What’s your favourite time of day? Have you ever worn odd socks? Why are you dressed as the devil?
Pop magazines took a very different approach to interviews in the 1980s and, as the decade’s biggest girl band, Bananarama found themselves fielding all of the above questions and more.
Smash Hits, Look-In and Number 1 devoted dozens of pages to the trio, many of which dwelt on the fact they lived together on the 11th floor of a block of flats in Holborn.
“It always looked better in the photos than it did in real life,” laughs Keren Woodward, now 56 and living in more comfortable circumstances in Cornwall.
“It was a dive,” recalls her bandmate and childhood friend Sara Dallin.
“You’re not house-proud when you’re young. But now I’d be like, ‘Take your shoes off!'”
Still, those irreverent, Python-esque profiles were often more revealing than the now-standard “tell me about your co-writers” pop interview.
So, to celebrate the reunion of Bananarama’s original line-up – and their first ever tour – we scoured the back issues and put a bunch [get it? – puns ed] of old questions to Sara, Keren and Siobhan to see how their answers have changed.
“Are these Neil Tennant’s questions?” asks Sara before we start.
“He always reminds us he interviewed us once, but I don’t remember it.”
When you were 12, what did you want to be? (Smash Hits, 1983)
Keren: A lot of my family were teachers, so that’s what I always thought I’d end up being. I think I’d have been quite strict – strict but fair – and, I like to think, hugely engaging.
Siobhan: I think I wanted to be [60s pop star] Melanie.
Back in 1983, Siobhan said she would like to be an “air hostess”, while Keren and Sara both talked about becoming “David Essex’s wife”.
Sara: Oh God, I’m sure I never would have said that. Aged 12? Not at 12.
Keren [to Siobhan]: Oh yes, you went for a job as an air hostess. We took your picture, standing on a pouffe.
Sara: In your mother’s skirt, trying to look elegant.
If you were an animal, what animal would you be?
Sara: Did I say, ‘Dolphin’? No? For God’s sake. Dog? Lion? Pheasant?
Siobhan: I was going to say elephant because I love them so, but they get butchered, don’t they?
Keren: I would have said dog.
The original answers were actually dog (Siobhan), tiger (Sara) and horse (Keren).
Sara: But you hate horses.
Keren: I didn’t know that at the time! I hadn’t been thrown off one yet.
Did you enjoy being pregnant? (Number 1, 1987)
Keren: I absolutely loathed it.
Siobhan: I loved it. Whatever hormones kicked in, I got really happy.
Keren: I just felt very young and unprepared. I didn’t know anyone who’d been pregnant, and I didn’t know anyone who’d had a baby. Because everyone around me didn’t really get it, I just kept on as though nothing was happening, even though I was slightly scared and throwing up everywhere. Sara would say, ‘For God’s sake, you’re only pregnant, come out.’
Speaking in 1987, Keren said the only benefit of pregnancy was being sober, which had meant “I was handy for a lift now and then”. She recently revealed that having children had stopped Bananarama’s original line-up going on tour.
Keren: We were so desperate to get on stage. And, in a way, maybe it was good we didn’t, because we didn’t have the right people around us. We were just doing it ourselves.
Sara: If you look at the early performances, we look incredibly shy. We’d come straight from school, and then we were on Top of the Pops. We had absolutely no clue at all.
Siobhan: I think that was all part of the charm.
Sara: Even when we went on tour in 89 [with Siobhan’s replacement, Jacquie O’Sullivan], I couldn’t say we were hugely confident about what we were doing.
Keren: I mean, the only experience we had of being on stage was getting up, putting on a cassette and singing over the top.
Sara: But it’s like any job. If you work in a bank or an office, you’d be shy when you arrived, and then you’d learn and then you’d be fine. It’s just taken us 30 years.
Sara, did you enjoy covering naked men with your bat wings? (Smash Hits, 1986)
Sara: That’s about the Venus video. The costume was so uncomfortable. It was a really tight corset with two poles running down the side of my arms, and a black wig. It was not an erotic experience, I’m afraid.
Siobhan: That was the first time we really went for an extravaganza in the costume department; obviously triggered by the lyrics of the song. And I think that’s where we discovered our enjoyment of camp.
The video accompanied Venus, the first song the band produced with Mike Stock, Matt Aitken, and Pete Waterman’s “hit factory”, which also churned out hits for Kylie, Jason and Sinitta.
Keren: When it got really pop and quite camp, that was when Siobhan started to get disillusioned. But for me, personally, it just felt like I’d come alive. I enjoyed that period so much because it was just out-and-out pop. I’d just given up trying to explain we weren’t dimwits and that we were serious artists. So it was just like letting go, and I embraced the whole pop thing and I absolutely loved it.
Siobhan: Making [the album] Wow! with Waterman, Stock and Aitken, they had a very much production-line approach. I felt there wasn’t much room for musical experimentation with them, because they had their sound, and that was frustrating for me.
