03 December 2007

Boy George And Culture Club

3D Pop Stickers - "Join The Craze". If only I'd known! By 1984 Boy George was one of our best known pop stars - his image in great demand. But back in 1981 things had been very different indeed...

This young unknown was George O'Dowd, appearing in a Daily Mirror article on New Romantic fashion in April 1981. In Paris, New Romantic-style clobber by the likes of Gaultier was wowing people at the fashion shows, and fetching large sums of money once in production. In England, Vivienne Westwood was promoting the new look at World's End, her London shop, and youngsters were looking at cheap ways to achieve New Romantic style. Soon-to-find-fame George, then 19, was wearing Chinese slippers (£3.99), old school trousers he'd tapered himself, and leg warmers. A 1920s dress (20p, Oxfam) was draped around his waist. The tassle belts, the long scarf, and Oxfam beads around his neck, cost him a few pence, the crimplene blouse came from his mum and the wooden cross from a friend. A black felt hat and assorted earrings completed his outfit. 

Original? Well, when you think about it, the Boy was not, of course. He'd been a cloak room attendant at the Blitz Club in London and they all wore old fogey clothes, tried to look 'outrageous' and took more than a bit of their lead from David Bowie. And investing everything in image seems bizarre to me. It's simply... weird...

Of course, from 1982 onwards, George O'Dowd was better known to the world as Boy George. The Boy, with his band, Culture Club, first hit the singles chart on 25 September 1982 with Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? I mean YUCK! 

Awful old cobblers, and as somebody said in the early 1980s, the Boy was just a modern version of Danny La Ru. But he had a caustic wit and there was more to it all than that.

Mad about the Boy! George's fan base spanned school kids to elderly people.

Culture Club's drummer Jon Moss - he and George had a relationship.

Mikey Craig - bass guitarist.

Roy Hay - guitarist.

From the Daily Mirror, February 9, 1983.
One is a girl called Alf. The other is Boy George, looking as much like a girl as ever.
But there was no mistaking their winning smiles last night as they celebrated triumph in the British Rock and Pop Awards.
Boy George, from Culture Club, walked off with the "Daily Mirror" Readers' Award for the Outstanding Music Personality at London's Lyceum Ballroom.
Culture Club finished second in the Best Group section...
Of course, 20th Century men had worn make-up and feminine outfits before Boy George - just look at the likes of Danny La Rue and David Bowie. But image wasn’t what made the Boy stand out for many of us.

Boy George light heartedly declared himself to be "bisexual" and "a poof with muscles" in an edition of Titbits in late 1983 and, although at first he seemed to dodge the question of his sexuality, it was soon clear to even the slowest amongst us that heterosexual he certainly was not.

Several gay friends of mine believe that Boy George is under appreciated. They say that he helped kick-start the whole openly gay pop star thing, at a time when the first rumblings of AIDS were being heard in the distance, and that George also helped to humanise gays to the heterosexual audience at a time when the risk of a backlash because of the supposed “gay plague” was growing.
They also cite the work of other 1980s openly gay pop stars like Bronski Beat and the Pet Shop Boys as major forces for good during that turbulent era.
None of my gay friends believed that the cutesy “Do you really want to hurt me?” image projected by Boy George in his early days of pop stardom was real, but some believe that it was very helpful indeed as far as appealing to the finer instincts of heterosexual audiences was concerned.

I have always felt that the 1980s were a complicated time, much as some people would like to dismiss the decade as small “c” conservative, and I think that much progress was made by the gay community, despite - and perhaps partly because of - hugely adverse - but unifying - factors like Clause 28!
For heterosexuals, this was the time of the sensitive 80s man (or New Man as they were also known) and much more freedom in the way everyday men dressed, the colours they wore. Things were changing for men, regardless of sexuality.

The arrival of regular gay male characters in English soap operas and Channel Four’s gay magazine show Out complemented the high gay content of the pop charts.

In 1980, I recall reading in a Sunday tabloid that a well-known pop star was probably bisexual. My parents were absolutely shocked - my stepfather was particularly vehement in his disapproval. Yet, in the mid-1980s, my little sister had pictures of openly gay Boy George on her bedroom wall and slept with a Boy George doll - with the complete approval of my parents!

Nope, small “c” conservative does not describe the 1980s. The decade was confusing, endlessly multi-faceted.
Personally, I loved a lot of the ’80s gay music, apart from George's, and was fascinated by the likes of Colin and Barry in EastEnders. I found my own inbuilt anti-gay prejudices thawing rapidly during the decade and, before its end, I was having a great time with newly acquired gay friends.

But only on the dance floor, of course. Know wot I mean, mate?!
Let's take a look at Boy George as he appeared in the Press in the early to mid 1980s - a frequent, colourful and often controversial presence...
Daily Mirror, 23/7/1983:

LARGER than life singer Helen Terry has just been elected a permanent member of Culture Club. Helen sang backing vocals on the band’s last hit, “Church of the Poison Mind”.

- Boy George, who has a soft spot for big women, says: “Once we used a number of session singers like Captain Crucial. This move to a fixed member is part of our musical direction to delegate ideas and make our music more diverse.”

