Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin have been performing as Bananarama now for 35 years. Friends since childhood, they teamed up with Siobhan Fahey when Dallin met her at fashion college in 1979 and named their vocal group after the Roxy Music single, Pyjamarama. Early performances were impromptu spots at pubs and clubs singing along to backing tracks, or providing vocal support to new wave bands such as Department S; they appeared on the B-side of their debut single Is Vic There? and opened for them at a few gigs in 1981. At this time they were living in a flat above a rehearsal room used by The Professionals. Band member Paul Cook produced a demo recording of Bananarama singing Aie A Mwana which was picked up for release by the independent record label Demon. This brought them to the attention of Decca records and a contract with them followed; Aie A Mwana was reissued on Decca’s Deram subsidiary in October. It still wasn’t quite a hit even with the major label’s backing, frustratingly falling short by just one place. (It was #76 for three consecutive weeks.) However, it received enough airplay to interest trendy The Face magazine to feature them.
Having already heard the song, via the photograph in The Face Terry Hall now saw what Bananarama looked like and thought they might be right to record a duet with his group The Fun Boy Three. “The Fun Boy Three liked us because we’re so un-pompous and unglamorous and we wore moccasins and they wore moccasins so they thought we were all right,” the girls recounted in the sleeve notes to their later The Greatest Hits Collection. The result was It Ain’t What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It, (released by the label Hall was signed to, Chrysalis, and credited to The Fun Boy Three with Bananarama) which made #4 in early 1982. The follow-up (issued by Deram and credited to Bananarama and Fun Boy Three) was Really Saying Something which followed it into the Top 5. Bananarama’s jumble-sale clothes, their not taking themselves very seriously, and their willingness to turn up to the opening of envelope if there was a few quid involved endeared them with audiences and some sections of the music press. Their often shambolic PAs were legendary: “We did Really Saying Something on a German TV show once and Sara knocked the set down. We were messing about and Sara fell against the set and it all caved in. We were forcibly removed from the studios. It was quite embarrassing…”
The general feeling in the media though was that they wouldn’t be around for long. After all, they were effectively a covers group, relying on recording versions of old songs by the like of Yamasuki, Ella Fitzgerald and the Velvelettes for their string of Top 5 singles. (Shy Boy, their third hit, was an original song their producers had knocking around but it wasn’t originally intended for Bananarama.) They did write about half the songs on their debut album, Deep Sea Skiving, but when they released one of those tracks as a single (the criminally underrated Cheers Then), it missed the Top 40 altogether.
It took another cover to return them to the Top 5: Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye, first recorded by Steam in the 1960s. Unlike other girl groups who covered the song such as The Supremes (who had recorded a version for their album New Ways But Love Stays in 1970), Bananarama didn’t gender-change the lyrics. The promotional video clip did not address this (for some reason the girls were seen in and around a boxing club), but it was a small indication that Bananarama were not the thoughtless puppets they were portrayed as being, and that more considered material from them was on the way.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Feb. 18
BANANARAMA Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye (London NANA4)
BIG COUNTRY (Stuart Adamson) Fields Of Fire (Mercury COUNT2)
BOW WOW WOW (Annabella Lwin) Do You Wanna Hold Me (RCA RCA314)
Malcolm MCLAREN Soweto (Charisma MALC2)
The ALARM Absolute Reality (Priority ALARM1)
Julian LENNON Say You’re Wrong (Charisma JL3)