By Richard Schultz, August 2016 Issue.
The 1980s was an era where such gender-bending fashion icons as Prince, Annie Lennox, Michael Jackson and Pete Burns, Dead or Alive’s lead singer, were rampant on the Top 40 charts.
No blast from the ‘80s pop past would be complete without the music and the style of George O’Dowd, aka Boy George, who embodied the essence of that era even before he burst upon the international music scene as the lead signer of Culture Club – the 1980s mega-group that has reunited for a world tour that’s heading to Phoenix Aug. 23.
Boy George, who always wore make up and dressed in fashions that were flashy and feminine, rose from the London nightclub scene and reflected the cultural New Wave that swept through England, the United States and the music charts.
Often associated with the second British Wave in music, Culture Club, which formed in 1981, capitalized on their strong signature look and monopolized the new cable network called MTV.
Boy George’s presence and influence was everywhere. He even made the cover of Cosmopolitan, a women’s magazine. When asked in an interview by The Huffington Post whether he associated more to being male or female, he answered, “I wanted to kind of look like a woman. And I did for a while – and then I got hairy!”
In an infamous moment of Grammy history, Joan Rivers was on hand when Culture Club won the 1983 Best New Artist award. In a live telecast from London, Boy George remarked “Thank you, America. You’ve got taste, style and know a good drag queen when you see one.”
Yet, Culture Club’s impact extended far beyond Boy George’s flamboyant persona and tabloid headlines. Along with Boy George, Culture Club’s original lineup included Mikey Craig (bass), Roy Hay (guitar, keyboards) and Jon Moss (drums and percussion). The group achieved stunning success, scoring three Top Ten U.S. hits from their debut album, Kissing to Be Clever, and becoming the first group to hit that milestone since the Beatles. They sold more than 50 million records with ten singles that reached the Top 40. “Time (Clock of the Heart)” is included on the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s list of 500 songs that shaped rock and roll.
In his article “Rock: British Culture Club,” Stephen Holden, music critic for The New York Times, said “Culture Club blends soul, rock, funk, reggae and salsa into a music that programmatically reconciles white, black and Latin styles.” He added that, “Mr. O’Dowd made the group’s best songs – the Motown-flavored ‘Do You Really Want to Hurt Me’ and the Latin-inflected dance tune ‘I’ll Tumble 4 Ya’ – shine like jewels.”
The aim of Culture Club’s music, as described by Boy George, is “to be creatively fluid to make everything we do a little different. We want to be a bridge between white rock and black soul,” he said, adding that he wants “Culture Club to represent all peoples and minorities.”
Despite group’s commercial success, significant pressures within the band led to its’ break-up. Boy George’s drug addiction and the end of George’s and drummer Jon Moss’ four-year relationship took its toll. The group split after their 1986 album, From Luxury to Heartache, amidst growing tensions in the band.
Flash forward to 2016 and all four original members have rejoined forces for the reunion tour.
Echo chats with legendary drummer
Culture Club’s drummer Jon Moss chatted with Echo Magazine about the international reunion tour, the current state of music and the band’s legacy.
Echo: How is it being back together as Culture Club? Any surprises?
Moss: We are now past the differences we had. Most importantly, the magic is still there. It’s different. I have to say that George is so very good at performing now. He has a real rapport with audiences. He has gotten quite good on stage.
Echo: What will the group be playing in concert?
Moss: We’ve got new songs and the old songs. We have a big band travelling with us. We really put on a good show. People like the songs from our latest album, Tribes.
Echo: Tribes was released in England, but not here in America. Any idea when that might happen?
Moss: I’m waiting for it to be released as well. You better ask George about that.
Echo: So, what’s the audience like at Culture Club concert?
Moss: It’s a real mix of generations. There’s an ‘80s nostalgia happening and kids are into that era now. There’s an intimacy about music from that period. It was not so polished as today. There is an innocence, in a way, about it. My son is listening to music from over 20 years ago.
Echo: What do you think about the resurgence of vinyl records, which were in their heyday in the 1980s?
Moss: The return to vinyl is good because it’s about the music … Today’s music is more like fast food. You download and get it fast, but it’s an incomplete process. We use to wait in line for new releases and then go home and listen to it. We would read the liner notes. It was a total experience. Digital is compressed. You download it and don’t listen to the whole album and skip tracks. I do it too, but I know that it’s not the full experience of music as it was in the past.
Echo: What’s your take on the difference between music now and back in the ‘80s?
Moss: Now it’s all about computers. We went to Spain and we just went in the room together and played and jammed. The music came out of the magic happens and you build on that. That’s the core when the sparkle happens and you capture that magic moment.
Echo: What is Culture Club’s legacy?
Moss: I think we were the franchise for those who were disfranchised. Many were distracted by George’s adventures, but we changed people’s perceptions. I believe we had more impact than people may remember. Yes, people needed to deal with their shock when they first saw George and thought, “Oh, he is a girl,” and then found out he is a boy. We were about looking at things from a different perspective. I think that without Culture Club the change in society may have happened differently … Above all, I just like to play music.
Echo: What else would you like fans of Culture Club to know about the concert?
Moss: Come out and enjoy it. You won’t be disappointed.