Really Saying Something: Sara & Keren – Our Bananarama Story
Sara Dallin & Keren Woodward
Cornerstone / Penguin
This cool summer I got hooked on the song Cruel Summer – and hooked again on Bananarama for the first time in absolutely years. So giddy with the rush of nostalgia I wrote a goddamn poem about it. And in the absence of new music by the band I devoured the back catalogue, enjoyed a lot of it and humoured some of it and was just generally happy to have given myself over to a wave of nostalgia.
There was only a short time when Bananarama was my favourite band but many of the band’s best songs linger – even if some of the cover version hit singles do annoy me at the wrong time.
So with all of that I dived right into this official band biography, written by the group’s founders and now only members, Sarah Dallin and Keren Woodward.
Bananarama was bigger than The Supremes or The Spice Girls, something a lot of people possibly struggle with or probably didn’t even quite fathom. And for all their safe and obvious pop songs they grew up in the UK punk era; they were fans of cool bands, fans of grimy artists, interesting in music above and beyond the slick Stock Aitken Waterman-styled pop that they fell in with, arguably helping to legitimise.
And we do get some of that in this story – but the heart of this is the 50 years friendship Sara and Keren share, the friendship solidified by a nearly 40 year career as the biggest girl group in the world.
Next year will be the ‘Rama’s 40th Anniversary and there’ll no doubt be a tour and there’s already teases of new music (and for anyone that thinks the band stopped in the 90s there is recent/ish music, there was even an original members tour as recent as 2017). So this book draws a line under 40 years of music – and, as I mentioned, 50 years of friendship.
What isn’t here at all – is Siobhan Fahey. Well, I mean she’s mentioned. But it’s palpable how safe it is, how delicately and strategically the punches were pulled. Siobhan joined after Keren and Sara formed the band, Siobhan helped to style the band, she was the older head, she was angrier, more dangerous, and she was probably seen as being the cooler one – owing to her marriage to Dave Stewart of the Eurythmics.
Sara and Keren put it, very subtly, that Stewart probably told Fahey to leave; didn’t rate the cheesiness of the band. Fahey would form Shakespears Sister and write Stay. She would fall out with that group too – and then reunite. She turned up for the aforementioned 2017 reunion tour after previously being replaced and now the duo just goes it alone – but we never get to the seed of what is obviously drama. Instead it’s the platitudes of how they’re all still friends and love and respect one another. And that’s about as thin as the melodic structure to Venus.
Still, Cruel Summer echoed in my head as I read this easy, largely enjoyable account of mega-stardom. The hits continued to come and the women took charge of writing, producing, arranging and styling; they steered the band as best they could in an era that wanted to define them as little pieces of a product controlled by MeToo men-in-suits.
I thought about what they must have had to endure. And I thought about the hooks to some of those great songs. I thought, too, about how it wasn’t just lightness and fluff – there’s some grit to some of those songs. I just wish there was a bit more grit to the story. I know it’s there – but they’re just not interested in confrontation.
Siobhan’s erratic presence is teasingly felt. She probably requested a lawyer-lead read-through is my guess. Signing off on the idea that all is well and friends are what they are and good times is what they had. It’s clear that the wheels fell off quite brutally at some point.
But Keren and Sara would prefer to remember the highlights. That’s both understandable and admirable – particular as you start to take on the real role of his book as being a testament to a towering, lifelong female friendship.
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