Olivia Newton-John recorded songs in the nude
When a once-towering pop group is on the verge of splitting up, the words that pass from the lips of the band members are usually safe, unemotional, sterile.
Well, they would be. There’s still music to be sold. Listen, we all still love each other. So what if our best friend wants to leave the band in order to go solo? We remain focused on our music. Roll up, roll up and buy the new CD!
It’s only years later, when the record sales have evaporated, that the stars can honestly explain how it felt when things turned sour. And then the truth starts tumbling out.
Listen to Siobhan Fahey, original member of Bananarama, who had more chart hits than any other girl band before or since.
Life inside the group was grim after the first happy years, says Fahey now. ‘You go from being best friends to really irritating each other. And then not wanting to be around each other… I felt lonely and lost and friendless and really unhappy.’
Fahey walked out after realising she was unable to ‘stand on stage with people I felt resentment for’. Her account of life behind the scenes in pop is revealed in I’m In A Girl Group…one of three riveting documentaries about the music industry (the other two are I’m In A Boy Band, and I’m A Pop Star).
The programme-makers have spoken to dozens of stars from yesteryear, and there are plenty of colourful and surprising revelations along the way.
Some of the most arresting detail concerns what happens when band members fall out with each other. Mel C is very candid about the damage Geri Halliwell’s departure from the Spice Girls in 1998 did to the group.
‘I think that was the beginning of our decline, really, because the power we had was the five of us. And it just wasn’t the same any more.’ On a doleful note, she reflects, ‘It’s a bit sad when you’ve achieved your dream and it’s not what it’s cracked up to be.’
But there are plenty of lighter moments in the documentaries too. Did you know that Susanna Hoffs, of US girl band the Bangles, recorded the vocals for their smash hit Eternal Flame in the nude? The band’s producer had told Hoffs he had just finished working with Olivia Newton-John, and that she’d got her best vocal takes when she sang naked.
‘I thought, “Wow, that sounds really cool. I want to try that.” And, sure enough, they’d say, “OK, time to sing,” and they’d listen for the sound of the clothes dropping to the floor.’ It was only later that the truth was revealed to the Bangles singer: the stuff about Olivia Newton-John had been a total fabrication – ‘and I fell for it’.
It’s also amusing to hear how Bananarama caused a headache at a Top Of The Pops recording by hiding in a laundry basket when they were meant to be on stage, and how Rick Astley, never a fashion icon, was so unprepared when he was first asked to appear on the all-important TV show that he had to stop off at a menswear shop in Manchester on his way to the studios in London.
It wasn’t a successful shopping trip. The jacket he picked up was several sizes too big and made him look like a six-year-old dressing up in Daddy’s suit. Astley recalls thinking, ‘Surely it doesn’t happen like this? Surely someone says, “We’re going to have a meeting. What’s this fellow going to wear on Top Of The Pops?”’
Instead, he says, he was simply told, ‘There’s the microphone. You shuffle about like a good ’un.’ Not that Astley can complain. In 1987, Never Gonna Give You Up went to number one in 25 countries – and the unlikely pop star went on to sell a total of 40 million records.
In fact, Astley got off lightly. Three years earlier, Nik Kershaw – he of the 1984 smash hit Wouldn’t It Be Good? – was given the ‘assistance’ of a record-industry stylist before his Top Of The Pops debut. The result? A startling white suit, fingerless black gloves and a custard yellow snood.
Today, the snood and gloves are gone, so is the streaked blond mullet. As a result, Kershaw looks far better as a man in his early 50s than he did at 26. More attractive he may be, but a little less distinctive perhaps. A few weeks ago, Kershaw revealed that his toddler was having trouble telling him apart from another ageing pop star. ‘Theo, my 18-month-old son,’ Kershaw wrote on Twitter, ‘just pointed to a picture of @howardjones and said “Daddy”.’
by Wallace McTavish