Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 28 November 2020

Bananarama open up about sexism and why they split in new book: 'The tension was palpable'

The memoir by the celebrated girl group offers a heartwarming throwback to the heady 1980s

Bananarama - comprising Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey and Keren Woodward - were one of the '80s biggest bands. Here, the trio are pictured in 2018. Alamy
Bananarama - comprising Sara Dallin, Siobhan Fahey and Keren Woodward - were one of the '80s biggest bands. Here, the trio are pictured in 2018. Alamy

For pop aficionados of a certain vintage, Bananarama represents a hedonistic era of shiny nightclubs and 12-inch singles. Formed in 1981 with Siobhan Fahey, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward, it was one of the most successful all-female acts in the 1980s. Aside from their foot-stomping chartbusters, such as Venus, Love in the First Degree and Cruel Summer, it was the band’s fashion aesthetic – featuring big hair, high waists and leggings – that made them known across the globe.

In fact, by 1987, the trio had even made it to the Guinness World Records for having the most UK chart entries in history by an all-female act, a record that still stands.

Bananarama are now back with their new memoir titled Really Saying Something. The book is a conveyor belt of gorgeous anecdotes, but its writers also don’t shy away from discussing more serious topics, such as the sexism that one had to endure if in a “girl” band.

“Some areas of the media seemed to have a preconceived idea of what we were about. Sets of photoshoots were festooned with balloons and streamers. For one tabloid shoot, we were faced with racks of brightly coloured rah-rah skirts and pastel, candy-striped tops with oversize bows. While it was all a million miles away from who we were, rejecting the ideas made us appear ‘awkward’ and ‘difficult’, a criticism that would never have been levelled at our male counterparts.”

It is Fahey’s absence in the writing of this memoir that underscores one of the hazards of falling in love with your favourite pop band. Like the best of parents, they decided to call it a day and split. Fahey – irked by the alleged assembly-line production approach of their producers SAW (the English songwriting and record-producing trio consisting of Mike Stock, Matt Aitken and Pete Waterman) – left Bananarama and started the Ivor Novello Awards-winning act Shakespears Sister with Marcella Detroit.

And like most break-ups, it was rough. “As time went on, we saw less and less of Siobhan. It felt like she’d lost interest in the band and the album, and the tensions between us were palpable. As Siobhan herself has often said about that time: ‘The rot had set in.’ It’s difficult to know if Dave’s [Fahey’s husband Dave Stewart from synth-pop band Eurythmics] influence was a part of her decision to leave the band, but I think it’s fair to say he was no big fan of Stock, Aitken and Waterman. Siobhan was looking for a way out, and Dave was offering the means of flight.”

Fahey spearheaded a new era for herself (and glam-rock) with her cutting-edge music. Shakespears Sister’s 1992 single Stay spent eight weeks at number one on the UK Singles Chart. But Fahey was fatigued from the fallout with her friends and, despite two chartbusting albums, Shakespears Sister called it a day in 1993. Fahey checked into a hospital for depression soon after. For all the tinsel, managing a career in the pop music industry is heavy-lifting.

'Really Saying Something' by Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward (Penguin Random House) releases on Oct 29
'Really Saying Something' by Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward was released on October 29

That said, Really Saying Something is a dazzler for fans of stardust. Speaking of their close friend, the late pop legend George Michael (Woodward is married to Andrew Ridgeley, one half of Wham!, the pop act that catapulted Michael to mega-stardom), the duo write: “George loved a party, and back in the day, he threw the best ones. They were often lavishly catered, and our love of caviar meant we made a beeline for the kitchen and just scooped it on to our plates. After enjoying the buffet, we’d dance the night away. Sometimes, we’d chance upon the likes of Sir Ian McKellen relaxing by the pool in George’s gorgeous garden.”

This is the story of a feisty troika that knew how to have a good time. Their music and life reflect it.

And if critics felt they weren’t furrow-browed enough to merit credit, they were perhaps too old and bitter, circa 1987, to hit the tiles on the occasional Friday night.

Really Saying Something by Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward is out now

Updated: November 5, 2020 04:17 PM

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