We speak to the newly reunited duo’s Siobhan Fahey and Marcella Detroit about putting the past to rest
Back in the early 90s, subversive goth-pop duo Shakespears Sister were, to put it bluntly, the shit. Originally founded by ex-Bananarama singer Siobhan Fahey in 1988, with Marcella Detroit joining soon after, the pair are best known for “Stay”, a brilliantly weird, glittering track with an equally brilliant (and campy af) video, which sees the two battle it out on the moon for an unconscious man’s earthly soul. Blaring from TV sets for eight consecutive weeks back when Top of the Pops was still a thing, Shakespears Sister made history when the single became the longest serving number one by a UK girl band ever, a record they still hold to this day.
By 1993, though, it was all over. Despite the fact they’d had huge hits in the form of “The Trouble With Andre” and “Hello (Turn Your Radio On)”, headlined Glastonbury, collected a Brit Award for best video, and been summoned to support Prince, by Prince himself, all was not well behind the scenes, as Detroit and Fahey’s once-fictional rivalry simmered over into real life. Collecting the Ivor Novello Award for Best Contemporary Collection of Songs with their album Hormonally Yours, Siobhan Fahey’s publisher – in the singer’s absence – delivered a speech which publically dismissed Marcella Detroit from the band. “All’s well that ends well,” read the letter, as Detroit sat in the audience with no idea the moment was coming. Pretty much no one will be surprised to hear that, after that fateful night, the two didn’t talk for 26 years.
Having finally reconciled their differences, now Shakespears Sister are back with a greatest hits album, a UK tour, and two new tracks: “All The Queen’s Horses” and “C U Next Tuesday”. An awkward meet-up in a bar in Los Angeles, where they both now live, led to an ‘intense’ trip out to the desert of Joshua Tree, where they booked into an Airbnb and began to patch up their friendship. The urge to create, they say, was a happy aside – a pull that was too strong to ignore. “We had no preconceived notion that we’d work together again,” says Fahey. “But soon after we first met up and started talking through what went wrong, we started to remember how easy and magical our creative process was.”
It’s not the first time “magical” comes up in conversation. Fahey drops the word into multiple answers, as Detroit nods along in agreement. Sitting opposite them in the meeting room of their record label’s North London office, as they talk effusively about their videos being banned in Berlin, not making it into Prince’s inner-circle, and obscure 50s sci-fi B-movies, there’s definitely something palpable in the air between the two. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think they’d never been apart.
You met up for the first time last May after 26 years apart. What was that like?
Marcella Detroit: We walked into the coffee shop we’d arranged to meet at, and we were both just like, ‘...ah!’
Siobhan Fahey: It was quite difficult at first. That first meeting was about communicating and healing. Having all the cards out on the table, and talking about things we hadn’t back in the 90s. Marcy is able to be much more vocal with what she’s feeling because she’s American, and that’s kind of their way. But in British culture, you don’t talk about things like that because you open up a can of worms. So I never said my piece, ever – I just pulled up my drawbridge and sulked in my castle for a quarter of a century.
Siobhan Fahey: I think as you get older, you get wiser to it all. You try to work on your demons and evolve so you can go on and mend things that might have been broken earlier. And finally, a year ago, I was ready to face it. Marcy had reached out a few times over the years but I just hadn’t been able to deal with it.
Did you do what most people do these days, and have a stalk of each other on Instagram every now and then?
Marcella Detroit: No, not really. I occasionally heard about what Siobhan was up to from friends, but I didn’t ever really stop and look at her Instagram pictures like, ‘Ooooh, what’s she up to?!’ (laughs).
How would you describe Shakespears Sister to someone who’s not familiar with the band?
Siobhan Fahey: A magical combination. Marcy brings her rock’n’roll roots, and I bring the weird, diverse, art school ideas that come with being a product of London during a certain era.
