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Line-up Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes: Bananarama reform after Bowie cover leaks

It’s quite lovely to see Bananarama back, back, back in 2017, with their original line-up of Sara Dallin, Keren Woodward and Siobhan Fahey for the first time since the late ’80s. And boy, do they look fit!

Don‘t shoot the messenger but I didn’t buy any Nanas records back in the day – I was a bit too cool for school for that – but I did have a soft spot for their thoroughly English inspired-amateurs/girls-form-a-band-on-a-lark-in-their-council-flat aesthetic.

Hell, they were the only British females on the original Band Aid single after all, and the only women other than American soul diva Jody Watley involved at all.

In 1998, Dallin, Woodward and Fahey briefly regrouped for the first time in ten years and recorded a stompy version of ABBA‘s Waterloo for the Eurovision celebration A Song For Eurotrash.

The trio did surrender, and celebrated such by performing an impromptu appearance at London’s G-A-Y club. Happily, I happened to be there, by chance I think, but quite honestly the only thing I remember is Siobhan strangely sitting the set out except for Waterloo. Indeed, she made it clear that this was a one-off and that she was not formally rejoining the group.

Around 2001 the ever obliging Erik at Warner Music in London did very kindly put together a package of the label’s past, present and future CDs and The Very Best Of Bananarama happened to be among them. Giving the album a spin I had to concede I had always secretly liked several of their singles – particularly Cruel Summer, Love In The First Degree and Robert De Niro’s Waiting.

Not to mention their their duets with the fledgling Fun Boy Three were exactly that; fun with a capital ‘F’.

Venus, a US No. 1 in 1986, I kid you not, even kinda improved on Shocking Blue’s atmospheric original, and marked the point the tasty trio ushered in a renewed phase of their career by teaming up with the Stock Aitken Waterman production house. After a number of big hits like the imperious I Heard A Rumour and a cover of The Supremes‘ Nathan Jones, in 1989 Bananarama moved away from SAW and worked with ex Killing Joke bassist (and former member of SAW-produced act Brilliant) Youth for their 1991 album Pop Life. 

Pictured below, this particular set was the “official” hits package released to celebrate the group’s twentieth anniversary, and spans their singular history from 1981 until 1993.

The girls’ spring 1993 offering, Please Yourself, was their first as a duo (Fahey’s replacement Jacquie O’Sullivan had lasted just the one studio album), and saw them venture into out-and-out Europop territory.

In retrospect, that was to be expected when you cast your mind back to who’d just been responsible for the shock comeback of the music world without having to lift a finger between them – ABBA, of course. The sessions also reunited Sara and Keren with Mike Stock and Pete Waterman, who, with the departure of Matt Aitken, had also been newly reduced to a duo.

The often objectionable Waterman had been looking for his very own version of the Swedish Fab Four ever since they disintegrated in the early 1980s. By the end of the decade, the Coventry cretin had re-recorded a pair of Please Yourself’s pop pleasers in the shape of Movin’ On and Last Thing On My Mind with a new act he’d nurtured, called Steps, to considerably greater success.

He’d found his new ABBA.

Fast forward 23 years and when David Bowie died in January 2016 it only took a matter of hours before a plethora of outtakes and rarities started surfacing online, including Bananarama tackling The Dame’s Changes, from the classic Hunky Dory.

For whatever reason, the cover never made the cut for Please Yourself upon the LP’s release, with Mick Stock vaguely recalling that he considered the mix unfinished.

As to whether or not the world really needed this lightweight, campy rendition, well, perhaps it remained unfinished/unreleased for a reason. That said, this isn’t nearly as bad as it might look on paper. All of the girls were Bowie fans, as was Waterman. Sara’s tribute at the time says it all.

As a sidenote, in 1990, Siobhan, now founder of Shakespeare’s Sister with Marcella Detroit, had attended her very first Bowie concert, which I’ve covered elsewhere. You can view the interview backstage at Sound + Vision at the Milton Keynes Bowl here and here. Meanwhile, Bananarama’s first ever tour with Siobhan doesn’t begin until November.

Methinks it will be a cruel summer indeed without them.

Viva SKS!

Steve Pafford

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