The brief but glorious prior history of Siobhan Fahey and Marcella Detroit as Shakespears Sister:
In the very beginning, Shakespears Sister was formed by Siobhan in 1988 after she had left Bananarama during their peak Stock Aitken Waterman era. Siobhan adapted this new band name from The Smiths single “Shakespeare’s Sister”, its own title borrowed from a 1928 Virginia Woolf essay and lecture, arguing for the space in culture and society that had been historically denied to women. (The name lost the final “e” of its first word in a happy accident when it was misspelled in a woodcut made as artwork for the first Shakespears Sister single sleeve; it subsequently surrendered its comma to pop music.)
As the first Shakespears Sister album, 1989’s Top 10 Sacred Heart, was being made, one of Siobhan’s collaborators on the record, Marcy (who had her own distinguished musical past under the name Marcy Levy), came to the fore. By the time of the first Shakespears Sister top ten hit, “You’re History”, Shakespears Sister was effectively a duo. Even greater success followed with a second album, Hormonally Yours, in 1992; amongst its hit singles “I Don’t Care”, “Hello (Turn Your Radio On)” and “Stay”, which remained at number one for eight weeks. The triumphs and accolades piled up: over a million albums sold, a Brit award for best video (“Stay”), an Ivor Novello award for outstanding collection of songs (Hormonally Yours), a period of extensive touring which including appearances headlining the Pyramid stage at Glastonbury and supporting Prince at Celtic Park at Prince’s personal request. And then, with all this acclaim still echoing, it fell apart. Their partnership disintegrated messily, with various grievances and resentments on either side. All communication between them ceased. This version of Shakespears Sister was finished, presumably forever.
“I remember when the band was splitting up,” says Marcy, “or before it actually was announced - we were in London, about to play the Royal Albert Hall, but then that kind of fell through - and Siobhan wrote to me ‘you know, one day I'd like to sit down with you and have a cup of tea with you and be your friend’. And I replied, ‘I would like that too’. But that never happened.”
And then a quarter of a century slipped by.
One significant nudge forward came in 2017 with Siobhan’s unexpected participation in the first ever tour by Bananarama’s classic original line-up. It was an experience which reawakened something broader with her. “That was about resolution and friendship and a celebration of what had created,” she says, “and that was also a major hand the universe held out, going ‘you've forgotten what you're here for’.” These realisations spurred two parallel thoughts within her. “I'd made the peace with Sara and Keren and that bit of my past,” Siobhan says, “but I hadn't done it with Marcy, and I knew it was really important that I didn't take that to the grave.” But she realised that there was a second thought in the back of her mind. “The Bananarama tour was really a fantastic experience but it wasn't crowned by making new music,” Siobhan says. “I thought ‘I've got to make new music'” Back then, it would have been getting ahead of herself to imagine that both notions might possibly have a common solution, but if only the first were addressed, that would be something.
Aside from an exploratory brief email exchange initiated by Marcy a few years back that had gone nowhere, Siobhan and Marcy had had absolutely no contact in all this time. But now, through intermediaries, Marcy was approached, and said she was amenable to meeting. A date was set for one afternoon in May 2018 at a coffee shop on Fairfax Avenue in Los Angeles. It was agreed that it would just be the two of them.
Marcy: “She was sitting outside when I arrived.”
Siobhan: “It was really bizarre because there we were, and we didn't look too different. And actually we hugged each other, and then there were tears in the eyes I’m pretty sure for both of us - I think I detected a glint in her eye. And it was strange, like 'wow this is kind of shockingly emotional'. I didn't expect that. We were both kind of weirded out by it.”
Marcy: “The first time we’d sat and talked about anything for 26 years, so, yeah, pretty awkward at first. A bit bumpy.”
Siobhan: “It was a few hours of conversation. We shared what it was like for each one of us, what our own particular experience of that experience was. And it created a real bridge and understanding of the other person's behavior, you know.”
Marcy: “At the end of it she had named all these things that I had done, and it was great to clear the air because I was able to say 'well, no that's not exactly how it happened…’”
Siobhan: “It was like lancing a huge boil. All of a sudden, all that bitterness and blame was gone in a moment for me. It was like 'God I really like her - what was this all about?’ This was just mutual paranoia and mutual insecurity and misreading the other and misunderstanding the situation. It was all sorts of stuff that was not to do with the essential person that she is, or the essential person that I am.”
After the success of that first meeting, the two of them began to explore the possibility of revisiting Shakespears Sister, but tentatively.
“Neither of us wanted to go into it if there was anything apart from friendship and unity,” says Siobhan. “We did not want a repeat of 1992. Life's too short. So I think we just explored it slowly.”
That summer, they met again in London when Marcy came over to play some solo shows and appear with Eric Clapton in Hyde Park. A while later, they went to a Nick Cave show together. Eventually they decided to find out what would happen if they tried to write some songs.
To do so, they went away for four days to a remote California desert Airbnb in Joshua Tree. Again, just the two of them.
Siobhan: “It was just a wonderful, wonderful four days.”
Marcy: “There is something so special about the desert. The silence! It's almost deafening. Everything sounds different out there. Maybe because it's this kind of brutal background and there's not a lot of city or noise to get in the way of things, it's just pretty brutal, pretty honest. It was just an amazing experience. And we both found it really inspiring.”
The very first song that they wrote together after all this time was the song with which they would eventually announce their return, the remarkable “All The Queen’s Horses”.
