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Shakespear`s Sister

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Born Siobhan Maire Fahey in Dublin, Ireland to Helen and Joseph Fahey on the 10th of September 1958, she spent her early childhood in Germany and various parts of England and Scotland coming to rest at the age of fourteen in St Albans, Herts where she got into Glam, then Soul, then Punk in fast succession. At the age of 18 Siobhan turned down a place at Trinity College, Dublin and headed to London where the music-obsessed teenager landed a job as a press-office assistant at Decca Records. Here she became friends with Gary Crowley, who was working as a post-boy.

Tiring quickly of office tedium, Siobhan enrolled in a fashion journalism course at the London College of Fashion expecting the course to be filled with glamorous trendy fashion types. She was disappointed to find that everyone else looked “straight” except for one other girl - Sara Dallin. They soon teamed up at the back of the class and sniggered their way through the course. With her black back-combed hair and leather jacket Siobhan had also become inseparable from best friend Mel O’Brien, who she’d met on the punk scene and soon they were both hanging out with Sara and Keren Woodward, Sara’s best friend from primary school. Keren worked at the BBC in the pensions department and when Sara and Siobhan left college they got jobs behind the bar at The Marquee spending their evenings-off going to see bands and going out dancing.

Finding herself homeless Siobhan moved into the attic Sara and Keren shared above the Sex Pistols’ rehearsal studio. Their friend, the Pistols’ drummer, Paul Cook had offered the room to the girls; it had no hot water, no toilet, a leaky roof and rats in the courtyard but it was filled with Sid Vicious’s old clothes and the Pistols’ musical instruments. Soon Siobhan, Sara and Keren were experimenting in the Pistols’ rehearsal studio and Bananarama was born.

The girls soon decided to share lead vocals, rehearsing with various musician friends including Pistols’ Paul on drums. Siobhan’s first ever stage appearance had been at The Rainbow in Finsbury Park, North London, doing backing vocals for her friend, Nick Egan’s band, The Tea Set, who were supporting Iggy Pop. The song was a version of “Step On”, originally a hit by John Congos, but later to be revived by the Happy Mondays. By now Bananarama was playing live around town, notably supporting The Jam for three nights at the Sobell Centre. After only a couple of rehearsals, they recorded a rendition of “Aie a Mwana”, an old favorite of Siobhan’s. An obscure African disco track, it was originally recorded by French African band Black Blood. Bananarama’s version was released on the indie label Demon in September 1981 where Gary Crowley was now working as a talent scout. Paul Cook played drums on the track and co-produced. Bananarama’s first press mention was by Siobhan’s old flat mate Vaughan Toulouse (from Department S) who had friends at both NME and The Face magazines. In a profile called “Portrait of The Artist as a Consumer” Vaughan had named Bananarama as “Tipped for The Top” and in August 1981 the NME had run a small article on the band. “Aie a Mwana” was becoming increasingly popular in the London clubs (charting a respectable 92 in England, and 26 on the Billboard import charts).

In November 1981 another article ran in the new style magazine The Face, coinciding with the re-issue of “Aie a Mwana” on Deram Records, an offshoot of Decca Records. The Face article attracted the attention of ex-Specials and Fun Boy Three member Terry Hall who asked the band to do backing vocals for Fun Boy Three on some of their album tracks including their new single, “It Ain’t What You Do”. The track was recorded just before Christmas in 1981 alongside the vocals for another track “The Funrama Theme” which was issued on the B-side. Further vocals were contributed on two more album tracks, “Alone” and “Sanctuary”, for the first Fun Boy Three album. “It Ain’t What You Do” was originally a big band swing song performed by trumpeter Sy Oliver.

The remake by the Fun Boy Three with Bananarama was released on Chrysalis Records in February 1982, peaking at Number Four, spending twelve weeks in the UK charts, earning a silver disc and ranking 37th top selling single of 1982. Its success in England led to international releases with Bananarama performing on Top of the Pops and making promotional trips in Europe. Having no experience, no manager, no developed set, and no original songs, they decided to release another cover, this time an old Motown classic, The Velvelettes’ “Really Saying Something”.

