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7 Nov

‘It’s all love’: Mutya, Keisha and Siobhán on 25

‘It’s all love’: Mutya, Keisha and Siobhán on 25

The week after Glastonbury is all the time a wierd one. Its attendees shuffle around just like the ground has fallen out beneath them, many unable to return to the rhythms of the urban life they cheerily lived every week before. Those of us who stayed at home find yourself coaxing small talk out of depressed husks, desperate for something like a sentient response. This yr, the talking point of alternative was not an audacious headliner or a classic legacy act, but “did you see the Sugababes?!”. Their headline set within the modest Avalon tent was so overcrowded that the realm needed to be cordoned off. Seasoned festival-heads spoke of it to me as the perfect show of the weekend. It was the second festival gig of their summer reunion, which can move to arenas across the UK this autumn.

The story of the Sugababes is a breathless epic, waiting to be placed on film. At the peak of the British girlband boom, Mutya Buena, Keisha Buchanan and Siobhán Donaghy are three disaffected north London teenagers. Buena and Buchanan are schoolmates, even. They release the 2000 album One Touch, their distinctive harmonies offset by garage and alternative soundscapes. Donaghy leaves amid reports of infighting, and is soon replaced by ex-Atomic Kitten candidate Heidi Range. The brand new three enter a period of economic boom and demanding affection including legendary mash-up hit “Freak Like Me” and the earwig “Push the Button”. Donaghy quietly releases two underrated alternative albums, then goes to work as a model booker.

Buena, by then a latest mother, exits the group at the peak of their 2005 success. She is replaced by Amelle Berrabah, who stays with the group for 2 albums while they reach poppier heights with their biggest-ever single “About You Now”. By 2009, on the cusp of a synth-y urban era partly backed by Jay Z’s Roc Nation, Buchanan leaves the group and is replaced by Jade Ewen, then a soloist fresh off a Eurovision attempt. (It later transpired that it was her or the opposite two.)

The group is left with no original members and fizzles out after that poorly-received 2010 album Sweet 7, but doesn’t quite confirm a split. By 2013, the unique three reunite under the moniker ‘Mutya Keisha Siobhan’ (they legally couldn’t secure the rights to the ‘Sugababes’ name). After releasing a well-loved but understated Dev Hynes-produced ballad “Flatline”, they tour. An album is recorded with R&B-pop mainstays like MNEK nevertheless it is rarely released; though most of it leaks online.

Now, they’re back, and back because the Sugababes. I meet up with them over Zoom, a number of days after their sellout show at Margate Pride. I’m mischievously hoping to run through two-and-a-half many years of chaos, but am met as an alternative with the calm of three school friends. Buchanan might vividly retell those years, but now does it with a certain reflective distance. Buena is the group’s punctuationist, more prone to provide one-word agreements than philosophise at length. Donaghy is passionately musical and, despite years out of the highlight, consummately skilled. She is keen to reorient the conversation away from the noise, and towards the band’s rightful future as one among the nice UK bands.

You’re fresh from performing your first Pride in years. Which of you has the most important claim to being a gay icon?

Siobhán Donaghy: Probably Mutya.

Mutya Buena: Yeah. I mean, I assume I do plenty of shows for Pride. It’s all the time an incredible time to party and rejoice.

Are they going to allow you to do ‘Song 4 Mutya’ [her celebrated gay-club anthem] on this tour?

Mutya Buena: No! No.

Siobhán Donaghy: What do you mean ‘let her’?! It’s actually quite hard to do the setlist, there’s so many you need to let in. I wouldn’t rule anything out in the longer term…

In your shows, you’ve ended up doing a little of your stuff from ten years ago [when the band briefly reformed as Mutya Keisha Siobhan, but most tracks went unreleased]. Do you may have plans for those songs?

Keisha Buchanan: Sorry guys, I went into a beautiful quiet coffee shop to do that call and now everyone and their gran and auntie is in here… 

On that, they mainly all leaked and I believe people need to hear something fresh. That was really upsetting for us, you place your all into it and also you’re on such a vibe. We were coping with label stuff, team, there was the name stuff as well. I really like that the fans had an incredible response but each time I get tagged in stuff I’m like, ‘you’re not imagined to hear that!’.

Mutya Buena: There have been some great tracks there.

Siobhán Donaghy: I loved that body of labor and I’d like it to see the sunshine of day sooner or later, so it’s definitely an open discussion.

Do you are feeling like those leaks took the momentum out of your last era?

