Live Music + Gig Reviews

Shakespears Sister @ Bloomsbury Ballroom, London

22 April 2010

Siobhan Fahey was the punkier member of Bananarama, the sassier one out of Shakespears Sister, and frankly, the cooler half of her marriage to Dave Stewart.

So now that Shakespears Sister are back with Fahey as the sole original member, it was always going to be interesting to see her tour her long-delayed new album, Songs From The Red Room, made up of songs that have been hanging around for years.

Looking around at the people who have turned up to this gig in this vast ballroom – underground but with huge, glorious, pointless windows – there’s a sense that most are on a nostalgia trip. With the recent spate of band reformations and new tours by old souls, very few have managed to move things forward and remain relevant to today’s music world. But by embracing a dark electro sound, it might just be that Shakespears Sister are a step ahead of the others.

As things stand now, Fahey is Shakespears Sister, and it may be that she’s happiest when in control and on her own. But now that she’s here performing, it becomes clear that what’s missing is the same thing that made the band special in the first place – the dynamic between her and Marcella Detroit, perfectly demonstrated on their two biggest hit singles, Stay and I Don’t Care, both of which pitted their opposing alter egos against each other. The new songs don’t build on that narrative. Of course bands have the right to develop and morph into new versions, but Shakespears Sister’s unique selling point has been lost.

The newer tracks, which include Bad Blood, the T-Rex inspired Pulsatron, and Hot Room, tonight dedicated to the memory of Malcolm McLaren, whose offer of management Fahey’s Bananarama once turned down, sound quite ordinary when side by side with those huge pop classics from the past. The new album might be at a more consistently good level than say, Hormonally Yours, but it never reaches the same highs.

Dressed in outfits that look as if they may have been found in an episode of Scrapheap Challenge, the six-strong collective, four of whom are women, look like savage futuristic space warriors with Fahey as their glamazonian leader. She looks incredible. It’s impossible to believe that she’s in her 50s now, dressed in an unforgiving skin-hugging silver outfit. Her energy and attitude is a welcome – no, a necessary addition to the pop world. It’s just that her current songs don’t really do justice to her force-of-nature personality.

The encore takes the form of past glories I Don’t Care, You’re History, Hello (Turn Your Radio On) and a nod to her Bananarama past with Really Saying Something. Stay was notable by its absence. It’s taken up until this point for the backing singer to actually take on the role of Marcella, and while she is superb, her recreation of Marcella’s shrieks make her an impersonator. It confirms that this act is all about Fahey now.

None of this is to say that it’s anything other than a really good and, above all, fun gig. Fahey gives it everything, and she’s a wonderful frontwoman. She must be sick of reading about the past and rather that we concentrated on the band that Shakespears Sister is today. But there’s a nagging sense of loss that’s hard to ignore. There’s something about Fahey. But it turns out there was something about Marcy too.

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More on Shakespears Sister
Shakespears Sister @ Bloomsbury Ballroom, London
Shakespears Sister – Songs From The Red Room