Tuesday, August 12, 2008

An Entirely Strange Vampire Dance

The early 80s in particular saw a major resurgence in all-girl groups, the likes of the Go-Go’s, Bananarama, Bangles, and Belle Stars enjoying varying levels of success and longevity. Long before the Spice Girls revived the genre in the mid 90s, British all-girl vocal group Toto Coelo enjoyed a brief but luminous period in the pop spotlight.

Masterminded by producer Barry Blue (who also produced Bananarama), the pop vocal quintet took their name Toto Coelo from a Latin expression meaning ‘by the whole extent of the heavens’, or in broad terms ‘entirely’ or ‘utterly’ (in the U.S. the group was known as Total Coelo, apparently to avoid possible confusion with rock group Toto). The line-up was led by Anita Mahadervan (later known as Anita Chellamah), Ros Holness (the daughter of British game show host Bob Holness), Lindsey Danvers, Lacey Bond and Sheen Doran. Just like the Spice Girls to follow, Toto Coelo relied heavily on a bright and sexy visual image. Their wild and colourful wardrobe was reflected in the bright, breezy and ultimately frivolous style of their music. That’s not to say their songs weren’t catchy and well produced, but rather than being a substantive pop standard, they sat more easily in the cheery but ultimately disposable novelty song category.

‘I Eat Cannibals’ burst onto the British charts in late 1982, eventually climbing to #8. Australia soon succumbed to the lure of the song’s charm, rewarding the catchy tune with a spot at #4 on the singles charts. A few months later, thanks mainly to the appealing promo video being played on MTV, ‘I Eat Cannibals’ reached #66 in the U.S., but it was to be their only incursion into the American pop market.

In danger of being consigned to the one hit wonder museum, Toto Coelo fortunately had one more shot to fire at the charts. ‘Dracula’s Tango (Sucker For Your Love)’ was essentially more of the same high tempo catchy pop, but it managed to attract enough interest to ascend to #19 in Australia and #54 in Britain. The girls were working on a full length album when both Anita Mahadervan and Sheen Doran elected to do a Ginger Spice (before it was fashionable) and leave the group. A final single was released later in 1983 but ‘Milk From The Coconut’ (OZ#100) was confirmation that Toto Coelo were destined to be around for a good time rather than a long time. The album sessions were eventually pieced together to amount to the album ‘Man Of War’ which charted in Australia (#82) during 1983, but no where else.

Holness, Danvers and Bond decided to try their luck as a trio (why not, it worked for Bananarama), and released a couple of singles during 1985 on the Debut Records label. But neither ‘Girls Night Out’ or ‘Gimme Some Lovin’ registered on the charts, thus signalling an end to the venture.

Toto Coelo lead vocalist Anita Mahadervan (Chellamah) went on to join the hard rock band Cherry Bombz, and later went on to a career in television. It would be interesting to know how Toto Coelo would have fared in the period during which the Spice Girls were at the height of their fame, and vice versa for that matter.

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