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Bananarama: ‘We’re reclaiming how much we’ve achieved and how much we’ve done ourselves!’ [Exclusive]

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Bananarama Glorious The Ultimate Collection-4

Returning to the cover of RETROPOP, the iconic Bananarama revisit over four decades of hits ahead of the release of their new album, ‘Glorious: The Ultimate Collection’, and celebrate a career that’s seen them triumph in the male-dominated music industry and take control over their legacy.

“It was a long time coming to the realisation, even though we’ve always done our own thing, that you could actually do everything yourself,” says Keren Woodward who, along with bandmate Sara Dallin, have enjoyed a run of Top 30 albums on their In Synk label in recent years, in RETROPOP’s March edition, out now. “That comes with the experience we’ve had and realising that, actually, we know as much as anyone else around us. You have specific people you work with on specific things, but when it gets to the point where you’re totally in control, it’s brilliant.”

Sara agrees: “We’ve worked long and hard to get to this point where we can choose what to do. We don’t have to fight against things now, we can enjoy what we do and decide when we want to do it. It’s not a rat race for us.”

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Now, their operation is run “as a business”, but in the early years – when Bananarama was a trio, first with Siobhan Fahey and they Jacquie O’Sullivan – they were deer in the headlights of the major label system and had a crippling shyness that led to them getting a reputation.

“I don’t like to think that people might be intimidated by us. I always go out of my way to crack a joke or be really smiley because I think being mean is horrible,” insists Sara. But she gets why they’ve sometimes been bracketed that way. “If you’re assertive and if you have an opinion then that kind of frightens people. But we’re not rude or aggressive to people. When we started out we were three girls together and we’d all be giggling on a chair somewhere in the green room and people would think, ‘Oh God, they’re probably really bitchy’, but it just wasn’t that way. It was because we were ridiculously shy and had no confidence.”

The ‘80s remain their most financially and statistically successful era. “And we’ve sort of reclaimed everything we did back then and everything since,” Sara feels. “I listened to Clare Grogan from Altered Images talking about it and she was saying how she was sort of dismissed as being just a bit fluffy, and she said ‘I loved my first few albums and they were great’. That’s kind of like us too. We’re reclaiming how much we’ve achieved and how much we’ve done ourselves. We deserve the right to be here and play at Glastonbury [which they did in 2019] and do all these things that the male bands have done.”

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Being in a girl band comes with its own challenges, and ageism and sexism still rear their ugly heads, but as Keren points out: “I think there’s a lot that still comes up about being women in this industry, but I’m so thrilled to find that for the first time ever most of the highest chart positions were held by women last year. When we started, it was kind of us, Kim Wilde and that was it really, so it’s hugely satisfying. The thought when we were younger that you could still be doing this at our age would have been absolutely ludicrous. Unless you were like a Shirley Bassey-type singer, it was unheard of really.”

With Sara nodding in agreement, Keren grins proudly: “Whether it’s sexism or ageism or whatever, we’ve just tackled everything head on. We’ve been incredibly tenacious and determined through thick and thin. We’re bulldozers!”

‘Glorious: The Ultimate Collection’ and ‘Glorious – The Book’ are out March 8 on London. Bananarama play the London Palladium on April 3, 4 and 6. Tickets are on sale now. 

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Interview: Simon Button

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