FAMED BRITISH #3
Culture Club were one of the biggest Pop bands of the 80s, associated with the Second British Invasion of British new wave groups that became popular in the United States due to the cable music channel MTV. They racked up seven straight Top 10 hits in the UK and nine Top 10 singles in the US. Although they drew influence from the ‘New Romantic’ movement, Culture Club were also inspired by the music and fashion of ‘Northern Soul’, which helped to create a broader appeal.
If ever there was a frontman of a group to make a huge impact on the Music scene, it was Culture Clubs charismatic cross dresser, Boy George. With his multi-coloured dreadlocks, flamboyant dress sense and carefully applied makeup, Boy George established himself as a pop cult figure that would later see many cloned variations take the world by storm.
George Alan O’Dowd (Boy George) was born 14 June, 1961 and grew up in a lively household with his four brothers and one sister. Despite being part of a large family, George often felt left out and lonely, referring to himself as the ‘pink sheep’ of the family.
Being true to himself, he created his own image and it didn’t bother that when he walked down the street, he was stared at. In fact, he loved every minute of it being a self confessed attention seeker.
During his years at school, he struggled to conform to the typical school student stereotype and found it hard to fit in with his fellow male students. With his school work suffering and an ongoing battle of wits between himself and his teachers, it wasn’t long before the school gave up and expelled George for his outlandish behaviour, outrageous clothes and excessive use of make-up.
Now out in the big wide world, George would take whatever work he could that would pay him enough to survive. He worked as a fruit picker, milliner and even surprise, surprise a make-up artist .
Before George even began performing on stage, he was in the headlines, often giving interviews based purely on his appearance. As a boy growing up, he found himself attracted to the style of glam rockers T.Rex and David Bowie. During the post-punk era of the late 70’s, he was a regular fixture of London’s new romantic clubs often arriving or catching up with fellow cross dressing friends Marilyn and Martin Degville.
It was around this time, George met Malcolm McLaren who was the manager of the ‘Sex Pistols’. He also was managing a group called ‘Bow Wow Wow’ when he asked George to join the group. He did join using the stage name ‘Lieutenant Lush’ however after one two many arguments with a fellow bandmate Annabella, George decided to leave and form his own group called ‘In Praise of Lemmings” with Mikey Craig. They would change their name to ‘Sex Gang Children’ with the addition of guitarist Jon Suede. Only a few months later they would meet drummer Jon Moss who had previously played with Adam & The Ants. The group soon abandoned the name ‘Sex Gang Children’ settling on George’s suggestion “Culture Club” on the basis that the group had an Irishman, a Jamaican, a Jew and an Englishman.
Growing out of the ashes of ‘Sex Gang Children’ the newly formed Culture Club put together some demo tapes and presented them to EMI, who showed very little interest.
By early 1982, the band proved that EMI’s loss would become Virgins gain, but it wouldn’t happen straight away. When they released their debut single “White Boy”, neither “White Boy” or their follow-up single “I’m Afraid Of Me’ made the charts. The band did make the headlines though, not for their music, but for George’s fashion. They loved running articles about him and the huge cult following he was acquiring. George loved the attention he was getting, but he remained focussed. Initially success eluded them until the release of their third single, with the massive breakthrough hit ‘Do You Really Want To Hurt Me’.
Shortly after this Culture Club’s debut album ‘Kissing To Be Clever’, climbed to No.5 on the UK charts, while another non-album single ‘Time (Clock Of The Heart)’ reached No.3.
The band’s US success followed early in 1983 with the album and both singles riding high in the charts. A third single ‘I’ll Tumble 4 Ya’ was taken from the album in the US, providing additional Top 10 success.
With the release of their second album ‘Colour By Numbers’ in autumn 1983, Culture Club had cemented themselves as the most popular band in the world. The album would later spawn ‘Karma Chamelion’ their first transatlantic #1 hit which sold over 5 million copies. Meanwhile the album was kept off the US No.1 spot for six consecutive weeks by Michael Jackson’s record-breaking ‘Thriller’.
George soon became a household name, making him a natural choice for one of the lead vocals on the Band Aid single ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’ in 1984. However, the pressure of fame began to take its toll and by late 1985, George had become addicted to heroin.
Sadly for the band, their third album ‘Waking Up With The House On Fire” failed to repeat their earlier success with both the critics and the charts. It’s first single release “The War Song” would be their last top 10 hit of the decade.
Culture Club began to lose their way musically and work on their fourth album – ‘From Luxury To Heartache’ (1986) – proved more headache than heartache for the producers, with the recording sessions dragging on for hours.
In July the same year, George was arrested in the UK for possession of cannabis and a just few days later, the band’s keyboard player Michael Rudetski was found dead from a heroin overdose in George’s home. Rudetski’s parents unsuccessfully tried to press wrongful death charges on Boy George.
During his time in Culture Club, George embarked on a relationship with drummer Jon Moss and he has claimed that some of the songs he wrote during this period were aimed at Moss directly. The pair’s romance did not last though, with speculation that Moss had broken off his engagement to a woman to be with George and subsequently was never entirely comfortable in a homosexual relationship. Moss has since gone on to marry a woman and have several children.
After their US tour was cancelled, Culture Club disbanded in late 1986. Despite his ongoing drug addiction battles, George began recording his first solo album. In 1987, ‘Sold’ was released successfully. But even though he scored UK success, George never really managed to duplicate the same level of exposure in the US. Although George failed to reach the same level of acclaim as a solo artist in comparison to the Culture Club days, he has fared better in his second career as a notable music DJ. He began DJing in the early 1990s. Jon and Mikey established their own studios, and Roy began composing for movies and television in Los Angeles.
The band reunited in 1998 to release a two disc set Storytellers/Greatest Hits cd. The first captures the band live in the studio tackling both old and new material, while the second is a compilation of re-mastered hits. It is also important to note that Culture Club were in fact the first band since the Beatles to achieve three top 10 hits in the UK.
In 2018, Culture Club released “Life”, their first album in almost 20 years. It’s a miracle (no pun intended) that the new wave frontman, Boy George, is still alive — let alone healthy, touring, carving out a solo career and making music. The gender-bending singer battled addiction to heroin, alcohol and other substances for more than two decades, but that life is all a thing of the past now, as Boy George celebrates just over a decade of sobriety, which he largely credits to his Buddhist practice.
Boy George:- “I got sober in 2008. March the 2nd, 2008. I know the date exactly. I always think of that day as ‘the day that I became sane.
Still a favourite with his fans, Boy George has achieved overwhelming success as a judge on the Australian Version of “The Voice” and celebrating runner up status on Donald Trumps, “The Apprentice”.