INTERVIEW: Keren Woodward of Bananarama

They were Britpop before Britpop and were defining girl power before scary spice put the ah in the zig a zig, Bananarama hold a hugely special place in the hearts of multiple generations of popkids and practically invented sass in the meantime.

Dluxe Magazine’s Jonathan Fraser chatted to one half of the Nanas, Keren Woodward, about 2017’s hugely successful original line up tour, spending almost forty years in the music business and their first new album in 10 years ‘In Stereo’.

First things first I’m afraid, I have to do a little bit of fangirling. I was lucky enough to be in the audience for the Original Line Up tour and was blown away by it!

Wasn’t it fun!. Sarah and I have been doing shows since like forever but we’d never ever done a show with Siobhan. We’d get together with her and we’d say oh you don’t really get it because you’ve never done a live show with us and it just seemed like the opportune time to do it. It was only ever going to be a one-off tour just for the experience and to celebrate that period of our lives. It was great and enabled us to put on a proper show. Sarah and I have done so many festivals and things but obviously you don’t have big screens so it was great being able to have all of that, I mean it was great fun putting all of the screen content together, looking back at things from the past. It was all really good fun.

Sometimes when bands reform for one last time it has the feeling of ‘cause we haven’t got a pension tour’ but this was so far away from that: the production values were really high and you could see a huge amount of work and effort had gone into it.

Oh God no, it really wasn’t that! The money went into putting on a fantastic show so it wasn’t about getting as much money from it as we can. It was a celebration tour, it wasn’t about anything else.

The tour sold out incredibly quickly. Was that a little overwhelming?

Yes it was, especially once we put the extra dates in. I mean I did think it would be popular but maybe not go quite as well as it did. It was amazing. I think particularly for Siobhan who had that tour experience with us. Sarah and I have been performing regularly, you know at festivals in fields
with 10,000 people and when you do your set and finish it with everyone singing back at you it’s such a great feeling. So we’ve experienced that and that’s for a crowd that weren’t specifically coming to see us! So with these shows, where the audience were only there to see us was so amazing.

By the end of it, did you feel like you were drowning in nostalgia a little bit? Was it like this is taking me back to 1984?

Well it was because obviously we were doing it with Siobhan, we were sort of limited to songs, as in it was a celebration of an era and it was very nostalgic and yes we did throw in a few other songs but it was very much
about that time.

There have been so many incarnations of the band; there’s the original from the post punk line-up, the Stock Aiken and Waterman years, Siobhan, Jackie, you guys as a duo…

Yeah, Sarah and I have been a duo now for 30 years almost. We’ve been sort of the beginning and it was very natural with Siobhan, it was actually natural with Jackie but it was quite difficult because I think she thought she was always going to be seen as the new girl. Seeing as though we work so well together and we’ve known each other since before time began, we just love doing it. You never think that when you are going to embark on a career, that you almost fell into, there is no way that you’d envisage that 37 years or whatever it is that down the line you’re still going to be doing it. It feels like the most natural thing and if we love doing it, why not?

You’ve never been the typical girl group have you and I think that’s what’s made you endure. You predated the whole girl power and ladette thing didn’t you? You were never putting out the stanadrd downtrodden female, heartbroken by my man kind of love song love…

Well I think we’ve always had the same sort of attitude and we’ve always kind of controlled things ourselves and done what we’ve felt was right. We never had a master plan, which is probably obvious, we just do what we want to do and what comes out at the time as it works on different levels. You go through periods when you think oh that’s it then and then oh apparently its not.

It’s almost more fun now, I mean I loved the Eighties but they were so busy and we didn’t have time to stop and think or even breathe. And then you get to a stage where you think ‘yeah, I wanna do that’ and ‘no, I don’t wanna do that’ and it actually becomes more enjoyable in lots of ways. You don’t have the pressure of thinking ‘Oh My God I’ve got to release a record and if it doesn’t get into the top ten then I’m going to be devastated’. That almost becomes immaterial so on that level and in the album we’re just about to release we really have done it all ourselves which would have been completely impossible in times gone by. You end up having more and more control really.

Tell me about the album. I’ve read that Richard X has been involved.

We’ve done one track with Richard X which is great and then the rest of it with our stalwart Producer and very good friend Ian Masterson although it’s not like we went in and said ‘ooh let’s do an album’, we just love working together and over a period of the last few years, every so often we’d say ‘oh come on, let’s do a few tracks’ and then suddenly you’ve got two albums worth of material. It’s all pop and all Bananarama. That’s what we do.

Will the album be ending on a ballad as is almost tradition now for you guys?

We are! We’re going back to the traditional ballad at the end which I’m rather fond of actually. I won’t tell you the stories behind them because that would be all very embarrassing but you can only really write about personal experiences can you!

It’s not all discos and happy times, is it. But that is one of the things I love about live shows is hearing the background to all of the songs and the stories behind them…

Well I think the shows that we’re doing in April I’m really excited about as there will be a lot of that in there, again it’s finding something to do sometimes and to do the smaller shows that we’re doing.

The shows will be a mix of new and older material and there might be a few surprises in there too: change things up a bit. It’s going to be something different, properly up close and personal and we are going to do Q & As at the end of each one so it’s anything goes really. I’m not sure what the format is going to be, but there’ll be a whole heap of chat and the audience will have the chance to ask us anything that they want to ask us. We might say no to a couple but on the whole it’s going to be a surprise for us as well as them.

We just did a show in San Diego and it was almost like a Q & A anyway! It wasn’t planned, the audience just kept shouting stuff out and we just had a bit of a chat really. There were a few familiar faces
there, people that have been following us for like forever which is so lovely to see, people from Australia, people from the States and from over here as well.

We’re just blown away by the loyalty of some people. I think it’s going to be amazing, they can ask all of those burning questions that they’ve always wanted to ask us.

On that note… If there was one Bananarama song that you would put into a time capsule to represent you, what would it be?

Ooh! Love In The First Degree I think

And finally then, what was he waiting for?

Who Robert? Oh I’ve no idea! Probably very little!

In Stereo is released on the 19th April.
Catch an Evening with Bananarama at the Glee Club, Birmingham on 28th April.
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