shot to fame in the 80s as
the lead singer of Culture Club
his androgynous looks made him a poster boy for the New Romantics. But drug
problems have followed him ever since.
O’Dowd grew up in a lively household with his four brothers and one sister.
Despite being part of the large working class Irish brood, George has claimed
to have had a lonely childhood, referring to himself as the “pink sheep” of the
To stand out
in the male-dominated household he created his own image on which he became
dependent. “It didn’t bother me to walk down the street and to be stared at. I
loved it,” he’s reminisced.
exactly conform to the typical school student stereotype and with a leaning
more towards arts rather than science and math; he found it hard to fit in with
traditional conformist masculine subjects. With his schoolwork suffering and an
ongoing battle of wits between him and his teachers, it wasn’t long before the
school gave up and expelled George over his increasing outlandish behavior and
outrageous clothes and make up.
George was in the big wide world without a job. Taking the plunge with any work
he could find that paid him enough money to live on; he worked on farms picking
fruit, as a milliner and even a make-up artist with the Royal Shakespeare
Company - where he picked up some handy techniques for his own personal use.
British New Romantic Movement that emerged in the early 1980s was a calling
card for George, whose flamboyance fitted their beliefs perfectly. The
attention the New Romantics attracted inevitably created many new headlines for
the press and it wasn’t long before George was giving interviews based purely
on his appearance.
time Malcolm McLaren, the manager of the infamous Sex Pistols, was also managing a group called Bow Wow Wow. Fronted by Burmese sixteen-year-old Annabella Lwin,
McLaren wanted someone to give Annabella a bit of a jolt on the stage and
strengthen her vocally - cue the talent of a certain Boy George.
made a few appearances, to much audience acclaim, inevitable friction between
the two big personalities began to surface. However, George, by now, was
inspired to form his own group and the answer came in the form of The Sex Gang Children. Bassist Mikey
Craig and drummer Jon Moss were next to join the group, followed by Roy Hay.
The group soon abandoned the name Sex
Gang Children to settle on Culture
Club, on the basis that the group consisted of an Irish singer, a
Jamaican-Briton, a Jewish drummer, and an Englishman.
early and the band signed with Virgin Records in the UK and Epic Records in
America, releasing their debut album Kissing
to Be Clever in 1982. It was their third single from that album, “Do You
Really Want To Hurt Me,”, that scored a huge success by reaching the number one
spot in 16 countries.
Culture Club already had the distinction
of being the first group since the Beatles
to notch up at least three Top Ten hits on the Billboard Hot 100 from only their debut album. The group’s second
album was also a success (1983), with the single “Karma Chameleon” rocketing to
Number One in numerous countries, including the U.S., where it stayed for four
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. 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.
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.
years, George has continued to release various solo albums and even formed his
own record label in the early nineties. His most significant acclaim to
replicate anything on the same level as Culture
Club’s fame was his 1992 hit single “The Crying Game,” which featured in
the film of the same name, reaching the Top 20 in the US charts.
After a fall
out with Virgin Records in the mid-nineties, George’s work was poorly promoted
and subsequently failed to alight any kind of praise to establish him as a
serious solo musical artist. Culture Club
did reform briefly back in 1998 at a Big Rewind tour in America alongside Human League and later the same year
managed to secure a top five single in the UK with “I Just Wanna Be Loved.”
In 2006, the band decided to again reunite and
tour; however, George declined to join them for this tour. As a result, he was
replaced and after only one showcase and one live show, that project was
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 DJ-ing in the
early 1990s and has since enjoyed many pats on the back from critics both here
in the UK and in the US.
As an aside,
in 2002, George was joined by a hoard of celebrities for the premiere of his
new musical “Taboo.” The star had penned the story of his own rise to fame,
including colorful characters from his past such as Leigh Bowery, Steve Strange
and Marilyn. The musical featured a host of new songs written by George as well
as Culture Club’s number one singles,
“Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” and “Karma Chameleon.” Open auditions were held
to find actors and singers to resemble the stars of the ‘80s and the Scottish
actor Euan Morton won the part of the dread-locked George. Matt Lucas, at the
time most famed for his George Dawes character on BBC’s “Shooting Stars,” took
the role of flamboyant performance artist Leigh Bowery, who died of an
Aids-related illness in 1994.
comedienne Rosie O’Donnell saw the musical and was so enamored that she decided
to finance the production for Broadway, too. The show opened in February 2003
but after just 100 performances it closed, hampered by a barrage of negative
reviews and struggling to meet financial ends. The UK production however,
continued to be a success and went on to tour the UK, with a DVD release and
book accompanying it.
years after his last album of original material, Boy George returns in triumph. The first thing that strikes you is
George’s voice. Always fabulous, it now has a weathered fruitiness - something
of Antony of the Johnsons about it - the result of added years and, perhaps, a
somewhat adventurous lifestyle. He’s hepped up his already warm soul power. The
second thing that strikes is the mammoth hook on opening track “King of
just that lovely, pillowy voice. This is
What I Do is characterized by big song after big song. “King of Everything”
is a lush, soulful blockbuster, “My God (“Jesus loves me don’t you know!”) is a
committed, slow-burning waltz and “Bigger Than War” is a funk groove that
wouldn’t shame Bobby Womack.
the muscular punches, George is equally comfortable with “It’s Easy’s”
heartbreaking country ballad and moody Yoko Ono cover “Death of Samantha,” but
perhaps more interesting are his plunges back into those Culture Club reggae roots.
“Live Your Life” is pretty trad lovers’ rock but
“My Star” is boisterous and “Nice and Slow” is a little more dancehall. Most
ambitious of all is “Play Me,” a lengthy dub throb through wobbly effects,
quick-fire raps and hip hop scratches. This meld of reggae and large pop
moments is a sweet snapshot of a career so far - and one that promises to endure.
What a lovely surprise!