Shakespears Sister, Manchester Bridgewater Hall, 11/11/2019
Hello, hello, turn your time machine on. 27 years after their acrimonious split according to Siobhan Fahey (or 26 if you believe Marcella Detroit) the sisters are back together and love is in the air.
To their credit they brought back some members of their original backing band for this trip down Memory Lane although in guitarist Marco Pirroni they had someone who looked like one of those wrestlers who used to grapple with the likes of Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks back in their day.
‘Goodbye Cruel World’ was an appropriate opener in a way as the two gave the finger to the past and showered touching compliments on each other. They must have been practising to be a comedy duo act too, as they threw innocent passive barbs as well, such as (Siobhan) “We decided to bury the hatchet”…(Marcella) “but not in each other”. The friendly jibes lasted throughout the evening. The sisterhood is definitely intact once more.
Their voices have held up well and Marcella was quick to introduce her high-pitched trill and continued to do so at every opportunity, her guitar work surprisingly restricted for someone of her pedigree, playing second fiddle to Mr Pirroni’s for most of the evening and occasionally resorting to harmonica. Siobhan’s dulcet tones also remain intact. Visually, Marcella remained static at her mic for most of the show while Siobhan was given free rein to wander the stage, her eye shadow so dark so might have just ambled in from a Halloween party or even straight out of Michael Jackson’s ‘Killer’ video. Does she actually have black irises? It seemed so from where I was sat.
Both had equal ‘billing’. It was clear from the rehearsed banter that had been arranged (although the two of them, and particularly Siobhan, can still both ad-lib). It was only to be expected.
The show was a little slow to get going and was even in danger of flagging until ‘The trouble with Andre’, from ‘Hormonally Yours’ after which it grew in strength with every song. ‘Time to say goodbye’ was introduced as “the last negative” and the tone of the show was certainly more upbeat after it.
Several new songs were included. ‘All the Queen’s Horses’ was probably the one the audience was anticipating most but didn’t quite live up to the style of the video.
They were joined by Richard Hawley for ‘When she finds you’, a song on the studio version of which he performed. He was typically laconic. “Shall we crack on; I’ve got a bus to catch?” In all seriousness it seems a little strange that he should traipse around the country with the band for just one song but it did mix things up nicely in preparation for the big finish everyone was anticipating.
Surprisingly, that big finish – ‘Stay’ – came early, as the fourth-last song and introduced by another smart line from Siobhan, “thanks for staying with us all these years”. As with other songs on the night it came close to expectations but there was something missing. Most notably it was the instrumentation. There’s nothing wrong with the band but they couldn’t quite create the atmosphere of one of the most iconic songs of their generation. Siobhan played her role to perfection and visually backed off, sitting at the rear of the stage during the opening section by Marcella, only to return to reprise her role in the precise manner of the video. There was something quite touching in that moment when Siobhan deliberately directed the limelight on to her opposite number.
The other thing that was missing was Marcella’s huge extended F6 scream. I’m certain she can still do it, but perhaps it’s sometimes better not to try. If you’re not up for it on the night, it could go horribly wrong.
That left the third in the trilogy of big numbers, ‘You’re History’, to complete the main show. Again, I’m sure we were expected to interpret that song as a metaphor for where these ladies are now, i.e. that the last 27 (26?) years should be consigned to history.
An extremely enthusiastic audience – though not as numerous as I’d anticipated, the Bridgewater wasn’t sold out – and which included someone waving what I thought at first to be a soccer match flare, soon had the band back for a two-song encore
“We’ll say goodbye…by saying Hello” was Siobhan’s parting shot, then they went on to deliver a pretty good ‘Hello (Turn your radio on)’ for my money one of the best songs ever written with, marcifully, the Detroit lady providing that exquisite guitar sole rather than big Marco. Again I say “pretty good” because it was about 95% perfect, just lacking on another occasion that ‘je ne sais quoi’ of the recorded version.
It was an enormously prescient song when it was recorded in 1991 and remains remarkably apposite even today (“And as I stumbled through last night’s drunken debris/The paperboy screamed out the headlines in the street/Another war, and now the pound is looking weak… A brave new world has dawned upon the human race/Where words are meaningless, and everything’s surreal /Gonna have to reach my friends to find out how I feel”.)
The song’s most poignant, repeated line is “Life is a strange thing, just when you think you learned how to use it, it’s gone” and we are reminded that the band’s reunion, just as with Bananarama’s, evolved because its members realised they are getting older and that time was running out for them to do what they do, together.
There’s still time yet for more of the same, but tonight, living in the here and now, everyone – artists and audience alike – was privileged to share in this joyful reunion and the delight of reconciliation.
God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.