Pop chameleon Boy George finds karma
12:10 03 April 2014
Boy George epitomised the look, and the sound, of the 1980s.
"I am in a good place, I am happy, I am clean and sober and have been for six years..."
As lead singer of Culture Club and defined by his androgynous style of dressing, he created the blue-eyed soul sound of the decade.
Influenced by rhythm and blues and reggae, it led to perfect pop songs such as Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? and Karma Chameleon.
But it was the trappings of that pop stardom that saw the huge success of Boy George, and with it Culture Club, evaporate in a drug and alcohol-fuelled haze.
A determined performer and showman, he reinvented himself as a DJ and immersed himself into the dance scene, with massive success, but it is only in the last year or two that Boy George, the singer-songwriter, has re-emerged.
His first album in 18 years, This Is What I Do, received huge critical acclaim late last year; “the comeback of the year” said The Guardian, “a warm, languid comeback,” gushed The Times with the sentiment echoed by many other music reviewers for a record featuring tracks such as King of Everything, Live Your Life and My God.
This weekend the DJ and singer pitches up in Norwich complete with a nine-piece band for his first full show in the city probably since his hey-day.
“I’ve done DJ shows in Norwich but this is probably the first live show I have done in Norwich, certainly for a long while, anyway,” he tells me, “but I’m delighted, even excited, about being at the Waterfront. We have an amazing live band, with three brass players, and they are all very good musicians.”
It is destined to be a show to please the whole spectrum of his fans…whoever they may be.
“My audience nowadays is so eclectic,” he adds. “I just look out over the crowd and wonder who are these people and I quite like that. We have such a wide range of people in, the sort of people who just love good music.”
“You never know who is going to be out there, I am always surprised, and I love that. But if you knew who you were going to get in the audience every night, that would get quite boring.”
There will be material from the new album during the show, but he promises a sprinkling of the major Culture Club hits, plus an interesting mix of cover versions.
In is husky, smoky, soulful voice, he points out: “I’ve been doing this a long while, I know what the crowd pleasers are and I always want people to go home with a smile on their face.
“Though this is definitely a Boy George show, we do have some Culture Club songs to drop in and I love doing them; it is always a great moment when you can drop in a classic song.”
Having spent the last few years song-writing, DJing, writing books, designing clothes and developing his interest in photography, I ask him what prompted him to get back into the record studio and make his first album with a band for the best part of a decade.
He pauses, considers the question: “I have been DJing for the last 25 years and been involved with dance music and hadn’t had that much interest in making records but now felt like the right time for me.
“I suppose any artist follows their intuition and this felt right for me to make a record again and I am really happy that I have done that. So far, the reaction has been excellent and I am really pleased with that.”
Boy George first found fame when he caught the attention of former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren, who arranged for him to perform with Bow Wow Wow but he eventually left and started his own band with bassist Mikey Craig.
They were later joined by Jon Moss (who had drumming stints with The Damned and Adam and the Ants) and Roy Hay. Realising they had a cross-dressing Irish singer (George), a black Briton (Craig), a Jewish drummer (Moss), and an Anglo-Saxon Englishman (Hay), they settled on the name Culture Club, referring to the various ethnic backgrounds of the members.
With George and Moss in a romantic relationship their debut album, Kissing to Be Clever, was a major hit followed by the colossal Colour By Numbers album and Waking Up with the House on Fire, with George also performing on the Band Aid international hit single Do They Know It’s Christmas.
But by the late 1980s George had been struggling with heroin addiction which eventually saw his career take a downward turn. He was ravaged by the scourge of addiction for many years, and more recently other brushes with the law saw him given a community service order in New York and a jail sentence in London.
He acknowledges his “dark periods” but believes his troubles are now behind him.
“I am in a good place, I am happy, I am clean and sober and have been for six years and everything in my life is very different,” he stresses. “I am happy again and really enjoying myself and what I do.
“It is also great to be doing live shows, it is fun but it is what you do as a performer, it is what makes you what you are as an artist.”
Boy George revealed that he will be following his current studio album with more recording.
“My next project will be doing a record with Culture Club and that is going to happen soon,” he said.
“We are starting to record in May, I’m not sure when we will get the record out, but there will be live Culture Club shows at the end of this year.”
n Boy George plays the Waterfront, King Street, Norwich, on April 4, 6.30pm, £23.50, 01603 508050, www.ueaticketbookings.co.uk
n This Is What I Do is out now
n Further listening: www.boygeorgeuk.com