They couldn’t really play, but they had a single – a hit single – called Let’s Do Rock Steady. It was ska beat, they were all girls. Rhoda left and the Snatchers turned into the Stars.
Signing to Stiff in 1981, the seven-woman combo played and sang neo-soul with ska-flecked dance beats. The press adored them – what they wore, how they giggled, even what they played.
Commercially things got off to a shaky start. Their first single, Hiawatha, was not all that was hoped. The critics said it sounded like it had been recorded in Epping Forest. It flopped.
Then came Slick Trick – a wicked rap about some devious young madam taking all her men to the cleaners. It was fragile funk, but it had a nice melody and some attractive idiosyncrasies, like the sax break which replaced a legitimate chorus.
But again it flopped, and the services of Madness producers Clive Langer and Alan Winstanley were dispensed with.
With the release of the Latin Love Song EP, decrees of plagiarism of the worst degree were levelled at the seven. With their confidence in their own songwriting abilities undermined, the band turned to covers.
The first was Iko, Iko. As luck would have it, the week before its release an unknown blonde called Natasha sprung into the charts with her own version, and The Belle Stars could only manage a sorry hiccup near the bottom of the Top 40.
Their version did, however, become a huge hit when recycled on the soundtrack of 1988’s Rain Man.
Another cover, The Clapping Song, managed to get them into the charts at last. Their third cover, Mockingbird, returned them to the land of the flops.
Then – out of the blue – it happened. Their new single, Sign Of The Times, went straight in at #19 and suddenly The Belle Stars were on TV every time you turned it on.
Despite Sign Of The Times reaching the Top Three the band never released an album, and effectively ended up as two distinct bands – one that had the hits, and the constantly touring live band.
In 1987 they slimmed down to three members (Owen, Joyce and Shone) and spent two months making an album in New York with Trevor Horn, which Horn eventually refused to release.
Vocalist Jennie McKeown developed a serious heroin problem and moved to Miami to “sort herself out”. In recent years she has performed with members of Selecter and The Bodysnatchers in an outfit called Skadiva.
Hirst moved into the jazz world and formed The Clare Hirst Quartet. Most of the others moved out of the music industry into relatively “normal” jobs.