In 1980, London was witness to the birth of an all-girl group so different to the norm that they were bound to one day become one of the music world’s biggest phenomenons. In those early years, childhood friends Keren Woodward and Sarah Dallin, along with Siobhan Fahey, released a handful of singles before grabbing the attention of Terry Hall, vocalist of Fun Boy Three. So impressed by the girls, he invited them to do backing vocals on his group’s revival of It Ain’t What You Do, It’s The Way That You Do It – a song that gave Bananarama their first taste of fame. Returning the favour, Fun Boy Three backed Bananarama on their own cover of the Velvelettes’ Really Saying Something, thereby helping the girls hit the UK Top 5 in 1982.

The rest – as they say – is history, and the beginning of a musical journey that would take them further than they ever imagined. Their collaboration with producers Tony Swain and Steve Jolley spawned Top 10 hits like Shy Boy, Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye), Cruel Summer and the clever Robert De Niro’s Waiting. Their attempt at tackling more political matters proved unsuccessful, but their collaboration with the Stock, Aitken and Waterman production team again turned their lives around completely. Their first US number one came in 1986 with their remake of Venus, while other hits like I Heard A Rumour and Love In The First Degree – their biggest UK hit yet – followed.

Twenty years later, Bananarama’s achievements speak for themselves: more hits than the Spice Girls, more albums sold than Atomic Kitten and an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest girl group since The Supremes – a record currently held by the Spice Girls. Now, at the end of 2005, they’re back.

The first thing one notices about the 2005 versions of Keren Woodward and Sarah Dallin is that they’ve located the fountain of youth. Gone are the teased and rag-plaited hair, the t-shirts and dungarees and the who-cares, amateur approach to choreography that made them so refreshing and appealing in the eighties. Instead, it’s killer heels, sexy dresses and cleavage to die for. “We’ve never consciously changed our image,” they observe in typical Bananarama understatement. “Obviously we haven’t been seen for a while and our appearance has naturally changed,” they insist. But whether it’s a natural image progression or even a deliberate one, it works a charm.With Drama being a rather radical departure from the pop-sound we’ve come to know them for, a more modern, sexy and slick image is only suitable.

Like most gay men, I love a beautiful woman (no, not like that!), and in the case of Bananarama, it seems the feeling is mutual. A few years ago, Bananarama did a New Year’s Eve performance at the Astoria in London in front of a 100% gay crowd. This year they’ve sold out G-A-Y and headlined Rome Pride in Italy. I reminded Keren of once stating that they love performing in front of gay crowds because they have won them before they have even gone out on stage. I couldn’t help but wonder whether she still feels that way. What makes performing in front of a gay crowd in 2005 so much better? “I think gay people enjoy our performances because they are tongue in cheek, camp, and fun,” says Keren. “Also we have gorgeous boys with us. Most of our friends are gay men so we must have a lot in common, but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly why!”

For Bananarama, climbing the ladder of success for a second time seems to literally be an uphill battle. Fairly regular album releases – including a million-selling greatest hits package – aside, more recent successes have been minimal. Compared to the hits Bananarama churned out in the days with Stock, Aitken and Waterman and the PWL label, it seems almost non-existent. Since reliving the glory-days is such a natural human thing to do, I asked the girls whether they have ever considered working with the Stock, Aitken and Waterman-team again. “We left them when it all got a bit stale and predictable,” says Sarah, “and they also split up afterwards,” she adds. “I heard they are getting back together,” Keren interrupts. “We have no plans to work with them again,” she adds, “but they are very talented so I wouldn’t rule it out completely.”

Considering the kind of success Stock, Aitken and Waterman had with someone like Kylie Minogue, I asked the girls whether they have ever wondered whether their career would have mirrored hers had they stayed with PWL a bit longer. “Kylie also left them to experiment with different styles of music,” I get reminded. “She went through a period where she also wasn’t as successful before coming back stronger than ever, all without their help,” Keren says. “I would love that to happen to us, obviously, but don’t feel leaving PWL has any bearing on it,” she adds. So it doesn’t irritate you that other, newer artists are reaching the same levels of success with songs you originally did? “I think it’s great when people cover our songs,” Sarah laughs. “They do all the promo while you earn the money for sitting around doing bugger all. Perfect!” she adds.

“…it’s been nice to finally put some new songs in the set…”

The third original member, Siobhan Fahey, left Bananarama in 1988 to marry Dave Stewart of Eurythmics-fame. I asked the girls whether people still ask them about re-uniting with Siobhan. Since the split wasn’t exactly amicable, are you still friends with her? “No it wasn’t [amicable],” they agree. “We’re friends now though but I don’t think we’d end up working together as we’ve gone in very different directions both musically and personally,” Keren adds. “I still feel like she’s family though”. (Siobhan teamed up with Marcella Detroit as Shakespeare’s Sister after her departure from the group, and has more recently worked with the Pussycat Dolls).

Back to the here and now though, I asked the girls why they think Drama is considered a come-back album. “Because it’s our first album in UK for ages,” Keren says. And yes, Drama is a come-back of sorts since Sarah and Keren have moved away from the cheesy eighties-pop sound. Inspired by today’s artists, their music is much more modern and dance-orientated with a healthy shot of electronica for good measure. But her answer also underscores a common tendency amongst the general public. Often when a group who had major successes in the eighties or even nineties release a new album, it is considered a comeback. If the album is a failure, the come-back was a failure. But if the album is a success, all references to come-backs fall away and the album is simply referred to as another successful album by the artist. While we wait to gauge the long-term success of the new album, it’s worth noting that two singles from Drama have already topped the dance floor charts abroad…

Also, two out of the thirteen tracks on Drama are remixes of well-known Bananarama hits: Marc Almond’s brilliant Hi-NRG remix of the classic Venus (featuring new vocals by the girls), as well as the Solasso remix of Really Saying Something. Sarah and Keren co-wrote each of the remaining eleven tracks, and these songs can roughly be split between collaborations with Ian Masterson and Terry Ronald, and Korpi and Blackcell from Sweden’s Murlyn Music Group. Ian Masterson and Terry Ronald are renowned writers and producers in the UK and between them have worked with artists like Boyzone, Sarah Brightman, Sophie Ellis Bextor, Geri Halliwell, the Pet Shop Boys and the Sugababes. They were responsible for Kylie’s Did It Again, OMC’s ridiculously catchy How Bizarre and even for Alane, a song by Wes that took the world by storm in the late nineties.


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