The achievements speak for themselves: more hits than the Spice Girls, more albums sold than Atomic Kitten, more Band Aid appearances than the Sugababes, an entry in the Guinness Book of Records as the biggest girl group since The Supremes. But it's not just what Bananarama have done -- it's the way that they've done it.
Bananarama are still creating thrilling pop moments -- 2005 was a fabulous year for Keren and Sara, in the UK and all across Europe with build up to the release of their album Drama the girls achieved two # 1 Dance smashes and their return to the Top Twenty with their hit "Move In My Direction." Continuing to sell out massive clubs like G.A.Y, headlining Rome Pride in Italy and performing as the special guests with the Scissor Sisters at one of the most exciting secret gigs of 2005, Bananarama are well and truly back.
From the moment their debut single charted at a modest Number 93, through the triple-platinum albums and a million-selling Greatest Hits compilation, right up to date with new material set to knock the spots off any other pop group on the block, Bananarama's story is one of a self-created, anarchic, and decidedly modern pop group with a fuck-you attitude that makes Courtney Love look like Karen Carpenter.
Most jarringly, at least in the context of today's pop personalities generally existing as crass multimedia 'entertainment' brands, there was no Bananarama franchise. Endorsement deals were routinely dismissed - in the late 1980s they turned down a $1m hair curler endorsement deal with Clairol because, according to Sara, "we just didn't use Clairol hair curlers". There were no TV shows, no dolls, no scooters and no lollipops. Bananarama didn't need those deals to pay the rent, because Bananarama made music for a living. They still do, and it sounds fresh, contemporary and irresistibly danceable. New tracks like 'Move In My Direction' and 'Don't Step On My Groove' represent Banarama's best work in over fifteen years, but they still fit in perfectly with the rest of the band's oeuvre, and there's plenty more where those new songs came from.
Most of the new material is the result of Sara and Keren once again identifying their perfect collaborators. In the early 1980s they approached producers Jolley & Swain on the strength of their work on Imagination's 'Bodytalk'; a few years later they heard Dead Or Alive's 'You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)' and decided to work with Stock Aitken & Waterman on 'Venus.' (Waterman, with typical understatement, later recalled that "it was almost like being asked by the Supremes to produce their records".) Now, Sara and Keren's eagle-eared appreciation of the current pop/dance sound has led them to Sweden, to the contemporary hit making team Murlyn, who recently worked with the likes of Brittney and J-Lo and, in particular, to the team's electro hotshots Korpi & Blackcell.
The results are astonishing - close your eyes and Bananarama sound is timeless. Open your eyes and they don't look far off it either, but theirs is a career, which, from humble beginnings, spans over two decades. Having both moved to London in 1981, childhood friends Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward soon made the city their own. They became regulars at Taboo and the Wag Club ("Blitz was over"), partying their way through the capital and working evenings at the Marquee club to make ends meet. (At that time U2 were a permanent fixture down at the Marquee, but Sara never heard them because she was "in the cloakroom, going through people's pockets".) One night, having been thrown out of the YWCA "for keeping late hours", Sara and Keren bumped into Sex Pistols drummer Paul Cook, who invited them to live in the dingy old rooms above the Pistols' rehearsal room. It was inevitable that with Johnny Rotten's drawings on the walls and Sid's old bondage trousers in the cupboards it didn't take long for Sara, Keren and new friend Siobhan Fahey to form a band.
One play from John Peel was all it took to catch the attention of The Specials' Terry Hall, who tracked the girls down and asked them to perform on Fun Boy 3's 'It Ain't What You Do It's The Way That You Do It,' which eventually stormed into the Top 5 in 1982. Keren remembers the band's shock at Terry's initial interest: "We thought, 'My God, he thinks we're proper singers.'" They went on to support everyone from Iggy Pop and Paul Weller (with the latter writing a song on the band's first album), but those early days were strange times. The girls were on Saturday morning telly, but still using the baths and the local swimming pool for 10p a throw. "We just didn't get paid," Sara laughs. "We signed for no advance, because we didn't realise you were supposed to get an advance, and we were still signing on when we were in the Top 5. We had to get a bank loan to pay ourselves £45 a week." Adds Sara: "We didn't think it would get past one single, and we didn't really care."
