How dull the eighties might have been if it hadn’t been for Boy George. His striking image; his quotable remarks in interviews; his smooth, instantly recognizable vocals; his contribution to the writing of some of the most memorable singles of the decade (including some particularly witty, intelligent and perceptive lyrics); the seemingly endless amount of gossip, innuendo and scandal concerning him in the press – in every sense, he was one of the most colourful figures of the era.
In his early teens, George O’Dowd was into David Bowie and Marc Bolan and rest the of the Glam Rock scene and by his late teens he was a regular at the West End clubs with a strong and individual fashion sense of his own. His androgyny enabled him to fit into the burgeoning New Romantic scene easily, but his determination to be the best at what he was doing made him stand out from even that crowd. “His dress was getting ever more outrageous – he’d be Carmen Miranda one night, Boadicea the next, and Mary Magdalen the night after that – and his picture was appearing in the papers with increasing regularity,” Smash Hits journalist Dave Rimmer recounted in his examination of the early 80s pop scene in the UK and George’s group Culture Club in particular, Like Punk Never Happened (1985).
In the early part of the decade, George was living in various bedsits and squats around central London and taking what work he could – working in boutique clothes shops and other low-paid jobs such as tending the cloakroom at the clubs he was also a patron of. His contemporaries were the like of Peter Robinson (also known as Marilyn), Martin Degville (later to be singer with Sigue Sigue Sputnik) and Jeremy Healey (whose Haysi Fantayzee would debut at roughly the same time as Culture Club). They could all be found at The Blitz, run by Steve Strange, and therefore were there at the start of the New Romantic movement. George introduced himself to Malcolm McLaren, who gave him the opportunity to perform with the group Bow Wow Wow under the stage name of Lieutenant Lush. (George later suspected that he was being used to ensure existing girl singer with Bow Wow Wow, Annabella, was kept on her toes.)
George’s ambition was to form a group of his own, though. His performances with Bow Wow Wow had been strong enough for EMI to offer him a record deal of his own but he declined, fearful that he would have little control over his career and his image as a solo artist: there was safety in numbers. The opportunity to form a group came up when a picture of George and Annabella in NME was spotted by bassist Mikey Craig: he approached George via McLaren’s office to see if he wanted to put a band together, which of course he did. Culture Club was formed over the next few months, the line-up completed by guitarist Roy Hay and drummer Jon Moss.
Virgin offered Culture Club a deal and they took it. A couple of false starts followed with early singles achieving modest returns. But third effort Do You Really Want To Hurt Me broke them on both sides of the Atlantic (#1 here and #2 there) and propelled them to stardom. In America, debut album Kissing To Be Clever appeared on the Epic label and the track listing and promotion for it varied from the Virgin’s programme in the UK. Over there, follow-up single Time (Clock Of The Heart) was included on the album, whereas it was a standalone single here. The States also got the album track I’ll Tumble 4 Ya as a single, which Virgin did not select for release here. With a delay of a few months before singles in the UK appeared in America, and with the previously-mentioned extra single being issued in the US in the summer of 1983, America had to wait more than six months for Church Of The Poison Mind, the lead single from Culture Club’s forthcoming second album.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Apr. 1
BAUHAUS (Peter Murphy) She’s In Parties (Beggars Banquet BEG91)
CULTURE CLUB Church Of The Poison Mind (Virgin VS571)
BANGLES Going Down To Liverpool (CBS A4914)
FIVE STAR Can’t Wait Another Minute (Tent PB40697)
SIMPLE MINDS (Jim Kerr) All The Things She Said (Virgin VS860)