30 October 2020 14:33
Bananarama's captivating new memoir is named after their second hit single, Really Saying Something, but the group's incredible story is better encapsulated by their first: It Ain't What You Do (It's the Way That You Do It). Both songs were collaborations with the new wave band Fun Boy Three, reflecting the fact that Bananarama emerged in 1981 from the camaraderie, creativity and clubbing of London's post-punk scene. Theirs is a DIY success story: a triumph of friendship and trusting your instincts at a time when the music industry was so rife with sexism that they were branded "difficult" for wanting control of their own careers. "Back in those days, being a pop star didn't even come into your head because it just wasn't something you felt you could aspire to," Keren Woodward says when we chat over Zoom, a few days before the book is published. Even when their single Venus hit No 1 in the US in 1986, her bandmate Sara Dallin did not regard Bananarama as "massive stars".
Bananarama's 1984 line-up with (left to right) Siobhan Fahey, Woodward and Dallin (Photo: Michael Putland/Getty) As their somewhat shambolic early performances grew more polished, they became the decade's pre-eminent girl band and earned a place in the Guinness World Records book for the most international hits by an all-female group. Really Saying Something is subtitled "Sara and Keren – Our Bananarama Story": the group have operated as a two-piece for most of their career. Fahey left in 1988 to form Shakespears Sister; after replacement member Jacquie O'Sullivan bowed out three years later, Dallin and Woodward simply carried on as a duo. They did try to record a new single as a trio, but as Woodward notes in the book (with zero sentimentality), this got scrapped because "it just wasn't good enough". Earlier in the book, which Dallin and Woodward write in a breezy, tag-teaming style, one member's crisp recollection followed by the other's, the two women recall bonding at school in Bristol.
Once they move to London as 18-year-olds, Woodward describes the "posing and posturing" at a nightclub frequented by image-conscious New Romantics as "faintly ridiculous". "As much as Sara and I were particular about our appearance," she writes, "the main aim was, as it still is today, to have as much fun as possible." This definitely shines through in a series of stellar anecdotes: after Robert De Niro's Waiting… becomes a hit, they meet the actor for a drink at Kettner's in Soho. Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin talk about their new book and life on stage (Photo: Freddie Stisted) When I ask if it's true that Jennifer Saunders channelled Bananarama's antics into Absolutely Fabulous, Dallin replies with a dry smile: "We did spend a great deal of time with Dawn [French] and Jennifer, and we did have many nights out with them. Dallin says seeing "the absurdity in what we do" is a key reason why Bananarama have endured. "Since I left school, I've only ever been in Bananarama, and I realise how lucky that makes me," Dallin says. Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin of Bananarama performing in 2003 (Photo: Jo Hale/Getty) "Once you let go of that pressure to make everything a hit, which we definitely had in the 80s, there is so much more fun to be had," says Woodward, 59. Still, Woodward says that writing the book has finally made her realise how much they've accomplished over the years. She adds, quite touchingly: "For the first time ever, I think I'm incredibly proud of us." Though the book makes being in Bananarama sound like a blast, it doesn't gloss over the tough times. Woodward writes affectingly about the depression she experienced in the early 90s and both women recall a horrifying incident in the 1980s in which two security guards entered their hotel room, then expectantly "stripped down to their underpants". "Thank God the three of us were all in the room together," Dallin says today. Since I left school, I've only ever been in Bananarama, and I realise how lucky that makes me They also write sweetly about their grown-up children – Dallin, 58, has a daughter called Alice; Woodward a son named Tom – and celebrate friends they lost too soon, including George Michael. "I do sometimes wonder if it wasn't for the fact that we were such good friends, if one of us might have gone off the rails," Woodward says. Though Woodward says the pair "hate blowing their own trumpets", she can now appreciate compliments from women who find Bananarama's uncompromising approach inspiring. "I'm really proud of the fact that we became successful pop artists while dressing in donkey-jackets and Doc Martens and dungarees," she says. Really Saying Something: Sara & Keren – Our Bananarama Story is out now (Hutchinson, £20) Bananarama, who are still performing together today, say they're happy to have inspired feisty female groups! As one of the most successful female groups of all time, Bananarama had 28 top 50 hits between 1982 and 2009. Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin, who were appearing on White Wine Question Time, were chatting with Kate Thornton about forging paths for women in music – in particular, the Spice Girls "I think Emma [Bunton] said we were the first concert she went to, which was very sweet," recalled Dallin. Thornton, who is good friends with All Saints, said that she knew Bananarama had been a huge influence on them. Listen now: Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin recall their career highlights In an interview with Music News a few years ago, Natalie Appleton admitted how much of an influence Bananarama had been on her and the rest of the band. Read more: Spice Girls drive for 'girl power' came from sexism in the music industry, says Mel C Woodward said when the duo were promoting their album last year she was surprised on how many women in high powered jobs they had inspired. View photos All Saints have often said that Bananarama were an influence on him (Image: Getty Images) More The singer recalled: "I was amazed at how many women, such as editors in high powered jobs said, 'Oh, I don't think I'd be doing this if I hadn't looked up to you because it sort of made me think I can do that!'." Dallin, who looked up to Debbie Harry when she was a teenager, said it was important for young girls to have role models. "They just need someone to look up to in all kinds of industries," said the 58-year-old, "to just think 'Yes, I can do that!' because if it's not there, you can't aspire to that. View photos Pete Waterman has said that the trio were 'outrageous' but great fun to work with (Image: Getty Images) More "I look back at 30 years and working with Bananarama was the best buzz because you never knew what you were going to get," he recalled.