Record Review: Bananarama – Deep Sea Skiving

London Records | UK | CD | 1986 | 810 107-2

Bananarama: Deep Sea Skiving UK CD [1986]

  1. Shy Boy
  2. Doctor Love
  3. What A Shambles
  4. Really Saying Something [He Was Really Sayin’ Somethin’]
  5. Cheers Then
  6. Aie-A-Mwana
  7. Young At Heart
  8. Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye
  9. Hey Young London
  10. Boy Trouble
  11. Wish You Were Here

Bananrama were one of the UK pop pleasures of the “New Pop” era though they were hardly of that more theoretical ilk. But they were certainly concurrent with your ABCs and your Simple Minds. I first heard them when MTV showed their video for the cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland chestnut “Really Saying Something.” There was not much to hate when presented with three women singing in unison over a rhumba percussion bed full of odd sonic details that managed to sound loose and handmade during a time of encroaching Linn Drum Computers and digital samplers. The production on the piano was the furthest thing from slick, and the whole affair, while professional enough, didn’t reek of too much in the way of packaging or grooming. I bought the 1982 US LP of this title when I saw a used promo copy in the bins and that was what I listened to until 1986, when the title finally made it to the ultramodern CD format.

The first track on side one was one of the five singles on this album, and one of their best! “Shy Boy” was helmed by Swain + Jolley, who were one of four producers on this cobbled together album. The drum programming was simple, but effective as the ladies went for girl group gold with a tale of the self-effacing guy of their collective dreams. There’s almost nothing to the song except for rhythm programming and percussion together with some synth bass. It’s an airy concoction that set the pace for their early period.

The next track was the one that was an outlier for the dark future of the band that was yet to come for an album or two. “Doctor Love” was a Paul Weller [?] tune as produced by Barry Blue and it was one of two songs on London Records in 1982 by that title. The other one was a much better song on Mari Wilson’s “Showpeople” album. The vibe on this one was crass synth-funk complete with the women going “whooo!” A gambit that would come to haunt them in several years. The hyperkinetic level on energy on this one really went against the Bananarama grain, which to my ears sounded much more laid-back and easygoing. The B.P.M. here was easily 50% more than any of the other tracks here. It was the one jarring misstep here.

The ladies finally got some publishing income on the third song, “What A Shambles” which they co-wrote with Terry Sharpe [ex-Starjets, future-Adventures]. The track had a sweet melancholy that was of the kind that I associated with this band moving forward. Dave Jordan produced the hit “Really Saying Something” and brought Fun Boy Three to the table to provide backing vocals since Bananarama had earlier guested on FB3’s “It Ain’t What You Do [It’s The Way That You Do It” the previous year. Jordan’s production was much more shambolic than the slicker wares that Barry Blue or Swain + Jolley proffered here. In an alternate universe, I would have loved to have heard the whole album under his tutelage.

The third single in sequence was the wistful “Cheers Then” which was so light and airy, that it threatened to float off of the turntable. Given the bittersweet nature of the lyric [a goodbye to an old friend, again written between the band and Terry Sharpe] this was maybe a slight shortcoming. At the very least, the dreamy production lent the song a nostalgic air. The US LP was a ten track affair, but this CD was of the UK edition of the album; it came with the band’s debut single added to the flow. The song “Aie A Mwana,” sung in Swahili, was a joint Paul [Sex Pistols] Cook, John Martin, Sarah Dallin production. It’s a sweetly shambolic faux-African production with a touch of dub [and sax].

“Young At Heart” was a song the band co-wrote with Robert Hodgens of The Bluebells; whose one recording of the song would appear as a single in 1984. It was another bittersweet pop song with a conspicuously upbeat backing track that played against the downbeat lyrics. Then the album’s third cover version was a deft revision of the early 70s hit by Steam, “Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye.” As the Bananarama career swerved off into excessive cover versions over time, it’s good to remember that three of the five singles on this album were, in fact, covers. It was always in their DNA. Fortunately, this was another big winner with a tubular bell hook that played intriguingly against the drum machine.

