Roy Hay is the instigator, the one who first approached his former Culture Club band mates about reforming for a ’80s nostalgia-filled tour that opens July 23 in Atlanta with The Human League and Howard Jones.
Now, after a rousing reunion on VH1’s “Storytellers” last month – Culture Club’s first concert in 13 years – and a subsequent two-CD career retrospective, “VH1 Storytellers/Greatest Hits,” due Aug. 11 (on Virgin), lead singer Boy George is back to the future, telling journalists he’s looking forward to recording a new studio album with Hay, drummer Jon Moss and bassist Mikey Craig.
Nothing’s etched in stone, according to Hay.
“At this stage, I think we’re just going to see how it goes,” the guitarist-keyboard player said recently from his Los Angeles home. “I don’t know if this is a real let’s-get-back-to-where-we-were thing and try and progress into new territory for Culture Club. I’m really looking forward to the tour, I love playing live with the guys; we’ve got a much more raw sound, it’s rockier, and there’s no backing tapes and drum machines. It’s real live musicians banging it out. It’s a blast.
“I know George’s very keen on doing (a new album), and I am too, but it’s early days for us, really. We’ve only done one show, we did the VH1 show, went in and mixed that and recorded one new song (for the best-of package).”
Hay says Culture Club’s future doesn’t hinge on the reunion tour; it’s a safe bet that tickets will go quickly. The real test is how radio reacts to the reggae-tinged single “I Just Wanna Be Loved,” the first Culture Club recording since the 1986 album “From Luxury to Heartache.”
“I’ll be interested to see if radio is really interested in the new Culture Club single,” Hay said. “It’s one thing to go out there and play your old hits and have a good time; the initial plan was very nostalgia-based, but we’ve got this new tune that everyone seems very excited about. I definitely think we’re capable of doing something really good. I’m a little cautious with it, yeah, but I want to do this.”
The timing sure is right. All things ’80s rules VH1’s programming, and the box-office smash “The Wedding Singer” and its platinum-selling soundtrack album further convinced Hay.
“I was out here,” said Hay, who moved with his wife to Southern California in the late ’80s, “and I could see the whole momentum that was happening surrounding ’80s nostalgia and the amount of hit records that were using samples and every station on holidays was playing ’80s music and the clubs were doing it. I just thought, ‘God, you know what? If there’s a time for us ever to do anything, it’s gotta be now.’
“People at the record company were still good friends of mine, and they were talking to me about it. Our agents were calling me and I had lunch with them. They said, ‘If we could package a great tour with some good bands from ’80s, we could really pack ’em in.’ I said, ‘Well, we have some personal difficulties we’d have to overcome, so let’s don’t get ahead of ourselves. Let’s get back and talk to the guys and see if this is feasible.’
“I went back to England to meet with George. He said it sounded great, but ‘I’m not doing it with Jon.’ Two days later, he said, ‘I can’t do it without Jon.’ I knew that would be his immediate reaction. They had a little bit of healing to do, but it’s been fine. Onwards and upwards, I hope.”
George and Moss have waged a media war of words over their turbulent relationship since the British group’s 1986 breakup. It even spilled into an episode of VH1’s “Behind the Music” this year, when George accused Moss of lying that they were never lovers. Moss, who has a girlfriend and recently became a father, later opened up about their past in an interview with The Advocate last month.
At the height of Culture Club’s reign in 1984, when “Karma Chameleon” went No. 1 and the album “Colour By Numbers” sold more than 4 million in the United States, George and Moss were drifting apart. Hay said he and Craig were caught in the middle.
“(On tour), Jon and George would kind of retreat to their areas of the hotel, and me and Mikey would go out and hit the clubs,” Hay said. “Also, what happened, George was so famous that it wasn’t really possible for him to get out and enjoy the success. I’ll be damned if I wasn’t going to enjoy it, so me and Mickey definitely used to hook up with some of the other musicians and had each other to get through that stress, dancing the night away.”
What makes Hay think George and Moss can play nice now?
“Age is a great healer,” he said. “We all lived our lives in a little bit of denial about how important we were to each other and how good we were as a band. Everybody went off and did their own thing and, to a certain extent, have been quite successful, but I’m just speaking for me personally, I can’t really talk for the others, I definitely would kind of brush Culture Club under the carpet if it ever came up. I would go, ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah, that was then, this is what I’m doing now. I’m working on film and TV scores. Let’s talk about this.’
“Then when we all got together again, there was obviously a very special energy between us. Just on a personal level, it was like going back to Thanksgiving having not seen everyone for 12 years. That’s my analogy for it.
“There’s no bullshit between us. We know each other so well, and we’re responsible, for a large part, for where we’re all now in our lives. The enzyme was the band. It’s been great. What I realized was, we’ve all grown up, so it’s a much more friendlier, we’re-in-this-together atmosphere. There’s no pressure; I mean, what have we got to lose? Everybody’s got a nice life anyway; it’s not like, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get to the next album and get all the art work right.’ Fuck that. ‘Let’s go out, have some fun and play our songs.’ We wrote some great songs, we’re all proud of them, let’s go play them and let people come out and have a good night and relive their ’80s experiences.”
They will have a captive audience. And, fortunately, 15 years later, Culture Club songs – particularly the soulful “Time (Clock of the Heart),” “Miss Me Blind” and “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me” – don’t sound dated.
“The songs have really survived. That’s the great thing,” Hay said. “You can put on a lot of ’80s songs and they’re really stuck there. There’s something about the Culture Club catalog, the soulful influence, the more melodic tone. You can’t really spin ‘Wild Boys’ by Duran Duran now, but you can put on ‘Church of the Poison Mind’ and it still sounds fresh. That’s not a dig at them; I happen to like those guys, John Taylor’s a really good friend of mine, but it’s just the way the music is. Our records, we used ’80s technology, but it wasn’t the driving force for what we did.”
BWF (before we forget): Hang out with the Culture Club on the Web @ www.virginrecords.com. … The Culture Club album discography – “Kissing To Be Clever” (Epic, 1983); “Colour By Numbers” (1983); “Waking Up With the House On Fire” (Virgin, 1984); “From Luxury to Heartache” (1986); “At Worst … The Best of Boy George and Culture Club” (SBK, 1993); “VH1 Storytellers/Greatest Hits” (Virgin, August 1998).
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