As Siobhan Fahey (pictured right) and Marcella Detroit (left) arrive together to their record label’s North London headquarters for their very first together interview in 26 years, they’re a picture of solidarity and renewed friendship. But previously, you might have thought they were as unlikely to reunite as Morrissey and Marr – let alone make new music (not without United Nations General Secretary António Guterres being drafted in as producer, that is).
Shakespears Sister was formed as a solo vehicle for Bananarama exile Siobhan in 1988, but Marcella, who had her own impressive music career behind her, including collaborations with Eric Clapton and Alice Cooper, joined in 1989 and the contrasting vocals became a defining part of the sound. Together, Shakespears Sister blazed a goth-pop trail with singles like ‘I Don’t Care’ and ‘Stay’, which claimed squatters’ rights at the top of the charts for eight weeks. They supported Prince and even headlined Glastonbury.
Art imitated life in their videos, which jokily telegraphed their rivalry and enmity towards each other (plotting to kill each other, spoofing Bette and Joan feudfest Whatever Happened To Baby Jane?), and the partnership disintegrated in resentment and jealousy, culminating at the Ivor Novellos in 1993 where – collecting an award for Best Contemporary Collection of Songs for their album ‘Hormonally Yours’ – Siobhan’s publisher publicly dismissed Marcella (who was sitting in the audience) from the band. They didn’t talk for 26 years.
On a bookcase at Fascination Records is a Gold Disc dedicated to Siobhan for sales of Bananarama’s ‘Robert De Niro’s Waiting’, and it was the laying to rest of that group’s unfinished business with an original trio reunion tour in 2017 that promoted Siobhan to bury the hatchet last May. Decamping to writing sessions in the Joshua Tree desert, they’ve returned with a lush new Morricone-influenced single ‘All The Queen’s Horses’, which is about a doomed love affair – yet the lyrics (‘All the queen’s horses/ All the queen’s men/They couldn’t put us back together again’) can also be viewed as about the pair’s chequered history. It’s a nudge-wink that’s highlighted in the video which depicts their initial meeting as a Mexican stand-off and features a plethora of nods to the iconic ‘Stay’ promo. Here, Siobhan, 60, and Marcella, 66, talk break ups, pulling off their unexpected comeback, and Guns N’Roses sexism.
So people might be surprised this reunion is happening. How did it come about?
Siobhan: “I think we would have been very surprised if someone had said to us two years ago that this would be happening. It wasn’t a long term plan (Laughs).”
Marcella: “No. But it started last year when my husband got a text from Peter [Loraine, Fascination Records head honcho – who also ran the Bananarama fan club as a teenager] saying: ‘Would Marcy be free to talk to us about something?’. He didn’t say what, but I assumed it was about Shakespears Sister. They talked about meeting Siobhan and that happened last May when we first met after 26 years.”
Siobhan: “For years, I’d known it was important to make my peace with Marcy and what had happened. It was primarily to meet up to finally communicate after 26 years. I hate confrontation and never speak my truth. I hold it in and simmer. As you get older, you should do the inner work to lay your blame aside because you don’t want to take that to the grave. I finally found the courage to sit down and say: ‘You probably gather I’ve been angry with you but you probably have no idea why…’ And she went: ‘I’ve no idea why’. That’s how the conversation begun and both of us were able to say: ‘Well, this is what it was like for me’ – and then the other person could go, ‘Oh I get it now’. And then it was all gone. All of that misunderstanding.”
Marcella: “It was just basically miscommunication and people around us telling us different things and unfortunately, it got a little bit lost in translation.”
“Music is crying out for sophisticated pop with substance”
– Marcella Detroit
Marcella, you had tried reaching out before…
Marcella: “A few times, to be fair. Like I sent Siobhan an email ‘cos a friend ran into her and got her email address, so I reached out as an attempt to say, ‘Hey let’s get together. Let’s sit down and talk.’”
Siobhan: “I come from a family where confrontation is very dangerous. And it turns into huge situations, so my natural instinct was to avoid that. But without communication, there can be no understanding or forgiveness and no resolution. That’s where it began. But I never imagined it would lead to such a great creative renaissance.”
Marcella: “Yeah, we met that one time and there are some awkward moments when you haven’t seen someone for 26 years (Laughs) and are airing your feelings. There were some bumpy moments.”
