“This is the decade of Pop Music,” Bananarama tell me, and they should know. “There are no Bob Dylans or anything. No Rolling Stones. Acid House is just a fad and let’s face it, if you try hard to be trendy you’ve had it. But… There will always be Pop Music.”

Bananarama are about to become a modern pop phenomenon. Official.

“Yeah. The Guinness Book Of Records 1982-1988: 14 Consecutive Chart Hits. We’re ‘the most successful European all-girl group of all time!’ Seventeen Top 40 hits in Britain. One more hit after ‘Love, Truth & Honesty’ and it’s the world. We’ll pass The Supremes…”

And the next comment sums them up even more than these stats: “Sad, isn’t it ?!”

They all laugh.

But then Bananarama are nothing if not cheerful (and why wouldn’t they be ?).

After all, they invented the rules of how to become a modern pop phenomenon: if the secret of any classic Bananarama pop song is a perfect set of “Ooooh-oooo”s, the secret of any Bananarama video is lipstick, big lipstick-smiles everywhere.

Do Bananarama represent anything ?

Of course they do. (In ‘80s pop everybody has to represent something.) More than any other pop group Bananarama represent the changing face and state – not to say fate – of ‘80s pop.

Bananarama have embodied pop’s progress – from the ironic opportunism and happy amateurism of ‘It Ain’t What You Do…’ (with Fun Boy Three) to the product professionalism of Stock, Aitken & Waterman via the brilliantly bland beach pop of the Swain & Jolley period. From dungarees and headbands in 1981 to today’s modern-camp vamps, they’ve even managed to take on Political Pop if it’s really true that ‘Robert De Niro’s Waiting’ is about a rape victim’s fantasy (which would make it one of the decade’s subtlest examples of pop music entryism/subversion).

Bananarama have consistently found the sound of the moment, made it work for them, and then moved on, capturing the values of the time along the way.

In 1981 when pop was about youth, opportunism, and sheer front, Bananarama were gate-crashing other group’s backing-vocals and doing mime-a-long support slots for the likes of Vic Godard at The Wag Club.

Ask them today how they’ve become a pop phenomenon and they’ll say one word: “Perseverance.” Very contemporary: hard work, self-belief, self-improvement. Perfect.

Bananarama are here to convince you that this success is neither the result of manicured manipulation and calculated capitalism, nor just some happy accident.

Back in ’81, when they had their first hit, ‘Dare’ was Number One and ‘Love Plus One’ was waiting. Since then, somehow, it would appear that it’s Bananarama who have proved more alert and adaptable to the demands and shifts of modern pop than any of their New Pop contemporaries.

Bananarama have sustained their success and will finish the decade making music as popular, as young and as fashionable as it’s ever been – unlike any of the following:

Haircut 100, Madness, Kid Creole, The Beat, The Stray Cats, Culture Club, Adam Ant, The Frankies, Linx, The Polecats, Soft Cell, ABC, or The Human League,

And unlike Duran, Dexy’s, Spandau, A-ha, or George Michael, they’ll be making young pop singles rather than Adult Albums. What’s more, they’ll have coped and succeeded where most of their female peers have failed or faded. Where are Clare Grogan, Amazulu, the Belle Stars, Annabella Lwin, Ari Up, Pauline Black, Mari Wilson, Lesley Woods, or Pauline Murray now ?

Sara Dallin is in no doubt.

“What we represent is three strong women who’ve succeeded in a male-dominated business. We’ve made a career for ourselves out of thin air.”

Very 1980s.

So here they come, Britain’s scruffiest, most unassuming, modern phenomenon – decked out in shredded jeans, Michael Clark ‘God’ T-shirts, beetle-crushers, and bomber jackets. Sucking Silk Cuts, flashing giant lipstick-smiles, Bananarama are tomboy toughs, bright and pretty, but not bubbly.

“People always expect that,” tuts Keren Woodward. “That’s the last thing we are. Quite cynical really.”

They are raving about the price of Estee Lauder Body Tightener, Neil Tennant, The Cure, Tracy Chapman, and slagging Prince’s Camden Palace bash.

“We were having a great time ‘til he came on.”

All three profess a violent empathy with the thoughts and phrases of one Steven Patrick Morrissey.

Any song in particular?

“Well, all of them really.”

But what Bananarama are here to tell you, with gushing earnestness and innocent know-how, is that they are In Control. They ignore compromise, advocate instinct, have never done anything for money, and, they conclude prouldy “have never got our tits out.”

Dallin again: “What we represent is the way that the girl groups of the ‘60s have changed. They were manufactured. They were brilliant singers, which we aren’t, but that was their only input – singing the songs they were given. The idea people have of us – that we were three girls at the right time in the right place – is so insulting to us !”

