Britain's Bananarama, Ripe with Success, Insist They're More Than a Bunch of Cute Chiquitas
10/19/1987 at 01:00 AM EDT
First, the name: Bananarama. It's silly, it's campy, it's suggestive. Which, conveniently, is pretty much an accurate description of Bananarama the group. In 1986 the British threesome released a remake of the old Shocking Blue hit Venus("I'm your fire/ I'm the goddess of your desire") and danced provocatively in spandex and vinyl outfits in the obligatory video. Their blatantly commercial efforts paid off. Fans bought more than 500,000 of the accompanying LP, True Confessions, helping establish the Bananas as the most successful girl group Britain has yet produced.
After six years together the members of Bananarama are used to tossing down peels in the paths of those who find them too tacky or commercial. "The British press loved us for about a month, and then they got their claws out," says Siobhan (pronounced Shuhvonne) Fahey, 27, the smaller of the two blond Bananas. "They didn't think that we had done anything that merited our being pop stars." Says second Banana Sarah Dallin, 24: "You're the flavor of the month there, and then you are lucky if you last beyond the first single these days." By that standard, Bananarama is approaching legendhood. They had hits with Cruel Summer'm 1984, Venus in '86 and have just scored again with I Heard A Rumour, which percolated up the Billboard Top 10. Such business success, a contrast to their pop-dolly image, has spawned talk that Bananarama is the cynical creation of some anonymous Svengali. "We were teenagers when we started," responds the last Banana, Keren Woodward, 24. "I guess that people can't imagine three girls just getting up off the streets and making a career for themselves without someone to help them—which is what we did."
Bananarama sprouted out of London's punk scene in the early '80s. Irish-born Siobhan met Sarah in a journalism class at the London College of Fashion. Sarah was living with Keren, and pretty soon all three were sharing the same dingy one-room apartment. "We lived above this rehearsal studio in Soho, right next to this dodgy club called Tin Pan Alley, and they used to throw these blow-up sex dolls into our yard," says Keren. Adds Sarah: "You had to go through a Greek restaurant to get to where we lived. It was really seedy, no hot water, no toilets. The roof leaked. We used to hang up bags from the ceiling to catch the water. We had to use the public baths."
The rehearsal hall was owned by two members of the Sex Pistols, and at night the girls would sneak downstairs and noodle with the equipment. Eventually they recorded Ale A Mwana, a disco tune in Swahili produced by ex-Sex Pistol Paul Cook, then sang backup for a successful London band called Fun Boy Three. When Bananarama decided to record an album, Fun Boy Three returned the favor, which helped the Bananas get started.
Throughout, they've paid careful attention to their trendy, state-of-the-tart image, avoiding propriety at all cost. "Sarah set my hair on fire one day," says Siobhan. "I asked for a light, and she set my fringe on fire. I had a can of lacquer on it at the time, so it went up in flames. It caused me to get it cropped." But there were limits. "I never wore safety pins stuck inside my mouth," says Sarah, "but I did pierce my nose, and I watched while Keren pierced her ears, using no ice or anything, while singing this reggae song."
Nowadays life seems rather tame by comparison. Last August Siobhan married her beau, Dave Stewart of the Eu-rythmics, in a French castle. "Getting married was his idea," says Siobhan, who was six months pregnant at the time. "I thought it would be a great excuse for a party. And may I say, my dress was designed to perfection to disguise my pregnancy." The baby is due in November. Keren lives in North London with her boyfriend and their nine-month-old son, Tommy. Sarah, who lives nearby, also has a steady beau but will marry only if they have children—"because my boyfriend comes from a strict Catholic family."
Although Bananarama had planned a tour to support their new LP, Wow, domestic concerns have scotched that idea. "We have a very fragile mental balance, and the babies have thrown us into disarray," says Siobhan, who is growing used to the unexpected. "None of us," she adds, "could have imagined we would be here like this six years later."