Bananarama’s Keren Woodward scoffs at the idea that the ’80s “Cruel Summer” trio set out to be feminist icons.
“We didn’t think about it,” says Woodward, calling from her home in Cornwall, England, on a break from rehearsals for the group’s reunion tour, which stops at PlayStation Theater on Saturday, Feb. 24. “But the idea that we were any less than our male equivalents didn’t cross my mind either.”
Maybe that mindset alone was enough to set Woodward — along with her childhood friend Sara Dallin and Siobhan Fahey, who Dallin met in college while they studied journalism — on a groundbreaking path in post-punk England in 1981. After all, their first single was sung in Swahili and their style threw the formula for girl group successes out the window.
There was no Diana Ross in Bananarama. No Supremes. Dallin, Fahey and Woodward sang most of their songs in unison, without harmonies, creating a gang vocal effect.
It was a sound that caught on almost immediately in England, where their run of top-selling singles once landed them in The Guinness Book of World Records as the most successful female group.
And when they finally broke America in 1983, with the smash “Cruel Summer,” it was also on their own terms. The video, filmed in Brooklyn, featured the trio in overalls and T-shirts working as mechanics in a garage under the Brooklyn Bridge — about as far from the traditional glammed-up divas in sequined gowns as you could get.
“We were completely DIY and very opinionated,” Woodward says. “We weren’t the type that sat back or do what we’re told. . . . We never listened to many people.”
Woodward says that behavior would be expected from their male counterparts. But they were seen as upstarts, especially since Bananarama wrote or co-wrote most of their hits, unlike many pop stars, and even occasionally touched on social issues. “We were termed as difficult,” she says. “But that didn’t affect my enjoyment of it.”
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Actually, joy brought Bananarama back together.
Even though Fahey left the group somewhat acrimoniously to launch her own band Shakespears Sister in 1988, they all stayed in touch. And in the summer of 2016, the trio and their families got together at Fahey’s Los Angeles home and started singing and dancing around her kitchen.
“It became a kitchen disco,” says Woodward, adding that they regretted that the original Bananarama never toured, though Dallin and Woodward have regularly hit the road since 1989. “We had such fun together. . . . It just seemed idiotic that we hadn’t done it. We thought, if you don’t do it now, when are you going to do it?”
The original Bananarama announced 15 shows for their first tour of the United Kingdom last fall and immediately had to add eight more shows to meet demand. “We were taken aback,” Woodward says. “It was phenomenal, beyond all expectations.”
Dallin, Fahey and Woodward had such a fun time revisiting their heyday — including some songs like “I Can’t Help It” and “More Than Physical” that they had never performed before — that they decided they would perform a handful of American shows as well, starting on Tuesday, Feb. 20, in Los Angeles. “What we most enjoyed was reworking some of the old songs now that we’re performing them with a band,” Woodward says. “It changes the dynamics of a song in a live environment.”
The other thing that Bananarama has enjoyed is seeing fans’ reactions to the reunion. “We never realized how much of an influence we had,” Woodward says. “We met so many women with high-powered, successful jobs, like editing newspapers, who said they wouldn’t be doing this without us. It was humbling.”
Woodward says they also had fans who would say they were inspired that Bananarama, whose members are now all in their 50s, are still making music. “They see us, that we are still doing it and still able to do it, and it stops people from thinking, ‘I’m getting old. I’m down.’ You can put your mind to something and achieve something.”
Woodward says that Bananarama was focused on making the reunion tour happen, but are currently planning to enjoy the moment rather than thinking about what comes next. “We’ve never been good at long-term plans,” she says. “I can’t pretend that there’s going to be new music from the three of us. Sara and I were halfway through an album of new music when we decided to this . . . We’re playing a bit by ear.”
Hard to argue with that method, seeing how well it has worked so far.
“If we stand for anything, it’s this,” Fahey said when the group accepted Glamour UK’s Women of the Year Award last year, “Always be true to yourself and follow your heart. Whatever you dream you can do, so just begin it. We did and we’re still here.”
WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 24, PlayStation Theater, Manhattan
INFO $39.50-$50; 888-929-7849, axs.com
Let’s drop some love, truth and honesty. We never thought we’d see the original ladies of Bananarama reunite, especially not on an American tour. But if that can happen, maybe some even thornier breakups of beloved ’80s bands can be solved, too. Here’s our wishlist:
BIGGEST HIT “Every Breath You Take” (No. 1, 8 weeks, 1983)
THE BREAKUP Following the stadium tour for The Police’s massive hit “Synchronicity” album in 1984, Sting decided to go solo and end years of infighting in the band.
REUNION CHANCES Though the trio reunited for a short tour to celebrate the band’s 30th anniversary in 2007, it reportedly turned down $9 million to play one show at the Desert Trip festival to celebrate its 40th anniversary last year.
BIGGEST HIT “Burning Down the House” (No. 9. 1983)
THE BREAKUP Frontman David Byrne went solo in 1992 by having his manager telling the rest of the band that he was leaving. They did reunite for one night in 2002 to perform at their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
REUNION CHANCES Byrne will release his new solo album “American Utopia” in March and said recently a reunion isn’t likely. “It just seems like you don’t have anything new to say, and you go, ‘OK, this is just some kind of nostalgia exercise,’ ” Byrne told Rolling Stone. “And I’m not interested in that.”
BIGGEST HIT “A Town Called Malice” (No. 31 Rock, 1982)
THE BREAKUP As The Jam topped the British charts and was making inroads in America, frontman Paul Weller broke up the band and quickly started a new group, The Style Council.
REUNION CHANCES Though The Jam’s Bruce Foxton and Rick Buckler were in a band together called From The Jam for a time, Weller isn’t interested in a reunion. “It would be against everything we stood for,” Weller said in a 2015 documentary. — GLENN GAMBOA