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Last Chance to Dance: Siobhan Fahey’s swansong as a member of Bananarama, the 1988 BRIT Awards

 

BRIT of a Do…

When Push Came to Siobhan

By Keeley Moss

 

Strange but true – Siobhan Fahey’s last appearance with Bananarama for almost 30 years took place in, of all places, the regal realm of the Royal Albert Hall. For a group Pete Waterman termed “The wildest girls in the world”, who French and Saunders still speak about in awe for the amount of vodka they witnessed them consuming in a single sitting (better off sitting than standing, probably) and who personified the term “excess-all-areas”  – out-drinking, out-smoking, out-partying and out-whatever-else virtually every one of their pop star contemporaries for much of the hedonistic epoch that was London in the 1980s – there could hardly have been a more inappropriate venue to host their dramatic death rattle.

On February 22nd 1988 at the BRIT Awards, the annual music-biz feast of glitzy histrionics and back-slapping bonhomie – in reality a glorified piss-up and snort-up that has long doubled as a clever marketing ploy devised to “shift more units” under the cynical guise of an “awards ceremony” beamed into millions of unsuspecting homes from Land’s End to John O’Groats – the stage was set for a surprising swansong.

Within weeks, in March 1988, Siobhan Fahey would announce her departure from the gilded girl-group, a split later attributed to both musical and personal differences. It’s fair to say that things would never be the same again. Having been a vital component of the group’s creative chemistry and one-time camaraderie she was effectively irreplaceable.

One of the most notable and poignant features of the performance, especially with the benefit of (now literally) 2020 vision, is curiously how joyous and carefree Keren, Sara and Siobhan appear, the latter most of all. With body language being the primary indicator of a human being’s emotional, behavioural and psychological state it is a particularly difficult thing to fake it if you don’t feel it. However, from the footage captured that night, examining Siobhan’s body language towards Sara and Keren and equally their body language towards her, one would never suspect there’s trouble at mill. Let alone enough to indicate that resentment within the ranks had arisen to such an extent that one of its founders is about to leave, not to return for almost 30 years. For this reason alone the 1988 BRIT Awards footage of Bananarama’s performance of the brilliant Love in the First Degree makes for riveting viewing. In it you see the old adage “The show must go on” ring ever more true, with the seasoned super troupers rousing their sonic sisterhood for one last hurrah.

It is the aspect of a band, and indeed of life, that fascinates me more than any other; the sense of an ending, the moment where matters climax and collapse, the point at which the sweet turns sour and events conspire to explode (or more often than not, implode) a shooting star. Think the Sex Pistols at Winterland Arena in 1978 or The Smiths on The Tube in 1987, think Nirvana at Terminal Einz in 1994 or Suede’s last stand with Bernard Butler live in Edinburgh that same year. It is always intriguing to scan any available live and/or audio footage for clues in retrospect, to see if the fissures that subsequently revealed themselves as the death knells they would prove to be were in any way evident at the time. In some cases, such last stands are fascinating precisely because you can see the fraying edges and witness the wheels falling off the wagon. But equally there have been a great many instances in popular music history where to onlookers and concert-goers there is no visible sign of any discord or dissent from those onstage, let alone a hint of decline or dissolution, and such an apparent lack of clues can make for just as fascinating viewing as you try to unravel the reasons for the rift (that is if you’re anywhere near as much of an incurable music culture drama-devourer as I am, which considering you’re reading this, I’m guessing you probably are).

And so it was in the lofty stalls of the Royal Albert Hall on that chilly February evening in 1988 when the classic incarnation of Bananarama made their last splash, unbeknownst to the watching hordes all present and correct in the stately dome and the many millions who had tuned in on their television sets in homes the length and breadth of the UK and Ireland. More often than not after such a split, when the news filters out or is announced it is tempting to pose the question, “Who knew?” Was it an open secret among industry insiders and those supposedly in the know within the group’s inner sanctum? Or did events overtake all concerned to leave the ashes scattered about them before they had time to sufficiently take stock (or rather, take Stock, Aitken and Waterman)?

