BOY GEORGE - Early Biography
When Boy George arrived on the music scene in 1982, it was in a flurry of pre-publicity. Not the work of souped up ad men and recording company executives, but a carefully engineered programme of self-elevation which George himself had put into force many years before!
People sat bolt upright before their television screens as he and his group 'Culture Club' put their talents to the public attention. With dreadlocks and eccentric dress, even by modern fashion standards where anything goes and who cares, he stood out as a kind of unisexual figure. Some even thought he was a girl. The voice was so good, the makeup perfect and the clothes were such, in their kaftan like way, set to deceive even more and make people think.
Even the 'Boy' in his name was taken as significant in that people could be told exactly what gender he was! There was even some more confusion as to whether or not it was Jeremy of 'Haysi Fantayzee' or even Kate Garner! This duo had made their niche on television just that little bit earlier and their fashions were equally outrageous. It was as if Kate has stepped inside Jeremy's form and become Boy George.
The association is not inaccurate, since both Jeremy and George had been friends for some time since they frequented certain clubs, notably The Blitz.
The Club has since enjoyed a reputation for producing some of the best groups and singers around on the music scene. Originally, a forum for outrageous and individual fashion, it's clientele later formed themselves into such groups as 'Spandau Ballet', 'Ultravox' and 'Animal Nightlife'. Not to forget Steve Strange and 'Haysi Fantayzee'. There are many more too, and it seems incredible that so many have come out of one club. Not, as you would imagine, from public performances at The Blitz and so on, but just from those who met, talked and danced.
George and Jeremy both worked for a time in a dee jaying capacity, but what was unique about all of these people, who have since earned well deserved fame, is their approach to becoming famous, of which George was unrivalled!
Martin Kemp of 'Spandau Ballet', talking of George, and his own experience explained the process of self publicity which helped launch them.
"You'd already got your group together, but you didn't tell anyone. Frequenting the same clubs each night, you naturally got to know quite well, hundreds of people. These introduced you to more and so on, until you could almost count on a ready made audience when you eventually performed live! You told everyone that you would be appearing at a particular venue and they nearly all turned up!"
The idea was that a previously unheard of group would suddenly be playing to a packed house with often as many as 1,000 people there. It doesn't take much imagination to see that record companies would suddenly sit up and take notice of something like this. 'Obviously this band must have something so let's go and see'. Of course, if the group had little talent, it wouldn't make any difference… They'd be shunned, the super hype would have failed. But in the case of many of the Blitz kids, it worked!
For Boy George and Culture Club, things didn't quite follow this pattern. George has been his own publicist, not only at the Blitz and in other 'in' London clubs, but also from when he was a kid. He was a walking advertisement. People couldn't fail to notice him and either be amused, horrified or attracted. Indifference as something that he didn't pull!
But when he surfaced with his group, there were enough people around to lend support! George has claimed to the world: "I always wanted to be famous… to be noticed, and I never doubted for one moment that it'd come true. Now that I've got it, I don't intend letting go of it!
So where did Boy George begin and what where his early motivations.
It would be unfair to say that George was crying out for affection and attention when he has a kid. In some cases, these kind of feelings can manifest themselves in anti-social behaviour. George didn't follow the delinquent trail, however, which leads to violence. His efforts were directed at becoming so different visually that people could hardly ignore him. It didn't bother him whether the reactions were of disgust; the aim was to be the focus of attention.
Ironically, for someone who was shy and sensitive emotionally, it was the least line of action that most people might take. Others might happily retreat from the world. Not George O'Dowd! He wanted to conquer it!
He was born on 14th June, 1961 in South London. That makes him a Gemini of which a prominent astrologer has said: "With people of this sign it is hard to tell where reality and illusion begins." How true! Geminis are flitters, never staying on one thing long before becoming interested in something else. They have boundless energy and enthusiasm. They love change… like the chameleon. There coincidence for you!
Geminis can also be thoughtful, affectionate and yet sarcastic, Not a bad character sketch!
