Let’s Go Crazy by Prince is blaring around Arena Birmingham which is heightening the party atmosphere that has been flowing freely for the past hour, and as the house lights dim the anticipation is overwhelming.
Considering it’s been 30 years since Bananarama have performed in their original line up of Keren Woodward, Siobhan Fahey and Sara Dallin, it is not surprising that the crowd are straight up on their feet as the band enter. Strobes are flying around the stage, and an illuminated arch frames the trio silhouetted behind a sheet and as it falls down to reveal the band, Nathan Jones kicks in. I have to admit to having reservations regarding the standard of their performance after so long, but one verse in and those fears are allayed.
The band are all in sparkly black outfits which pick up the stage lights and it becomes apparent from a couple minutes in that tonight is all about the fun. Fun for the band and fun for the audience as Keren declares “Bananarama at your service” before launching in to Robert De Niro’s Waiting.
Unlike many other pop bands, Bananarama don’t pick up any instruments or use complex harmonies, they stick to what they know which is focusing solely on a unified vocal line accompanied by some uncomplicated choreography. It is this choreography that plays a more prominent part as the set continues and they encourage the audience to join in, particularly for classic tracks such I Heard A Rumour and Venus, and most of the audience are happy to oblige, noticing some rather over zealous participants on the front row. Bananarama have always produced dance routines that anyone can pick up and as they perform them in such an aloof yet entertaining manner, the women become more endearing as they seem to be having such a laugh with it all.
Sticking with the simplicity of the show, there are no fancy effects other than a back screen and arch that alter images for each song, the backing band stand at the back of the stage either side of a low level walkway and the trio take front stage moving around to ensure all parts of the arena feel involved. The backing band do a fantastic job, blasting out hit after hit without a hitch as Bananarama do their thing, all in time and tune with each other.
The tracks have been carefully selected and organised to ensure maximum enjoyment by scattering the bigger hits amongst lesser known songs whilst demonstrating the length of their career including their first demo sung in Swahili called Aie A Mwana. Saying that though, there were a number of Bananarama songs that I had forgotten about including Trick Of The Night and the disco inspired More Than Physical which made a welcome appearance.
An unexpected pleasure came in the form of an acknowledgement of Fahey’s other work with a cover version of Stay by Shakespear’s Sister, which was fantastic despite missing Marcella Detroit’s high pitched wailing. The final three songs of the main set, I Want You Back, Venus and Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye, ramp up the enjoyment level to fever pitch with everyone dancing and singing as the women exit the stage.
Needless to say, anyone who knows anything about Bananarama knows they are coming back for an encore as two big tracks haven’t seen the light yet. After putting jackets on, the ladies return for It Ain’t What You Do (It’s The Way You Do It) minus Fun Boy Three and then a blinding version of Love In The First Degree minus the oiled up male dancers.
As Keren, Siobhan and Sara leave the stage for the final time, I have witnessed an awesome, poptastic 90 minutes of fun. Bananarama don’t pretend they are producing serious and challenging music which you need to ponder over; they create brilliant, upbeat, kitsch pop which they deliver in their own inimitable style. It was midway through the set that I appreciated how much impact these three women had on my musical youth and how much I have missed their light hearted approach to music and the industry. Bravo Bananarama, the best reunion I have seen in a while!
Reviewer: Toni Woodward
Photographer: Stephanie Colledge