Next week sees the long anticipated deluxe reissues of Bananarama‘s first six albums. The British girl band has most of their success in the 1980s, and four out of the six reissues were released in that decade. Each album is being released as a 2CD+DVD set and full track listings and details can be found here.
Last month we spoke with Tom Parker who produced this reissue series from Edsel Records, to find out more about the challenges of putting these releases together.
SuperDeluxeEdition: How did the project come about?
Tom Parker: My background with reissues if you like, is that I was a fan of, and grew up with, PWL and wider pop music generally. The first thing I ever did was I got in touch with PWL in the mid-nineties. I’ve always been interested in the visual side of things and I remember sending off ideas for sleeve designs. I got in touch with Pete [Waterman] and interviewed him for a long lost Kylie fanzine, and we’ve stayed in touch ever since.
SDE: So are you a graphic designer?
TP: No, I’m a music fan. At that point I was a GCSE or A-Level art student. While I was at University I put together two Kylie compilations for release in Australia, for which I had access to the PWL archive. I work for Pete, so I would say this, but Pete’s a music lover and he saw how much I cared about the catalogue, and over time there’s a degree of trust. I wasn’t like I walked into a job. I’ve only been working full time on catalogue for three and a bit years and I do work on other things at PWL.
SDE: So your role at PWL, is it primarily to exploit their catalogue?
TP: That’s a significant part of it. With something like Bananarama, the public perceives a lot of stuff as PWL. Obviously, Bananarama had a very successful career prior to coming to PWL, but when it comes to it, Rick Astley’s stuff is controlled by Sony, Mel & Kim, by EMI, so there are all these interested parties, but in terms of public perceptions PWL is a strong brand.
SDE: You talk about interested parties, obviously you have the major label, in this case Universal…
TP: Actually, it’s Warner. They were signed originally to Demon, funnily enough, so there’s some poet quality to it, that they are back on Edsel, and actually the booklet for Deep Sea Skiving has got an image of a tape we tracked down which is the very very first Bananarama master tape, which is a Demon tape, and it doesn’t even say Bananarama on it, it says ‘Bunnies’ which is what they were presumably called for a few minutes, in Spring 1981. They were signed to Decca and then moved on to the London imprint. I think the first release on London was actually Shy Boy. It was always distributed by Universal, or as was Polygram, for a long, long time. And then the London repertoire I believe – and I can’t speak with complete authority on this – went over to Warner.
SDE: This project has a crossover because it’s part PWL and part non-PWL.
TP: I remember the greatest hits album – the first half of it is all PWL, and it always struck me as interesting that there was this divide. With Bananarama, even though the albums had been reissued before, as a fan I knew there were all these mixes of everything, I knew a little bit about unreleased stuff, and I researched it and found out about what was in the archive, and on that basis, when Val [Jennings, Edsel Label Manager] and I sat down to talk about what else could we do, Bananarama was very high on the agenda. This was two years ago – early 2011. At that point, they were just going to be double CDs, the DVDs came along later. Warner did a compilation last year with most of the tracks on DVD, so we thought ‘oh, what else can we add?’. Obviously Demon are part of BBC Worldwide, and although it doesn’t mean you have complete carte blanche, in terms of BBC TV stuff, it was more feasible. So picking the brains of other Bananarama fans, I tried to work out what would be the best TV performances. I think they did about 20 TV performances of I Want You Back, but you can’t include all of them. We tried to go for one per single, but unfortunately some of them fell by the wayside and some of the there weren’t BBC performance of, hence no Cheers Then, or Do Not Disturb or Hot Line to Heaven.
SDE: So that was the limiting factor then, all the extra stuff that’s non-promo video, it had to be a BBC performance?
TP: It’s not that… if at this point I say that there’s obviously more stuff that’s in the Bananarama catalogue than is in these reissues, then if these do well there is other things we can look at. Would I like to have the BPI awards performance of Love In The First Degree on DVD? Yes, very much. But I thought “Bananarama at the BBC” was quite a nice way of framing it.
SDE: Were you tempted to put any bonus audio on the DVDs? Obviously there is the possibility of putting a data folder on it and putting some MP3s in there.
