Music interview – Bananarama: ‘These summer shows are the last chance to see us as a trio’

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Bananarama will soon be parting ways again as a trio, but you can see them in Leeds this summer. Duncan Seaman reports.

It was a musical reunion that caught the popular imagination, exciting memories of the biggest girl group of the 1980s and inspiring sold-out tours in Britain and the United States.

But barely a year on from the surprise announcement that Siobhan Fahey was rejoining her long-time friends Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin in Bananarama, it seems they are again destined to go their separate ways.

Their concert in Millennium Square, Leeds in August looks set to be the original trio’s last on British soil. Two final dates will follow in Sweden before Woodward and Dallin resume working as a duo.

Woodward says the past 12 months have been “brilliant” but insists that the reunion was always destined to be short-term. “It was an idea to do a one-off tour and celebrate our time with Siobhan, because we’d never done it with her, and it went fantastically. We decided to add a few more in before we revert to our previous lives so these summer shows we’re doing are the last chance to see us as a trio.”

As Fahey had quit Bananarama before their first world tour 30 years ago, being on the road as a trio has proved to be a novelty in itself.

Bananarama will play their last UK concert as a trio in Leeds.

Bananarama will play their last UK concert as a trio in Leeds.

“Because Sara and I have done it for a long time without Siobhan it was completely different,” Woodward says. “It was a fantastic event for people to come and see and it meant we could do the most brilliant show, with visuals and everything, as opposed to a lot of the festivals that Sara and I have done where you’re lucky if you get a soundcheck sometimes, you have to get on with your band and hope for the best, but it’s all very exciting nonetheless. Hopefully for the Leeds show we will get a soundcheck. It always turns out OK, but it puts your mind at rest.”

Woodward, now 57, says the chemistry between the three of them remains strong. “That’s why we knew we could do it. Siobhan lives in LA but on the times where we had seen her over the last few years the friendship that has always been there is still there. All those shared moments and the shared history were always there so I don’t think there was a point where we thought we wouldn’t be friends or anything like that.

“For Siobhan it was a massive thing to do because she hadn’t really done anything like that for a long, long period of time, so obviously it was quite a daunting prospect maybe for her. Much more so because she hadn’t been doing live stuff for a long time and had never done it with us, so it was an experience for her for sure and a lot of work.”

Woodward admits the three of them had been “taken aback” that they ended up playing so many UK shows last year. “We originally were going to do 15 shows and then they all sold out so we put on more and it ended up being 22 – you couldn’t do any more in a month. The reception was brilliant but it is always brilliant because of the songs that we have.

The reception was brilliant but it is always brilliant because of the songs that we have.

Keren Woodward

“The fact is you can play the most weird and wonderful places where you go on stage and think that the crowd aren’t there to see you, they had a funny rock band on before you and yet it doesn’t really matter where you play because the songs speak for themselves, and the amount of people that say ‘Ooh, I’d forgotten you’d had so many hits; I only thought I knew a couple but I know them all’. I think that’s what stands up, really – and the fact that our band are amazing and make them all sound brilliant.

“Yes, we were surprised at how the tickets sold so quickly, but we just love being on stage anyway. And I love playing theatres because you almost feel like you can have a rapport with people, as opposed to a field with 10,000 people in it where you can’t actually see to the back.”

Fahey’s return meant the group had changed their regular set list. “We did incorporate songs we hadn’t done [for years] because we were concentrating on the songs from the period where Siobhan was in the group, up to ’88, so it was only really a six-year period. When we sat together putting a set list together we ended up loving them all for different reasons and it was good to work out new versions and maybe go back more towards the originals on some of them. There were hits that Sara and I have done for years and they’d gradually crept into slightly different ground. We really enjoyed working on the music.

“Then we picked one of hers and she picked one of ours [from after Fahey had left Bananarama and formed Shakespears Sister] and we did those as well, which was again a different element.”

In terms of choreography, Woodward says some numbers “had never changed” over the years but others required a rethink. “Sara and I work very loosely together and we’re quite instinctive, we’ll go on-mic and off-mic because there’s only two of us, but when there’s three of you, you can’t always see the other one so you do have to be a little more disciplined about where we were standing or it would look totally shambolic, we’d be bumping into each other. But I don’t think our performances have ever been about rigorous routines and choreography, it’s always had a sort of relaxed nature to it because you might want to do it, you might not; it’s how we work, it’s a bit more spontaneous.

“I think it’s great watching fantastically slick choreography but that’s not what we’re about. As you can tell, we can kind of dance after a fashion, we like doing the old routines and we enjoyed working out some new stuff but it’s about a more personality-based show than just a performance of dancing.”

Almost 40 years on from their formation, Woodward finds it heartening that Bananarama are finally being given the same kind of critical due afforded to the likes of contemporaries such as The Go Gos and The Bangles. “We never felt ourselves as being anything other than a real group but I do think because we were all vocalists, not playing instruments, we were thought of by certain people – not everyone – we were regarded differently.

“I think when Siobhan left she probably felt that we didn’t get the credit we deserved and I remember sitting with her and explaining ‘You have no idea how fond people are of us and how brilliant it is being in Bananarama and performing those songs’. It’s a completely different vibe to when we used to do it in the 80s or maybe it passed us by because we were so busy then. It seemed a shame that she hadn’t really experienced that and seen what we’d built over the years and how it translated into a live show.”

At Leeds, Woodward says the trio will play “all the hits”. “When we did the shows in the autumn it was pretty much a party from start to finish. We were playing theatres but I don’t think anyone sat down, it was that kind of show.”

After the summer shows, Woodward and Dallin plan to resume work on their next album. “We were part-way through recording when this whole thing came up. I think we’ll take a few months out, maybe go on holiday, and then come back next year. There’s always something going on with us and we’re hoping to get our album finished that we were halfway through.”

Bananarama play in Millennium Square, Leeds on Saturday August 4. Sara Cox will be DJ-ing ahead of Bananarama taking the stage. Tickets are available from www.lhgtickets.com.

www.bananarama.co.uk

Other shows taking place in the Millennium Square Summer Series are:

July 20 – Plan B with special guest to be announced shortly

July 21 – Tony Hadley with special guest to be announced shortly

August 3 – The Pretenders, with special guests The Lightning Seeds

August 11 – Simple Minds, with special guest KT Tunstall

August 12 – The Vamps, with special guest New Hope Club

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