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Boy George happy to be back on road with Culture Club

Boy George and Culture Club will play Northern Quest on Friday night. (Associated Press)
Boy George and Culture Club will play Northern Quest on Friday night. (Associated Press)
By Chrissie Dickinson Chicago Tribune

“I have the best job in the world,” says Boy George, calling from a tour stop in Florida. “There’s not really a lot to moan or whine about. I’ve got the privilege of going out and doing something I absolutely love.”

The pop-soul singer will be coming to Northern Quest Resort & Casino on Friday with his band Culture Club, the Grammy-winning British new wave group that burst onto the music scene in the early 1980s. He’s joined on stage by his original bandmates Mikey Craig, Jon Moss and Roy Hay. They kick their live show into high gear, with nine additional musicians on this tour, including brass players and background singers.

“There are a lot of people on stage,” Boy George says about the band’s current live dates. “We also have the crew, makeup and wardrobe. It’s a big ol’ circus.”

Back in the band’s radio heyday, Culture Club recorded such enduring hits as “Karma Chameleon” and “Time (Clock of the Heart).” After his initial stardom, Boy George struggled with drug addiction before eventually cleaning up his act. Sober for eight years and in fine voice, he credits his renewed focus to Nichiren Buddhism, diet and exercise.

A witty artist who laughs easily and often, the Culture Club frontman called recently to discuss how he keeps fit on the road and his memories of the late punk impresario Malcolm McLaren. This is an edited transcript.

Q. The band just played a concert in Orlando. What was the atmosphere like in the wake of the Pulse nightclub terrorist attack?

A. There was a lot of emotion in the air. Certain songs made people cry. I didn’t want to make too much about what happened because it would bring people down. I wore a rainbow flag suit that I had specially made for the night. I thought that was enough of a statement. It was a beautiful show – probably one of our best on the tour in terms of audience participation and warmth.

Q. Are you seeing several generations of fans at your concerts?

A. We’ve always had an eclectic crowd, but I’m just starting to see these 12-year-old girls with the braids and the hats. That’s amazing. At this point, people have a real relationship with us. They want to have a good time. The show we do is one hit after another. We chuck in a new song here and there, but it’s always carefully done – I don’t want to alarm people. It’s such an affectionate atmosphere. It’s lovely to see it. Parents often bring children. There are a lot of young kids. In fact, last night I was using a bit of bad language and then I suddenly saw this young child on someone’s shoulders. I thought, “Oh, no!”

Q. You’re currently on a world tour. How do you maintain your energy?

A. You have to watch what you eat. The problem with being on the road – especially in a hot place like Florida – is that you can begin to think you’re on holiday. You can partake of the buffet a little bit more than you should, so you have to have a routine. You have to eat at a certain time and eat properly. I have two meals a day. They can be good-sized meals. I don’t starve. Nobody needs to worry about that – I’m not a sparrow. I exercise. I go to the gym every day. It’s about respecting what you’re doing. You’re going on stage. You have to sleep. You have to be prepared. For me, touring is about looking after myself.

Q. Who are some of your main vocal influences?

A. Most of my influences are from the past. There are all the obvious ones – Nina Simone and Sly Stone. A big one is Gladys Knight. She’s one of my favorite singers of all time. She has that great vibrato. I love that kind of laughter in her voice. Sometimes onstage at the end of a lick, I’ll do that little laugh. That’s my Gladys impersonation. I like the big bombastic singers, but I’m also very drawn to what I call character singers. They’re people who obviously aren’t very huge singers, but they’ve got this ability to tell a story and touch you emotionally without really using any kind of histrionics or special effects. I like a lot of impure voices – David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan.

Q. What was it like being a teenager in the 1970s when punk was exploding in Great Britain?

A. The 1970s was probably the most exciting decade to be a teenager, from discovering Little Richard at the end of the 1960s to glam rock to punk rock to electro music. So much happened in that 10-year span. There were so many musical revolutions. Some were happening at the same time. You had disco going on behind punk. You had Michael Jackson. You had the Sex Pistols. Certainly for me, when punk exploded in the 1970s, it was just great. We had these wonderful clothes to wear. We could do great things with our hair. We had protest badges that read “I belong to the Blank Generation.” It was such a great time to be a kid.

Q. Before Culture Club, you were briefly in the British new wave band Bow Wow Wow.

A. For a minute. I did a few shows with them, then they threw me out of the band without telling me. They put a photo of me and (lead singer) Annabella Lwin in the music magazine New Musical Express. That’s how I met Mikey Craig. He saw that photo, read that I was thrown out of the band and was interested. He thought maybe I could be in his band. That’s how Culture Club started. I feel like my career has always been a series of collisions and accidents. Being in the right place at the right time. Having the right haircut. It’s so mad to think that it happened in the way that it happened. One door closes and another one opens.

Q. The late British punk provocateur Malcolm McLaren managed Bow Wow Wow, and he’s the one who brought you into that group. McLaren had also managed the groundbreaking band the Sex Pistols and was an instrumental figure in shaping the British punk scene. What was your take on him?

A. Malcolm was an absolute rogue, but he was very exciting to be around. I was wary of him. He liked to create things and destroy them in the same breath, which is why a lot of the things he did never really lasted. He was an anarchist and an agitator. He hated the commercial world. He really didn’t want things to be successful, because to him that almost felt like a failure. The fact that he had tried to manage me was exciting. When Malcolm died, I was sad and quite tearful because he was such a part of my youth.

Q. I heard that you practice Nichiren Buddhism.

A. Yes. It’s Japanese. It’s huge in America. It’s huge everywhere. It’s the one Tina Turner practices. Have you seen (the Tina Turner bio-pic) “What’s Love Got to Do with It”? It’s a great film. (There’s a scene where) Tina is taught Buddhism by a friend. That film was the first time I heard about it. I find it helps me focus on what I want to achieve. It’s a great daily practice. I would recommend it to anyone.

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