Interview: Siobhan Fahey - 'Why should you stop if you're still inspired?'
It's been a long time since Siobhan Fahey was in the charts, but with female pop acts on the rise is the time ripe for a new Shakespears Sister album?
• Siobhan Fahey in 2004. Picture: Getty
WHATEVER happened to Siobhan Fahey?
With all the opportunities these days for popstars of yore to make a comeback, why hasn't this girl group veteran immersed herself in the nostalgia touring circuit like her former Bananarama buddies Keren Woodward and Sarah Dallin? Or cropped up on a reality TV show, like erstwhile Shakespears Sister sidekick Marcella Detroit, who has just re-emerged to compete in ITV's Popstar To Opera Star?
In answer to the latter questions, she just doesn't want to. In answer to her whereabouts, Fahey has, by her own admission, spent a long time "licking wounds" on a "recording hiatus" which began back in the mid-90s, when her then record label declined to release the third Shakespears Sister album.
"That was a real earth-shattering blow," says Fahey. "I spent a couple of years wondering what's the point in making music if it doesn't come out and get heard." After much wrangling over the rights, Fahey eventually released the album through her website in 2004, eight years after its completion.
Whether her music was being heard was another matter. In the past decade, Fahey has released a couple of low-key singles, played the occasional underground gig using her own name and generally flown under the radar. It is only now that she is in a position to release a new album – Songs From The Red Room, licensed from her own SF label – and resurrect Shakespears Sister, the pseudonym she originally adopted on leaving Bananarama "because I didn't want to be a solo artist – I wanted to be in a band, even though I didn't know what form it was going to take at that time".
Shakespears Sister's most illustrious, hitmaking form was a partnership with American session vocalist Detroit. Even though the pair parted company (non-amicably) 17 years ago, the popular image of Shakespears Sister as a duo persists. "And I was letting other people's perceptions affect the name under which I released songs," says Fahey. "It feels more natural and right and proper to release the album as a Shakespears Sister record because it sits perfectly alongside the rest of my work."
Fahey had good cause to delve into that catalogue late last year when she assembled a full band to perform her first Shakespears Sister gig in 15 years. She is now preparing for a UK tour in April. So how does Fahey, a smoky alto, compensate for the absence of Detroit's piercing soprano? "I have a great backing vocalist who takes care of the other parts very well," she says diplomatically.
It has taken Fahey a lot of time and energy to reach this point of rejuvenation. She has struggled with depression and self-doubt since she was a teenager, checking into a psychiatric unit not long after the success of Shakespears Sister's second album, Hormonally Yours, the subsequent fall-out with Detroit and the birth of her second son, Django. She split from his father, Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, in 1996.
It was only after the death of both her parents within three months of each other in 2006 that she determined her turnaround, spending a year recuperating, mainly in Los Angeles. "It's almost like there was an idea I had of myself and my place in the world that was really negative," she muses, "and I've finally thrown that off and now I don't think I've ever been happier – long may it last. I just feel free and excited and open to whatever life may throw up."
In the absence of her own record deal, she started to DJ, wrote songs for others – which she found "kind of frustrating because you're only doing half of the job" – collaborated with her old pal, music video director Sophie Muller, on a side-project called My Giddy Aunt, and took the occasional acting job in low-budget films. Her latest role is portraying Nina Hamnett, the colourful doyenne of London's bohemian artist set between the wars, in the short film What Shall We Do With The Drunken Sailor. "She was a complete alcoholic and an artist and a libertine," says Fahey. "I don't know why I related to her."
Now that her sons have grown up and she is "free to do what I want any old time" as she says, Fahey has moved from stifling suburbia to the bohemian epicentre of East London. She is fired up by the vibrancy of her new 'hood, and her DJ gigs in the area's underground electro clubs and fashion parties have served to shape the electro-industrial slant of the new album.
One of the tracks on Songs From The Red Room, Bitter Pill, had already made its way in a contorted form on to the first Pussycat Dolls' album, where it was renamed Hot Stuff (I Want You Back). "I wasn't thrilled with the result – it's quite a bastardised version. But financially I was delighted!"
On another track, Was It Worth It?, she is reunited with Terry Hall for the first time since the 1982 Bananarama/Fun Boy Three hook-ups. "He's one of the greats in my view," says Fahey, who was enthralled by last year's Specials reunion gigs. "Some bands are so magical that years later they come back and they've still got that sizzling excitement and the music's so brilliantly infectious that it's electric."
Fahey is less convinced by the 80s nostalgia package tours that her ex-Bananarama bandmates have happily embraced but, at 51, she has no qualms about throwing herself back into the contemporary pop scene.
"I just want to make intelligent, exciting pop records and wrestle it back from what it's become," she enthuses, "because in the last ten years it's been seen as this inferior thing that is associated with Pop Idol and X Factor. But my heroes were Bowie and Roxy – what are they if they are not pop music? It's a brilliant art form – it's the thing that excites me most in my life."
Fahey notes with approval that pop is being repopulated by exotic creatures such as Lady Gaga, Florence Welch and La Roux and cannot wait to claim a place in the ranks again. "The last ten, 15 years has been lots of boys with guitars and now it feels like the mood has shifted. It's completely coincidental that I should be releasing the album in a time that seems to be hungry for that.
"I think maybe our art form is coming of age," she adds, "where it's no longer necessarily about being a teenager and it's finally taking its place alongside jazz and blues or other forms of popular music, where it's your mtier, it's your whole life's work. I don't think your spirit ages, so why should you stop if you're still inspired and you've still got it to give?"
• Songs From The Red Room is released by SF/Palare Records on Monday. Shakespears Sister play the ABC, Glasgow on 17 April
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