Siobhán Donaghy: It wasn’t the leaks that did that, there was a lot happening behind the scenes. Being out this summer has really felt prefer it’s our time. We love what we do and are hard-working and write great tunes but you continue to need the celebs to align.

“That was really the era of girl groups. All of it comes around. I’m just waiting for the day it’s a great deal of girl groups and boybands coming from nowhere. It’ll sooner or later soon” – Mutya Buena

It does feel like the celebs aligned at Glastonbury. Were you expecting that type of reception?

Keisha Buchanan: There’ve been such starts and stops since we got back together and sometimes you get a bit nervous. Will people still be as excited? Though we’re back, we’ve been back before. So to listen to that response from everyone, it was such a pleasant feeling. I’m far more grateful than I’ve ever been in my entire profession.

Siobhán Donaghy: We got here on and will barely hear, that they had to get the sound to succeed in an even bigger crowd than the tent since the whole area spilled out and needed to be closed off. It was quite intense, but there are specific moments that you simply just remember, where there’s something special within the air. I remember we played Ronnie Scott’s back within the day, and that felt like an actual moment. Glastonbury definitely did that again for us.

Mutya Buena: Buzzing.

On this same magazine a few months ago I discussed the decline of the British girlband. There have been so many whenever you were coming up, and now beyond latest band FLO, it’s slowed up a lot. Do you ever take into consideration why that’s?

Mutya Buena: That was really the era of girl groups. All of it comes around. I’m just waiting for the day it’s a great deal of girl groups and boybands coming from nowhere. It’ll sooner or later soon.

Keisha Buchanan: Everyone just jumps on the wave as soon as something works. I remember when grime was something you needed to hearken to on pirate radio, after which So Solid were opening doors, nevertheless it was a very very long time until it happened again. It takes people to think outside of the box.

Siobhán Donaghy: For a very long time it’s been dance music with a single female voice. While you’re a harmony group like us, that’s really difficult because that’s not what’s magic concerning the three of us singing together. We’d sound really different if you happen to do a wall of sound vibe over a dance track. I just hate when someone desires to try to make you do what works on radio – that’s not the way you get people’s best work.

Have you ever been in that position before, of getting to do the business stuff that your heart wasn’t in?

Keisha Buchanan: I used to be never really a fan of the poppy, poppy stuff, just like the Red Dresses [‘Red Dress’ was their thumping Xenomania-produced 2006 single. Mutya had left the band a few weeks before its release].

There was actually a fan favourite from that point called ‘Ace Reject’. I once said I actually hated that song and the backlash I got was insane. I used to be like, ‘you want that?!’. Now I even have more of an appreciation for it. I still feel prefer it’s got the longest verse you’ve ever heard in your life.

That was one among those Xenomania songs [eccentric British production company] where you’d all have been put in several rooms in that big house to write down different sections.

Keisha Buchanan: Yeah. I had written about 4 different verses and expected to make use of one. After which they used 4 of them!

Siobhán Donaghy: Is that this the delicatessen song?

Keisha Buchanan: No, that’s ‘Joy Division’. [‘Joy Division’ is a song on the same 2005 album, Taller in More Ways, which contains the improbable line, ‘I ain’t just a piece of meat sitting in a delicatessen.’]

Mutya Buena: [hums the chorus of ‘Ace Reject’]

Keisha Buchanan: Oh God. Siobhán you’ve got to hearken to it. It’s quite a bit.

You’ve all had day trip of the Sugababes, hearing them from the surface. Were there moments where you heard something and thought, ‘that’s one’ – or where you were like ‘thank God I got out of that’?

Mutya Buena: From the time I left I used to all the time hear the women on the radio. I learned the songs without knowing I’d learned them. Nevertheless it was all the time enjoyable to listen to the stuff.

Siobhán Donaghy: It becomes very separate, doesn’t it? You don’t really associate yourself with it when it’s moved on. You may type of hearken to it and luxuriate in it and it not be anything to do with you.

Keisha Buchanan: So that you guys liked the songs after we…

Mutya Buena: Not after you left, no. [laughs]

Siobhán Donaghy: I liked the primary record!

Keisha Buchanan: I feel like ‘About You Now’ has grown on us.

Siobhán Donaghy: [hesitates] Erm… I enjoy it live. I’m not going home and listening to it. But given what the tour band have done, even with songs like ‘Overload’, our musical director has just reimagined things and so they all have an actual latest energy.