Once again, they collaborated with the Fun Boy Three who produced the track. Released in April 1982 as Bananarama & The Fun Boy Three, “Really Saying Something” sold well. Reinforced with appearances on Top of the Pops, the single peaked at 5, spent ten weeks in the UK charts, and ranked 57th of the Top 100 singles of 1982. (Its B-side “Give Us Back Our Cheap Fares” was co-written with Vaughan Toulouse on a keyboard borrowed from Johnny Fingers from The Boomtown Rats). Almost overnight Bananarama went from being indie punk scenesters to pop stars with three singles in the top 100 best selling singles for 1982.

For their next single the girls went to producers Steve Jolley and Tony Swain who were responsible for Imagination’s hits (and later, Spandau Ballet and Alison Moyet). “Shy Boy” was released in July 1982 and was another top five hit single, peaking atNumber Four, spending ten weeks in the charts and ranked 63 of the top selling singles for the year. Its B-side “Boy Trouble” was the first self-penned Bananarama original with lyrics and was a favorite with many DJs; to avoid confusion with the A-side track it was renamed “Don’t Call Us”. The supporting video was directed by Ultravox members Midge Ure (ex-The Rich Kids, and Visage).

Bananarama were quickly becoming household names and darlings of the trendy music magazines - their mixture of fashion sensibility, punk connections, and clever selection of songs worked, particularly at a time when the pop charts were dominated by men. The girls were now writing their own material and had begun searching for suitable producers for the debut album. Their next single “Cheers Then” was released as a Christmas single in December 1982. The single was a departure from Bananarama’s pop sound, being more balladic and peaked at a disappointing 46 after spending six weeks in the UK charts. Following that they released a cover of Steam’s 1969 classic “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)”. The track turned out to be another Top Ten success, peaking at Number Five in England and the 69th highest selling single for 1983.

The success of another cover hit also marked the beginning of a long period of press derision towards Bananarama. Slated as talentless bimbos, their hard drinking and hard partying ways seemed unfathomable to the chauvinistic press and music execs, they were making things up as they went along, wearing self-made clothes, recording songs they loved and, quickly progressing to writing their own, they were somehow making hit records, almost by accident! The debut LP, entitled Deep Sea Skiving was released hard on the heels of the “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)” single. Released in March 1983, singles sales translated into respectable album sales with a chart peak of Number Seven in the UK.

The eleven-track album featured a hotchpotch of tracks from different producers:  Steve Jolley, Tony Swain (“Shy Boy”, “Boy Trouble”, “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)”), Barry Blue (“Doctor Love”, “Young At Heart”, “What a Shambles”, “Cheers Then”, “Hey Young London”, “Wish You Were Here”), Dave Jordan, Fun Boy Three (“Really Saying Something”), and Paul Cook, John Martin (“Aie a Mwana”). Of interest, is the track “Doctor Love”, which was written by Paul Weller (The Jam, and later, The Style Council).

The track “Young At Heart”, a co-write by Siobhan with Robert Hodgens from The Bluebells (who in a twist, Bananarama had recommended in an NME “Portrait of The Artist as a Consumer” as “Tipped for The Top” in 1982) went on to have a UK Number Eight hit single with the track in 1984. “Young At Heart” would prove to be a perennial classic, as it was used as the theme music to a “Volkswagen television advert in 1992 prompting a re-issuing of the single, which reached Number One in the UK. The track “Cruel Summer” was released in July 1983, and peaked at Number Eight in the UK. Bananarama traveled to New York to make its supporting video, which cost all of 10,000 pounds. The success of “Cruel Summer” did eventually translate into their first break-through US single when it was issued in 1985 peaking at the Number Nine in the US.. Sales were boosted by the song’s prolific inclusion in the hit movie “The Karate Kid”. A full three minutes of the song appear in the first twenty minutes of the movie, and “Cruel Summer” went on to chart again twice in the English charts, when it was remixed and reissued by Bananarama in 1989 (UK19) and again when it was covered by Swedish pop band Ace of Base in 1998 (an international hit, with strong sales in England and USA).

