If you thought The Divine Comedy, The Streets and Shakespears Sister were all groups, you’d be wrong. They were all one person under a group pseudonym. The Divine Comedy was Neil Hannon, The Streets was Mike Skinner and Shakespears Sister was Siobhan Fahey, well at least for the first year.
Fahey was a member of Bananarama, the most successful British girl group, until the Spice Girls usurped them, but despite 29 UK hit singles, they never had a number one. However, their cover of Shocking Blue’s Venus, which reached number eight in the UK, gave them their only US chart topper. Fahey, who had previously worked in the press office at Decca, left the group in early 1988. She explained, “The group changed a lot and I was no longer inspired and I wasn’t able to fulfil myself. I was a bit of a fly in the ointment for the last couple of years because I would argue about everything.” She had married The Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart in August the previous year and it was he who encouraged Siobhan to leave the group and try again.
Marcella Detroit first came to prominence as a backing singer then a co-writer with Eric Clapton. She wrote Lay Down Sally under the name Marcy Levy. She has also written songs for Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan and Belinda Carlisle. In 1980 she contributed Help Me – a duet with Robin Gibb – to the film soundtrack Times Square.
Marcella and Siobhan met at Marcella’s home in Los Angeles in 1988 and discovered they shared the same musical taste, especially The Smiths. It was The Smiths’ 1985 Top 30 hit, Shakespear’s Sister that gave the group their name and once the name was decided, Fahey then invited Detroit to join her in the group thus making them a duo.
Their first single, You’re History reached the Top 10. Marcy commented, “After History I really thought, wow, there really is something here.” But the follow-ups, Run Silent and Dirty Mind, all from the debut album, Sacred Heart, failed to make the Top 50. In 1991 their next single, Goodbye Cruel World from their second album, Hormonally Yours, also made little impact. The first four singles had all been credited as Shakespear’s Sister. For the next single, Stay the singles’ sleeve was misprinted as Shakespears Sisters.
Marcy has a four-and-a-half octave voice and every squeak on the record is natural. “My voice wasn’t always like that,” she explained, “but I’ve trained it up that way. You have to work at it, keep on top of it.”
Stay is about a woman realising her lover is about to die and fighting with the angel of death over him. Marcella Detroit plays the role of the lover, and Siobhan Fahey that of death. Fahey is less prominently on vocals than Marcella Detroit, with Detroit singing the verses and lead chorus and Fahey singing the song’s dramatic bridge. Detroit is noted for singing in whistle register before the last chorus of the song, going up to a high F.
The track stayed at number one in the UK for eight weeks and five weeks in Ireland, where Fahey is from. It was also their only Top 40 hit in the US. It was the longest reign at the top of the UK chart for an all-female act.
Stay won the 1993 BRIT Award for Best Video. It showed Marcella Detroit on a spaceship caring for a dying man with Siobhan Fahey playing the angel of death who comes to take him away, but walks down the steps awkwardly. She had trouble balancing because she had had too much to drink. There was a lot of hanging around on the set, in fact they were there for 12 hours and she passed the time by drinking Vodka. She said in an interview, “In my opinion the alcohol improved my performance but the hap hazard way in which I walk down the steps is because she was finding it hard to keep her balance!” Sophie Muller who directed the video for the single said, “The concept of it was inspired by the film Cat Women of the Moon. The comatose man was played by Dave Evans, a former boyfriend of Fahey’s Bananarama bandmate Keren Woodward.
The follow-up single, I Don’t Care also made the Top 10, but they went out in spectacular fashion the following year when live on stage, Fahey announced to an unsuspecting audience and an even more shocked Marcella that the band was being dissolved.
Siobhan had a few health problems and kept a low profile while Marcella launched a solo career and had the Top 30 hit Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing, a duet with Elton John.
Stay has been parodied to great effect a couple of times, once by French and Saunders who did the song and video on a sketch show under the name Dickens Daughter. The video included parodies of the videos of I Don’t Care and Goodbye Cruel World. Rob Newman and David Baddiel also did a send up on the 1992 comedy sketch show The Mary Whitehouse Experience. Baddiel played Detroit and Newman ridiculed Fahey; when she opens her mouth to sing the up-tempo parts you hear the sound of a ship’s foghorn instead. Other cover versions include Il Divo and Cher Lloyd who performed it in 2010 during the seventh series of X Factor and her version appeared on her album Sticks + Stones. Following her performance, the song went back into the UK chart at number 12. In 2013 Marcella Detroit covered it on her 2013 album The Vehicle.