The O'Dowd household in Woolwich was a male dominated one with George having five brothers and a sister. He was the third eldest and so caught in the middle of things a bit. This meant that getting attention from parents and anyone else was a real battle. It meant that you had to stand out in some way. For George, He created his own image. One which he says he felt and still feels completely comfortable with and which is quite natural to him.
"It didn't bother me to walk down the street and to be started at. I loved it," he says. Perhaps, feeling somewhat emotionally disadvantaged had something to do with it. But this is nothing new. Look how many film stars or prominent people have often had something which you would think would be the last ting they would parade in public. Politicians seen on television had frequently have some difficult speech! Top film stars, but for the wonders of plastic surgery would still have turned up or distinctive noses. Or else they were shy. It makes you want to try all the harder and George certainly did that!
But what people who started weren't aware of, not his own family, was that he had huge talent lurking. A voice and personality coupled with a style that would make him world famous!
School life wasn't exactly plain sailing either. His leanings were more towards artistic than the scientific and mathematic. The sums he now has to do with his bank balance would make his old teachers' toes curl. He loved art and also poetry. "Books were always something I enjoyed," he says. But school, being what it is, trying to turn out conformist robots, didn't measure up to his requirements. It's a sad thing people with a love of certain subjects aren't encouraged to develop them for their full potential.
It's only natural, then, that George's other schoolwork began to suffer for lack of enthusiasm. George had already become a rebel where holding on to his personality was threatened by the school system. It led to constant battle of wits and punishments. He had already begun to experiment with outrageous clothes and make up. And when he was eventually brought to book and sent for the can it was the final straw.
Expulsion was the school's answer and George found himself out in the wide world without a job.
"The work I did take was extremely varied," He says. "I did picking on fruit farms in Kent for a while which is tough physical work." He also worked as a printer and as a milliner. Interestingly, he was also a make up artist with the Royal Shakespeare Company, which is probably where he learnt a lot of techniques which he has since used. Although the look he effects is quite individual.
Another job which was a building block was working in boutiques where he was actively engaged in designing clothes. He would put up the ideas for others to make and develop. And it's fair to assume that if he hadn't changed into the music business then he would maybe have made himself quite a name for himself in the fashion world. There's no escaping the fact that the world would have heard of Boy George one way or other.
He really defies labels, but it would be more accurate to say that he grew out of the New Romantic Movement than that of Punk which had acquired overtones of violence. His flamboyance earned him a kind of fame even before he ventured to make it as a vocalist. Attention to the New Romantics inevitably brought the Press in their droves to write about the movement, if it can be called that! Boy George stood out so much that he was already giving interviews based on his appearance.
Around this time Malcolm McLaren called the Svengali of Pop, and the originator of the infamous 'Sex Pistols' was managing a group called 'Bow Wow Wow'. McLaren had a reputation for way out ideas, but also an acute business sense. He has publicly declared that British pop is constantly needing upheavals which are original, not copies of something else. 'Bow Wow Wow' was the successor to the 'Sex Pistols' . Fronted by a Burmese sixteen year old Annabella Lwin, with her Mohican style hair and flowing tress, it was gaining some ground in the music scene.
The story goes the McLaren wanted someone to give Annabella a bit of a jolt on the stage and strengthen her vocally. Who better that Boy George! So he was seconded to the group and mad a few appearances to much acclaim from audiences. But there was a inevitable friction between Annabella and George. Comments were made that his voice was better than hers. This was a bit unfair since they were of opposite sexes, but in the light of what he has since achieved, valid in a sense.
George, by now, was inspired towards forming own group. "But I didn't want the clichéd type of band," he says. "It would have been easy to have just got together a bunch of highly qualified and know musicians and made a few acceptable hits. But that wasn't what I was after. I wanted something more enduring and original."
The answer came in the form of 'The Sex Gang Children'. This was the original set up and not the same, obviously, as the present group using the name that they inherited from George.