In 1983, Bananarama made a guest appearance in a Eurythmics’ video for “Who’s That Girl”. Their next single was “Rough Justice” and Radio One had refused to play “Robert de Nero’s Waiting” until it was a hit. Without the support of radio airtime, the single peaked at Number 23 in May 1984. The second album, Bananarama, charted at Number 16 in England. The follow-up single, “Hot Line to Heaven”, a song about a friend’s struggle with heroin addiction, spent two weeks in the charts peaking at Number 56 in November 1984.

Overseas, an alternative single was issued, “The Wild Life”, from the soundtrack of a movie of the same name in the US. In 1984 after watching a harrowing documentary on the famine in Ethiopia, Bob Geldof decided to put together a record to raise awareness and money for the Ethiopian Famine. In a massive collaborative effort all the well known pop and rock stars of British music spent 24 hours recording “Do They Know It’s Christmas?”. Released in November 1984, the single went on to be an international hit and one of the biggest selling UK singles of all time. “Venus” was released in May 1986. The video clip was beautifully directed by Peter Care and struck the perfect note with the MTV generation and appealed enormously to a gay audience.

In its camp splendor, “Venus” went on to be an extremely successful international hit reaching Number One in eight countries including the US, and top ten in many others (8 in UK in May 1986, 72nd top selling single for 1986). Their first single from the fourth album, WOW! was the Bananarama-Stock Aitken Waterman collaboration, “I Heard a Rumour”. Released in England in July 1987, the single reached Number 14 in England and Number Four in the US. The video, another glamorous and camp video (this time directed by Andy Morahan complete with cowboy suits, fruit headdresses, and sequinned dresses) thrust the song into the charts.

By this stage Siobhan had become pregnant and during filming her then boyfriend, Dave Stewart announced their engagement. The second single from WOW! was the very successful “Love in The First Degree”; again accompanied by a fabulous video: a mock of “Jailhouse Rock”, with the now standard, three male Bananarama dancers (to “doll” up the set in the same manner that rock bands used skimpily-clad girls: girl power 1980’s style!). The single was Bananarama’s best selling UK single, peaking at Number Three (September 1987, 32nd top selling single for 1988) and kept from the coveted number-one-spot by music heavyweights Michael Jackson and George Michael. The third single from WOW!, the raunchy “I Can’t Help It” (December 1987, UK 20), came with a video clip that needed to be censored before MTV would air it, muscle marys in a milk-bath having a fruit fight!

Siobhan’s life entered a new phase with the birth of her first son, Sam, in November 1987; she was living in Los Angeles and had become frustrated by Stock Aitken Waterman’s factory approach to music. It was time for her to leave the band with a final performance at the 1988 BPI Awards. In early 1988 Siobhan started working with US musician Richard Feldman (who lived opposite her in LA and had a studio in his garage) and decided to adopt the name Shakespear’s Sister, after a Smith’s song and a feminist essay by Virginia Wolf.

They began to work with backing singer Marcy Levy, who co-wrote some of the tracks with Siobhan, Dave and Richard. On the set of the first Shakespear’s Sister video, for the debut single “Break My Heart”, Siobhan met the director Sophie Muller. Sophie soon became Siobhan’s best friend, muse and confidante. Shakespear’s Sister’s debut album Sacred Heart went on to spawn the hit “You’re History” peaking at a respectable Number Seven in the UK alone. In 1990 Siobhan asked Marcy to collaborate on the second album with the help of Dave and Alan Moulder. Much of the album was recorded in George Harrison’s home studio and eventually completed by the start of 1991.

During the recording Siobhan was pregnant with her second son who was born in December 1990 and named Django. Hence the album title Hormonally Yours. The first single, “Goodbye Cruel World” was a minor hit, and was accompanied by a clever Sophie Muller video that played on elements from the cult movie “Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?”, “Sunset Boulevard” and even “Citizen Kane”. The second “Stay” was number-one in the UK for eight weeks - awarding Shakespear’s Sister the title of Most Successful Girl Duo ever.

