fri 19/10/2018

Boy George and Culture Club: From Karma to Calamity, BBC Four | reviews, news & interviews

Boy George and Culture Club: From Karma to Calamity, BBC Four

Boy George and Culture Club: From Karma to Calamity, BBC Four

The return of Eighties pop giants would be a sure-fire hit, if only they could nail the harmony

Culture Club: Crashing the tour bus down memory lane

The title signalled what was coming so clearly, it may as well have been called When Bands End Badly: the two camps, the arguments and sniping and the eventual collapse of Culture Club’s US and UK tour to promote an album of new material. It’s hardly a surprise though – this is a band that, history shows, would have benefitted from the visible presence of an armed UN peacekeeping force.

What is surprising is the way in which Boy George appears to be cast (by the rest of the band at least, if not explicitly the filmmakers) as the architect of this collapse: a sort of Fred Dibnah to the band’s towering reputation – albeit one in a much more extravagant hat. He really wasn’t though – professionalism, ambition and a desire to stop trading on past glories are only destructive traits if you’re on the kind of misty-eyed, retro circuit that go hand-in-hand with provincial Arndale Centres and fly-on-the-wall docum… Ah, right. We’re getting ahead of ourselves, let’s retrace for a second. 

Bassist Mikey Craig seems to be channeling Derek Smalls’s Spinal Tap role of lukewarm water

After the preamble potted history of the band (150 million sales, very public implosion etc), the programme began with the members meeting up at Boy George’s house to begin writing a new album. The singer and DJ has been a fairly constant fixture in the public eye over the years, so he’s, y’know, just George. First of the others to arrive was songwriter Roy Hay (Grange Hill’s Stewpot Stewart) followed by Mikey Craig (Dorian Gray) and George’s former partner Jon Moss (played brilliantly here by Tracey Emin). The next few scenes were fascinating and highlighted the dynamics that, one suspects, have changed little from the band’s heyday.

There was the good-natured and reasonably respectful jostling for position between creative leads George and Roy; the calming nature of bassist Mikey Craig (who seems to be channeling Derek Smalls's Spinal Tap role of luke-warm water for much of proceedings); and then we had the bitchy bickering and pointed potshots between George and Jon. Understandably, their relationship came under a great deal of scrutiny here and it’s clear that the band’s unfinished business isn’t just musical. Interesting though this could have been, it did seem to obfuscate the real issue, which lay very much in the present…

There were telling scenes as the band moved their operations to Spain to record an album and, effectively, lay the foundations to ensure it is never released. George, ever the professional, was there to do business, while the others, you got the sense, were happy for the excuse of a jolly. It all got too much during a photoshoot (pictured below) when a clearly uncomfortable Jon seemed intent on not taking it seriously and George reached the end of an already short tether and left. It was a shame, not to mention self-defeating, as the action drew focus and left the drummer’s childish petulance unchallenged.

The tensions continued to simmer throughout despite some genuine warmth and affection, but after management issues, medical conditions and differing goals were thrown into the pot, the whole thing inevitably boiled over and put out the flame that had ignited it in the first place. It was immensely frustrating to watch, particularly as what we heard of the new songs sounded better than anything they’ve done since Colour By Numbers.

There was a commendable lightness of touch to the direction – a stepping back to let the subjects fill the space – that ended up with a film about Culture Club, but, just as importantly, a fascinating study of group behaviour. Mikey, Roy and Jon clearly formed a close bond, while George, almost willingly, sat outside of the proceedings.

The problem was that, while others clearly thought George was being a flouncy prima donna, the two camps simply had different agendas. George’s seemed simple enough: to create a sustainable career for the band based on new material, to function in the present – to live in the moment. The others, despite the new songs, seemed resolutely stuck in the past. And that’s not a criticism that could ever be levelled at Boy George. While people may come away thinking that he doesn’t play well with others, at least he knows the game.

There was a commendable lightness of touch that let the subjects fill the space

rating

Editor Rating: 
3
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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