I have been in both of those situations in bands myself, where on the one hand I had no idea during a gig that I was performing onstage in a particular band for what would turn out to be the last time, and on the other hand I have also experienced a couple of situations in bands where events immediately prior to taking the stage had left me in no doubt that it was going to be the last time I would share a stage with my bandmates. So I can say from experience what a profoundly strange and unsettling episode it is to go through an entire performance onstage with that very thing in mind. Without wishing to sound melodramatic, it was a feeling akin to being, however briefly, inside a rotting carcass. Performing as part of something you know is dying, and what is more dying in front of your eyes, is one of the oddest and coldest experiences I have had. It is even stranger when you look around you onstage and realise that not everyone if anyone alongside you is intuitive enough to be aware that it is, as the classic credits roll would have it, The End.

With delicious irony, the very first line of the song Bananarama performed at the 1988 BRIT Awards is, “Last night I was dreaming I was locked in a prison cell”. Given the pulverising pile-up of pressures associated with the exhausting schedule and the incessant demands pop stars face to feed the insatiable music-biz machine, much to the general public’s obliviousness it has to be said (whose perception of ‘pop life’ is seemingly that of some sort of uber-glamorous adventure playground) it was an environment I could very much believe that by 1988, “Shuv” as she’s affectionately known to friends and fans alike, had reached the end of her tether over, and that’s without factoring into the equation the rift that had bubbled to the surface between her and her bandmates by that point. She was also newly-married, and to a rockstar, never an easy gig (no pun intended) in addition to having become a first-time mother during 1987. Under the corporate cosh of the merciless music-biz machine, she had had to keep working right up to the end of her pregnancy (as evident from the video to I Heard a Rumour and all of the promotional TV appearances for that single, in which she is very clearly heavily-pregnant). All in all it was clear that something had to give. On February 22nd 1988, it gave. Onstage in the Royal Albert Hall that night Siobhan wasn’t just dreaming she was locked in a prison cell – she was.

With that in mind, you’re about to see a real-life jailbreak in action…

 

 

Post-Script

The pop juggernaut keeps on rolling however and Siobhan’s departure ironically would coincide with one of the groups’s most successful singles, I Want You Back, a day-glo dreamboat of a track with a supremely catchy (if frivolous) chorus that overshadowed it’s sweetly-sad bridge and even more deceptively-poignant middle-eight. Although marketed upon its single release as a new beginning for the group, I Want You Back had actually been written and recorded with Siobhan while she was still in the ranks and had featured on 1987’s Wow! album. Although the fracture that had formed between Siobhan and the group’s permanent rock-solid axis of Sara and Keren may have made all three of them relieved when Siobhan jumped ship, it was an ironically-titled choice of single for a group in the throes of attempting to carry on as if nothing had happened. I Want You Back, indeed.

Siobhan’s replacement in March 1988 was, coincidentally or not, another female singer of Irish descent, Jacquie O’ Sullivan. Between I Want You Back being hastily re-recorded and released as a single in late-March 1988, and it entering the UK Top 5 in April 1988, the tragic and notorious murder of Inga-Maria Hauser would occur. Anyone reading this who doesn’t know who Inga-Maria Hauser was – or why her unsolved case remains more important than ever – I suggest paying a visit to the other blog I write, The Keeley Chronicles, which is all about Inga’s unique story and my obsession with trying to keep her memory alive in any way possible.

 

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Copyright: Keeley Moss ℗&©2020. All rights reserved.

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Acknowledgements

Love in the First Degree written by Fahey/Woodward/Dallin/Stock/Aitken/Waterman. Published by Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., BMG Rights Management, A Side Music LLC D/B/A Modern Works Music Publishing ©1987

Published under Fair Use policy

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