Scot Dorothy Sherratt arrived in London in the early 70s and sang in a couple of bands (using her middle name Natasha) before she met and married musician Bob England. Together they went into music management, with Natasha assuming a number of back office roles, including talent scout. She was instrumental in promoting Darts and getting them signed to Magnet in 1977. Via Darts’ lead singer, Natasha was introduced to Brooklyn sisters Betty and Jackie Burns and the three of them formed Flirts; the same same label issued a single by them in 1979. Deciding she would prefer to be a soloist, Natasha then issued another single on Decca in 1980 under the name Natasha and the Delites. (Check the photograph on the sleeve carefully: ‘the Delites’ were fictitious backing singers portrayed by Natasha herself.) Soon afterwards, the Englands established their own company, Towerbell, and Natasha was the first signing.
Most of The Belle Stars had worked together in the late 70s as part of the all-girl ska band The Bodysnatchers. They released a few singles in 1980, having a Top 20 hit with one of them, and toured with the likes of The Specials, Go-Go’s and The Selecter. But when Terry Hall quit The Specials, lead singer Rhoda Dakar left to join Jerry Dammers’ new group The Special AKA and The Bodysnatchers came to an end. Five of the former members then recruited a new bass player and a new lead singer, Jennie McKeown, and The Belle Stars were formed. Signed to Stiff, it was suggested that they were the female equivalent to their label mates Madness.
Both Stiff and Towerbell released versions of Iko Iko by their artists on Friday 21 May 1982, and both singles charted in the same week. The Belle Stars’ effort was much closer stylistically to The Dixie Cups’ recording (on the demo for which, the Dixies had improvised the musical accompaniment by beating drumsticks on metal objects in the studio and thereby maintaining the carnival atmosphere of the song). Natasha’s attempt had a far more pronounced rhythmic bass line and sounded more contemporary; the promotional clip to accompany it took a Mad Hatters’ Tea Party approach. Here’s how they fared in the charts:
|Week ending||The Belle Stars||Natasha|
|5 Jun 82||74||54|
|12 Jun 82||44||38|
|19 Jun 82||35||24|
|26 Jun 82||41||16|
|3 Jul 82||52||14|
|10 Jul 82||71||12|
|17 Jul 82||–||10|
|24 Jul 82||–||15|
|31 Jul 82||–||21|
|7 Aug 82||–||32|
|14 Aug 82||–||52|
So, Natasha was the winner – at this point. But this was to be her only big hit; her marriage to, and working relationship with, Bob England was breaking down. He wanted children, she wanted to wait; he wanted her to record more cover versions, she wanted to write her own stuff. The last Natasha single was released at the end of 1985, and six months later Towerbell itself released its final discs before folding. “Lack of singles success, a period of full sale or return, and TV advertising expenditure unjustified by the status of the artists promoted all contributed to the eventual financial collapse,” Billboard reported on 15 November 1986, quoting the liquidator as saying that the expensive television campaigns in particular were “violently disproportionate” to likely sales, and listing among the creditors owed money EMI (manufacturing), PRT (distribution) and MCPS (publishing). Natasha herself was owed too; Bob England fled to Antigua.
In the end, it was The Belle Stars’ recording that was the most enduring, and the one that sold the most copies worldwide – years after the group had split up. Their Iko Iko was later included on the soundtrack to the hit film ‘Rain Man’ and in 1989 it was issued as a single in America, going all the way to #14 on the Hot 100.
NEW SINGLES on sale from May. 21
The BELLE STARS (Jennie McKeown) Iko Iko (Stiff BUY150)
SIOUXSIE AND THE BANSHEES (Siouxsie Sioux) Fireworks (Polydor POSP450)
MADNESS One Better Day (Stiff BUY201)
David SYLVIAN Red Guitar (Virgin VS633)
TRACIE (I Love You) When You Sleep (Respond KOB710)