The surviving member from those days was Mikey Craig. But it was Jon Moss who provided a lot of the inspiration for the group when he joined. "He was the most experienced musician of all of us," says Roy Hay. "He'd already worked with 'The Clash' and 'The Damned' and had a breadth of knowledge about the business that the rest of us lacked."
But Jon did not want to impose his earlier musical styles on the new group. He wanted something different and meeting George and seeing that he was different from most lead singers in both voice and personality, helped a lot. "I didn't want just a load of punks turning up at our future gigs," he says. "I wanted us to have a much broader appeal, but for the songs we did also be exciting"
On his suggestion the idea of 'Sex Gang Children' was abandoned! George on the other hand, had the idea that the group should, in some way, be respective of all culture in the world. Hence: 'Culture Club'. It's amazing how many people at the beginning thought that we were terribly pretentious," says George. "They assumed the culture was being used in the refined sense. It wasn't of course. The emphasis is that everyone is part and parcel of the same race: The Human Race, what ever creed or race as it's usually defined!"
Jon Moss and George were now thinking along the same wavelengths. They needed each other musically. George admits that the early attempts at song writing didn't have the right feel to them. "They didn't have the necessary simplicity in the lyrics that's essential," he says. Although his output has since shown adequate amounts of social comment satisfactorily dressed up.
It was with 'White Boy' that 'Culture Club' eventually clicked in the spring of 1982. 'I'm Afraid Of Me' followed and by the winter of the same year 'Do You Really Want To Hurt Me' put George and the group on the world map. It ran right against everything else in the charts. It wasn't urgent, but gentle in it's message and had an obvious universal appeal. The record soared to the top of the charts in countries across the globe and America began to sit up and take notice.
At first, people tried to be offended by his unisexual image. 'A fella in a dress?' they screamed! The fell in the Peruvian style hat, kaftan like clothes, and dreadlock style hair with coloured paper knotted into the plaits, ignored it all with style and sophistication. He had heard and seen it all before, ever since he'd walked through the streets of Woolwich as a kid. Suddenly, the offended became the fans… 'the fella's got a voice!'
It also became evident that it wasn't just a case of 'lock up your sons… they'll start looking effeminate too' or even, 'hide your daughters.' 'Culture Club' audiences managed the impossible… whole families would go to see them… and still are in their droves. Mothers and even grandmothers have become fans. What's won them over, is not only the beauty of George's voice, but also his sincerity.
George is rapidly achieving the aims he set out… 'to bring everyone together'. And it's happening on a world scale. Fan letters from grandmothers are not rare, but frequent occurrences. "The often stop me in the street for a chat and are knowledgeable about the songs," he says. "I love that. I've always got time for them."
Even in America, where he was told that they would react violently to his image, he conquered them at a single blow! "I see myself more as someone like Liberace," he says. "He is a pure showman and America is showbiz crazy. They love all the razzmatazz and the dressing up. To them it's quite normal. Liberace not only has talent, he has abounding humour, the ability to send himself up and the outrageous extravagance of his costumes.
"I have that same appeal, I think. I'm not a serious person with my audiences. I have a sense of humour."
He has even gone so far as to compare himself with Norman Wisdom, the comic actor. Although Boy George is no clown. He has an acute and shrewd mind although he admits: "The songs that we write are not necessarily designed with the charts in mind; happy though we are when they become successes. It has to appeal to us too."
A good example of this is 'Karma Chameleon' which Helen Terry has admitted she wasn't to keen on as first listening, and even George was a bit reluctant to release it straight away. "It's a kind of camp fire song, one of those singalong things," he says. The public took to it like a duck to water and you can bet this is going straight to the 'standards' list. It's one of those things that can be sung by anybody. A second factor has been that millions around the world have probably bought a 'Culture Club' record who wouldn't otherwise have bothered, and this can only enlarge their legions of fans internationally!
Another set of fans which George is please to have is his family! He confesses: "There was a time when my looks were considered by them to be too far out. But now I get on marvellously with them all."
And when George moved into his new house they were the first guests. It looks as if George is winning everyone over!