CSFTD #27: Siobhán Donaghy – Ghosts

I use the term ‘classic’ pretty loosely in these reviews. Some of them are. This might better be classed as ‘might have been’ in the case of the artist at least. Thanks to a buddy, Anders Thyr, for the suggestion.

Siobhán Emma Donaghy is easily confused with Siobhan Fahey of Bananarama and Shakespears Sister (and yes, their ‘Stay’ should be covered here) but she was actually a founding member of the Sugababes along with Mutya Buena and Keisha Buchanan.

The Sugababes were and are an under-rated band in the annals of British pop history. They are believed to be the most successful female act to date of the 21st century with six UK number one singles and eighteen UK top ten hits and only the Spice Girls have had more number ones.

They also released five UK top ten albums, four of which reached at least platinum certification in the UK, and have been nominated for six Brit Awards, winning one for Best British Dance Act in 2003.

They have regularly featured in the British tabloid press owing to their line-up changes and alleged group infighting.

It is the earliest incarnation we are concerned with here, a band that was formed in 1998 when Siobhán Donaghy and Mutya Buena were just 13, and both were signed as solo artists by All Saints’ manager Ron Tom. They decided to work together and were subsequently joined by Buena’s best friend, Keisha Buchanan when Tom realised he could market them on the basis of their appearance alone, at the same time as the United Colours of Benetton advertising campaign.

The band was originally called the Sugababies but that was changed by their record label to create a more ‘mature’ image.

It would be fair to say that much of the Sugababes’ more mature work was manifest in their earlier formations and especially the one featuring Donaghy. But she didn’t stick around.

The band’s debut album One Touch did not meet their label’s expectations and they were dropped in 2001. At the same time Donaghy quit the group, saying initially that she wanted to pursue a fashion career, but she was reportedly diagnosed with depression amid reports of in-fighting amongst the group’s members. Donaghy has said that she was forced out of the group by Buchanan, whom she described as a “bully.”  She was replaced by Heidi Range, formally of Atomic Kitten.  Later, both Buena and Buchanan met the same fate.

They reunited in 2012 though they could not use the name Sugababes, for which there is a completely new line up (Buchanan commenced proceedings in the US in 2015 to trademark the name there). Any music released will be under the name Mutya Keisha Siobhán or MKS for short. (I’d always thought it stood for Milton Keynes Dons).

But so far nothing has been released apart from a single, Flatline, and the group seems to have, well, flatlined.

The ‘classic’ part of this review concerns the period 2003-2007 when Donaghy released two solo albums, Revolution in Me and Ghosts, as well as trying her hand at acting. The second album was released in 2007 and peaked at #92 in the UK charts. It was well received critically though it did appear to include a weird attempt to mimic Kate Bush on one track. Donaghy later said she only wanted commercial success so that she could continue to make music. She is quoted as saying, “I make left field pop music, and it’s a difficult genre to be in because it’s not straight pop, it’s not alternative, and it’s quite hard to market. You have to push it and work it.”

Left field pop music is what the earliest version of the Sugababes did, too, but their record label at the time of One Touch, London Records, dropped them because of inadequate sales. Having had two shots at it Donaghy said in 2012 that she had no interest in releasing any more solo material, adding that she felt the 2007 album Ghosts was her best work and didn’t see why she needed to release any more material and that she was completely focused on the new band. But the new band is not producing anything and has yet more contractual issues to deal with.

Donaghy’s mood wasn’t helped by a shocking error in the album manufacturing process for Ghosts when another batch of music was pressed instead. Donaghy says she hasn’t heard it but I have and it’s both funny and disconcerting at the same time. Disconcerting in that you wonder how a label can make such a mistake. The copies were taken back but many stores declined to take the correct one because, as Donaghy said, they were “pissed off.”

Does that mean that we will hear no more new material from Donaghy? She’s still young enough for things to happen (31) but in some ways seems to have given up the ghost. This would be a shame as she has a great deal of talent. Here is the title (and last) track from the album Ghosts. Does it rate as a classic? I think so.

The sleeve notes included text written backwards that can be read in a mirror. For that reason someone made a video of the song played backwards, and which actually seems to make more sense in some ways and you can hear a section of lyric in which she sings “(indecipherable)…she can’t carry on but her nimble fingers still feel the cold.”

© D J Bentley, 2016