Sara: We always wrote with them. They would have preferred to write everything, but we wouldn’t let them.
Siobhan: But I have to say, in hindsight, Wow! is the album that hangs together the best.
When did you first realise you were famous? (Smash Hits, 1983)
Keren: In Los Angeles, when Mike Tyson sang Cruel Summer.
Sara: We were walking back from breakfast to our hotel, where he was also staying. He was sitting in a limo, and he saw us and started singing Cruel Summer. We were just gobsmacked.
Keren: And he was world champ at the time. He was just the last person on Earth you’d expect to sing a Bananarama song. And you think, well, your reach must have got quite far with that sort of thing.
Siobhan’s original answer was that she didn’t feel famous, “apart from when you’re recognised on buses”.
Siobhan: I remember our first trip to Santa Monica, this girl got really excited when she saw us, and she came running up to me and shouted, ‘Oh my God, aren’t you the girl from Dexy’s Midnight Runners?’ And I was like, ‘No, that’s my sister.’ [Maire Fahey starred in the video for Dexy’s hit single Come On Eileen].
Don’t you get on each other’s nerves a lot? (Number 1, 1986)
Keren: Now? No.
Siobhan: It’s been hilarious. We haven’t stopped laughing.
Keren: It’s back to the good old days before they turned… stale.
Sara: Stale – that’s a much better word than sour.
In 1986, Siobhan said: “It’s very hard working together and being mates sometimes, but no matter how hard it gets, you sort of understand each other.” She quit the band two years later, and the friends didn’t speak for almost a decade.
Will Bananarama ever make a feature film? (Number 1, 1984)
Sara: Obviously not.
Siobhan: I’m writing a script at the moment, in between Bananarama things. It’s a historical epic, set in Elizabethan times. But I don’t want to give too much away.
Keren fielded this question in 1984, saying: “If we did, it would have to be one of those cheap musicals.”
Keren: We always had plans, on and off. We were approached to do the story of Bananarama as a film.
Sara: The trouble with us was we never had management that consolidated our ideas, so it never got put together. I mean, the Spice Girls made a film, which was kind of what ours was going to be like, but we never got it together.
Siobhan: It would be a TV series now. Things have swung that way.
Keren: We could play the mums.
Is there life on other planets? (Smash Hits, 1986)
Siobhan: Well, for sure. There’s got to be.
Sara: We haven’t discovered any, though. You’d think we would have discovered something by now. All we hear about is water here and gas there.
Maybe this is because, as Siobhan said in 1986, we’d be unable to see alien life forms “because they’re bound to have a totally different chemical make-up”.
Siobhan: Oh yeah, they’re right here in this room but on a different frequency.
Keren: And they are really excited about the Bananarama reunion. They are desperate for it.
What’s your favourite single you’ve released so far?
Sara: Cruel Summer, just because that was such an odd little pop song. It was our first hit in the States, which was unbelievably exciting.
Siobhan: I think we all have that as a favourite, because it just sounds like nothing before or afterwards, really.
Sara’s answer remains the same, but in 1986 Keren plumped for the band’s debut single, Aie-A-Mwana, while Siobhan preferred Really Saying Something for its “shrieky vocals”.
Sara: We’re going to set aside some time this year to get together and do some [new music] for the tour.
Keren: It would be a shame to not have something new. Will it live up to the past? Well if it doesn’t, we won’t release it.
Keren, how often do you wash your hair? (Number 1, 1984)
Sara: Every day. Every day, she washes her hair.
Keren: I’ve got greasy hair, what can I say? I never skip more than one day.
In 1984, Keren claimed the figure was “twice a week”, prompting general disbelief from her friends.
While walking along a deserted beach, you spy a couple making love. Do you stay and watch? (Smash Hits, 1986)
Sara: I’d call the police.
Keren: I’d call all my friends over. I wouldn’t watch on my own. Take some photos.
Keren originally replied she’d “put some mirrored shades on” and watch while pretending to look the other way.
Sara: That’s a bit raunchy.
Siobhan: They were odd questions in those days.
What’s next for Bananarama? (Look-In, October 1987)
Keren: I’m looking forward to doing the vocal arrangements for the tour. That’s my favourite bit. I’m hoping we can sing three-part harmonies on some of the songs, because we always used to sing in unison. It would be nice to do it in a more grown-up way.
Siobhan: The staging is all in the pipeline, but it’ll reflect our personality and “unique style” [everyone laughs].
Keren: I don’t want to be standing there with lasers going off. Our show will be about the camaraderie and the fun.
Speaking on the phone in 1987, Siobhan’s response to this question was simply: “I’m going to get out of this bath. The water’s gone horribly cold.”
The classic Bananarama line-up tours the UK for the first time this November. Tickets are on sale now.
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