360°Sound caught up with Sara Dallin, one-half of the chart-topping pop duo Bananarama. The UK group is celebrating their 40th anniversary, having released their first single, “Aie a Mwana,” sung in Swahili, back in 1981. During their commercial peak in the 1980s, they were a trio featuring Dallin, Keren Woodward, and Siobhan Fahey. Fahey left in 1988, later returning briefly for a reunion tour in 2017.
Best known for the hits “Venus,” “Cruel Summer,” and “I Heard a Rumour,” Bananarama hold the Guinness World Record for most chart entries by an all-female group. In this exclusive interview, Dallin talks about the enduring appeal of ‘80s music, their forthcoming 12th studio album Masquerade (out July 22), and more.
360°Sound: First off, congratulations on 40 years together. That’s a remarkable accomplishment and something you don’t see much in the music industry. What’s the ride been like?
Sara Dallin: I don’t think I realized just how much we had achieved until we wrote our autobiography, Really Saying Something: Sara & Keren – Our Bananarama Story, in 2020. Between us, we re-lived our adventures and musical journey. There is definitely a sense of pride when you realize how much has been accomplished. It’s been an epic journey for Keren and me, especially since we have been friends since we were kids. We have all our school and childhood memories, and we got to travel the world together with our musical career.
What can fans expect from your forthcoming album Masquerade?
This album was started in the UK’s second lockdown. We initially thought we’d write an EP for release at Christmas but being grounded and with live work canceled, we just kept writing. Having written the tracks in a shorter time frame, I think they hang together well. There’s a definite electro-pop flavor. I wrote some lyrics from a viewpoint of nostalgia, probably being stuck at home gave me an opportunity for reflection (“Running with the Night”), and “Forever Young,” which I wrote with singer/songwriter Alice D (who is also my daughter), is about mine and Keren’s youthful adventures and what she means to me.
I wrote “Velvet Lies” and “Bad Love” with Alice also. We covered two of Alice’s songs from her previous EPs as we loved them so much (“Favourite” and “Brand New”). I wrote “Masquerade” after hearing a lot of conversations about inclusivity, diversity, and gender politics. There was so much media coverage on these subjects, and I just wished people were allowed to be who they wanted to be and didn’t have to hide their identities or play certain roles to fit in.
This is your 12th studio album as Bananarama. What are some things you’ve learned about making records and the music business that you didn’t know in the ‘80s?
It’s certainly changed over 40 years, and I’m happy that we are at a point where we can, as a lot of artists do now, set up our own record label, record our music and own it. We have always had a certain degree of control and have written our own songs from the start of our career, but now we are the masters of our own destiny, as far as the world lets us be.
You’ve discussed the misogyny and sexism you faced coming up in the music industry. Talk about how that was an obstacle for your career.
Keren and I were teenagers when we started and there weren’t a lot of opportunities for female bands. Female inspiration and role models are so important for girls growing up. As a kid, for me, it was Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Viv Albertine, Siouxsie, women making music. I think it just took longer for us to be viewed as more than young, pretty pop stars. We were serious about writing music that related to us and it took some great people to recognize that fact and encourage us. Steve Jolley and Tony Swain, our first producers, were instrumental in that.
Lorde recently covered your hit “Cruel Summer” at Primavera 2022. What did you make of her rendition?
Various people have sent me clips of Lorde’s take. I like it when tracks are totally reimagined and that’s what she has done. It’s also really flattering and takes the track to a whole new generation.
Lately, Kate Bush has seen a huge resurgence with “Running Up That Hill” being included in Stranger Things. And many contemporary pop artists like The Weeknd and Dua Lipa employ a lot of ‘80s sounds. What’s it like seeing the sounds of the ‘80s, which your group helped shape, continue to be on the charts and resonate with younger generations?
There was a lot of individuality in the ‘80s, everyone wrote their own music and styled themselves. In the clubs we went to in London we’d see Sade, Boy George, Spandau Ballet, Imagination, fashion designers, artists and so on, it was just a really creative environment. When your children play you certain new songs which they love you can hear the ‘80s influence but with a modern twist. I love The Weeknd!
I understand you’re going to play some shows and festivals this year. What can concertgoers expect from a Bananarama show?
Just played the most awesome festival, Kew The Music at Kew Gardens. Firstly, the most beautiful setting, and probably the most ecstatic crowd ever. It had been canceled two years running due to covid, so I guess we were all really happy to be there. We are also playing the Royal Estate at Sandringham. We have a lot of festivals this year and some album launch shows in August which we are really looking forward to. Playing new music is always a thrill.
Check out Bananarama’s official Web site: bananarama.co.uk