The buzz about this gig – the mother of all reunions – was really quite crazy for weeks in advance, and tickets had sold out for the London shows months ago. A 16 date tour turned into a 23 date juggernaut with venues hastily booked and rebooked once the appetite for tickets became apparent. The band goes stateside next year, calling in at LA, SF, NYC and Toronto.
So what’s so special at Bananarama being back together? The fact it’s the original trio is undoubtedly a major factor – after all they’ve named it ‘The Original Line Up Tour‘. Siobhan Fahey ducked out in 1988 (forming the celebrated Shakespeare’s Sister with Marcella Detroit) but despite a few appearances since this is the first time they have ever toured together.
Some might say Bananarama started out cool, sold out then became a novelty act before imploding. The earliest stage of their career did indeed have a serious cool cache; duty as backing vocalists for Iggy Pop and The Jam; help on their first single from Paul Jones of the Sex Pistols; their first hit singles (It Aint What You Do It’s the Way That You Do It and Really Saying Something) – both heavily featured Terry Hall (formerly of the Specials) and his group Fun Boy Three. All these songs popped up at tonight’s gig with ‘It Aint What You Do It’s the Way That You Do It’ forming the first of two ecstatic encores.
Their choice of producers helped propel the girls into the big time. Starting with Swain & Jolley, who would go on to shift truck loads of records for 80’s icons Imagination, Alison Moyet, Spandau Ballet, Kim Wilde and Diana Ross. Their tie-up with producing powerhouse Stock, Aitken and Waterman co-opted the Hi-Nrg sound from the gay disco, took it mainstream and led to the phenomenal international number one hit Venus and a run of other platinum and silver plated tunes such as Love in the First Degree, I Can’t Help It and I Heard a Rumour which still sound fresh and full of energy tonight.
Tonight with the LED screen going overdrive with the flame effects, Venus was undoubtedly the emotional high point of the night.
In 1988 they entered the Guinness Book of Records as the most successful girl band of all time with the most UK chart entries in history – a record they still hold but it was their popularity in the USA that put them in the absolute top tier of popdom. Fahey left in 1988 just as their 4th studio album ‘Wow!’ went Gold – the peak of their popularity. She was feeling socially excluded by the other two members, who had “been best friends a lot longer”, and who she says, were “no longer inviting her out with them”. Whatever the reason, Bananarama continued in one form or another ever since, although they would never shift the same kind of units as before.
Stylistically their singing is known to be in unison rather than in harmony like all the classic girl groups such as The Supremes, All Saints – even the Sugarbabes. After a whole show this rather grates, and also has a slightly weird effect of making me feel like they aren’t taking it seriously which is where the notion of novelty act comes in. Then in 1989 Bananarama teamed up with French & Saunders in aid of Comic Relief. Throughout tonight’s gig I expected a reprise with Dawn & Jennifer coming on mugging and larking about. It’s as if their vocal style sounds like three girls singing into hairbrushes to the mirror. Fresh at the time perhaps, but now it’s all a little bit basic.
This however is not on the audiences’s minds by the way, as they were on their feet before the girls hit the stage and didn’t stop dancing and singing along till the house lights come up. There is no denying the sheer pop-perfection of the songwriting – and what a diverse audience this is! No sea of grey hair and bald patches so common at other ‘pop legends’ shows. Trendy millennial’s giddily rub shoulders with aging rock chicks and dolled up mums! The gays are, of course, legion.
It will be fascinating to see if this tour leads to a new studio album that can replicate their supreme pop writing ability -if so, their return will be complete and all the more triumphant.
Bananarama performing Cruel Summer on The Graham Norton Show
Tour dates : http://www.bananarama.co.uk/
Review by Queerguru Correspondent : JONNY WARD