By Yale Wagner
After 10 years away, Bananarama have stepped back into the spotlight on the international stage. Their new album “Drama” is as hot on the inside as it is on the outside, and the women are a gay man’s fantasy; Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin (two of the group’s three original members) are “Sex-And-The-City.” Experienced. Urban. Sexy. Divas. One could liken “Desperate Housewives” to the mix with a bit of Patsy and Edina in them, too. While many stars become associated with one specific sound or one key hit, Bananarama are not dependent on a particular era to blossom and reinvent. They have consistently delivered pure pop at its best; pop with attitude that is both “feel-good” and “of-the-moment.”
Sara says about “Drama,” “It’s the first album we’ve had out in about 10 years that’s had an international release. I think it slowed down a little bit in the early nineties because I had a daughter and I think the music scene completely changed. In England it was the Brit Pop thing and not necessarily a time for us because we’d sort of been around for 10-12 years. To come back was quite difficult.” This time around, they’ve picked the people they want to work with (Murlyn of Britney Spear’s “Toxic” wrote all the songs from scratch). And with a supportive independent label (The Lab/UMVD) they have basically had the benefits of getting carte blanche to call the shots creatively. The girls have always had a hand in the creative aspects of their work right from the beginning of their careers. In the apotheosis of the Stock Aitken Waterman years, the Bananarama “hit machine” became a formula for the producers of other artists. The girls retained their integrity and left on creative grounds. However, even at that time, the girls were riding high on the wave of Hi-NRG dance music.
On Drama, all they experienced along the way has paid off. From the keen integration of My Mine’s early-80s italo-house track “Hypnotic Tango” in the chorus of their “Look On The Floor (Hypnotic Tango),” to the Vegas Showgirl images of “Move In My Direction.” “Don’t Step On My Groove” shows Bananarama know top-shelf pop from the inside out. “I Love The Way” sounds just right on the dance floors of Ibiza and Fire Island Pines tea dance. While the album has broad appeal with incredible energy straight through from track to track, one could say they’ve kept their gay fans, their core audience, closest to heart.
In 2002 at G-A-Y in London, Keren and Sara had a reunion performance celebrating 20 years together. For the encore, they had a special surprise in store for their loyal fans: bringing out Siobhan Fahey, the third original member, who left the group in 1988, for one more song. They had been discussing it for some time. Keren describes the mood: “She was nervous. She was really nervous.” Sara adds, “She had never experienced the adulation of that gay crowd, and we were so used to it. And I think then she decided she liked all that pop stuff that she proclaimed not to like in the beginning. And then all of a sudden she thought it was fabulous and people loved her and she loved being there.” Siobhan continues creating her own music, recording more of a rock sound and DJ-ing internationally. But for that reunion night, once again a little extra magic was created on-stage. It is this friendship that has kept Bananarama’s ever-evolving, cutting edge musical legacy so strong.
And what are Bananarama’s thoughts on the connection to their gay fan base that has been integral to their careers for so long? “I know, they’re my favorite,” says Keren. “They’ve been so loyal to us all the way through. They’ve been fantastic. You can sit and try and analyze it, but you can’t really analyze it. There is just a connection. There must be a reason Sara and I will go out with 10 people and it’s us two and eight gay men. It’s just the way it always works out with us. And all through the mid-80s we would go to a lot of gay clubs. I don’t think in the early days I was aware of a gay scene at all.” Sara adds, “The people we used to hang out with at that point were really creative people — there was a real mix. There was Leigh Bowery and John Maybury (director of “The Jacket”). Not only were they fun, but they were bright.”
For Keren, one of the moments that started her long-term affinity for gay men was around the time of “I Heard A Rumour.” “That was a fun time,” she says. “And that’s when we discovered the joys of taking gay dancers with us on the road and how much more fun we could have. So it was a big turning point for me. It had been just the three of us always, and suddenly there were three dancers. Well, one of them was a dancer and the other was just his boyfriend and another friend. And they just stood there looking butch, really.” “Or not,” adds Sara. “Or not,” laughs Keren.
Of gay men Keren adds, “They have something going on. I think it just constantly interested us, really. They just fit very much into our scene. Mostly, we just loved going to the clubs,” she laughs. “It is just pure unadulterated fun. You can’t go out with straight men. Most of them don’t really bring themselves around to the dance floor in the same way with such wild abandon, do they?”
Says Sara, “It’s our sense of humor and our sense of fun. It probably all started with the dancers.” Keren agrees and they laugh. “Yes, that’s where it started.”
Bananarama’s “Drama” is now available in stores everywhere.