Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Interview with Boy George

BOY George needs little introduction. Born George O'Dowd in Bexley in 1961 he shot to international superstardom as the lead singer of 80s pop band Culture Club whose string of hits included Do You Really Want to Hurt Me, Time (Clock of the Heart), and Karma Chameleon.
The group enjoyed phenomenal commercial and artistic success selling millions of records with top 10 hits in every country and scooping a multitude of awards.
With its heady mix of reggae, soul and new wave not to mention the allure of Boy George and his soulful voice and androgynous look the band was at the forefront of the era's New Romantic movement.
But by the mid 1980s George had taken a back seat from making music, instead forging a successful career behind the decks as a DJ.
However with all the success had come an addiction to drugs and all that went with it....
But now he's back, clean, lean and raring to go with his first studio album in 18 years - the aptly titled This Is What I Do - and a small tour which includes the Indigo2 on April 3.
The new album, a sublime mix of soul, reggae, rock and pop, has been well received, which George is clearly delighted about.
"It's a really good record," he says proudly. And as we chat it's clear the passion for making music is still very much in evidence.
"I wanted to do something old fashioned and more traditional and it felt the right thing to do to make a studio record with a live band."
He made it with some of his "favourite people", including producer Youth, and some of the tracks were co-written with Culture Club bandmate Mikey Craig.
"I changed management and started fresh with people who see me as I am now, rather than as I was," he says.
"I don't have a record label but I felt it was the grown-up thing to do to make it myself, find a distributor and do it independently."
Inspiration came from his South London roots and the 1970s music scene which was the soundtrack to his youth.
"I grew up in the 1970s so that was what I went back to. It was the most incredible but bonkers decade - the last time the kids had music their parents didn't like!" He adds: "This album reflects the eclectic music of that decade.
"There is still the reggae influence but there's also pop and rock elements. I really enjoyed making it."
And it brought back plenty of memories.
"I remember seeing Bowie at the Lewisham Odeon," he recalls.
"I was 11 years and 11 months. "God knows how I managed to get a ticket! I can't think how my parents allowed me to go as I was so young.
"I spent a lot of time at the Lewisham Odeon - I saw Chuck Berry, David Essex and loads of others. If I couldn't get a ticket I'd either blag my way in or hang out at the back to meet them after the gig.
"In those days you were more likely to be trampled on by a stampede of girls wanting to catch a glimpse of Rod Stewart as he tried to leave the building and get into his Rolls-Royce which was parked at the back! There were no cameras in those days, so no selfies!" he laughs.
"The funny thing about South London is I ran screaming from it when I was 17 but my family is still here so I visit regularly. When I started DJing I played in Dartford and the crowd shouted 'You're one of us!', which was amazing. I am really proud of where I come from, though. South London is still a really vibrant, funky place with a great vibe.
"But it was so different back then. "Back in the 1970s fans knew their place. We used to sit outside Bowie's house in Beckenham. His wife told us to f*** off and we were really happy - things have changed since then," he says, laughing loudly.
In fact, the whole industry is different, though George is philosophical enough to "just get on with it".
"Back in the day you'd turn on the radio and hear everything and anything. It's much more formatted now, which is a real shame, and radio is no longer as creative - but I don't get depressed about it."
But the biggest change has been the advent of social media, which George has embraced.
"It's great!" he laughs. "Facebook and Twitter allow fans anywhere in the world to talk to you - even somewhere like Mongolia. It's the direct contact and relationship with your audience: it's brilliant.
"I do wonder who they are, though, because all they want to know is what I had for breakfast! It's hilarious."
As well as his upbeat view on life, he comes across as wiser and more philosophical: "I feel the same passion as I've always had but I feel more privileged to do what I do and feel blessed that I do the job I love.
"At 19 it fell in my lap and I didn't have the gratitude. I didn't have to stop and think, and when you are young you don't. You get more in touch when you are older and learn to say no to things.
"Now as an older man I can invest in happiness and do stuff that makes me happy. That's the difference between now and then."
But right now he says he's looking forward to the Indigo2 gig.
"I have got a great audience and when I do live shows it's just amazing," he says warmly.
"It is exciting - the most powerful thing, and it's the only place where no one else can be you and you can be 100 per cent yourself. There is only one live Boy George!" he laughs.

Boy George is at the Indigo2 on Thursday, April 3. Tickets from £27.50. Visit www.livenation.co.uk, www.ticketmaster.co.uk

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