TP: I’ve thought about that before, but all of the discs apart from one of them are over 75 minutes and there comes a point where you think, where do you draw the line? You know, do you want backing tracks of all the albums? I don’t want to do anything that’s slavish for the sake of it, or you know because you’ve got so many gigabytes free on the DVD. It’s a bit like presenting at an exhibition. You can’t put every picture on the wall.
SDE: Where did all the unreleased stuff come from and were there any challenges in terms of licensing it and getting on the new reissues?
TP: I had been aware of what exists for a long time, especially with the PWL stuff. For example, Bananarama diehard fans will tell you there was a promo cassette of True Confessions before Venus and More Than Physical were put on the album, which included Too Much Of A Good Thing, a Jolley and Swain track. There’s an element of ‘auditioning’, if you like – you can’t use necessarily, multiple versions of a track that no one has ever heard.
SDE: But how do you know, for instance, that one of the reasons that something was never released was because the band hated their vocals on it, or they didn’t like the track – and you’re now putting it on a reissue…
TP: Okay, that’s a very good question. It has a historical relevance and legitimacy. My rule, with this kind of thing, is that, [it has to be] a master quality recording, in other words it was submitted to the label. I could throw your question back at you and say there are tracks on the albums that they’ve publicly described as hating…
SDE: Yes, but the key difference there is that they agreed to it at the time
TP: I would never actively seek to upset anybody – and other than Reason For Living, which is a draft version of I Want You Back – you’re only talking about four songs. Two Jolley and Swain songs on True Confessions and then a Stock-Aitken-Waterman track on Pop Life, and a David Z track Some Boys on Pop Life as well. Ultimately it’s my subjective judgement, at the end of the day, as a fan. Not everybody is going to like every song. There were also some PWL demos which I’m sure some of your readers will ask about, specifically, Nothing Lasts For Ever and Don’t Throw It All Away, which were done at the same time as I Don’t Care and Heartless, at the early sessions for Pop Life. Those two really are demos. Not mixed, not produced. This may sound disingenuous on my part, but those tracks are out there [i.e. leaked bootlegs] and I think it’s a shame, because they are absolutely works in progress, and they were shelved very soon after that rough draft was done. I don’t think they can be considered as finished tracks in any way. Now, I’m not saying they should never be released, but in terms of presenting an accessible overview of an album project, which includes unheard stuff, I don’t honestly feel they should be at the front of the queue for inclusion.
SDE: Was the band involved at all with these reissues?
TP: I’ve reached out. I know they haven’t always been involved in catalogue stuff before. As far as I’m aware, they are all aware of it. I did speak to Peter Loraine at Fascination Records who was involved in their last album and also has been a fan-in-chief for a long time. And although I haven’t got any direct input from them for sleeve notes, Peter very kindly let me use chunks of stuff that he compiled for a 30th anniversary fanzine last year. So in fact Deep Sea Skiving has got a little track-by-track commentary. And likewise, I’ve had a few new quotes from Siobhan and even Jacqui, but also some of the producers, Pete [Waterman], Tony Swain and Matt Aitken. So I tried to round it out, personally I haven’t heard anything from them. All I can say is that they’ve been compiled with a lot of love and respect and I hope they’re happy with how they’ve ended up.
SDE: These unreleased tracks, what format did they tend to be on? Are we talking analogue reel tapes, or DATs?
TP: It depends on the era. DATs only came in from the tail of 1987 onwards. Throughout the ’80s and early ’90s, the main master tape format was typically a half-inch reel, an analogue reel. For the majority of this stuff I’ve gone back, wherever possible, to the original un-EQ’d half inch reel. I always try and go for the best available source.
SDE: You’ve already come out and said there are no vinyl rips on these reissues…
TP: Absolutely none! We didn’t even have to go to a commercial CD for anything.
SDE: Let’s talk about remastering. You’ve gone back to original sources, which is great, but there seems to be a lot of focus these days, even from mainstream music fans, about how good or bad the mastering is on a newly released CD.
