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Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Across The Pond And Beyond: Shakespears Sister

Previously in the Sunday Jukebox for August 21, I talked about the British girl group known as Bananarama, in hopes of making a key point about rumours and how dangerous they can be to someone else.

The above image you see is a screenshot of a Bananarama video featuring former Bananarama member Siobhan Fahey.  Siobhan was one of the three founding members of Bananarama along with Keren Woodward and Sara Dallin.  They put the group together in 1979, and for the next eight years, they scored hit after hit in the United Kingdom, and even had a number one hit stateside with a remake of the 1970 song 'Venus'.  Their success in North America was limited, as their last hit to land on the charts there was 1987's 'I Heard A Rumour'.  However, in the United Kingdom and Australia, they continued to be popular and fans expected Bananarama to be huge on the charts for several more years.

That is until 1988 when Siobhan Fahey quit the band.

As I talked about earlier, there were several theories as to why Siobhan left.  Conflicts with her bandmates, her needing a change, fighting with her record company, wanting time with her family.  The supposed theories were endless.

Regardless, Bananarama kept on going without Siobhan.  After replacing Siobhan with singer Jacquie O'Sullivan, Bananarama continued to release songs and albums in their native UK.

But, while Bananarama had seemingly moved on, so did Siobhan Fahey.

One of the main reasons why Siobhan truly left Bananarama was because she had felt that the band was going into a direction that she didn't agree with.  With Stock/Aitken/Waterman taking over the production duties for their albums, Siobhan felt that Pete Waterman especially wanted to encourage the band to go the sex-kitten route, and that was something she disagreed with.  This caused a bit of tension between her and the other members of Bananarama, and eventually, she left the group.

With her leaving the group, she was free to go in her own direction, and one of the first things she did was plot out a new musical venture.  The first thing she had done upon leaving Bananarama was change her look to become less like a pop-tart and more like a rocker with a darker edge.

The second was to come up with a name for her new venture.  I suppose that she could have just branched out using her own name, but she wanted it to be a perfect name.

She eventually settled on the name Shakespears Sister.  The name was taken from the title of an essay written by Virginia Woolf.  The title was also used for a song recorded by The Smiths.  The difference (with my assumption that it was changed to avoid copyright infringement) was that Siobhan had left off the last 'E' in Shakespeare.

During the planning periods of the Shakespears Sister project, Siobhan and her husband Dave Stewart had moved to the United States.  When they settled, fate introduced Siobhan to record producer Richard Feldman (who coincidentally happened to live across the street), and they started coming up with plans for a new album.  During this collaboration, Feldman introduced Siobhan to an ex-girlfriend of his, named Marcella Levy (who would later adopt the stage name of Marcella Detroit), and the two instantly began to collaborate together on the debut album of Shakespears Sister.  Marcella had loads of experience in the music industry.  She performed with Bob Seger and Eric Clapton during the 1970s, and throughout the 1980s had written songs for such artists as Belinda Carlisle, Philip Bailey, and Chaka Khan, just to name a few.  So, needless to say, Marcella proved to be a big asset to the creation of Shakespears Sister.

Now that the duo was firmly in place, it was time to start releasing the music.  Shakespears Sister's first single was one called 'Break My Heart', which showed the darker side to Siobhan Fahey.  It did okay on the charts, but it wasn't exactly a huge hit.

But when Marcella Detroit became a part of the group, she added her own flavour with her multi-octave voice and her ability to play several musical instruments.  In 1989, the duo released this single, which showed Marcella for the first time in front of the camera (originally, Shakespears Sister was solely meant to be a solo project for Siobhan Fahey).

You're History managed to reach the top ten on British charts in the summer of 1989, and the track was subject to some rather interesting interpretations.  Upon first glance, it seems to be a song that is about culling a friendship or ending a toxic relationship.  With lyrics like 'You're history, no good for me, you're history', it's a pretty clear indication that the end of the song won't result in holding hands with someone and singing a rousing chorus of Kumbaya.

