on Channel 4’s Saturday Zoo. And at the end of 1993 the video for “Stay” was parodied by the Christmas Number One by Mr Blobby!
In March 1994 Marcella’s second solo album “Jewel” was released which reached no. 15. Also in 1994 she had hit singles with “I Believe” (no. 11, which she also performed on BBC1’s Pebble Mill and Top Of The Pops), “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, (no. 24, a duet with Elton John), and “I’m No Angel” (no. 33). In June 1994 Shakespear’s Sister were imitated on ITV’s Stars In Their Eyes.
In 1994 Siobhan contributed “Prehistoric Daze” to the soundtrack of the first film of The Flintstones, so if you’ve ever wanted to hear her say “yabba-dabba-doo” then it was good news for you. She also appeared on a short musical film called Jiggery Pokery which was directed by Sophie Muller and was shown on BBC2 a couple of years later in a post-midnight slot.
In July 1994 Marcella appeared as a panellist on BBC1’s Pop Quiz alongside Jarvis Cocker and Chesney Hawkes. She also appeared on CITV’s Saturday Morning show Gimme 5 to promote “I’m No Angel” where she got more than she was expecting. First of all she spoke to our old friend Nobby The Sheep, and then played Tweak The Beak. I do remember this game, but I didn’t realise that she had played it. She failed to get the answers right and the end result was that she was gunged. I suppose it was good that she was game but she looked so embarrassed. That’s the perils of live children’s TV, you go on the show to promote your single and you end up being interviewed by a puppet sheep and having green stuff thrown over you. She probably sacked her management afterwards.
In June 1996, with Shakespear’s Sister now a solo project again, Siobhan finally returned with what was planned to be the first single from the third album “I Can Drive”, which reached no. 30. She performed this song on various shows including Top Of The Pops, Channel 4’s TFI Friday, and Richard And Judy’s prime-time show on ITV. I also remember watching the video on The Chart Show and it really was great seeing Siobhan back on the scene doing her thing again. Unfortunately the label weren’t too impressed with the content of the third album “#3” and refused to realise it. At this point a somewhat disillusioned Siobhan decided to bring the project to an end.
Marcella released some more singles in the mid-90s which made a minor impact on the chart, “Perfect World” (1995, no. 100), “I Hate You Now…” (1996, no. 96), and “Boy” (1996, no. 83), followed in September 1996 by her third solo album “Feeler” which didn’t chart. In November 1996 Marcella appeared as a panellist on BBC2’s comedy music show Never Mind The Buzzcocks, and in December 1996 she appeared in two episodes of BBC1 sitcom Absolutely Fabulous.
Siobhan and Marcella have gone to release many more interesting singles and albums separately in the 20+ years after 1996. Of course I have already told the story of when I discovered that Siobhan lived in the same part of London as me and invited Keren and Sara round her house here one night a few years ago for a party which led to their reunion, I almost fainted when I found out. One thing’s for sure though, Siobhan won’t be inviting Marcella round for a cup of coffee any time soon. Reading that story reminded me how much I enjoyed Shakespear’s Sister and it made me want to discover more extrovert women who made quirky records in the 80s and 90s, leading me to do the pieces about Alisha’s Attic, Danielle Dax, Fuzzbox, Shampoo and Strawberry Switchblade that I really enjoyed putting together, their stories are worth telling and they all deserve more acclaim for their contribution to pop music over the years.