The English trio Bananarama‘s career started with a vroom: After forming in 1981, they cracked the top ten in the U.K. with nine singles between 1982 and 1988. Their sound was indebted to early Motown groups (the Marvellettes, the Supremes) and irresistible Sixties pop singles (Evie Sands‘ “I Can’t Let Go,” the Sapphires’ “Who Do You Love”) but gussied up to fit the production in vogue during that decade; listeners clamored for the combination, and as a result, Bananarama spent a total of 164 weeks on the U.K. singles chart.
But at the height of their dominance, the trio lost a leg — Siobhan Fahey, an original member along with Sara Dallin and Keren Woodward, left the group after the Wow! album. Bananarama carried on, releasing six more albums, but they only scored one more Top Ten hit.
Now the original lineup is reuniting for the first time in nearly three decades for a tour that will encompass 22 dates around the U.K. and a blitzkrieg four-date run in North America. Because the group didn’t tour in their early chart-storming days, this marks the first-ever tour of the original lineup, and demand for tickets in the U.K. was so high that the group added extra dates.
“The response over here has been phenomenal,” Dallin tells Billboard. “I never would have expected that. So many fans in the States wanted us to play there and I never thought that would ever happen with the three of us.”
The idea to re-form hit Dallin and Woodward after a recent tour of Japan and Australia as a way of enlivening their routine. “We kind of wanted to do something different,” Dallin explains. “Someone suggested to us, ‘Why don’t you get the original lineup for a one-off tour?’ And I hadn’t, to be honest, really thought about it before. But the more we thought about it, we thought ‘Let’s give Siobhan a call before Christmas.’ She was massively shocked and she would get back to us after Christmas. She came aboard in April and it went full steam ahead.”
Few groups last longer than a decade with their original lineup intact. The Bananarama rupture, like many, was in part due to different ideas about the group’s creative direction. “[Fahey] met Dave [Stewart of the Eurythmics] at that point and wanted to make different music; Karen and I still liked doing pop,” Dallin says. Fahey and Stewart married and she spent a portion of the next decade in Los Angeles. But just as Dallin and Woodward were never as successful without Fahey as they were with her, Fahey was unable to match peak-Bananarama success. (However, her follow-up duo Shakespears Sister was able to score a U.K. number one with “Stay” in 1992.)
According to Dallin, there are no lingering hard feelings from the split. “I guess when you meet someone very young — Karen and I were like 18 when we met [Fahey] — it kind of feels like family: Even if you’ve fallen out and you haven’t seen someone for so long, there is that bond,” she explains. “We just slipped back into friendship again; in the last ten years we’ve seen each other a couple of times a year. We would hang out and just have a great time, and all the kind of pettiness of youth and trivial stuff falls by the wayside when you get to 50.”
Not that the reunion doesn’t bring its own challenges: All three group members have to re-learn the routines for the early Bananarama material, which they have performed only sporadically (if at all) in recent years.
“We’ve just started this week with the choreography,” Dallin says. “What you can remember when you were 20 — it’s not quite the same now. And a lot of the music from the years that Siobhan was in the group is stuff we haven’t done. When Karen and I tour we do other songs, the later stuff. So there’s a lot of new stuff for all of us. It’s hard work. I’m kind of panicking, but there’s plenty of time. You have to wait to get into the swing of it.”
After starting as a force in pop’s mainstream, Bananarama are now an outlier: Girl groups are few and far between. “It was always a man’s world, let’s be honest, in most walks of life,” Dallin suggests. “That’s unfortunate, but it’s the way the world is. But it’s quite good to be recognized now along with the Go-Gos, the Bangles. We wrote our own material, or co-wrote it. I don’t think people always bothered to recognize that. We weren’t manufactured; we weren’t put together; we didn’t have some Svengali manager telling us what to sing, what to wear. We came from the streets; we had punky attitude.”
And the songs — how do they hold up three decades later?
“I’m really proud of how fantastic they are.”
Bananarama Tour Dates
November 9 – Belfast The SSE Arena
November 11 – Glasgow SEC Armadillo
November 12 – Glasgow SEC Armadillo
November 13 – Blackpool Opera House
November 15 – Newcastle City Hall
November 16 – York Barbican
November 17 – Manchester O2 Apollo
November 19 – London Eventim Apollo
November 22 – Bristol Colston Hall
November 23 – Birmingham Barclaycard Arena
November 24 – Nottingham Royal Concert Hall
November 26 – Bournemouth International Centre
November 27 – Cardiff St David’s Hall
November 28 – Plymouth Pavilions
November 30 – Brighton Centre
December 1 – Ipswich Regent
December 2 – Southend Cliffs Pavilion
December 4 – Oxford New Theatre
December 5 – Sheffield City Hall
December 6 – Manchester 02 Apollo
December 8 – Brighton Centre
December 9 – London Eventim Apollo
February 20 – Los Angeles, CA @ Novo
February 21 – San Francisco, CA @ Warfield
February 23 – Toronto, Ontario @ Danforth
February 24 – New York, NY @ Playstation Theater