But some fans wondered if the song had a double meaning.  Or at the very least wondered if the song was somewhat autobiographical in the case of Siobhan Fahey.  It was speculated that the song 'You're History' was written about Stock/Aitken/Waterman.  Some even speculated that the song was meant as a message towards her former Bananarama bandmates Sara and Keren.  But while these theories have been suggested (and actually do make a lot of sense given Siobhan's sudden split from Bananarama), Siobhan never really confirmed this as being true.

While You're History put Shakespears Sister on the pop charts in the United Kingdom, it wouldn't be until three years later that the group would make an impact on North American charts as well.  This particular song would end up reaching the top of the charts in the United Kingdom for eight weeks in 1992, and peaked at number four in the United States.  The song would inevitably become Shakespears Sister's biggest hit, and was the biggest selling single for a British act in the UK in 1992.

ARTIST: Shakespears Sister
SONG:  Stay
ALBUM:  Hormonally Yours
DATE RELEASED:  January 25, 1992

The first thing you might notice is that Siobhan Fahey takes a backseat role in this song, as Marcella Detroit took over the main of the very few Shakespears Sister songs that had Marcella in such a prominent role.  But it seemed to work and work well.

Secondly, you may have seen the video and wondered what the heck is going on.  Well, I'll explain it as best I can.  The opening shows Marcella leaned over a hospital bed where her scantily clad boyfriend (who in a subtle twist of irony was played by an ex of Keren Woodward's) lies comatose, clinging to life.  She sings to him and wants him to keep fighting so he can stay with her.

But not so fast!  The angel of death hovers over the situation, determined to claim yet another soul.  Siobhan played the angel of death and as she descended down a flight of stairs, Marcella was determined to keep her man alive, especially when he wakes up unexpectedly.

At this point, Marcella and Siobhan begin fighting over control of the man's soul, effectively simulating a battle between life (Marcella) and death (Siobhan).  In the end, life triumphs, and as Marcella is reunited with her man, a dejected death climbs back up the stairs.

The video was very well done, and the song ended up being nominated for several awards, including the award for Best Song at the 1993 Brit Awards.

Unfortunately, that same year, Marcella Detroit had a falling out with Siobhan Fahey, which lead to the dissolution of the partnership in 1993.  It was triggered after Marcella hired her own manager and demanded half the ownership of Shakespears Sister.  As of now, Marcella reported that she and Siobhan occasionally contact each other through e-mail, but that they haven't seen each other since the split.

In a twist of fate, around the same time Shakespears Sister released 'Stay', Jacquie O'Sullivan quit Bananarama, effectively leaving Sara and Keren as a duo.

Though one great thing about it is that both groups are still performing today.  Bananarama still tours around the UK and has released a few singles as a duo.  And Siobhan Fahey has resurrected Shakespears Sister as a solo act, and still records new music., while Marcella Detroit still records under her original given name.

Time will only tell if they will have another shot at stardom again.  All the members of both Bananarama and Shakespears Sister are in or approaching their fifties (Dallin is 49, Woodward is 50, Fahey is 52, and Marcella Detroit is 59), and Bananarama last major charting hit was back in 2005.  Shakespears Sister has had even less luck, with Stay being the last big hit associated with that name.

But you never know what could happen.  Siobhan Fahey reunited with Bananarama in 2002 for a special benefit concert.  Maybe a Shakespears Sister reunion could be in the works as well? 

Who can say?


  1. I wish they'd reunite...I love that song,"STAY" and every once in a while look for it so I can listen once more!!! I love the video as well...FAHEY's sexy waist movements in that glittery dress...well you guys know what I mean!!!

  2. Just watched it again...while those two oozed sexyness back 20 years ago...there was some sense of maturity and you could see the acting background in their performances...specially on Fahey's eyes...truly bewitching!!! Where can I find her twitter or anyplace she actually updates herself and regularly...BTW, Mathew W...THX 4 THE MEMORIES!!!

  3. pukka tune, in 1992 i was into rave music so never took much notice of this song at the time but now its magical, totally bewitching video that even all these years later seems timeless, you kinda feel its too short that it needs another 1 or 2 mins but then it just makes me watch it on repeat so maybe its perfect !!!