herald

Friday 15 December 2017

When HQ met: Siobhan Fahey

Endless appeal

To those of a certain age, the words Shakespears Sister conjure up images of two women in a tug of war over the body of a naked man, one of them looking more than a bit disturbed.

The pseudo-psychotic half of the duo was ex-Bananarama girl, Siobhan Fahey, supported by helium-high vocals from Marcella Detroit, and the iconic video was for the global 1992 hit Stay from their second album, Hormonally Yours.

"It's a bit of a red herring," Fahey now says about Stay. "That video and that song are associated with Shakespears Sister for those who aren't familiar with the other albums, but they were a sound and format that wasn't really what Shakespears Sister was about to start with, or has been since."

To start with, Shakespears Sister was a break-off project for Fahey after she exited Bananarama, of which she was also a founding member. Still listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the most successful all-female group of all time, Bananarama not only dominated the world with their bubblegum pop, they also defined an era of DIY fashion that's coming back into vogue now.

They looked like girls on the lam, having a good time while the going was good, but in truth Fahey was a keen driving force behind their success. When other people wanted to take over the reins, she exited.

"I stopped liking it when it became a scene that was about manufactured pop stars," she said. "When we started working with Stock Aiken and Waterman, it was before they had created that sound and started churning out their production-line pop stars. I approached them to do the single, Venus, and quite honestly I think Venus became the blueprint of their sound, I had to fight with them to get that sound on the record.

"A year later when we went to make an album with them, they had their production line going. They'd had great success with Jason O'Donovan and Kylie and Rick Astley and they really did have the attitude that they could churn out backing tracks with interchangeable vocalists. They wouldn't allow us much input in the studio and I didn't like working that way."

Despite Fahey's assertion that she's "always trying to create a gang that I can be a paid-up member of," it seems clear that unless she's the member in the driving seat, she's not fully satisfied.

"After leaving Bananarama, I didn't want to be a solo artist, so instead I formed a band," she says. "I thought of the name Shakespears Sister for whatever form it would take, whatever floating, moveable shape that I could record under."

The shape of Shakespears Sister post-Hormonally Yours was defined by the disillusion of being dropped by their label in 1996 after Detroit and Fahey split less than amicably. London Records held on to the master tapes of a third album for another seven years and when Fahey finally got her hands on them in 2004, she released the album independently.

Since then she says she has "been continuing to make music in my own time and at my own pace and fitting it in with a life that has more demands than just making music".

Those demands presumably are her two sons by ex-husband and Eurythmics founder Dave Stewart, who Fahey split from in 1996, the same year she was dropped by her record label.

Despite the depression Fahey experienced in the aftermath of her divorce and the initial decline of Shakespears Sister, today she comes across with the calm assurance of someone who has weathered every storm with a sense of herself intact.

Her fourth Shakespears Sister album, The Red Room, attests to that independence of spirit, while still allowing her to be a member of a 'gang'. "I've put together a great band, some of whom have been with me since the '92 incarnation," she says. "The album was produced in my back garden with whoever just happened to be around at the time -- there's no bona fide producer. It's certainly got a much rawer production sound than any other album I've done."

Fahey's work as a club DJ in the years between album releases has been heavily influential. "I really enjoy the new underground electro sound. Certain tracks, like Bitter Pill were conceived with Tamla Motown in mind, but then my DJing began to influence my writing and it became more of an electro dance number."

An underground mix of Bitter Pill by The Droids caught the ear of an A&R man working with The Pussycat Dolls. While Fahey says she doesn't like the Dolls' version, which uses Donna Summer's Hot Stuff as a chorus and was renamed Hot Stuff (I Want You Back), she was happy with the money it brought her way. "It was like an act of God," she laughs. "I had spent a lot putting it together, getting the right equipment, and The Pussycat Dolls paid for all of it. So, I can't complain."

Although Shakespears Sister are about to tour with The Red Room, Fahey has only played one gig with it -- last November -- her first in over a decade. "It was a happy night," she says. "It felt brilliant... it was proper rock'n'roll." HQ

Shakespears Sister play Button Factory, Dublin, on April 28th. Doors 7:30pm, tickets €22.50

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