Subsequent singles releases were also Top Ten hits (“I Don’t Care”, “Hello (Turn Your Radio On)” and a re-issue of “Goodbye Cruel World”). As Shakespear’s Sister fever continued to take the world by storm the band, now consisting of Marcella Detroit, Gully, Clare Kenny, Carrie Booth and Chuck Sabo, embarked on a hugely successful world-tour throughout 1992, and sales of the Hormonally Yours album narrowly missed the two million units mark.

Siobhan beginning work on the third album in 1993. Recorded between 1993 and 1996 she went for even more of a glam sound. Several songs were written with Robert Hodgens (who co-wrote “Young At Heart”) and Dave Stewart. The outcome, eventually in 1996, was the release of the single “I Can Drive” (co-written with Robert and Dave). The single featured two B-sides and was also issued on a promotional only 12-inch single with dance remixes. The single charted at Number 30 in the UK but was not given an international release by London despite Shakespear’s Sister’s large fan base around the world.

By the middle of 1997, Siobhan had left her record company of nearly fifteen years, having become disillusioned with the record industry, record companies and the moguls within it. Siobhan’s split with London records coincided with her split with Dave, and with two young sons to care for she would take a break from music making for the next four years. In 1998 when TV makers Rapido asked her to contribute a track to a special one-off tongue-in-cheek tribute to the Eurovision Song Contest Siobhan invited Sara and Keren to reform for a one-off cover of Abba’s “Waterloo”. With much misguided speculation amongst the press that Bananarama had reunited, the project was, and always had been, strictly a one-off event. However, this did not stop The Mirror newspaper launching a campaign for the release of the single and the song winning the phone poll vote at the end of the show. Also in 1998, the fruits of a project that Siobhan had been working on began to surface. “Was It Something That I Said” by “MGA Starring Siobhan Fahey” was issued on a special CD that came with a new magazine, The Passion, run by Hormonally Yours band member Carrie Booth.

MGA had begun in 1991, when Siobhan teamed up with video director Sophie Muller to write songs to fit around the script of a movie that they would make together. “Was It Something That I Said” was also used as the intro music for a BBC program “The Fear”. The album, MGA Sessions, was released exclusively through in 2004. In 1994, Siobhan had appeared in a film directed by Sophie called “Jiggery Pokery” shown on BBC2. Then, in 1996 she took the lead role in a short Irish film written and directed by Kieren Donnelly for Irish television station RTE. Entitled “Pinned” the film harshly portrayed the gritty drug scene in Ireland and was shown at film festivals in the summer of 1997.

In 2000, Siobhan decided to return to music making writing with Marco Pirroni (of Adam and the Ants), Gully and Clare Kenny (guitarist and bass player from the Hormonally Yours years) as well as collaborating with Pablo from the Psychonauts and Wildcat Will from the Sandals, Electric Moccasins of Doom and Beth Orton’s band. In addition she also contributed two tracks to a dance album “Electric Stew” and in the same year she began a brief but celebrated DJ career and was described by Elle Magazine in 2002 as “the must-have Spinderella at all the capital’s swankiest soirees”.

But she gave it up in 2005 to focus on writing and recording. The first single from this album, Bitter Pill was mixed by Richard Norris (formerly of The Grid) and his partner in crime Andy Chatterley (AKA The Droyds) and released in September of 2002 on their new label. Bitter Pill went on to be covered by the Pussycat Dolls on their first album under the guise “Hot Stuff (I Want You Back)” with an altered chorus and the album going on to sell seven million copies. Siobhan has also contributed a dark electro cover of Joy Division’s “She’s Lost Control” to the first Agent Provocateur album, Peepshow with the infamous video featuring the burlesque performer Dita Von Teese and a certain George W Bush. She has recorded “White Rabbit” for their second album and performed at various Agent Provocateur shows throughout 2008.

In August 2008 Siobhan returned to acting starring as Nina Hamnett in the Chris Ward film What Shall We Do with The Drunken Sailor, which has been shown in various film fests in 2009. Siobhan has spent 2009 largely traveling, coming to rest in Los Angeles where she has newly relocated for the time being. Batteries recharged she has scheduled some Shakespear’s Sister gigs which will take place in Europe in October and November in time for the release of her fourth Shakepear’s Sister record entitled Songs from the Red Room, released December 2009.

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