Boy George saved my life. Well, not literally, but as a teenager it certainly was.
I was desperately embarrassed because I had chronic acne and had to travel to London Hospital in Whitechapel to have the worst facial cysts injected.
Then I’d take the Tube to Chelsea and Kensington and spend my babysitting wages building a confident alter ego out of the Sue Clowes clothes the Culture Club lead singer wore. top pops.
My transformation wasn’t without its challenges, but I soon got used to being chased around Harlow by boys demanding to know why I was a boy pretending to be a girl. The joke was on them. I was a girl pretending to be a boy pretending to be a girl.
Despite my devotion to Boy George, I never saw Culture Club live until Thursday night (August 12), when he joined two of the band’s original members – guitarist-keyboardist Roy Hay and bassist Mikey Craig. – on stage at Audley End for the premiere of his Heritage Live concert series this weekend.
Drummer Jon Moss was missing, but George’s Twitter followers will know his one-time lover may be gone, but he’s not forgotten and is still the subject of the occasional acid beard.
While the nostalgia for 80s concerts in the grounds of the stately home is irresistible, they can sometimes feel like a singing and dancing pension fund, where pop stars of the past roll out their back catalog – all killers, no fillers but sometimes a bit outdated. At best they are a journey to better times, but at worst they turn into a parody.
Would Boy George and Culture Club stand the test of time and add a new twist? The answer was an emphatic yes.
A born artist, he burst onto the stage wearing his trademark hat, elaborate eye makeup and quirky costume. But the boy was replaced by a man – his beard had almost as much black dye as my hair – and his voice matured too.
George told the audience, “Every time you write a song, you make a delicious meal out of leftovers!” Sometimes you get a meal ready, he told fans, but Culture Club was only going to serve up a feast.
He was true to his word and the band resisted the temptation to just rehash the hits. A horn section and four superb backing vocals allowed the trio to not only recreate their signature sound, but also freshen up songs from their greatest hits and album tracks.
There were covers too – with Lulu, who was third in line, joining George on stage for a powerful David Bowie version. The man who sold the world. She released her own version in 1974.
George told his beloved audience that he was delighted to be back with Roy, who was celebrating his birthday at Audley End, and Mikey once again. They are also excited to write and record new material in the studio and the energy was contagious.
This enthusiasm was evident throughout their set, whether it was establishing a reggae favorite or covering the honeyed vocals of songs like Time (Heart Clock)the second single from the first album Kiss to be smart after Do you really want to hurt me rocked the suburbs and reached number 1 on the charts.
George’s quips included several observations about love and living in the moment, and as the sun set at Audley End, the crowd made it clear how much they appreciated the chance to dance and sing along with a caption from the 80s who is still at the top of his game today.
The title of Thursday’s concert by Culture Club, with the support of the most successful girl group in the world, Bananarama, the star of the 1960s Lulu, Gabrielle, who scored a No 1 in 1993 with her first single dreams, and DJ Fat Tony will be followed by James Blunt on Friday August 13. Special guests for the evening will be Craig Charles’ Funk & Soul Show and the Hackney Colliery Band.
On Saturday August 14, R&B, soul, jazz and Celtic singer Van Morrison and his first band, folk-rock band The Waterboys, will take the stage for a concert carried over from last summer.
The season ends on Sunday (August 15) when tenor Russell Watson takes the stage. His Last Night of the Proms show will feature the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.
For more details see www.heritagelive.net/venues/audley-end. Allow plenty of time to enter the venue after long lines on Thursday.