Tell me a bit about “All The Queen’s Horses” and its video…
Siobhan Fahey: Well, we can’t say too much until it’s released, but I think Sophie (Muller, Shakespears Sisters’ longtime video director, who’s also collaborated with the likes of Björk and Beyoncé) has always been inspired by the difficulties Marcy and I are having in our relationship. The mutual paranoia, the battling egos, stuff like that. This one was created to bring everyone up to speed on our relationship. And it’s also funny and quite campy – you have to laugh at how ridiculous we are, not talking for 26 years!
Marcella Detroit: Pride, one of the seven deadly sins.
“I never said my piece, ever – I just pulled up my drawbridge and sulked in my castle for a quarter of a century” – Siobhan Fahey, Shakespears Sister
I love that it references “Stay” the way that it does. Where did the inspiration for that video come from in the first place?
Siobhan Fahey: Originally, Hormonally Yours was going to be a concept album, and the first dozen songs we wrote were inspired by this 50s sci-fi B-movie called Cat Women From The Moon.
Marcella Detroit: You can watch it on YouTube, it’s like an hour long, and it’s hysterical. Worst special effects ever! Anyway, we’re basically playing the cat women, and my character is in love with this earthling, but he wants to go back to Earth, so she’s begging him to stay. And then Siobhan, the angel of death, appears, and we end up battling over him. It actually got banned in Germany, which I think is an amazing achievement.
No way! How come?
Siobhan Fahey: They said it was blasphemous because we were raising the dead. They kind of misunderstood it and said we were witches. Germany seemingly has a deep fear of witchcraft.
Marcella Detroit: It turned out great for us though – as soon as that happened everyone suddenly got really interested. People love a little controversy (laughs).
The costumes were amazing too. Who styled it, and what were you going for with the clothes?
Siobhan Fahey: The sparkly catsuit I wore was part of our stage wardrobe, it was by John Richmond. Marcy was a lot more demure. I think Sophie tucked that bit of lace in to her collar. But there was no stylist that I recall.
You were actually both known for the clothes you wore – the sparkly catsuits, the Westwood SEX jumper you wore on the cover of Hormonally Yours, Siobhan. Is there something you kept from that time that you could never part with?
Siobhan Fahey: The Victorian dress from “I Don’t Care”, maybe, or the white jacket I wore (for the cover of Bananarama’s) True Confessions. Or actually, maybe it would be a very, very early John Galliano dress. It kind of got bleached in the sun, and I probably couldn’t wear it any more, but it’s staying. I couldn’t afford Galliano now (laughs).
Marcella Detroit: I’m going to cheat too! I love a lot of old Margiela, Helmut Lang, Ann Demuelemeester. I still have some pieces that I bring out. I kept a lot of my clothes from the 90s. I loved to shop: I still do.
You’re named after a Smiths song, which itself was a reference to Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. How does that feel, now that Morrissey is known for airing some pretty controversial opinions?
Siobhan Fahey: That’s tricky. Some of my most beloved music was made by people who are rumoured not to be very nice people, but it doesn’t take away from the music they’ve created. It’s a strange fact of life that you could be the most twisted, debauched, dark motherfucker, but you could create the most beautiful poetry, or music, or art. I think Shakespears Sister is its own entity, so it doesn’t really matter.
You’re going to be going out on tour in the autumn. What’s the best gig you’ve ever played, and the best gig you’ve ever been to?
Marcella Detroit: Well, I think the biggest honour was when we were summoned by Prince to support him at Celtic Park. He watched us from the wings, but we never made it into his private party, unfortunately.
Siobhan Fahey: We also actually went to a Nick Cave gig together last year in LA. It was the most amazing show I’ve seen in the last five years. It was like watching a human sacrifice live on stage, the way he performs. It was wild.
Marcella Detroit: Yeah, I think we’d both really love to work with Nick Cave actually. I think it would be quite a natural fit.
Siobhan Fahey: We’ve actually been discussing this quite a lot, trying to find an alternative to Scott Walker (laughs).
Shakespears Sisters’s new single “All the Queen’s Horses” is out May 15, followed by greatest hits album Singles Party on July 19