- - Sunday, September 4, 2016

In the 1980s there was no bigger personality than Culture Club lead singer Boy George. He led the band, backed by Roy Hay (guitar/keyboards,) Jon Moss (drums) and Michael “Mikey” Craig (bass) through over 80 million albums sales and countless worldwide performances. In a decade when MTV actually played music videos Culture Club set the gold standard.

Being in a band with a charismatic, larger-than-life singer can be both a blessing and a curse: The blessing being that personality can catapult an obscure group to worldwide stardom. The curse? Often the contributions of other band members are lost, leaving them feeling slighted. Just ask The Supremes, Andy Summers and Stewart Copeland — or Andrew Ridgeley, the “other guy” from Wham.

Boy George’s well-publicized drug problems forced them to call it a day in late 1986. Several reunions came and went, but none with as much power and joy as this summer’s Culture Club tour. Bass man Mr. Craig rang me up to discuss the tour, which ends at the Music Center at Strathmore in North Bethesda, Maryland,
Sept. 11, to discuss life in the hit machine.

Question: How is the tour going?

Answer: It’s been much better than I could have imagined. At the start of the tour, I thought, “My goodness, are we gonna get through all this? Will George’s voice hold out? Will I hold out?” [laughs]

It’s just been better and better as we go along. Some of the audiences have been absolutely fantastic. We’re having an enormous amount of fun. It’s been great for George in particular. His voice is getting stronger as we go, plus his interaction with the fans is really nice as well. He humanizes himself much more than before.

Q: What is the relationship like between the four of you today?

A: Well …. [laughs] As we all say, we are like a rather dysfunctional family that gets together for Christmas dinner. At least now we know which buttons not to press. Some things that bugged you in the past still pop up now and then. But we have a better way of dealing with them now.

Q: What do you appreciate this time out?

A: I appreciate that we’re not on a roller-coaster now. You were just on such a whirlwind ride there, where so many things you hardly noticed. Now we’re able to visit places of interest when we are in a city. We spend more time talking to fans. The main thing that we really are appreciative of now is the live performance. We’ve got these extra musicians, so we are doing a real live show. You’re not hearing what you hear from a lot of artists these days with stuff on hard drives. There’s none of that with us. People get that sense of organic realness about us.

Q: How did you spend your time when the band broke up in the ‘80s?

A: I had a small independent record label which kind of nearly bankrupted me. I managed to sell that to a hi-fi company, Pioneer. I went back on the road as well with Kid Creole and The Coconuts. That was quite a blast.

It was an education for me. It was nice for me to go away and look at things from a different perspective. I also spent time raising my three boys.

Q: What are your favorite songs to play live?

A: “Time” I love so much. That’s a favorite of mine, and George’s as well. Of course “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” because that was the first song that broke the band. Plus it has a bass line that sounds almost like talking. I love playing that.

Q: You also play a couple of Boy George’s solo tunes.

A: George’s solo tracks have woven their way into our consciousness, shall we say. They have become Culture Club’s well.

Q: What was the creative process like between you four, and how has that evolved?

A: We sat in a room, the four of us, and kind of talked about what kind of songs and styles we liked. Threw ideas around. Oftentimes George would come in with a verse and chorus idea. He would sing to us, and we would compose around it.

With the recent “Tribes” album, we started off, and George wanted to write with various other writers. We went round and round writing stuff, and it just wasn’t hitting home. It wasn’t until we got back to basics.

One day we were stuck for a studio, so we had to go to George’s house. We sat in the living room with guitar and bass [with] Jon throwing in percussion ideas. Those were the best ideas and where “Tribes” came from.

Q: What is the status of the release of “Tribes”?

A: Because there was a problem with George’s voice, everything was put on hold for a while. When you are scheduling an album, you have to know well in advance what you are doing. Until we knew George’s voice was absolutely perfect, we couldn’t schedule “Tribes.” We’ve now spent some time testing out the voice and knowing he’s fit again.

Early next year we will schedule the new album. Also, since we have been touring, a couple of ideas have popped up for other songs. We’ll probably add one or two additional tracks to the album.

Q: Boy George became a larger-than-life character, sometimes overshadowing the band. How do you guys deal with that?

A: When we first came to America, the record company released our single “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” in a plain sleeve. The song itself is what engaged everybody. Then eventually people saw what we looked like, and that added another dimension.

Initially it was the song. As long as I remember that, then George can do whatever he wants. He can be larger-than-life. It doesn’t affect me. It’s all about the music.

Culture Club plays Music Center at Strathmore Sept. 11. Tickets are $65 to $165 by going to Strathmore.org

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