Bananarama Superb Interview19 min read

Picture © Mark Mattock

As Bananarama put together for the discharge of Superb – The Final Assortment, Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin displays with Basic Pop on how they’ve overcome every part the trade may throw at them…

“Oh, come on, have a beer!”  As Bananarama order some post-lunch coffees at a busy  deli in Kings Cross, Keren Woodward invitations Basic Pop  to completely be part of of their mischief.

We’re midway by  an interview the place Keren  and Sara Dallin have been going deep on how they’ve shone for 40 years in a music trade  that’s thrown limitless obstacles of their path as pioneering girls in pop. It’s solely lately that Keren and Sara have realised simply how influential Bananarama have been in surviving and thriving, whereas providing up classics in a vastly numerous but at all times poptivist array of types.

Having triumphed since launching their very own report label In Synk for 2019’s In Stereo album, plus a brand new Finest Of assortment showcasing what Bananarama have stood for these previous 40 years, the duo are as near enjoyable as pop warriors ever get. And but… it’s a giddy sufficient expertise to spend 90 minutes in Bananarama’s firm, with out the necessity for any daytime refreshment. Only a water, please.

Realising that we imply enterprise, Sara and Keren return to analysing precisely what it’s that Bananarama have represented since they launched debut LP Deep Sea Skiving in 1983 with Siobhan Fahey. “Dedication. Freedom,” considers Dallin of the essence of Bananarama. “We’ve at all times been ourselves, at all times pure. However then, we’re incapable of not being ourselves. We needed to be pure.” Woodward provides: “Bananarama began out simply as one thing that we cherished: music. We realized how you can write songs, and I cherished that. Since then, we’ve toured the world and skilled totally different cultures. That’s fed into what we do, we’ve been fortunate to expertise that.”

Sara is true that Bananarama are at all times completely Bananarama. Whether or not selecting to go ultra-pop with Inventory, Aitken Waterman, experimenting with The Verve producer Youth or rediscovering their love of pop with Swedish machine-tooled hitmakers Murlyn, Bananarama almost at all times know what they need to do subsequent. However it’s solely ever been on their phrases. Don’ttry to get Sara or Keren to play the sport, there’s no level.

Au Naturel

“We didn’t have the capability to slot in,” insists Dallin. “It’s not pure for us to instantly swap it on.” Woodward admits: “We struggled to be honest. Within the early days, each time we’d do an ident, we’d be (adopts wood monotone): ‘Er, good day…’” Keren throws a glance to her bandmate who, as occurs quite a bit over lunch with Bananarama, is attempting laborious to maintain her composure. “She’s the worst. Sara would sound actually wood, then go to the opposite excessive: ‘Hello!!! SARA HERE!!!’ We’ve realized to disregard what we’re alleged to say, and simply say one thing in the best way we’d get the message throughout.”

A standard theme in previous Bananarama interviews is their joint mortification at how awkward they appeared of their early High Of The Pops appearances. They didn’t know which digicam to carry out to.

Of their view, chaos ensued. However didn’t that make them look extra pure to viewers? “You’re proper, completely,” nods Woodward. “We didn’t know what we have been doing, and likewise we weren’t styled. We didn’t have any costly garments, so you actually could possibly be like us. It was perhaps the final time when you could possibly completely discover your individual manner. Now, after all, there are actually locations just like the Brit College the place you’ll be able to study to be a pop star. It’s extra slick and shiny.”

Lucky Timing

Whether or not that’s an excellent factor for a duo who’ve remained relatable for 40 years, without having to strive, is debatable. Having decamped from their native Bristol to London’s welcoming squat tradition on the finish of the Seventies, the place they met Siobhan Fahey, Bananarama imagine they have been lucky to type after they did.

“You may nonetheless be working-class and thrive in London, and that’s not the case now,” ponders Dallin. “We had tenacity, however so did a number of different artists from our period, as a result of none of them got here from privileged backgrounds. Being in London at the moment, it actually was a motion.”

Keren says half of their buddies, together with Siobhan, have been Londoners, whereas half have been from outdoors of the capital. “A lot about Bananarama was from our working-class backgrounds,” she causes. “We have been singing about our experiences. Anybody could possibly be a pop star at the moment. Everybody else appeared like us, too: Boy George, Gentle Cell, whoever, it didn’t matter the place you have been from or who you have been.” Sara concludes: “Our music was about discovering one thing apart from what was anticipated of us.”