Siobhan: “I had an idea about the sound and the vibe of the next record I wanted to make, but I'd forgotten about how accomplished and tasteful Marcy is as a musician. I think my feelings for Marcy completely turned from respect to love: ‘Oh my God, how come I haven't seen her for 26 years? She's fantastic!’”
Marcy: “It's kind of a little bit Americana, but not really, because it still has our mixed sensibilities in it: her kind of punk thing, my kind of soul Motown thing. Even back then, we were so different musically but our taste, we met in the middle - like T Rex and Motown - and then veered off into our own kind of sensibilities. It made for some really interesting music before, and I think it's really so unique now.”
Siobhan: “I realised what a perfect writing partner she is - for me, anyway. She has all the gifts that I don't have, and I have a particular, some might say eccentric, vision that takes a gifted person to be able to understand and help realise beautifully. There’s some sort of weird fusion of energies that feels fated. It's like this third entity exists that is neither me nor her, it's the two of us.”
Something else happened with this first song, too. As far as Siobhan was concerned, in “All The Queen’s Horses” she was writing about her own struggles of the heart: “I guess I'm endlessly fascinated by the desire to love, and why that's such a rocky road, and why people make it so hard, why they hurt each other.” But once they played the song to others, they discovered that people immediately imagined that they heard something else.
“People, they go ‘Oh, is that about you two?’", says Marcy
“I thought I'd been writing about something else,” says Siobhan.
“I did ask her,” Marcy says, “and she said that it wasn't.”
“But as it turns out,” Siobhan reflects, “it was about a doomed love affair. And that's kind of what ours was.”
All of this would come to focus in the video they would make for the song, filmed out in the Californian desert with Sophie Muller, the director responsible for their earlier iconic videos. “Shakespears Sister musically is me and Marcy,” says Siobhan, “but visually it's me, Marcy and Sophie. Without her, a big part of the artistry and the story would be missing.” Sophie would make a video that deftly played with Shakespears Sister’s present and past in a number of ways: not just exploring the ways in which the song can seem as a cipher for their relationship, but also revisiting, reinvigorating and at times wryly echoing their visual iconography (Marcy restaging the “Stay” video on a roadhouse pool table), and also reintroducing an updated version of their two hyper-real personas.
“It wasn’t something we discussed,” says Siobhan, “like 'OK you're the aloof elegant American and I'm the sort of emotionally unbalanced Irish woman'. But maybe that's the truth. I don't know. I don't think you can understand something that's just innate or just comes naturally.”
“The video bridges that whole time frame,” says Marcy. “That’s a long time to bridge, a big gap, but it just kind of paves the way perfectly into now. I think what Sophie did with it as well has brought a sense of healing, a sense of us making fun of ourselves and being okay with the whole drama that ensued between us. I just think it's perfect.”
“It made me cry, the first three times I watched it,” says Siobhan. “ I got really choked up at the end because it's a happy-ever-after ending. And it's a story of resolution and friendship and love and going forward together.”
And now on Shakespears Sister plan to go, to wherever this new stage of their journey may lead. They have been back to the desert two more times, and written a small handful of new songs. They hope to write more. Later this year, they will tour together.
Siobhan: “Two years ago no one, least of all me, would have thought it would ever happen. It's incredible.”
Marcy: “I certainly didn’t expect it. It just kind of happened out of the blue.”
Siobhan: “Literally almost every day, is a pinch-me day. It shows you anything in life can happen.”
Marcy: “I think we've come to a point where we respect and understand each other more than we ever could have back then. That’s the simplest way to put it. We've come to a mutual understanding of and respect for who each other are. It’s just about acceptance - acceptance of who we both are, for each other and to each other.”
Siobhan: “I think we're less different than we thought, basically. I mean we came from very different cultures and backgrounds musically. But underneath that we're both sensitive, intelligent, talented women who love to make music and are actually good people, and try and be the best people that we can. Not to say that we always succeed. The opposite of love is fear. And it was the fear and insecurity that divided us.”
Marcy: “When we started meeting up, I remembered that we really do have quite a lot in common, even aside from music. There are beliefs, there are sensibilities that are very similar. And it was good to be reminded of that. Somehow because of miscommunications along the line when we were working together a long time ago, things got a little bit disconnected between us, and then a lot of barriers and defenses went up. But there are a majority of ways I think we're similar.”
Siobhan: “I think we're older and wiser.”
Marcy: “I am really, really excited about it. I've not heard anything out there that sounds anything like what we're doing right now.”
Siobhan: “Also, I feel like our story and us coming back with something that's strong and fresh and inspired is part of women of a certain age taking their rightful place creatively, and as a force. We grew up in a very ageist, sexist culture and it was particularly harsh on women – it was a big enough battle being in a girl band in the Eighties. As young women, we were always written off as somehow less talented or relevant than our male counterparts. You try not to attend to that and notice it - you just do what you do anyway - but I think the struggles have been very real. However, I feel like since the women’s marches of 2017 there’s been this shift… Finally!! We’re not going to be written off anymore. Now there's gray-haired women on the catwalk as well as the rock ‘n’ roll stage. I think it’s a really exciting time for women of our generation.
Marcy: “It was just meant to be. And I'm just really grateful that we were able to work it out and start working again, and can be doing something that's pretty fantastic. We've come to that point where not only are we working together but there is that possibility of becoming good friends who understand and respect and love each other. Whereas before that just wasn't possible.”
Siobhan: “I feel so inspired and so excited and so grateful for everything. It’s like suddenly everything had been leading to this point, all these years. And of course I get carried away by the romance of the story as well, because it's kind of a love story. It's been quite magical. And I feel like we're in for a really magical year.”