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Bananarama: Our 1985 Night Flight video profile featured the post-modern synth pop trio’s early classic cuts
In our Bananarama video profile — which first aired on “Night Flight” on December 28, 1985 — Pat Prescott tells us: “In 1979, Sara Dallin and Siobhan Fahey were students at the London College of Fashion and Keren Woodward worked at the BBC. The flatmates decided to get together and, with the help of their downstairs neighbors, former Sex Pistols Paul Cook and Steve Jones, and their friends, Fun Boy Three, they formed a band and called it Banarama.” Check it out exclusively at Night Flight Plus.
Dallin and Woodward had been childhood friends in Bristol since the age of four, attending St. George’s School for Girls together before moving together to London where they became flatmates on Denmark Street, which happened to also be the home base to many of Britain’s leading music publishers.
Siobhan Fahey, Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward of Bananarama
Woodward ended up working as an accountant at the BBC, while Dallin went to the London College of Fashion, where she met a fellow fashion journalism student named Siobhan Fahey.
They gravitated towards each other and became friends essentially because they both liked to wear funky outfits, unlike the other students.
It turned out that all three liked to sing, and formed a post-modern synth pop trio whose sound was a kind of camp pastiche of updated sixties girl group style and sensibility.
Early on, they would present a public image that was often seen as so silly that one writer dubbed them the “three jolly bimbos.”
“Banarama’s trademark is a happy-go-lucky light approach,” Night Flight’s Pat Prescott says about their upbeat tunes in our video profile, “even in the face of adversity.”
They began making a few club appearances and attracting a fair amount of interest, even being selected by Department S vocalist Vaughan Toulouse as his “Tip for the Top” questionnaire feature in New Musical Express despite the fact that they didn’t yet have a permanent name or a record deal.
Siobhan Fahey’s sister’s boyfriend worked for Demon Records, an independent label, and he persuaded one of the label’s owners, Clark Banks, to put up the money for them to record a demo.
Ex-Sex Pistol Paul Cook — who along with another Sex Pistol, Steve Jones, rehearsed upstairs from where Dallin and Woodward lived on Denmark Street with their band the Professionals — agreed to co-produce one track, a cover of a mid-70s disco stomper, Black Blood’s “Aie a Mwana.”
The girls decided that since the song was sung in Swahili, they should have a silly-sounding name, something tropical, which is what led them to starting with “Banana,” adding “rama” because it just added to the silliness.
In later interviews, they would often say that the “rama” part of their name was also inspired by Roxy Music’s song title, “Pyjamarama.”
Their August 1981 single “Aie a Mwana” (UK #92) was praised by Elvis Costello and Paul Weller (who would later have the trio open four Christmas shows for that Jam later that year, contributing a song, “Dr. Love,” to their debut album).
The single also caught the ear of Terry Hall of Fun Boy Three — the band that had splintered off of of Hall’s previous band, The Specials — and soon FB3 were asking them to sing on the first of six songs they would record together, beginning with a duet, the b-side “It Ain’t What You Do It’s The Way That You Do It,” which charted at #4 in the UK, giving Bananarama their first significant mainstream success.
They would also contribute backing vocals to other tracks on Fun Boy Three’s still-forthcoming debut album.
Fun Boy Three would return the favor and guest star on Bananarama’s next single, “He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’,” a cover of the 1964 hit by the Motown group the Velvelettes (their version altered the title to “Really Saying Something”).
This time the girls paired up with Tony Swain and Steve Jolley, the production team who had produced Spandau Ballet’s True album among many other UK hits.
The 1982 single became the second consecutive top-five hit for both Bananarama and Fun Boy Three, peaking at number five in the UK singles chart. It was both groups’ second chart entry in Australia, peaking at number #74.
Perhaps more significantly the video for the track earned the trio heavy airplay on the upstart MTV network in the United States.
Bananarama followed up with “Shy Boy” (#83 UK, #4 US), which was backed with a b-side that would become their signature tune, “Don’t Call Us (Boy Trouble).”
At this point, the trio were besieged with modeling offers and all kinds of requests, but they turned most of these down and focused on writing their next single, their first self-composed effort, “Cheers Then” (#45), which revealed that they had more to offer than what Britain’s girl-hungry tabloid press expected.
Their 1983 debut album, Deep Sea Skiving (#63 US, #7 UK) would feature six band compositions, including “Young at Heart” (later a #1 hit for the Bluebelles), in addition to another hit, a spirited cover of Steam’s “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye (#5 UK).
The album’s three self-composed tracks were at odds with the public perception of the group, which made more than one rock journo sit up and take notice that the trio’s output might need to be examined more closely going forward.
Bananarama took eight months off to focus on writing and producing their second album, which re-launched them back into the spotlight with the deeply-traumatized “Robert De Niro’s Waiting” (#95 US, #3 UK), a song that the girls didn’t want released as a single — due to its ominous lyrical vibe — but their record company thought that the breezy pop tune’s melody would be another chart hit.
During 1982 and 1983, Bananarama did several promotional US press tours and TV appearances on TV shows like “American Bandstand” and “Solid Gold.”
Despite their success on college radio and early MTV exposure, success in America eluded them group until the release of their first top 10 US hit, “Cruel Summer,” heard in the popular film The Karate Kid, helped them break into the Top Ten (#9 US, #8 UK) in mid-1984.
When their self-titled sophomore album Bananarama was released in the Spring of 1984, fans of the band were surprised to hear songs like “Rough Justice” — a hard look at domestic violence and a charting hit (#23 UK) — and “King of the Jungle” — a song written for a friend of the band, Stiff Little Finger’s drummer Jim Reilly’s brother Thomas, who was shot and killed by a British soldier in Belfast — were two examples that the sunny pop trio’s songs had taken a darker turn.
The album was preceded by a blitz of promotional interviews in which the girls said they were sick of their image (probably why they aren’t smiling in the cover photo).
Their new serious side didn’t translate into record sales, however, and the disappointment the trio felt with the chart success of three singles that followed — “Hot Line to Heaven” (#58 UK); “The Wild Life” (#70 US); and “Do Not Disturb” (#31 UK) — made them retreat again from the public eye, this time for close to a year.
In December of 1985, when this video profile first aired on the USA Network’s “Night Flight,” Bananarama were still on an their extended hiatus, soon to return with even more albums, singles and videos, and even more hits.