That perspective of “Right here we’re, have it”, there from the beginning of Bananarama’s music, was introduced dwelling when Dallin revisited her early lyric books because the duo assembled Superb, their new 40-track compilation. The pair emphasise that they assist one another out in all elements of songwriting, however to generalise it’s normally Sara writing lyrics, with Keren because the studio and musical arranger. “These previous lyrics are an enormous a part of my life,” beams Dallin. “Going again over them, I can completely see how I’m feeling. I can see once I’m going clubbing, what boyfriend I’ve, once I’m feeling horny. It’s an enormous a part of my story.”

Regardless of their early songwriting prowess, it was sadly inevitable that their position in creating these first gems like Merciless Summer time and Shy Boy have been dismissed by critics and the trade generally. “It wasn’t till Bananarama began that I realised males get extra credit score,” frowns Woodward. “Rising up, I by no means noticed any differential between what women and men may do. I assumed we may all do every part. Then I’d see how males in bands have been handled and I’d assume: ‘No, grasp on, we’re doing that, too.’ We tried railing towards it, understanding it was unfair.” Sara: “The difficulty is, when you begin railing towards issues, it will probably make you bitter and indignant.” Keren: “However it was unfair.” Sara: “It was, and you must undergo these battles. However then you definately come out the opposite facet, laughing at these individuals who dismissed you, as a result of they haven’t destroyed you. The cliché is, it makes you stronger. And it truly does.”

Though Bananarama have been patronised by many at first, fortunately at the very least their producers have been encouraging. Steve Jolley and Tony Swain, the duo who additionally produced Spandau Ballet and Creativeness, have been wise sufficient to understand Bananarama ought to sing like Bananarama, as Dallin explains: “They didn’t need our songs to be thirtysomething males dictating what younger girls would say. The songs have been very a lot our lyrics and concepts.” Woodward continues: “It wasn’t simply lyrics. They concerned us in preparations, so we realized quite a bit from them about how songs have been put collectively. As soon as we had hits, we grew to become extra assured about what we have been doing.”

Prepared To Pop

On getting caught with the extra socially conscious third album True Confessions in 1986, Bananarama enlisted Inventory, Aitken Waterman to supply two songs. How encouraging have been they for songwriting enter? “We had a monitor report already,” Sara factors out. “We co-wrote with them, which I don’t assume they let anybody else do.”

True Confessions manages to embody each the cautionary anti-drug paean Hooked On Love and, properly, Venus. “We went into working with Inventory, Aitken and Waterman simply eager to make a very good pop report,” emphasises Keren. “It was one thing totally different for us, going from fairly cool, edgy pop to pure pop – and we cherished it.” There’s one other burst of laughter as she provides: “We perhaps went too far on the following one.”

A 12 months after True Confessions, Wow! featured megahits I Heard A Hearsay and Love In The First Diploma, however Fahey left quickly after its launch and the trio have been additionally much less in management creatively. “There was extra encouragement at first writing with Inventory, Aitken and Waterman than in a while,” acknowledges Woodward. “What we did with them early on, they have been then virtually doing that as a template.

“However that’s to not criticise them. I bloody adore Pete Waterman, who’s the most important music fanatic you’ll ever meet. Any cynicism didn’t come from him. Matt and Mike have been extra musically gifted, however they didn’t have Pete’s path. It’s why they have been such an excellent workforce.”

“I like Wow! and so they have been sensible songwriters,” emphasises Dallin. “You possibly can’t actually argue with their report. We’ve at all times cherished to strive totally different music, and it’s at all times basically Bananarama.”

The 40 songs on Superb – 10 from every decade – again up Sara’s claims of consistency. In 1991, Pop Life, Bananarama’s sole album with Jacquie O’Sullivan, samples The Stone Roses and options The Gipsy Kings. It’s most likely so far as they’ve strayed from pop, regardless of its title.

“I actually cherished funk and soul rising up, but it surely’s by no means suited us,” says Woodward of the duo’s dedication to maintain it pop. “I’m simply not a soul singer. We may attempt to sing these songs, but it surely’s not going to go well with my voice.” Sara causes: “The concept of ‘pop’ is so broad anyway. Even when it’s not considered in that manner, Wonderwall is a good pop track. A superb pop track is an effective pop track.”

Movin’ On

Since Jacquie left in 1991 after Pop Life, it’s been Woodward and Dallin all the best way, bar 2017’s one-off reunion tour with Siobhan. If Bananarama as two lifelong greatest mates now appears completely pure, the general public have been initially reluctant. “We’d had 10 years on the prime,” shrugs Woodward. “The following era got here alongside and The Spice Ladies have been extra their group. It wasn’t a lot that we misplaced our manner, however that music modified round us.”

It’s the one time Bananarama thought of quitting, but it surely wasn’t a critical consideration. Dallin remembers: “You possibly can solely do what you wish to do, and it’s a correct realisation that you must do what you need, not what you assume anybody else may need. It was about discovering our personal manner in that modified scene, questioning in case you nonetheless wish to make music.”

