After 26 years and quite a spectacular fall-out, Shakespears Sister have made their peace, reforming with new music and plans for a greatest hits and a tour.
Siobhan Fahey and Marcella Detroit speak to Sky News arts and entertainment reporter Gemma Peplow about “lancing the boil”.
Somewhere in the Joshua Tree desert, Siobhan Fahey and Marcella Detroit are reunited in the wild west alongside the 1992 versions of themselves, played by two men in drag, all gothic and melodramatic and, well… very Stay.
This is the video for All The Queens Horses, the comeback single from Shakespears Sister, announced earlier this month. After 26 years with not a word exchanged, the two women have kissed and made up and rediscovered the “magic” that drew them together in the first place.
Shakespears Sister was initially a solo project set up by Fahey in 1988 following her departure from Bananarama, but became a duo after she met Detroit.
It was tensions over Stay, their biggest hit, on which Detroit took lead vocals, which were widely reported at the time to be at the centre of their fall-out. But whatever problems it caused back then genuinely seem to be forgotten now, with the two women poking fun at themselves as they revisit the hugely memorable video.
The comeback was instigated by Fahey, although Detroit had tried herself a few times over the years. Sitting together upstairs in the band’s management office in north London, they are relaxed and happy in each other’s company, and it certainly appears as if the wounds have healed.
“Having made my peace with Bananarama I needed to make my peace with Marcy, that had been something that I’d been putting off for years and it just felt like the right time,” says Fahey, who does most of the talking. “It wasn’t easy. It was something that I was always afraid of doing.
“I’m not very good at talking things out… I fear confrontation. So I just kept, as my mother would say, putting it on the long finger.
“But it’s very important; the older you get the more you realise that to live with bitterness and recrimination is… well, potentially cancer-inducing,” she laughs. “It’s not the route to happiness at all.”
Detroit says she was “shocked” to hear from Fahey after so much time. Fahey says she simply became tired of feeling bitter.
“It was tragic because it was such a glorious union… but every time I thought of it I never… I didn’t look back on it with happy memories, I looked back on it with rancour, and that was awful. For my own self I had to heal that.”
Both say it is hard to pinpoint now, with the fuzziness of time, what went wrong.
“There was miscommunication, the people that were around us at the time, guiding us, feeding us little bits of information and us not being able to really talk about things and clarify things,” says Detroit.
There were misconceptions, misunderstandings, she says. So when they finally met up over a coffee in LA in May last year, it was good to clear those up, “to cleanse”.
In the late 1980s, the early 1990s, the environment was “quite divisive”, says Fahey. “Actually the truth of the matter is whenever me and Marcy are just the two of us alone together in a room, particularly when we’re writing songs or making records, we’re just completely on the same page, we’re very similar people as it turns out.
“It’s just other people around and circumstances that we found ourselves in. And the pressures of the situation we were in at the time.”
The first meeting was “bizarrely emotional”, she says. “We kind of felt ourselves hugging each other with tears in our eyes. It was really weird…
“It’s like this horrible festering boil that’s just been lanced and it’s like… ‘what was it all about anyway?’ And… ‘actually, I really like her’.”
At that point, it was a meeting to build bridges, with no plans for Shakespears Sister to reform. But it didn’t take long, and the new music, they say, “flowed, came really naturally” as soon as they got their heads together.
Fahey says the Bananarama tour was “wonderful”, but that she felt frustrated because she wanted to take it further.
So after deciding to try again with Shakespears Sister, the pair went out to the Joshua Tree park, gaining “freedom from the madness”, says Detroit.
Detroit, who as a solo singer and songwriter has worked with numerous artists, including Eric Clapton, Bob Seger and Aretha Franklin, took out her portable studio.
“I wanted to learn how to do that because it was always men doing it,” she says. “You know, men leading the songwriting sessions, the engineers. I’m like, I have to learn this, so a friend of mine taught me.”
The song starts with the lyrics: “All the queen’s horses, all the queen’s men/ they couldn’t put us back together again.”
Clearly about the two of them, right?
Fahey, who wrote the lyrics, says not; the song is about another “painful relationship that ended badly”.
She continues: “I suppose that’s fantastic that it’s perceived like that because in actual fact you can transfer those feelings to any relationship that was a loving relationship that turned sour and hurts both people.”