Although Bananarama have utilized only the ‘80s modern arts (video, magazines, advertising), resisting the dated squalor of live shows, they are quick to point out:

“We’ve never been a teen group. We can’t identify with any of those boy groups because their success was based on a cult teen following which we’ve never had.”

One of their secrets is that they’re a natural pop package.

London Records’ Paul MacDonald talks of marketing them as they are: “three ordinary North London girls.”

Whilst regular video directors Andy Moynihan and Peter Kerr simply let them get on with it. It was typical that Bananarama recruited as their new-girl an ex-Shillelagh Sister on the basis of her voice and friendship rather than some Bucks Fizz bimbo audition. Any suggestion of styling is greeted with simple hilarity.

“We’ve always appeared just as we are. People assume that you can’t get to this stage without a great deal of styling, but we have ! Nothing’s ever been decided without us.”

Keren emphasises: “We live this. We believe in ourselves. We actually believe we’re talented. We’re talented entertainers.”

Maybe what Bananarama represent is three ordinary North London six-year-olds dressing up in front of the mirror and singing along to the radio who never grew up. They still manage to make making videos look like the best fun a girl can get.

“All our videos are our ideas… You can tell really !” laughs Keren. “Anything fake is always evident. People look uncomfortable. When we’re being wacky or whatever, it’s our personality, it’s spontaneous.”

It all began in 1979 after Siobhan Fahey and Sarah Dallin met while studying Journalism at the London College of Fashion. Keren was a typist at the BBC.

In 1981 they cashed in their club connections and Siobhan’s contacts from working as a receptionist at Decca, to press 2000 copies of a version of Black Blood’s disco stomp anthem ‘Aie A Mwana.’

It got them raves from Weller and Costello, space in The Face, a Top 30 Billboard hit, and an offer from Terry Hall to sing with Fun Boy Three.

At the time, they told NME: “our humour is cheap and obvious. That’s the way it’s going to stay… It would be good if it lasts but we don’t expect it to.”

They had never played live, signed for no advance, and for three years didn’t have a manager.

“We had friends in the music business but we didn’t know anything about it. We didn’t care if it lasted six months or a year. It took us four years to begin to take it seriously. It’s only now we’ve realized what the scale of success could be. We’ve always insisted on a lot of input, that’s why we managed ourselves. We wrote our own songs (I’d estimate at least two-thirds of their songs credit the group with the respective producers). With Stock, Aitken & Waterman, we collaborate on the melodies, we say what we like and what we don’t like, what we want and what we don’t want and we write the lyrics. We always discuss the final sound.

“Don’t forget we had five years of success without them. It was us that found them !”

This was after they heard SAW’s work on Dead Or Alive’s pop classic ‘You Spin Me Round (Like A Record)’.

“We’ve got a very good ear for what suits us.”

What have you learnt from all this ?

“To see through the bullshit,” says one.

“To look at the red light on the camera instead of get embarrassed and look away,” says another.

“That most papers won’t print interviews unless they’re slag-offs.”

“The most important thing,” says Sara, “is that the public will take the first image you present them with very seriously. You have to be sure that’s the image you want. We’d had our pictures taken in rah-rah skirts with balloons and streamers, so it gave us this silly little girl image. We didn’t realize we were being manipulated.”

They explain that they’ve learnt the delicacies of compromise.

“We agreed to do Seaside Special, which we’d argued about because we thought it was too corny and cringeful. But we had a brilliant time and you could tell. So we looked good on it !”

The other drawbacks of being pop phenomena are “photo sessions, interviews, and Fleet St.”

“Who we’ve been out with, who we’ve broken up with… Coping with that was quite hard for a while. It makes you paranoid. You can’t be photographed with anyone because it goes into the paper as “a torrid affair” or that we “spent hours canoodling together”.”

“One of the hassles of the job”, sniffs Keren, are overly obsessive American fans – including the boy who’s convinced he met Sara in Saigon 15 years ago and the girl who turned up in Keren’s hotel room with a 6ft bodyguard.

“She took various articles from my belongings and said I was the mother of a poisoned child and that I dragged people into my poisoned web. It was quite frightening. Like ‘Play Misty For Me.’”

Bananarama could be the only pop phenomenon to try and tell you they “can’t remember” if they had their own B-side on the back of an American Number One (‘Venus’).

They are “not millionaires” and “have never done anything for money” having turned down “masses of money” for a hair curlers advert and a reputed £ö million for Mars in America.

“It was too cheap and corny. We didn’t decide to be in a group so we could advertise Mars Bars. It’s hardly satisfying, is it ?”

Equally they maintain they chose American manager, Bennett Freed, “after we saw loads of real Mafioso types, all saying ‘we can get you this, get you on that’. But Bennett had bought all our records and videoed our first time on American Bandstand when our costumes fell apart – Siobhan’s belt fell off and she just stopped, picked it up and started putting it back on. We were crap but he thought we were great.”

