In the 1980s, the British pop charts were dominated by female chart-toppers Bananarama. Now, in 2022, the group is about to celebrate its 40th anniversary and they’re not doing it quietly. On July 22nd, the group release their new album Masquerade and with their music appearing on the likes of Stranger Things and Kobra Kai, as well as being covered by Lorde, it would seem that their incredible career shows no signs of slowing down.
Ahead of the release of Masquerade, V13 spoke to one half of the duo, Sara Dallin, about their career, what advice they would give any budding groups, and what they think of the music industry in 2022.
Thanks for your time and congratulations on reaching an incredible milestone in 2022. How did it feel to sit there and think you’d been doing this for forty years?
Sara Dallin: “Thank you… Bananarama launched onto the music scene in 1982 after recording a demo in Sept 1981 so we are super excited to be celebrating our 40th anniversary in 2022. I’ve never really thought about it in terms of years, I’ve just been fortunate to have a career I love. I guess with writing our autobiography in 2020 it gave us a chance to reflect on how much we have achieved and we’re really proud of our body of work.”
Going back to the start in 1982, what was your ambition for Bananarama?
“Like most fledgling bands we started writing material and recording demos with various musician friends. Keren and I were teenagers and enjoying the London club scene and live music venues. It’s where we drew inspiration from. When we heard a record we loved we would find out who the producer/s were, hunt them down and ask if they would work with us. (Steve Jolley and Tony Swain, who worked on Imaginations’ track “Body Talk,” being one such production team) I learnt a great deal about songwriting from them.”
The ’80s were a great time for British pop with so many hugely successful acts. What was it like being inside that incredible time for British pop?
“Each city had its own scene and London was buzzing with creativity. I went to UAL (University of the Arts, London) and was surrounded by music, fashion and art. People we saw in the clubs went on to be successful artists. It was very DIY, recording demos, making our own clothes.”
You reached the four-decade milestone in 2022, how frustrating was it not to be able to plan to celebrate properly due to the pandemic?
“The pandemic truly brought the world to a grinding halt and suffering to so many. It was a time for reflection. I was fortunate to have a focus as Keren and I had signed a book deal, with Penguin imprint Cornerstone, to write our autobiography the day before the country went into lockdown. ‘Really Saying Something – Sara and Keren, Our Story’ was released in Oct 2020 and was a great success, we were hugely proud of it.
“In 2021 we started writing material for what was initially going to be an EP but when the second lockdown hit we just kept writing. I wrote 3 tracks (“Bad Love,” “Forever Young,” “Velvet Lies”) with singer-songwriter Alice D, who also happens to be my daughter. Keren and I also decided to record 2 of Alice’s tracks (“Favourite” and “Brand New”) that she had written and released on her previous EPs. We absolutely love “Favourite.”
“The first single from the album is ‘Masquerade’ which I wrote in the second lockdown. I’d been listening to a lot of conversations in the media about inclusivity, diversity, gender and racial politics. How we all wear masks to try and fit in in one way or another and how much easier it would be if people could just live their lives the way they wanted to.
“We shot the video in the beautiful Castle Elvira in Puglia, Italy.”
You must have favourite plenty of stories from your early days. Is there a favourite story from that time you can share with us?
“One of the strangest things for me was performing on Top of the Pops for the first time with the Fun Boy 3 in 1982. It was a show I’d watched throughout my childhood and teens and having not long left school I couldn’t quite believe I was there. We didn’t know which camera to look in and were totally unprepared. We learnt everything in the public eye and I think our lack of ‘gloss’ in the early days was part of our charm.
“Visiting America for the first time was beyond exciting! We couldn’t believe ‘Cruel Summer’ had hit the Billboard Top 10 and we had shot the video in NYC. I will never forget driving from JFK, over the bridge and seeing the incredible Manhattan skyline.”
Acts have come and gone but you’re about to release your twelfth studio album. What do you put your longevity down to?
“I’ve always loved writing ever since I was a child. I never knew what form that would take but it turned out to be music. Keren and I have known each other since childhood. We have always been passionate about music from performing in school musicals and choirs to writing out first songs. As young teenagers, we would pool our Saturday job money to buy albums. We’d rush home from school and play Songs in the Key of Life, we knew every BV and ad-lib. We loved David Bowie and Roxy Music, Punk, Soul, Funk and disco.
“I put our longevity down to being authentic. We formed our own band and wrote our own music, we have a shared life history, a passion for music and a mad sense of humour.”
And how has your relationship changed with each other over those four decades?
“We have an unspoken understanding of each other. We have been through so much together and will always have each other’s backs.”
For a group like Bananarama how challenging is it to write material that both stays loyal to what fans of the group want while keeping it modern?
“Writing songs is what I like to do most. I just write what I feel. Technology has changed hugely so production has changed through the years and it’s great being in the studio and seeing what you can achieve now. But a good song is a good song no matter how you dress it up.”
Music and the way it is consumed by the public is very different now from when you started in 1982. What are your feelings on the industry in 2022?
“Social media and the ability to self-release music gives everybody an opportunity to express themselves and have more control, which is a good thing. Everything is so instant now, you download or stream tracks at the touch of a screen. I love that but I also loved waiting for the release of an album and finally having the vinyl in my hands, studying the artwork and reading all the lyrics.”
And for somebody just starting out on this journey, what is the biggest piece of advice you could give them?
“If you’re passionate about music, follow your dreams… and always get advice from a good lawyer.”
On that note, knowing what you do now, is there anything you would have done differently during the early days of your career?
“No, life is an adventure, there’s no right or wrong way. Whatever I did seemed right at the time.”
So, the new album is due out, how does the rest of 2022 playout for the group?
“Festivals, album launch shows and plenty of live work, something I’ve missed in the last 2 years. And more to come next year.”
Thanks for your time and again congratulations on the anniversary. Just to finish what do you hope the future holds in store for Bananarama?
“Thank you… Keren and I have never planned too far ahead but we are grateful and feel very lucky that we have been able to make music for 40 years.”