Most mornings when I wake up and glimpse women in the news, my heart doesn’t sing. Here they are, marshalling along the current wintry era of politics. Here they are populating another horrible set of statistics. Today I went online, however, and saw a glorious photograph of three women in their fifties, huddling together for the first time in years, with lovely smiles on their faces, really sayin’ something.
A warm glow has taken over my part of the internet this morning as Bananarama, in their original incarnation, are back. Back. BACK! (Some good old Smash Hits’ language for those of you out there past 30.) Already however, I hear the tuts, see the eye-rolls. A pop band from the past have reformed to make a fast buck, woop-di-doo! Thing is, the royalties from co-writing Cruel Summer, Robert De Niro’s Waiting and I Heard A Rumour haven’t led these women to poverty. Also, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward have never really been away, releasing albums and doing tours as a duo for the last 25 years, after their experiment with new member, Jacquie O’Sullivan, fizzled out in 1992, after Siobhan Fahey waltzed off in 1988. Sara and Keren’s love of making music, and playing it, therefore, has never fully gone, but now Siobhan’s back – and pop’s pressure cooker has deservedly lost its lid as a consequence.
It has done for several reasons. Firstly, the original Bananarama were so much more than another pop band. As punky, skint teenagers living in London in the late 1970s, Keren and Siobhan had been best friends since school (Sara met them while she was studying fashion journalism at college with Siobhan). Together, they threw themselves into the era’s music and fashion scenes in a raggle-taggle, riotous way, doing gigs with The Jam and Iggy Pop when they had zero experience but buckets of enthusiasm. They made their first single (a brilliant, jerky cover of obscure 1970s hit Aie a Mwana) because they lived above a rehearsal room being used by two former Sex Pistols. They weren’t tutored or trained, and that didn’t matter. They just threw themselves into things joyfully and brilliantly, and you can still hear that today.
They looked glamorous, but they also looked like real people, not identikit, not focus-grouped; they were young women with character, smarts and personality having a brilliant laugh
The ‘Nanas also weren’t just lucky girls capitalising on the talents of men. When Malcolm McLaren offered to manage them early in their career, suggesting some sexually provocative ideas to help them along, they said no. They had to convince Pete Waterman that their idea for a cover of an old ‘60s song would work brilliantly; this was their take on Venus by Dutch psychedelic rock band Shocking Blue, which became a US number 1. “They were saying, it can’t be done,” Fahey told the Guardian in their exclusive reunion interview today. “I was like, yes it can! Get those cowbells on there!” I’m also with the people who think they had an influence on Madonna’s early style. Look at their early singles covers, and those hair rags, those braces, those hats, that second-hand jumble-sale artistry – a year later, Ms Ciccone was all over them.
I first really knew them in 1987, when I Heard A Rumour blasted out of Top Of The Pops and into my nine-year-old mind. There was Siobhan Fahey in a weird cap and 1950s frock like a cool retro tearaway, Sara Dallin in sports gear and a neon-pink tutu, Keren Woodward in the lashings of eyeliner I’d soon steal as my own. (I copied their brilliantly basic dance routines in the playground soon after – I can still do the one to I Want You Back off by heart.) To me, they looked glamorous, but they also looked like real people, not identikit, not focus-grouped; they were young women with character, smarts and personality having a brilliant laugh. All successful British girl bands that have thrived ever after have followed this peculiarly British model: hello Spice Girls, Girls Aloud, Little Mix. But for me, nobody gets near Sara, Keren and Siobhan. To be young and wanting to have fun, but also wanting to be myself: what better role models could there be than that?
Still, Siobhan left Bananarama all too soon, for both me, the young fan, and her. She said in today’s interview how sad she had been not to tour with the band (“It’s so frustrating, because I left the year before they got their first tour together”). So to now see these three women in their fifties back together, with those smiles on their faces, the same smiles I’ll hope they’ll have on stage later this year, reminds me how brilliant pop music can be. It can give us joy, hope and love. Long may those things sing.