Siobhan: “But it was strangely emotional, wasn’t it? We both had a damp eye when we set eyes on each other and were like ‘What?! This is really weird.’”
Did you click straight away? In a way, did you have to learn how to become friends?
Siobhan: “From that first meeting, I felt my whole perception of Marcy had changed completely. I realised that we had way more in common that we had differences.”
Marcella: “We really do. It’s uncanny.”
Siobhan: “Maybe that creates its own pressures, because we’re mirroring each other. After that, Peter had the idea of us touring together. Neither of us were sure because we didn’t want a repeat of ’92…”
Marcella: “God no! No, no, no! We met up a couple of times when we were both working in London. That went well and my husband suggested: ‘You guys should try writing some new songs – to see what it feels like to create again, if we still have that.”
Siobhan: “After the Bananarama experience, which was a wonderful emotional laying-to-rest of the past and what we were, we never made new music together. They didn’t want to make new music with me. For me, that was very frustrating and I definitely did not want a repeat of that with Shakespears Sister. For it just to be a retro exercise. If we were going to tour again, I wanted to write something new together so we could have something new and valid.”
There was a real demand from fans for new material from the original Bananarama line-up. Would you have done an album with them?
Siobhan: “I would have at that point, yeah. We went in to the studio to do a single which I thought was shaping up brilliantly and then it was squashed – and it wasn’t me who squashed it. So that was quite painful. And then I realised they just wanted it to be the tour and nothing else. But the great gift was that I was reminded by the universe that my purpose on the planet is to make music. After the Banana thing, I knew I was going to make another record. I just didn’t know it was going to be with Marcy..”
Siobhan: “But things unfolded wonderfully when we went out to the desert to see if we could still write together. We had no expectations. And it was just the most easy, flowing, blissful week – we wrote two songs in four days that are just cracking. ‘All The Queen’s Horses’ was the first song we wrote together after 27 years – it’s like a creative juggernaut we’ve got on board again.”
New track ‘All The Queen’s Horses’ feels like it has a real Americana and Ennio Morricone influence. What were your ideas of how Shakespears Sister should sound in 2019?
Siobhan: “I’ve been obsessed with Lee Hazlewood for the last seven years and knew I wanted to make a record influenced by him and Morricone, Serge Gainsbourg and John Barry – that flavour. And I’d been living in America since 2012 and had been very organically connecting to the more psychedelic side of Americana. And I go out to the Joshua Tree a lot because I feel at home there – it turns out Marcy does too – and there’s space for bigger thoughts.”
Suddenly, Shakespears Sister track ‘You’re History’ blasts from the other room.
Marcella: “Where’s the helium?!”
Siobhan: “Going out there (the Joshua Tree) on my own, I can only play a few shitty chords on a guitar but with Marcy – who’s a genius musician – she brought her portable studio set up with her.”
Marcella: “After we worked together the first time round, I got frustrated because I wanted to be able to program and do everything on the computers that these men were doing. Finally I met a female engineer who said: ‘I’ll teach you everything you need to know’.”
“When ‘Stay’ was at Number One for eight weeks, it actually got embarrassing rolling up to Top of the Pops every week.”
– Siobhan Fahey
Let’s talk about the video…
Siobhan: “From the superbrain of Sophie Muller – who did our previous videos. It had to be her. Our videos are as memorable as the music. And very much autobiographical. Sophie was always fascinated and inspired by our internal struggles (laughs) and that was always the narrative, so naturally it’s an update on that. And it’s absolutely perfect.”
“It’s a whole new look inspired by the American Frontier women who are so tough. Near Joshua Tree, there’s a place called Pipes Canyon which was settled in the 1850s by a female sorority. What a dangerous place for a woman alone to be, so they formed their own community – for single mothers, lesbians or just women on their own – to protect each other, and they could wield a gun or use an axe to build a house as well as any man.”