So having sold six million singles and five million albums worldwide, Bananarama are about to Make It Big, touring America – with a band – next year and this month releasing a Greatest Hits album, backed by a TV advertising campaign (‘Gets Any Party Goin’’) that features MPs such as Cyril Smith and Ron Brown. Perhaps wisely the girls turned down any possible photo opportunities.

“Playing live is just part of taking this to a different level. Being a huge albums band is something we’ve never been until recently. Singles are just there to sell albums though, aren’t they, nowadays.”

“America’s the biggest market in the world so it’s harder to break for any English group, so obviously it’s very satisfying.”

“Any more clichés, Keren?” carps Sara.

“Yeah. I’ve got loads of them !”

And she has, all the best ones (“good songs just last”), all the ones any classic pop groups must have (“We just do what we want to”).

The Hits album proves that Pop Music Today only really makes sense when you’re watching the video.

‘Venus’ is suddenly very sexy. ‘I Heard A Rumour’ and ‘I Want You Back’ are brilliant nonsense that have an excitable energy any Indie band would do well to try and emulate. Of course Bananarama can be effortlessly mindless and SAW’s ‘I Can’t Help It’ or ‘Love In The First Degree’ could just as well be by Mel & Kim or Hazel Dean.

Pre-SAW – ‘Shy Boy’ et cetera – Bananarama just saw pop as the art of irritation: formula fluff made infectious. Above all, it proves that true pop dates, fatally, the moment it leaves the charts. So Bananarama became the ‘80s answer to Boney M.

“The production dates them, pinpoints them. The original ‘Venus’ sounds awful compared to ours. Acid House will date very quickly because it’s all production. We stand by all of them except ‘Na Na Hey Hey’, which is terribly lacklustre. Atrocious.”

When 1981’s New Pop Dream bubble burst, the mid ‘80s saw Pop Music making a vain attempt to resist its eventual fate, to hold on to some sort of meaning. So Bananarama sang songs about war, rape, and heroin. Unsurprisingly (logically), missing from the Hits album are the non-hits: ‘Do Not Disturb’, ‘Hotline To Heaven’, and the almost melancholy ‘Cheers Then’.

“We were devastated when they failed. It was frustrating for us because we were trying to write something serious without disguising it in a bright poppy melody like ‘Robert De Niro’s Waiting’ and it didn’t work. No one was interested. That was a depressing period.”

For what it’s worth, I point out, those issues (Northern Ireland, rape, drugs) are still there for them to write about. So have they abandoned that attempt ?

Sara: “At that time our friend (Thomas Reilly, brother of SLF drummer Jim) had been shot dead by a soldier in Northern Ireland. So Ireland was the burning issue for us at the time. ‘King Of The Jungle’ was about the war in Belfast. We were in contact with other depressing factors in life and at the moment we’re not. ‘Hotline To Heaven’ is a great song, about heroin – a close personal friend who we were involved with on a day-to-day basis. We’ve done it now. It didn’t work but that’s not to say those things are out of our mind, just because they’re not in the songs. Who’s to say what we do about Northern Ireland ? Who’s to say who we support ? It doesn’t mean we don’t do something,” she adds enigmatically.

“We want to be successful and reach as many people as possible. Then the more money we make, the more power we have to put it towards charity or whatever. Things we feel strongly about. We didn’t abandon that attempt. We may go back to it.

“What a fool, to believe in Love, Truth & Honesty” isn’t exactly happy-go-lucky boy-meets-girl. It’s about a personal experience.”

“I find it very rewarding,” offers Keren.

“It didn’t make me happy writing those sort of songs. It depressed me further. Luckily the turning point came doing ‘Venus’ with SAW, just doing pop for the sake of pop without being embarrassed about it.”

Keren: “I enjoy singing these songs more than I enjoyed singing those. I think you can see it and I think you can hear it as well.”

Sara: “During the last two years, a lot has changed. We’ve realized where our strengths lie and worked on them, played to them. We’ve become more professional in the way we present ourselves and handle things. We know now what people want from us and we want to cater to that. There’s nothing wrong with that. That is what we’re best at.”

Keren: “Anyway, we’ve become this phenomenon now, a household name. It certainly makes it harder for people to knock us. We’ve been going so long and had so much success, we’re part of the contemporary music scene and that’s all there is to it.”

Their press officer rescues them – tells them the photographer’s outside for the next photo session.

But before she can finish the word “session”, the air is filled with a swish and a click as three shiny, glamorous, red lipsticks launch into action – expertly deployed with impressively ruthless, fabulous, efficiency by the most modern pop phenomenon in Britain. Ever.