By the mid-90s, Sara and Keren had already been made just about bulletproof by having to endure a lot testing idiocy from the trade. “First we confronted the gender barrier after which we confronted the age barrier,” sighs Dallin. “Folks have been ageist in direction of us from our mid-twenties. If you’re 26 and other people ask you: ‘Absolutely you’re not nonetheless going to be doing this once you’re 30?’, you simply assume: ‘Sorry, what?’ Then, after we had youngsters, the perspective was: ‘You’re making pop music and also you’re 30-year-old moms! Hahaha!’”

Though Keren and Sara are as enthusiastic and considerate lunch companions as any pop lover may want for, the look of exasperated contempt that crosses Sara Dallin’s face when remembering how Bananarama have been generally handled as moms in music is one that would kneecap a serious label CEO. Sensible popstars, sure. But in addition: don’t mess.

For all their dedication, Woodward is conscious of its challenges, as she displays: “After I had my son, it wasn’t a really comfy time. One factor needed to give, and sadly it was my dwelling life, as a result of I used to be so determined to have a profession. It’s solely once you get the possibility to look again you realise how determined a time all of it was.” Our interview is the day earlier than the marriage of Keren’s son, Thomas, whose mom smiles broadly as she considers the place her life is now. “I’ve the very best relationship with my son, and at the very least I stored a roof over our heads.”

Drama Queens

Commercially, Bananarama’s lowest level was 2001’s Exotica, an album solely launched in France. When you assume which means it’s a stinker, verify the mighty If on the brand new compilation, which might rival Venus for gross sales if it had been launched in 1985. “The humorous factor is, it’s round that point that we grew to become higher as songwriters and as dwell artists,” smiles Woodward. “We have been higher than we’d been within the 80s, which we went by with much less confidence, not fairly understanding what our abilities have been. I instantly thought: ‘Proper, I do know what I’m doing now.’ However no-one needed to know.”

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They didn’t anticipate significantly better from 2005’s Drama. However the period of Ladies Aloud and Sugababes recognised the place imperious feminine pop music had began, with Transfer In My Course turning into Bananarama’s first High 20 hit since Preacher Man in 1991.

Italian report label boss and Bananarama megafan Alfonso Gugliucci teamed Keren and Sara with Swedish producers Murlyn for Drama. “That was the beginning of us realising: ‘Yeah, we did do all that!’,” smiles Woodward. “Having somebody who was so excited to be making a report with us made us really feel rejuvenated.” Dallin: “We have been questioning: ‘The place can we go now?’, and instantly we have been having a simple, enjoyable time, writing songs in a lodge in Stockholm. It felt like we went from treading water to browsing a wave… I would put that in a track.”

The Drama tour additionally marked the beginning of Bananarama working with their dwell band. One purpose for 2017’s reunion with Fahey is that the unique trio by no means had the possibility to play dwell, an expertise that first occurred touring Wow! with Jacquie in 1988, shortly after Siobhan had left.

“That world tour for Wow! was terrifying, frankly,” says Sara. “We have been pondering: ‘God, I’ve by no means
achieved this earlier than, what the hell am I doing?’ and it was straight into enormous reveals. Whereas now, enjoying dwell is such fun. Getting our personal band made the distinction.”

They’ve notably fond recollections of touring the US in 2012, enjoying intimate venues in affiliation with the Arduous Rock chain for breast most cancers charity Pinktober: “Simply us and the band, the place we grew to become a correct rock & roll expertise,” in keeping with Keren, as Dallin says: “The Las Vegas crowd have been notably enthusiastic. The following morning, we have been strolling across the Arduous Rock Resort, wanting on the previous dears on the fruit machines, fags on the go. One in all whom was me, clearly.  It’s so humorous how one can be utterly nameless once you’re not on stage.”

Mixes & Melodies

The deluxe version of Superb: The Final Assortment provides a disc of remixes. Sara picks Luke Million’s overhaul of Velvet Lies as her favorite, reasoning: “I prefer it when remixes maintain a sentiment of the melody.” Against this, Woodward says: “I adore it when remixers reimagine the track. I’ve been in golf equipment earlier than and thought: ‘That’s an awesome monitor,’ then realised a minute later: ‘Grasp on, that’s one in every of our songs!’ There’s a genius to giving it their very own therapy.”

One of many standout remixes is a slick funk exercise of Tripping On Your Love from Pop Life by George Michael. “George didn’t try this as a good friend factor,” insists Dallin. “He would by no means have achieved it if he hadn’t cherished the track.” Keren reveals: “After we performed the unique to George, he stated: ‘I actually love that. Can I remix it?’ That’s an enormous endorsement.”

