Music Review: Shakespears Sister, Bridgewater Hall, Manchester
There’s always been something of the magpie about Siobhan Fahey, a pop star with a fan’s fascination for pop. Not that it’s all about Fahey, especially – more than a quarter of a century on from the band’s acrimonious dissolution – on this coincidental Armistice Day.
Nevertheless, Shakespears Sister began with Fahey, flying the Bananarama nest, looking for things that sparkled as brightly as when Top Of The Pops was a party that she, Sarah and Keren had crashed; out of place and dancing out of time, giddy with the possibilities. But, as Prince pointed out, parties weren’t meant to last.
Break My Heart, the first Shakespears Sister single (not played tonight) sounded not unlike Bananarama. Shakespears Sister really began with their third single, the point at which Fahey found her foil. You’re History, which is performed this evening, is the group in a nutshell; Fahey’s sardonic vocal melody rubs against the then newly drafted (and newly christened) Marcella Detroit’s soprano purr, undercutting and emphasising in turn. In the way of the best pop, it’s instantly familiar but not quite like anything else.
Shakespears Sister disappeared from view with their fourth album, Songs From The Red Room. Intermittently magnificent though the likes of Bitter Pill were, it felt like Fahey was the last guest at a party the public had left at the 1993 Novello Awards, when the Fahey/Detroit alliance was severed in public, by accident rather than design.
Pleased as punch, they open with a farewell; the Shangri-Las glam of Goodbye Cruel World, establishing their roles in four minutes of glitter-flavoured bubblegum, Detroit the self-contained anchor to Fahey’s Bette Davis-eyed melodrama. Watching her prowl the stage, like a cat woman from one of her favourite B movies, it’s hard to imagine her being contained by under-rehearsed dance routines in the Bananarama years. A thin white duchess in a cowboy hat, Fahey is a natural frontwoman to her largely female band.
The cowboy hat, rather than a nod to cow punk, is in keeping with the feel of the new songs, the desert blooms of their remarriage, reassuringly accomplished late flowerings, Fahey’s eye for influence plucking out the whistle of an Ennio Morricone Western and the arid wind of a Lee Hazlewood melody. Inadvertently mythologising themselves on All The Queen’s Horses’ rueful boast that “they couldn’t put us back together”, they are Hazlewood and Nancy Sinatra as equal partners in crime, or a Death Valley ABBA, riven by history.
So often cited in the stories told of their divorce proceedings, Stay, their immovable number one hit of 1992, is unavoidable. In many ways, it’s the exception to their rule, in that Detroit’s remarkable voice is clearly at its heart. It’s not so difficult to imagine a founder member who reportedly opposed its release having mixed feelings that their biggest hit was one in which she was apparently sidelined.
And yet, without the grit of Fahey’s menacing interjection, Stay would be only another admittedly impeccably sung power ballad; Fahey’s cracked acting is the fault-line which adds dark beauty to Detroit’s pearl.
Exiting smiling, arms around one another, they close with a greeting. Hello (Turn Your Radio On) is an echo of the Bowie caught between Ziggy Stardust and Aladdin Sane, an acknowledgement of a mortality no longer so comfortably distant as when it was first written. The brevity of pop only mirrors the brevity of life, and “just when you think you’ve learned how to use it’s gone”.
One magpie means sorrow, but two magpies mean something more. Two mean joy.
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