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Members included Sarah Dallin (born December 17, 1961, in Bristol, England), vocals; Siobhan Fahey (born September 10, 1957, in London, England), vocals; Jacqui Sullivan (born August 7, 1960, 1988-91); and Keren Woodward (born April 2, 1961, in Bristol), vocals. Addresses: Record company--MCG/CURB RECORDS, 47 Music Square East, Nashville, TN 37203.

The success of Bananarama, the British female trio, is reflected in record sales rather than press clippings. Reviled by more serious-minded critics, the group has produced an impressive number of hit songs. In fact, Bananarama made the Guinness Book of World Records for being second only to the Supremes among "girl groups" with Top 40 hits. Debuting with a single cover of Black Blood's "Aie A Mwana"--a song in Swahili--in 1981, the group became a London club favorite; subsequently hits including "Cruel Summer" and "Venus" lifted them to international star status. The music was lighthearted and catchy, presumably the kind of material that makes for hits but not a lengthy career.

When Bananarama toured the United States in 1989, they felt they had proven to doubters--particularly the press-- that they were a legitimate musical entity. As member Sarah Dallin told the Washington Times, "People originally thought we wouldn't last. They thought we'd be one-hit wonders.... I think seven years' success has proved everybody wrong. We've finally got the success we deserve."

Founding Bananarama members Sarah Dallin, Keren Woodward, and Siobhan Fahey were roommates before forming their singing trio. Dallin and Woodward were former schoolmates from Bristol, England, who joined up with Fahey in London. All three were 18 years old, had little money, and were devoted to the club scene. Woodward had a job with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Fahey worked for the Decca Records press office, and Dallin was a student at the London College of Fashion. They dreamed of becoming famous singers and practiced together in front of a mirror. In 1981, the young women began performing unaccompanied in pubs and clubs, and they recorded a demo. A deal with Demon Records resulted in their single "Aie A Mwana," which they recorded with former Sex Pistol--and neighbor--Paul Cook as producer. Taking a tropical cue of this first recording and the title of a favorite Roxy Music song, "Pajamarama," the trio created the name Bananarama.

In 1982 the trio was recruited to sing backup for Fun Boy Three on "It Ain't What You Do, It's The Way That You Do It." This catchy tune was a springboard for Bananarama, and was quickly followed by their own Top five hits "He Was Really Sayin' Something" and "Shy Boy." In early 1983 the group continued their hit string with a cover of Steam's "Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)" and "Cruel Summer," tracks from their debut album Deep Sea Skiving. Susan Whitall described the unpretentious appeal of Bananarama during the early 1980s in the Detroit News, saying "Their voices were thinner than their lithe figures, but somehow the combination of flash English clothes, cocky club kid attitude and those wickedly insistent melodies managed to introduce a welcome party mood to the drab post-punk England music scene." Whitehall continued to explain the attraction of songs such as "Venus" and "Really Saying Something" when she remarked, "Both are shallow--even vanilla-flavored, but there's something hypnotic about three identical girlish voices singing in unison."

The group bolstered their popularity with videos and public performances. Melody Maker writer Caroline Sullivan noted, "Their ramshackle conception coincided with the dawn of video and it turned out to be a sublime match. Video was the only medium suitable for conveying theshambling savoir vivre that was the essence of Bananarama." U.S. audiences were rather shocked, however, when Bananarama lip-synced during an early New York gig; in fact, the women were booed off the stage. New York Times critic Jon Pareles disapproved of a similar if less wholesale technique used during a 1989 performance. He marveled, "It didn't seem to bother anyone but a lone, cranky critic that the drum kit was untouched until five songs into the set, or that the backup vocals (and it seemed, some of the lead vocals as well) were on tape along with the beat." This kind of response has diminished Bananarama's appeal to American concert goers, but is more accepted by audiences elsewhere. That explained why the 1989 tour featured a five-piece band, elaborate costumes, and dancers, elements that seemed out of place in the rather small U.S. venues where Bananarama performed; in other countries the trio played big concert halls. Woodward explained in the Detroit News, "in England and the rest of the world, it doesn't matter if you're a studio band."

Reviewers have questioned whether the driving force behind Bananarama is its members or their producers. Such criticism has resulted in a rocky relationship between the band and the press. The charge angers Woodward, who told the Detroit News "it's easier to be taken as brainless if you're even remotely attractive. It took us years before anyone would take us seriously." While the group has done its share of covers, the women do write ther own songs, with Dallin serving as the main lyric writer. Perhaps in an effort to be taken more seriously, the group recorded message songs such as "Rough Justice" and "Hotline to Heaven" in the mid-1980s. The detour was short-lived, and the group returned to producing upbeat pop music.

The 1989 Bananarama tour featured a new lineup, following the departure of Fahey, who married Eurythmics member Dave Stewart and moved to Los Angeles. Fahey was replaced by Jacqui Sullivan, an old friend of Woodward and Dallin. When Fahey formed a new band, Shakespeare's Sister, and received some critical plums, it initially caused hard feelings among the former roommates. Woodward remarked in Melody Maker, "I think for a while {Siobhan} tried to forget her past and everything that went with it, socially and careerwise. In a way, she tried to justify what she was doing by trivialising what we stood for." In 1991, replacement Sullivan left the band, and Dallin and Woodward now record as a duo.

The remaining members of Bananarama sound as if they are coming to terms with being a popular if not critical success. They seem confident without taking themselves too seriously. Dallin commented in the Washington Times "I'm a talented entertainer, but I don't have the best voice in the world. I love to entertain people." With 14 Top 40 hits, Bananarama certainly has entertained an enormous audience. As Caroline Sullivan summarized in Melody Maker, "Bananarama are enshrined in the consciousness of a generation. They've got a huge hit-catalogue that defines the term purest pop. They've got wit, flair and great shoulders. What they haven't got is credibility." The credibility gap, however, isn't stopping Dallin and Woodward from continuing to make their own brand of infectious pop. A Billboard review of a 1995 single showed that Bananarama's appeal really hasn't changed, describing "Every Shade of Blue" as perfect fare for Bananarama fans and a "guilty pleasure" for others.

by Paula Pyzik Scott

Bananarama's Career

Sang unaccompanied in clubs beginning in 1981; recorded first single that same year; debut album Deep Sea Skiving was released in 1983; band attempted lip sync performances in the United States in the early 1980s and was booed; released Bananarama, 1984; released True Confessions, 1986; released Greatest Hits Collection, 1988; returned with new lineup on a 1989 tour, doing truly live performances for the first time; in 1991, founding members Dallin and Woodward split with Sullivan to record as a duo; released Pop Life, 1991; released Ultra-Violet, 1996.

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