It was the one time the buddies collaborated. “The concept of working collectively by no means actually got here up, as a result of it was only a regular friendship,” explains Woodward. “We weren’t sat there saying: ‘Hey, let’s do a track collectively.’ We principally performed foolish get together video games with George.” Sara: “George was principally indignant with us, as we beat him at each recreation we performed. George could be fuming: ‘It’s not honest enjoying you two, you already know what one another is pondering.’

“Our friendship was principally that and us laughing at George as a result of he’d acquired his wellies caught within the mud.”

Regardless of their closeness, George had one agency rule: he wouldn’t let Keren and Sara meet Elton John. Dallin laughs: “George preferred us as a result of we’re trustworthy. And we have been perhaps too trustworthy with him, as a result of he’d say: ‘I can’t take you to satisfy Elton, you’ll simply embarrass me.’ We’d by no means have proven George up in entrance of Elton, after all.” Have they ever met Elton? “No!” says an aghast Woodward. “However his husband David is gorgeous, he at all times involves our reveals.”

Learn Extra: Bananarama albums – the full information

Additionally within the Superb deluxe version is a photograph guide that includes a number of the objects from Bananarama’s appears over time, from square-toed Vivienne Westwood boots to Jean-Paul Gaultier fishnet bodices. “We work intently with all our designers on our sleeves,” says Sara. “We don’t wish to put something out that we don’t approve of.”

If the unique trio have been skint after they began, vogue has at all times been essential to them. “We needed to look glamorous in a manner that we may afford, which meant going to locations like Kensington Market,” remembers Keren. “Glamour meant totally different concepts to everybody when Bananarama began. You may look the way you needed, so everybody had their very own look.”

“There by no means was a defining Bananarama look,” considers Dallin. “We have been punky and actually artistic with our garments. That’s why we stood out, however all of the bands stood out in their very own manner as a result of they have been artistic, too, whether or not it was Duran or Tradition Membership. Folks generally attempt to costume as Bananarama at 80s events, however they simply throw on headbands, legwarmers and ra-ra skirts. I doubt we ever wore these.” Sara raises her eyes in frustration. “Horrendous.”

A Totally different Take

Due to its 10 songs per decade remit, what Superb doesn’t embrace is a few of Bananarama’s hits, resembling Shy Boy or Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye. Woodward’s eyes roll straight out of her head and off the deli desk when that is raised, as Dallin factors out: “We’d have wanted 60 songs to suit every part on.” Recovering her composure, Keren causes: “Do folks solely need Biggest Hits compilations? Followers will already personal these songs, and one other hits compilation could be the identical factor they’ve at all times had. Let’s do one thing totally different and present our complete profession, the songs the 2 of us assume characterize Bananarama greatest.”

In discussing their complete profession, it’s good to report that Keren and Sara have met up with Siobhan for the reason that reunion tour, on the 2021 launch of stylist David Thomas’ guide, Self-importance Challenge. “We received’t see one another for an extended interval, however after we do, we fall straight again into it,” smiles Dallin. “Siobhan has the identical humour as us and I like her firm. She lives in L.A. and now we have very totally different lives, however we fall about laughing after we see one another.”

They haven’t seen Jacquie “in a very long time,” however Woodward stresses: “That’s simply our lives shifting alongside and doing various things. Like with Siobhan, Jacquie is somebody who we may go years not seeing however we choose it up right away after we do.”

For the entire of these 40 years, Bananarama has been these two teenage greatest mates from Bristol. The world has lastly caught up with Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward, and realises respect is due. “We rode the wave within the 80s, barely not in management,” displays Sara. “Since we launched In Stereo on our personal label 4 years in the past, we’ve proven we will do that on our personal. We’re so pleased with that, and Masquerade is my favorite album we’ve ever achieved, although Drama runs it shut. We do issues in our personal time in our personal manner. It’s purely for us, not the trade. After every part we’ve been by, that’s huge.”

Bananarama’s taxi is ready, as Keren has wedding ceremony duties to supervise. Her ultimate phrases summarise that Bananarama are the place they need to have at all times been: “The place I’m now makes up for all of the years when it was laborious. We do what we wish to do, after we wish to do it. We make the selections ourselves, and so they appear to be working. Bananarama now? I feel to myself: ‘Whats up, we’re doing alright right here!’”

Superb: The Final Assortment is launched on 8 March 2024 by way of In Synk. Bananarama play London Palladium on 3-4 April. They will even headline the 80s Classical occasion at Millennium Sq., Leeds, on 20 July. For tickets click on right here

Learn Extra: High 20 girlband singles of the 80s


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