The girls' nonchalance clearly hit a nerve, with fans of all ages. Their faces beamed out from a huge variety of front covers, from NME to Look In, The Face to Smash Hits. For the next ten years the girls were everywhere, and so were their hits, whether it was 'Rough Justice' tackling the political tensions in Northern Ireland or 'Love In The First Degree' pioneering the relationship-as-courtroom-drama extended metaphor more than a decade before 'All Rise' was even a twinkle in Lee Ryan's eye. Bananarama soon became internationally hot property, with 'Venus' scoring a US Number One and 'Robert DeNiro's Waiting' paving the way for the now legendary meeting between the girls and that Hollywood superstar - "I've no idea what we talked about, though," Sara chortles. "We'd had a few…"
Along the way Bananarama defined their times, also turning in curiously timeless pop music -- which is why artists from Steps to Ace Of Base have delved through the Bananarama back catalogue for hits, and why a bootleg of 'Really Saying Something' was recently Number One in Europe. Even when Siobhan moved on for great success with Shakespears Sister and through the arrival and departure of Jacquie, Sara and Keren have kept the band as alive and exciting as it's always been. They have never turned Bananarama into a nostalgia-fest. You won't have seen them on a Never Mind The Buzzcocks identity parade, or on Reborn In The USA, or Hit Me Baby One More Time, or on any of the Here & Now tours. The simple reason for this is that while it may be fascinating to look back over the last twenty delicious years of pop, the present and the future are even more exciting.
Now ready for Drama to hit the U.S. -- Sara and Keren feel at their most invigorated for over a decade. "Writing songs now is giving me the same buzz I got when I was a teenager," Keren beams. "We're having fun making music all over again." Recording with the Murlyn crew in Sweden – in a massive house in the middle of a snow-lined forest – has clearly proved an agreeable backdrop for Sara and Keren's songwriting talents. The quality of the songs is astonishing – from blending the Moroderized synth stylings of the late 1970s with the cutting edge electro sound of today in 'Lovebite', to the undulating, minimalist grooves of 'Look On The Floor.'
Bananarama have never played the game. Sometimes they haven't even known what game they were playing. But after almost 25 years, here they are with some of the strongest material of their career: everything you'd have hoped but nothing you'd have expected, totally modern, totally pop, totally Bananarama.
Bananarama Bio from Discogs
After a debut single produced by former Sex Pistols member Paul Cook that shook the UK pop market to its very foundation (a #92 smash), they teamed up with ex Specials member Terry Hall's new band, Fun Boy Three. "It Ain't What You Do", released in February 1982 entered the UK charts at number 4.
International success came with their self-titled second album produced by Tony Swain and Steve Jolley and the monster hit single "Cruel Summer".
In 1986, the girls teamed up with UK dance music super-producers Stock, Aitken & Waterman and achieved number one all around the world, including the US, with their cover of the Shocking Blue's classic "Venus". In 1988, the trio were named by the Guinness Book of Records as the most successful female group in pop history, beating Supremes. They celebrated by releasing a SAW-produced version of the Supremes' "Nathan Jones". After the single's release however, Fahey decided to leave the trio to form Shakespear's Sister. She was replaced by Jacquie O'Sullivan who had appeared with the original Bananarama line-up in the Eurythmics video for "Who's That Girl", back in June 1983. O'Sullivan left in late 1991.
Sara and Keren have since continued as a duo.
Following a one-off reunion recording of ABBA's "Waterloo" with Siobhan in April 1998 for Channel 4's "Eurotrash" TV series hosted by Jean Paul Gaultier, the duo returned in 2001 with their 8th studio album, Exotica. In February 2002, Bananarama celebrated their 20th anniversary, joined on-stage by Siobhan. Their 2005 club hit "Move In My Direction" is their first UK single release since 1993.
All through their career the girls have, together or individually, married Eurythmics' male half (David A. Stewart), dated Wham!'s straight half (Andrew Ridgeley), reached the UK top 3 with French and Saunders, appeared on both the original Band Aid and Band Aid II, met Robert De Niro, shot a Japanese commercial with Peter Fonda and appeared in the movie Rules Of Attraction.