When an 80’s band like Culture Club returns to the stage after decades out of the limelight, it’s hard to avoid using words like ‘revisit’ when describing the homecoming. While the band isn’t eschewing the nostalgia surrounding its triumphant summer tour, it isn’t a robotic recitation of the old hits. Culture Club wants fans to know they are back and better than ever.
The iconic English band is celebrating the hits like “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?”, “Time (Clock of the Heart)”, “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya”, “Miss Me Blind”, “Karma Chameleon” and “Church of the Poison Mind” and introducing new music from the yet-to-be-released new album “Tribes” on July 9 at the Morocco Shrine Auditorium. Annabella Lwin’s Bow Wow Wow, Gene Loves Jezebel and Who’s Bad “The Ultimate Michael Jackson Experience” fill out the bill.
Moss and Craig were in excellent spirits during the 10-minute interview. Jovial, even. They’re thrilled to discuss the tour and sound genuinely excited to be together, doing press and playing music like they did back in their early 80’s heyday. They answer in tandem, riffing off one another without missing a beat and when one trails off, the other fills in the gaps like old friends do.
Culture Club is bringing a full band and a full sound to the stage for a full U.S. tour, not phoning it in like some of their 80’s counterparts – unless, of course, they are doing the requisite press. EU Jacksonville spoke with bassist Mikey Craig and drummer Jon Moss about second chances and the real reason fans still love to love them.
“A lot of 80’s bands are coming out and it’s like three of them and a lot of stuff loaded on tape. This is not like that. It’s real people playing real instruments. It’s not like a concert. It’s more like going to a show, you know what I mean?” says Moss. “George will talk your ear off during the songs.”
“We pretty much play the music as it is. We don’t do any jazz versions of the songs, if that’s what you mean,” says Craig. Echoes Moss, “That annoying thing bands do when you play the big hits like Karma Chameleon like ‘we’ve slowed it down this time’. No, we don’t do that.”
“Personally, I find when I play, I think we’ve hit a really good groove. It’s totally there, really in the pocket. And I think that is what’s changed,” says Moss. “It’s not so much that pop mentality. The band always did play well. Everyone always thought that if you’re in a pop band that you didn’t play well. But now there is a real pocket and you really feel like you’re in the presence of something very good. It’s not gravitas.”
Says Craig, “There is also another side to it. These songs, the hit songs in particular, are just so timeless. Each time we revisit them, they just feel like they did when we were younger.”
“You like that word ‘revisit’? I hate that word,” says Moss.
“I’ve already said revisit once today. Is that once too many?” counters Craig. “The songs really are brilliant songs. There’s just something special about them. They’re not typical synthy-sounding 80’s songs. They have their own kind of genre, shall we say.”
Culture Club always spoke a different language musically than their 80’s counterparts. “Hence the name,” says Moss. “We all came from different backgrounds, I mean really different backgrounds. You couldn’t get a more culture club. And the music was really eclectic. That’s what I always liked when we started Culture Club. When I first met George and Mikey, it just clicked with them straight away. You had a black man and a white man in a band, you couldn’t sort of come in at the same angle. I think that was something very unusual at the time and it was in America until about 10 years ago. I think that was the great thing about Culture Club. You want a reggae track? You want a Motown track? You want a ballad? Yeah, we can do that.”
Culture Club did a mini-tour last year “to test the waters” after George suffered complications from a polyp on his vocal chords, says Craig. “That got healed up so we went out on a month long tour last summer just to make sure George was okay and everything was fine. And we got rave reviews. We got absolutely fantastic reviews from some stubborn journalists as well. I think that was the trigger.”
“It exceeded all our expectations,” says Moss. “However big we were, however poplar we were, to come along now with this amazing show, there’s 15 people on stage, we’ve got a horn section and percussionists and back-up singers, and it’s nice because people feel like they’re getting there moneys’ worth and not just being used as a revenue stream. It’s actually a proper show.”
If vocals were tested last summer, so were the fragile relationships of the bandmates. “All of the above. The waters have been so troubled over the years, it doesn’t really matter. We don’t care, do you know what I mean? We don’t rise to the bait anymore,” says Moss.
Says Craig, “We all know each other so well now that we know that there are certain times you can say something but on other occasions, it might not be the right thing to say. We know not to press buttons.”
Moss, who famously inspired some of the band’s most painful breakup songs on the heels of their scandalous relationship, says the friction with George still exists but each has mellowed in how they respond to each other. “A year ago I got a text from George saying ‘I’ll never share a stage with you again’ and I just texted him back, saying ‘good’,” Moss says of the band’s personal climate change. “Recently, I got a text from George after a gig and he was ranting and raving and I just wrote ‘whatever’ back to him. And the next day he was absolutely fine. He probably just laughed when he saw it.”
This time around, Culture Club is putting aside old grievances and taking the time to appreciate the magnitude of the tour, the fans and the impact of the band on a generation as a whole. That impact is evident and remains relevant in the roster of current bands that were no doubt inspired by the hybrid of soul, funk and Motown flavors.
Where the combination of the island flavors, pop sensibilities and George’s soulful vocals spoke to a massive fan base, Moss says the dreadlocks, makeup and the “really weird” 80’s gear appealed just as well to the fringe element without the need to make a statement.
“We didn’t need to voice anything political. You could just look at us and understand exactly what we were. There wasn’t any need to say anything. Our look said it all,” says Craig. “That’s why we had such impact. These guys came out and looked really weird, all of us, just a completely different bunch. People thought George was a soul singer in America before they saw pictures of him. I think it was quite a relief to people. It’s almost as if the people were in the margins that liked rock music but they also liked other types of music. Culture Club had the majority minority.”
It’s pop music, after all, and that spirit isn’t mired down by a heavy cause or political agenda. It’s entertainment. It’s fun and at the end of the day, that’s all it was meant to be. Except this time, the band is mature enough – and sober enough – to enjoy it.
“Nostalgia is something when you do revisit, and not the meaning of the word revisit, but I think that it’s not so much nostalgia. I think there is a difference between when you wistfully remember something like ‘those were the days. I had such a good time when I was young’. This is more like a celebration, which is different than nostalgia. It’s like if you have a commemorative day and people come to celebrate,” Moss says. “Sometimes you see people who are completely over the hill trying to be what they were way back when. But we’re not like that at all. We evolve in a nice sort of way. We’ve aged pretty well, like cheese.”