There’s a lot of wry fan service Shakespears Sister Easter eggs in the video, including Marcy re-enacting the ‘Stay’ video on a pool table. It’s got the same adversarial nature of your previous promos but with a happy ending…
Siobhan: “Sophie wanted to recreate the moment when we sat down for the coffee a year ago (Laughs). I wanted it shot in the desert, and like it’s all these years later and I’m just a sad landlady forgotten in the dust. The desert is like the cultural desert – which Marcy has been lost in, just walking round from bar to bar, playing to two men and a dog. And she gets booked to play in my bar – that was the original idea. Sophie turned it into an arthouse version where the bar symbolises Shakespears Sister, with both of us thinking about coming back in and revisiting it and being freaked out but lured in by it.”
Marcella: “And making fun of our past selves as well.”
Siobhan: “Having a sense of humour about our paranoia and insecurity.”
With the references to ‘Stay’ in the new video, what is your relationship with your most successful song now Siobhan? You once described it as “albatross” and claimed that after its success, record companies wanted you “to sound like Celine Dion.” Yet for the Bananarama reunion shows, you performed it live. Have you been on a journey with it?
Siobhan: “Did I call it an albatross? I’ve revised that now to Trojan Horse. (Laughs). Definitely. For me, it was a little bit outside of how I saw the sound for Shakespears Sister. It doesn’t sound like the rest of the record. However, it is the most beloved track and has affected millions of people. It’s helped people get over the death of their partners. That song’s helped people through their darkest of times. You have to have the humility and gratitude to go: ‘Wow, I was honoured by the universe to be a part of creating something that brought people that sort of comfort.”
What do you remember about headlining Glastonbury in 1992?
Siobhan: “I was so overhyped with adrenaline, I chipped my front tooth on the mic! (Laughs) Lost a bit of tooth. You look out and it’s pitch-black but just a ring of bonfires a quarter of a mile away.”
Over the last few years, gender imbalance at festivals has become a massive issue, with line-up posters amended to remove all the male acts going viral. As one of only eight female headliners (if you include The White Stripes) of Glasto over its 49 year history, any thoughts on why there are still so few women headliners?
Siobhan: “I mean, we’ve come a long way since the last time we were together. It was amazing that we headlined Glastonbury. You know, I sat next to [festival organiser] Michael Eavis at a Brit awards dinner 10 years ago. I said: ‘Oh, I headlined the Pyramid Stage with Shakespears Sister in ‘92’. (She mimics Eavis’ dismissive tone). ‘NO YOU DIDN’T!’. I was like (Taken aback) I…did. ‘No you didn’t – Lou Reed did!’. I went: No, we went on after Lou Reed actually. ‘RUBBISH! RUBBISH!’. So the patriarchy still rules supreme but I think (Sighs) it’s time the world stops dividing us into black and white, Muslim and Christian, woman and man, gay and straight.”
Marcella: “It’s just human nature. Women have to work even harder, unless you go down the sex route and show your tits or bum or whatever you can to get attention. Do you remember in Scandinavia where this photographer wanted us to get on all fours? We just looked at each other, laughed and went ‘Ugh no, that’s not us’.”
Siobhan: “That happened in Bananarama as well. But look at ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas?’ – which Bananarama were on. The assembled luminaries of the pop charts. Four girls on that record. Sara, Keren, me – and Jody Watley. So to go from that in ’84 to Shakespears Sister headlining Glastonbury in ’92, there had already been a bit of a shift. It seems to me there’s way more female artists in the last 10/15 years, and I didn’t realise they weren’t getting the same billing as men, so there’s still that resistance. It’s like ‘Not bad for a girl’ as Slash once said to us.”
“Slash came up to us and said: ‘For chicks, you really rock’”
– Marcella Detroit
Marcella: “Oh yeah! Guns N’Roses came to see us play in ’92. Afterwards, Slash came up to us and said: ‘Yeah, for chicks, you really rock’.”
You’re releasing a new greatest hits in July. Looking back over Shakespears Sister, what are some of your favourite memories?
Marcella: “When ‘Stay’ was number one for eight weeks, that was surreal. Like: Oh my God, again?!”
Siobhan: “It actually got embarrassing rolling up to Top of the Pops every week. We’re back again! Here we are! I’ll take supporting Prince at Celtic Park to my grave, but my other big pinch-me moment where you go, ‘I can’t believe you even know that I exist, never mind you own my record,’ came when I went to a dinner party a year or two after we broke up and Bowie was there. Of course I’d idolised him all my life. I’m painfully shy so there’s no way I’d ever go and introduce myself to him but as he was leaving, he passed my chair and my then-husband Dave [Stewart] said: ‘Oh David, have you met my wife Siobhan?’. I stood up, scarlet, and practically curtseyed. Bowie said: ‘My wife and I are huge fans of yours. When’s the next record coming out?’. I thought ‘My job here is done – I can die now!’.”