In the video, which was shot by Sophie Muller, the woman behind the video for Stay, the duo are playing up to the images of themselves that made them famous when the single was released.
“It was like stepping back in time but not,” says Fahey. “It’s always been really fun to make the videos because we’re kind of taking the p*ss out of our mutual paranoia and insecurities and difficulties in communicating.”
“Did it scare you?” asks Detroit, eyes widening, when I tell them I was 10 when Stay and its memorable video came out.
“We got banned in Germany,” says Fahey. “They said it was sacrilegious, because we were raising the dead.”
“He wasn’t even dead!” says Detroit, of the man in the video. “Just, you know, not very well.”
Detroit says she was “always very proud” of the song, despite its release during “turbulent” times.
“And then it was number one for eight weeks, which was… after six weeks it was almost embarrassing.” She mimes being on the phone. “Management: ‘Oh, it’s number one again.’ Oh my God, no!”
She laughs. “But I’m very proud of it and I think the video was absolutely superb.”
“People love that song,” says Fahey. “It’s touched so many lives. I mean, people who’ve lost people and that song has comforted them; you hear these stories over the years and…”
“It’s humbling,” says Detroit.
If you go to see Shakespears Sister live this time round, you will see these women, now in their 60s, rock as much as anyone, they promise.
“It’s quite ballsy, isn’t it?” says Fahey. “It’s got a swagger to it.”
And all these years later, Detroit can still hit those whistle register high notes.
“That’s kind of what I do,” she says. “It does take warming up. I find the older I get it takes a lot more clearing out the cobwebs so to speak.”
“Marcy’s always taken her craft more seriously than me,” says Fahey. “I think for a touring band it’s the least fun for the singer. Because you really can’t party, and you can’t drink, you can’t be in loud rooms shouting.”
“I never used to party with everybody after the gigs,” says Detroit.
Fahey laughs. “And I completely ignored that and partied every night in 1992. So of course my voice was just sh*t. But I don’t want to stay up all night drinking till four in the morning anymore.”
“We’ll be in our rooms knitting,” says Detroit.
Talk turns to the difficulties women in the industry face, and how difficult it is for older women in particular.
“You go in and out of fashion and you know people want to know for five years and then they don’t want to know for 15 and then… the wheel turns around again and there’s a bit of interest but when there’s no interest there’s no interest. We both know what that feels like,” says Fahey.
“It’s tough because you do something you’re proud of and yet no one gets to hear it. And no one wants to manage you and nobody wants to put your record out.
“It’s almost like ‘why am I doing this? Maybe it’s just ego. Maybe I should find something else’.
“You go through all that process in the wilderness years. And I think it’s not just the wheels of fashion, I think it’s harder for women. And it has always been harder for women.”
“Unless you get your t*ts out,” laughs Detroit.
“Yeah, you can always become a stripper – up until you’re 30, then they put you out to grass,” says Fahey.
“That whole thing about even being taken seriously as an artist or a musical force or a songwriter as a woman. I never was conscious of it [growing up]. I don’t have brothers, I didn’t compete with boys, I went to girls-only schools.
“I didn’t expect there to be sexism, I just expected to be able to do what I wanted to do with my life and thankfully that’s what I did. That’s how I’ve always lived my life. So it was always a shock to me when I encountered sexism. I didn’t really understand it.”
“It made me ma-ad,” says Detroit. “It shocked me and made me really angry. I had a record that I did in the ’80s and I remember… ‘oh, we can’t play her record this week because we already have our quota of female artists’.
“Like [women] are a niche group!” says Fahey.
The barrier of ageism is breaking down, they say, but slowly.
“That’s good – for males,” says Detroit. “Let’s see how it is for females.
“I think it’s opened up a bit. But there’s still that barrier of being able to be heard and be seen. You still have that hurdle of how do we get heard. How do we become more visible. There’s always going to be that.”
“I’m not against men,” says Fahey. “I’ve got two sons, I love men, but I think women need to stop allowing men to pit us against each other.
“We need to unite as a sisterhood and give each other the same respect we accord men. It all starts with the women.”
:: Shakespears Sister’s singles collection, Singles Party, featuring new tracks All The Queen’s Horses and C U Next Tuesday as well as classic hits from the duo’s back catalogue, will be released on 19 July. The Shakespears Sister Ride Again tour starts in October