TP: If you buy something on CD, there are well mastered CDs and there are badly mastered CDs and some of that goes back to the eighties. There are some masters from that era that were rubbish then, and are rubbish now, so you know… everything involves a degree of compression. Unless you start saying ‘I want a copy of the multi-track’ – which is never going to happen – what you’re getting is 24 or 48 tracks compressed into two. In terms of all that, and I’ve remastered Rosie Vela and Wendy and Lisa, as well as PWL stuff, and for every one person who says ‘it’s too loud’ you’re going to get someone saying ‘there’s no improvement in sound quality’, and if the original pressing is so great, and that person is in a position where they can say that (in other words they must have a copy of the original CD), why do they need a remaster? PWL in particular, and I would argue Bananarama generally, was intended as very mainstream pop and a lot of people will be putting those records on because they want to dance round the living room, not because they want to put it on their Bang & Olufsen system and dissect it…
SDE: So what are you saying? That these will be quite loud, but that you’ve done them with care?
TP: I don’t want them to sound watered down. Loudness for the sake of it is something I have no time for. On the other hand, I’m self-taught, I’ve got two ears, like most people, [laughs] and my sense of hearing is quite acute. What I will say is that always get hold of a copy of the original album – not the 2007 reissues in the case of Bananarama – but an original pressing, and listen to it carefully and do a series of assessments on it, as waveforms. Because I’m aware that if you’re used to, for instance, Do Not Disturb following on from Venus and sounding, pretty much, just as loud as Venus, it’s going to sound strange to people if it’s suddenly quieter. Sometimes, I come across things on the original masters of albums that I think are jarring. Or a track that sounds excessively bright. So if you like, I’m making a different judgement at that point from the original mastering engineer. So I might rake things down a bit, but I’ll always have a point of reference. But with the best will in the world, and this may sound like I’m some kind of philistine, but people don’t want to be keep turning their iPod up.
SDE: The most asked question from fans is what happened to Love, Truth And Honesty from the Greatest Hits album? There was a little hint on the sticker on the banana on the Edsel promotional image, of more to come. What are you able to say about that?
TP: All I would say is that I have fond memories of the Jacquie-era and a lot of PWL fans seem to have a soft spot for Love, Truth And Honesty. What I would like to do is to be able to represent the entire Bananarama catalogue to a similar standard. If people want this to happen, all I would say is please buy these Bananarama albums and enjoy them, and watch this space.
SDE: So you’re not telling us very much then…
TP: [Laughs] well, what do you want to know?
SDE: What we want to know is, have you got something already in the pipeline, that is going to have those mixes of Love, Truth And Honesty that will come out at some point on a CD format ?
TP: [Evasively] Wouldn’t that be nice? You can look at the way Edsel have handled other artists work… yes there is other Bananarama stuff – the “Hellfire Mix” of Venus, the “Banana Mix” of Do Not Disturb, the “Miami Mix” of I Heard A Rumour, blah blah blah – if these reissues get a good response commercially, in terms of the feedback overall, then I’d hope we can do more. The only thing I would say is that it surprises me sometimes when people talk about stuff like it’s the Holy Grail, and then as soon as it’s been put out on CD, you never hear it mentioned again!
SDE: You must be pleased with the initial feedback on these reissues. Looking at the Facebook comments when the track listings were revealed, it was virtually all positive.
TP: That is nice. Especially because these had been reissued before, and I’m not going to criticise, but there were obviously people who wanted Bananarama to be given ‘the treatment’ and this is really a second round of reissues, so I thought I’m going to really pull out the stops. So getting clearance on the unreleased stuff, having the DVD to work with [has been great].
Tom Parker was talking to Paul Sinclair for SDE. All six Bananarama reissues are out on Monday 28 October 2013.
Deep Sea Skiving 2CD+DVD
• UK Pre-order: Deep Sea Skiving (Bonus DVD)
• UK Pre-order: Bananarama (Bonus DVD)
True Confessions 2CD+DVD
• UK Pre-order: True Confessions (Bonus DVD)
• UK Pre-order: Wow! (Bonus DVD)
Pop Life 2CD+DVD
• UK Pre-order: Pop Life (Bonus DVD)
Please Yourself 2CD+DVD
• UK Pre-order: Please Yourself (Bonus DVD)