Mutya Buena: I enjoy singing ‘About You Now’ live. The group loves it, you possibly can just rock to it.

Keisha Buchanan: I used to be on plenty of the records, I believe they released perhaps 2 singles once I left. If I’m being honest, ‘About A Girl’ is the one one which brings up things for me since it was around that point. I’ve still never watched the video. [‘About A Girl’ was a RedOne-produced dance single, in the Lady Gaga vein, released in 2009 just as Keisha was ejected from the group.]

Mutya Buena: No way!

Siobhán Donaghy: Don’t think I even have either.

Mutya Buena: Me neither actually.

Keisha Buchanan: I used to be there when that was being filmed, you realize.

Mutya Buena: That’s mental.

Siobhán Donaghy: Savage.

Keisha Buchanan: I used to be on the solution to the positioning. That wasn’t day. But disclaimer, they’ve wished us well on these shows, they’re really comfortable for us.

Mutya Buena: Aww!

Keisha Buchanan: So quite a bit has modified since then. Amelle’s sent through a message, Heidi’s really comfortable for us and is rooting for us. You’ve got to get to some extent where you laugh at these items since it was a shitshow. But you progress on, it’s all love.

Mutya Buena: I really like that. That’s nice.

“Amelle’s sent through a message, Heidi’s really comfortable for us and is rooting for us. You’ve got to get to some extent where you laugh at these items since it was a shitshow. But you progress on, it’s all love” – Keisha Buchanan

The way in which it was told within the press, you were made out as these catfighting girls. But wouldn’t anyone have fought and cracked under the stress you were all under?

Keisha Buchanan: Yes and no… I believe all of us just had such different outlooks. Before this comeback, the line-up I had essentially the most fun in, you guys tell him.

Siobhán Donaghy: Amelle and Heidi.

Keisha Buchanan: I used to be in a position to be a bit more Disney with it.

Siobhán Donaghy: Well I’m glad you said it and never me.

Keisha Buchanan: Yeah, I all the time was the girl at school who did the Spice Girls routines.

Mutya Buena: You actually were as well.

Keisha Buchanan: And this was like, oh my God, all of us get to decorate alike?! It was my bloody dream. Obviously not now it isn’t, but back then. Mutya and Siobhan keep the Disney a bit under wraps. I had a moment the opposite day on stage once I did a double spin and my mic dropped out and that for me was a wake-up call.

Mutya Buena: I don’t think it was a double, it was a triple.

Keisha Buchanan: Well whatever it was, I got a bit too excited. Anyway, every circumstance is different. It’s key to have the best people around us. When you may have people who find themselves nearly getting on with stuff, it really works higher for us, quite than individuals who intervene in personal relationships.

Siobhán Donaghy: Back then we were laying the foundations for the band. A lot of thought had to enter that, plenty of studio sessions, it was plenty of us giving our time as teenagers to make it work. We actually got behind something that was our dream. The difference is now we will be just a little bit more relaxed. We’ve got this amazing thing to be pleased with that we will exit and rejoice. The pressure is off. All three of us have proven ourselves now, we will enjoy it and our downtime together. The entire summer has been so lovely.

Mutya Buena: I agree.

You’ve been working with people like Blood Orange and Metronomy on remixes of older songs – do you may have plans to get back within the studio soon?

Siobhán Donaghy: There’s that word, ‘soon’.

Mutya Buena: In the intervening time, we haven’t really had the time to get it together.

Siobhán Donaghy: It’s not a no, I believe with us people will just discover that the song’s come out. The final thing we would like to do is get everyone excited for something to get in the way in which. When it happens people will hear it.

It’s a bit more like that these days though.

Keisha Buchanan: I really like that concerning the industry now.

Mutya Buena: You may release music just about each time you would like nowadays.

Do you may have anyone you’d attempt to work with?

Keisha Buchanan: Pharrell.

Siobhán Donaghy: I all the time say Burna Boy. Keisha just introduced me to Juls, that stuff’s amazing.

Keisha Buchanan: Temz, she’s great.

Siobhán Donaghy: Little Simz too. We’re lucky that we’ve never gone out to ask to work with someone and so they’ve said no.

And any surprises on the tour later within the yr?

Siobhán Donaghy: We’re adding quite a bit to the show. There’s one song people may not expect me to need to sing, but I would like to sing it.

Mutya Buena: It’ll be an incredible show.

Tickets for the Sugababes’ 2022 tour are on sale now at livenation.co.uk

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