Hands down, the most intriguing song on the album was “Hey Young London,” which not only sported sardonic lyrics taking the capitol city to task but the intro, with shouted male choral singing, thunderous percussion, and a killer synthesized jaw harp hook was like nothing else I’ve ever heard to this day! I could do for such stimulation on a regular basis. The sound was absolutely fearless.

The album ended on a more sedate note with the demure girl group lament “Boy Trouble” and “Wish You Were Here.” The latter of which had an intro which to this day tricks me into thinking I am hearing a lost deep cut from JAPAN’s “Gentlemen Take Polaroids.” The Roland CR78 with fretless bass right in your face at the very least makes me think that producer Barry Blue was smitten with the same sound used the previous year on Gary Numan’s “Dance.” It’s almost a pity that the song quickly became a clone of  “Cheers Then” which had closed out side one of the album on LP.

While the familiar Bananrama tropes of thin unison singing and a reliance on cover material were already in evidence, the ramshackle sprawling of the album, with its multiple production teams insured that whatever latent slickness the band had within them, was still a few years into the future for them. On this album, it was a pleasing blend of girl group sounds given a coat of the latest studio tech and in some cases, bypassed entirely. While I prefer the more organic sounds of “Really Saying Something” or “Aie A Mwana,” even the slickest material here [that would be from Swain + Jolley] had an intrinsic charm that felt at home with these ladies, who were far from being Sheena Easton prefab popstars. That they would make an African language dance pop number their first single and get a Sex Pistol to produce it says everything.

I really enjoyed this album period for the band. It was some quality pop with a few interesting ideas thrown into the mix along with some traditional ones as well. I would not mind getting the DLX RM of this title which has just about everything one could want from this album period on two CDs and a DVD. Maybe I can sell off my Bananrama vinyl collection and finance its purchase? I also liked their second album just fine. It wasn’t until their third album, and its monster hit “serpent in Eden” cover of Shocking Blue’s “Venus” that things began to go sour with Bananarama for me. At the time I still loved the PWL sound, but that single was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

– 30 –

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6 Responses to Record Review: Bananarama – Deep Sea Skiving

  1. Taffy says:

    Ah, Bananarama…a pop pleasure I never tire of. Yeah, I too was there in the beginning, grooving along to their Fun Boy Three collaborations and those naive vocals. Shy Boy remains (along with Robert DeNiro’s Waiting) an all-time fave, but I’ll confess to sticking with the girls through departed members, Stock Aitken Waterman, and 35 years later am happily gonna see the original trio in the UK this November. But back to Skiving…I originally bought it on vinyl, then subsequently on CD, reissued CD, and re-issued 2CD/1DVD. I *guess* I like it a bit.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Taffy – Holy Toledo! Talk about zeitgeist-y, I had no idea that the classic Bananarama lineup had reunited a few weeks ago until your and Jeremy’s comments came in. I had no idea. I bought the first four albums, and singles through album five before I came to my senses. The collector’s gene can be a terrible thing, sometimes. I have ejected a lot of CDs from the Record Cell in the last few years. Many, thankfully, before that mojo-sized box of singles with darn near everything came out two years ago! I got some serious coin for some promo discs snagged at early 90s record shows [remember them?]. I still have tons of vinyl but could sell it all off and just stick with the DLX RMs of albums one to three… and I waffle on album three. Goodness knows the CD is long gone.

      Flying to the UK for Bananrama? Report back with your findings. I sort of feel bad for Siobahn returning to the fray. I think it must hurt to go back to the egg after so long, though they will undoubtedly get money by the shovelful for this… I see half of the dates are already sold out after a few weeks! I would be intrigued to know the financial split between the ladies. When Siobahn left, she was no longer a Bananarama member, and might now be considered an employee of Bananarama LLC, which would be Keren and Sarah. With a possibly lower percentage. That’s how these things usually roll. I felt she had integrity to leave when she did, though a year earlier would have been just perfect. I thought Shakespear’s Sister was a much more interesting proposition, but I have to admit not following her [nor Marcella Detroit’s] subsequent solo careers one bit.