Helen is very prominent on their next album, “Colour By Numbers”, which they finished recording yesterday. It should be in the shops by October.

Daily Mirror, 30/7/1983:
Pretty pop star Boy George left Britain yesterday. And his parting words were pretty rude.
He shouted at photographers at Heathrow Airport: "F- off. F-ing well leave me alone and stop f-ing well harassing me!"
But his mood had softened by the time he arrived by Concorde in Washington.
He explained sadly: "I'm sick of feeling like Princess Di."
And he explained the reason for his earlier outburst.
"Do you know, I was up half the night sewing sequins on my band's costume.
"I was very tired when I arrived at Heathrow. I'd been up since six o'clock.
"People think I just sit around on my backside all day eating grapes. But I've worked very hard for what I've got and I value my privacy."
Naughty Boy George's amazing shouting match came as he left London for an American tour with his band Culture Club.
His dress for the £1,226 flight consisted of black kaftan, green socks - and just a dab of make-up.
He glared at a group of forty fans, some of whom had brought parting gifts, and said loudly:
"Go away. You lot make me sick.
"All you want is my fame. I rode to fame on my voice."
Then he shook his handbag at waiting photographers and shouted: "There is no way you vultures are going to get my picture today!"
In Washington it was a different story. He said plaintively:
"My remarks were aimed at all the photographers who were bothering me. Being photographed all the time is boring, boring, boring.
"How many times can you be photographed in a paper for just catching a plane? It's ridiculous.
"The same thing applies to Princess Di... it gets you down to keep getting photographed for doing nothing that's newsworthy. I know how she must feel.
"But any suggestion I insulted my fans is totally untrue. I think the world of those kids and they know I'd never insult them. It was the photographers I wanted to be rude to.
"But, who knows, I'll probably be charming to them when I fly back. I have moods, you know."
Karma Chameleon - this was number one in the pop charts on my 18th birthday! And on my 21st? Every Loser Wins by Nick Berry!! The main problem with George was his bloody awful cutesy music - so unoriginal. And Every Loser Wins? PURLEASE!!!

Daily Mirror, 22/2/84...
BOY GEORGE won the “Daily Mirror” readers’ top music personality of the year award again last night. And his group Culture Club also took the prize for best single of the year with “Karma Chameleon” at the glittering Rock and Pop awards.

The Sun, 31/5/84:


He wins "Sun" poll

Princess Margaret got a rollicking from angry “Sun” readers yesterday for calling their pop hero Boy George “an over made-up tart.”

And by a two-to-one majority they decided that the Princess deserves a raspberry for her tarty jibe.

The row started when she refused to be photographed with the Culture Club singer at an awards ceremony, saying: “I don’t know who he is but he looks like an over made-up tart.”
The “Sun” asked: “Do you agree - is Boy George a tart?" And an astonishing 3,269 people jammed our special lines, manned by Audience Selection, to have their say.

Some 2,112 readers aged from seven to seventy chorused “Boy George, we love you” while 1,157 rang to support the 53-year-old Princess’s view.

One 66-year-old granny said she believed the 22-year-old singer was a delicious strawberry tart… while the Princess was more of a gooseberry one.

The pro-George readers’ comments included:

He puts a lot of money back into this country and this goes towards paying for her luxury.

George should give Margaret make-up lessons because her age is beginning to show.

Her ancestors used to walk around in wigs and make-up, so why should she criticise George?

He’s the best thing to happen to this country since Winston Churchill.

I’d like to hear her talk to Danny La Rue like that, George is just a younger version.

He’s so beautiful I just sit and draw his portraits.

I’m a 78-year-old polio sufferer and people like him keep me alive.

Yesterday Boy George stood up for himself by saying: “If Princess Margaret is representing the country she should behave better.

“I bring more money into the country than she does.

“I think she’s very unhappy.”

The Princess’ supporters countered:

Good job the British Army hasn’t got any of his sort - the Russians would be here tomorrow.

He’s done for pop music what Arthur Scargill has done for the miners - nothing.

If ever she earned her money she earned it then.

He’s a disgrace to British manhood. The world will think we are a nation of poofs. -

George was a 1980s hair-o!

The Sun June 14 1984:

Pop star Boy George was sitting pretty yesterday with his dummy double at Madame Tussaud’s. Delighted George - 23 today - waxed lyrical as he said: “I love it, but it’s not as pretty as the real me.”

George’s spitting image will rub shoulders with pop “greats” like Elvis and David Bowie.

A soundtrack with the model tells visitors: “I prefer a nice cup of tea to sex - and if you believe that you’ll believe anything.”
On the cover of a 1984 TV Times, with another likeness. Boy George dolls were highly popular. Quite a lot of people actually dressed up like the Boy, too - George clones were in the news.

The Sun, 6/2/1985:

George said of Simon Le Bon: “He’s just another pop star. The music business hasn’t got any personalities apart from me.”

Of his Recording Artist of the Year award, George said: “I deserve it. Having a big mouth pays off in the end!”

He added: “Now I suppose everyone will want to sleep with me.”