Marcella: “Wow! I actually opened for him when I was first starting out in the music industry back in Detroit. I was in a band called Julia – we just did covers, a lot of Beatles songs.”
Siobhan: “Oh my God, I cried for two days when he passed away. I hit the tequila hard and then sat in bed going through everything I could on YouTube.”
You’re touring the UK starting on Halloween..
Siobhan: “I hope that’s not a bad omen!”
You said you wanted it to be different from your ’92 tour….
Siobhan: “At that point, our relationship was disintegrating..”
Marcella: “It was pretty bad, yeah.”
Siobhan: “However, onstage it was magical every night. It was really fun to perform our music live – it’s melodic, ballsy, emotional – so whatever was going on between us, no matter how bad it was, when we came onstage, the performances were a joy. We have a magic together. The rot set in just as the record came out but whenever we were creating together – writing in Marcy’s home studio or making the actual record itself – it was always blissful. I’d forgotten that until we went out to the desert and I was like, ‘Shit! I’d forgotten how naturally symbiotic we are!’.”
From both of your point of views, what happened when Marcy was publicly fired at the Ivor Novello Awards?
Marcella: “Well, I wasn’t ‘fired’. It was formally announced I was no longer in the band. I wasn’t stupid – I didn’t know whether there was a future but it was always the plan that when we did ‘Hormonally Yours’, Siobhan would take a break because of family and I would do my own record. But it was formally announced at the Ivor Novellos through a message from Siobhan…”
Siobhan: “It wasn’t exactly a ‘formal announcement’. My back was completely fucked and I was in the hospital with a prolapsed disc awaiting an operation. So I wrote an acceptance speech that my publisher read out and I just ended it with ‘All’s well that ends well’. Because at the time I thought that Marcy understood that anyway. We hadn’t spoken since the previous August anyway (Laughs), so I thought…”
Marcella: “A perfect example of that miscommunication!”
Siobhan: “So I didn’t realise that it was a public announcement or news to you…”
Marcella: “The manager came up to me right before the awards whispering, ‘She’s going to do it today – there’s going to be an announcement…”
Siobhan: “I didn’t even see it as an announcement. I saw it as a farewell….”
Marcella: “Well whatever you want to call it…”
Siobhan: “But then of course it was twisted into ‘Poor Marcy was fired at the Ivors!’. And that’s just not how it went down at all.”
With ‘poor Marcy’, did you feel like you were treated as a villain, Siobhan? You were going through your own personal issues at the time as well..
“That was a very dark period in my life for many reasons. My marriage was in trouble, my back was fucked and I couldn’t walk, I had two young children and my band had broken up. It was heavy and I was very depressed. I was not in a good place. It took a few years to get over that. But life isn’t always a bed of roses. I got through it – just about!”
“’93 was a difficult time. My marriage was in trouble, my back was fucked and I couldn’t walk, I had two young children and my band had broken up. It was heavy and I was very depressed”
– Siobhan Fahey
After you broke up, Siobhan released three Shakespears Sister albums. Did you listen to any of them Marcy?
Will you be performing any of those tracks live or will the setlist be strictly the songs you did together?
Siobhan: “We haven’t actually talked about the setlist yet. That’s the next exciting thing. We’ve been busy making new music. We’re still in the middle of making an EP which will come out later in the year.”
What can you tell us about the rest of the new music? Is ‘All The Queen’s Horses’ indicative of your direction?
Siobhan: “Yes. Well, Shakespears Sister has always been a melting pot of clashing influences so although Americana is very much the leading influence, we still have our older Tamla Motown, rock’n’roll and glam inspirations. It’s a real mixture.”
Marcella: “But we very much feel like now is the right time for us. Music’s crying out for sophisticated pop with substance.”
‘All The Queen’s Horses’ is out now. A greatest hits compilation ‘Singles Party’ follows on 21 July. The band begin their tour on Halloween.