On the afternoon of 9 August 1983 in Belfast, Thomas ‘Kidso’ Reilly was enjoying the summer heat with some friends when they were involved in an altercation with some British soldiers. The soldiers searched and questioned them; angered by the harassment, Kidso decided to leave. He wore only a pair of shorts and was carrying his t-shirt. One of the soldiers shot him in the back as he walked away and he died at the scene. He was 22.
“I know a lot of people say this after somebody’s died but it’s absolutely true. Thomas was one of the most truly good people you could ever meet. There wasn’t a bad thing about him. It just seems like those people are the ones to suffer and evil people thrive,” Siobhan Fahey of Bananarama told Smash Hits in March 1984. The group had got to know him well in the year or so before his death. He had slept on the sofa in the council flat they shared while he was working in London with several different bands, including Bananarama themselves; press reports at the time referred to him their ‘road manager’. (Legal history was made later that year when the solider in question was given life in prison for murder, the first time a sentence of this kind had been passed for an action taken on duty. The judge did not believe the defence’s story that Kidso was suspected of having a weapon: the evidence was that he had already been searched before he tried to leave the scene, and in any case given how he was dressed he couldn’t have concealed a weapon. Despite an appeal being dismissed in 1985, the soldier served less than three years in jail and subsequently returned to active duty; allegedly, his salary wasn’t stopped during his imprisonment.)
Kidso’s death was the worst of a number of incidents, personal and professional, that Bananarama experienced at that stage in their career, and these were reflected in the general mood of their self-titled second album. The song King Of The Jungle (also a single in Japan), was inspired by what happened to him. “The song’s about how ridiculous it is that 18-year-old boys are given guns and are endorsed by the government to go out and kill people,” Siobhan said. The more sombre mood of Bananarama compared to their debut album was perhaps not surprising given how the three members of the group were feeling at the time they recorded it. Despite being some years into their career they still had no money and were stifled by their small council flat. “We’d get up in the morning and go to the record company. Then the accountant and thrash out business. Then meet possible managers. Then go home and try and write songs. Always in each other’s company. You can never relax; never switch off in a situation like that,” Siobhan said. Sara added, “And lying in bed you’d be thinking about all those meetings you had to go to the next day. You’d think, is this what music’s all about!”
Several other songs on Bananarama addressed serious topics that the group were not associated with. At the time of the Smash Hits interview, they were in the singles chart with another track from the album, the disturbing Robert De Niro’s Waiting, the lyrics for which had originally concerned date rape. “It was very bloodthirsty, I know, so we toned it down. The girl now wraps herself in a fantasy world where Robert De Niro’s her guy,” said Siobhan. The essence of the original subject matter of the song remained, but it seemed the sing-along tune was more memorable than the lyrics and the song’s theme passed without much comment in the media. At the time, it was unfairly thought that the songs were principally written by producers Jolley and Swain, with the group members’ contribution at most being to add to or amend existing lyrics. In the case of Robert De Niro’s Waiting, the reverse was true: the “talking Italian” line in the chorus was added by Steve Jolley but the rest of the lyrical content was essentially Bananarama’s.
That they weren’t seen as credible artistes was due in part to the way in which they were promoted: they were expected to dance and giggle and wear colourful clothes and appear in brightly-lit studios with balloons and streamers. This expectation came as much from producers on the television programmes they appeared on (they complained in the Smash Hits interview about being showered with glitter during performances) as it from official promotional channels. Rough Justice, the third single from the album in the UK, did attempt to deviate from the usual format. Their sober appearance on the sleeve of the single was in keeping with the theme of the song (it referenced poverty and homelessness amongst other social injustices) and the promotional clip filmed to accompany the release directly confronted the misplaced notion that Bananarama did not have opinions of their own (and any of the producers they have worked with will confirm that this is not the case): they are seen waiting to be shown into a studio to sing but realize a more important film about the issues mentioned in the song is being made next door, so they go there instead to help spread the message. Those who believed that they should stay out of politics and stick to making fun pop records might have thought the single’s sales proved their point: Rough Justice made #23, while the three singles prior to it had all made the Top 10.
Fourth and final single from the Bananarama album Hotline to Heaven, which concerned drug abuse, fared no better, missing the Top 50 altogether despite conforming to the more usual marketing approach. It came in a sleeve with images of the happy and smiling group and the video clip saw the group trying to persuade a record company executive to listen to a demo tape. Bananarama’s videos rarely directly referenced the subject matter of the song, and admittedly the lyrics for this single were very subtle and could have referred to any number of things. But the story for this video was particularly tenuous and the links with the song’s title were clumsily made, with the group depicted as angels and the name of the company given as ‘Hotline Records’. All the other English-speaking territories across the world got another song, The Wild Life, as a single instead, which had been recorded for the film of the same name.
NEW SINGLES on sale from May. 11
BANANARAMA Rough Justice (London NANA7)
Samantha FOX Aim To Win (Lamborghini LMG10)
ULTRAVOX (Midge Ure) Dancing With Tears In My Eyes (Chrysalis UV1)
Bobby BROWN Girl Next Door (MCA MCA1153)
DANNY WILSON (Gary Clark) Davy (Virgin VS965)
The HOUSEMARTINS Five Get Over Excited (Go! Discs GOD18)
PEPSI AND SHIRLIE Goodbye Stranger (Polydor POSP865)
SIMPLY RED (Mick Hucknall) Infidelity (WEA YZ114)