  2. Jeremy Kennedy says:

    Monk, this is the most comprehensive, most important investigatory look at one of my favorite albums of all-time. I had no idea that Terry Sharpe of the Adventures and Robert Hodgens (he of “Cath” fame) lent a hand in this record until now. You must have put hours into this review….I am enamored that you too find “Hey Young London” just as wonderful as I do. It reminds me of school children leading a playground melody in the spirit of Pied Piper. I was lucky to interview Sarah and Keren back in 2011 here in Atlanta and they were as everything in reality as they are in their virtual image. I.E. A fruitful of fun.

    So Echo hit the road a few years back, playing Ocean Rain in its entirety; HoJo performed Human’s Lib from start to finish back in 2010. Now that the Banana trio have reunited, a Deep Sea dish seems appropriate and Skyving.


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Jeremy Kennedy – Long time, no see! Actually, I can’t claim hours in writing it, or even researching it. The surprise to me was that Sharpe was originally in The Starjets, though I may remember something being in the liner notes of this CD to that effect, now that I think about it. One thing that irks me about “Deep Sea Skiving” is that none of the musicians were credited. I’d like to know who to credit for the fretless bass when I write the post. The playing suggests Pino Palladino, but that’s just a guess. I wonder if the band will make it over to America for shows, so you might get the chance to interview all three of them?


  3. sonicboy19 says:

    Deep Sea Skiving is by far their best album as a whole. I agree that it’s the loose, even slightly eccentric (in the pop world at least) production, coupled with memorable pop hooks, that allows it to stand out from the crowd. Their reverb-drenched vocals provide an interesting contrast to the wistful musical undercurrents, frequently grounded by the simple yet very effective use of fretless bass and quirky percussion elements. There’s a term that producers often refer to when experimenting with sounds: happy accidents. These are sonic elements that were created unintentionally, by mistake or perhaps delivered due to lack of experience, that upon playback actually reveal themselves to offer a unique enhancement to the production and are played up rather than removed. Happy accidents are clearly the bedrock of this album and why it works so well in retrospect. Take the heavily echoed descending piano riff near the end of Na Na Hey Hey Kiss Him Goodbye…it sounds like it was intended for a different part of the song and was spliced in at that moment by mistake, but it sounded interesting, so intead of fixing it they repeated it into the fadeout. Ideas like that are what gives these songs an added character that are too rarely found in pop music – allowing the songs to grow on repeated listening. While I don’t want to play favorites since each song on this record is well worth hearing, I would like to call attention to one underrated gem in particular: What A Shambles. Sounding slightly like early 80’s Depeche Mode, this track has an especially dark vibe, and through deadpan and dead-simple lyrics and a haunting melody, it manages to highlight lyrically, sonically and esthetically the juxtaposition that this album exploits so brilliantly. While Banarama would produce other memorable, non-cookie-cutter singles after this album (Cruel Summer, Robert DeNiro’s Waiting, Trick Of The Night), their shift from the early DIY esthetic (which was not only visual but clearly audible as well) to the more by-the-numbers production of Stock/Aitken/Waterman surely afforded them more hits, but none of them offer the timeless originality that can be heard in full-force on their debut album. Highly recommended!


    • postpunkmonk says:

      sonicboy19 – Welcome to the comments! Your pithy monologue on the merits of this fine album are greatly appreciated. With “Deep Sea Skiving” Bananarama set me up as a fan whose fandom lasted perhaps an album or two longer than necessary, but such were the manifold charms of that debut album. It was clearly not an event planned within an inch of its life.


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