Review: Bananarama – SSE Arena, Belfast
When you think of Bananarama you may think of bubblegum pop, acrimonious splits and bad Eighties hair so it was a surprise to hear they have united the original line-up of Keren Woodward, Sarah Dallin and Siobhan Fahey for their 2017 tour, something that never seemed to be on the cards. The band were the biggest girl group of the Eighties but in 1988 Fahey left to pursue a different style of music as Shakespears Sister. Woodward and Dallin had carried on as a duo and toured pretty steadily over the years, having a cult following. The trio kicked off their UK tour in Belfast and the SSE Arena is thronged with people, some in Eighties gear, reliving their youth.
Tonights support comes from Belfast band The Adventures, and they are warmly received by the home crowd. They play songs which are strangely familiar to me, ‘Send My Heart’, ‘Drowning in the Sea of Love’ and ‘Your Greatest Shade of Blue’ before playing their biggest hit ‘Broken Land’ which gets everyone singing along. Terry Sharpe’s vocals are on form and it’s great to see a local success story back at it.
Next, it’s time for the Nanas and the air is filled with anticipation, there is a sea of light up devil horns in the crowd and just a general atmosphere of fun. Opening with ‘Nathan Jones’ the three piece take to the stage in slick space age style garb, a departure from their handmade clothes of years ago. All three of them seem to be having fun on stage with Fahey looking delighted to be back in the fold after all these years. With a vast back catalogue it is just hit after hit, ‘Robert De Niro’s Waiting’ is followed by ‘Rough Justice’ and their first single ‘Ai A Mwana’. A dedicated crew of women in the stands are on their feet throughout, dancing along to the beat and singing all the words. ‘Cruel Summer’ is given a revamp without losing any of the magic of the original and the video plays on a loop on the big screen behind the stage. Surprisingly it still sounds great and the ladies are all in fine voice. ‘Shy Boy’ proves to be a big hit with the fans and has us all up on our feet ‘shoop shoop’ing along. What is endearing about this show is the nods to each others paths, and this is demonstrated when they sing ‘Love, Truth and Honesty’ which was a hit after Faheys departure.
‘Really Saying Something’ takes us back to early Bananarama when they collaborated with Fun Boy Three. Throughout, the visuals are great, old videos for their songs but it is extremely poignant when they play ‘Cheers Then’ about friendship and loss. At the end of it, Dallin and Woodward wave an emotional looking Fahey goodbye as she exits the stage, presumably in a nod to her departure from the band. The big screen is illuminated by a large moon and the instrumental music the four piece live band play makes me remark to my friend that it sounds like ‘Stay’ by Shakespears Sister and sure enough it is. Dallin and Woodwork take on the Marcella Detroit vocal in the song and while no one is a match for Detroit they do it justice and it is pure magic when Siobhan Fahey returns, taking centre stage with her contralto voice. It’s a beautiful moment and it’s a lovely acknowledgement by the others of Fahey’s solo success.
United again they sing through their hits, ‘I Heard a Rumour’ complete with dance routine that my friend and I couldn’t master; ‘I Want You Back’ from the Stock Aiken and Waterman days and the explosive ‘Venus’. ‘Venus’ is a feel good number and gets the whole of the arena up, throwing off the shackles of a Thursday and dancing along and copying the hip thrusting moves of the trio onstage. ‘Na Na, Hey Hey, Kiss Him Goodbye’ brings the whole show to a close and they leave to shouts and whoops of approval from the crowded venue.
Returning for an encore of ‘Ain’t What You Do’ and ‘Love in The First Degree’ the band are overwhelmed with the response they have received from this, the first night of the tour and thank us all profusely before leaving the stage for good this time. And as the house lights come up, everyone is in good spirits and dancing out of the building. Bananarama may be older now and more polished but they are still bags of fun and it looks like the bridges of friendship have been mended between them all which has resulted in a tight trio who can blast out hits and really enjoy themselves as they do it. An epic nostalgia trip for the band and audience together it was worth the wait to see the reunited Bananarama.