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

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”. 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 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.

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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?

More TV Memories – The Chart Show.

The Chart Show (Channel 4, 1986-1989, ITV, 1989-1998)

The Chart Show was a pioneering music show with a difference. Unlike Top Of The Pops, it only featured music videos when there weren’t many other places they could be seen when the show started in 1986 and there was no host at all, everything was linked by computer graphics that looked very impressive for the time. The show started on Friday evenings on Channel 4 in 1986, and at the start of 1989 it moved to ITV in a Saturday daytime slot. vlcsnap-01045

There would be a lot of videos shown exclusively on the show, and a lot of bands revived early exposure which helped their careers to take off. Obviously there were also a lot of charts on the show, settling down into alternating between the rock, indie and dance genres. Memorably, the videos that would be played were selected as if it was a video recorder, with a lot of fast forwarding and rewinding to get to the right place. Some of the acts featured in these charts were really obscure, goodness knows how they were calculated, but I’m sure that they all enjoyed having their five seconds of fame on TV, if they had made a video at all that is. vlcsnap-00615

There were also a few other features over the years including the Vintage Video where a classic video from the archive was shown. Another memorable part of the show was when some fact boxes appeared on the screen to reveal some information and news about the band and video being shown and these were generated on an Amiga computer. The Chart Show was also one of the earliest shows to have a sponsor and they would always be going on about how they were “twinned with Twix”. vlcsnap-00616

At the end there would be an oh-so exciting look at the ten biggest-selling singles of the week in “the fastest chart on television”. However, unlike Top Of The Pops, the chart that was used was unofficial so the numbers were all over the place and a lot of singles that were credited as chart-toppers often were never really number ones at all. vlcsnap-00618

In 1996 there were some major changes to the format. Brief interviews with acts who were in the chart were featured and there were also phone-in competitions. And there would always be a special edition at the end of the year revealing the best (and worst) videos. The Chart Show was made by a production company called Video Visuals and the only other show I can ever remember seeing by them was Channel 4’s Star Testvlcsnap-00617

I always enjoyed watching The Chart Show and It was a shame to see it go in 1998 but why did it end? It seems that there were a few reasons. First of all, ratings were starting to fall. Also, the format was beginning to become a little tired although it had been on TV almost every single week for 12 years. It seems that with the increase of accessibility to music channels there were now lots of other places that videos could be seen. Finally, there was a lack of live studio performances, something which was a major part of the show’s replacement CDUKchart0001