Drummer Jon Moss on the return of Culture Club and the underestimation of Boy George … by himself

By : Billy Manes
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“Just to reiterate, you’ll be speaking with the band,” a publicist tries to coyly clarify before a scheduled telephone interview with a member (or several members) of classic ‘80s swaying drama phenomenon Culture Club. Boy George, the veritable foghorn of Culture Club’s legendary pop-cultural reign, is not doing publicity today, nor was he the previous week when we were first attempting to connect. Presumably he’s saving his voice – his vocal troubles nixed the band’s big British Christmas comeback tour and album launch late last year – or, more than likely, he’s still not comfortable sharing a soapbox with his reunited bandmates after years of acrimony and stop-and-start reunion volleys. Least of whom among the instrument-wielding contenders, we can only assume, is the man who inspired lovelorn hits like “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” “Karma Chameleon” and “Victims,” drummer (and former lover) Jon Moss.

“Roy Hay [the band’s guitarist] is sitting next to me eating his eggs if you want me to pass the phone over,” Moss jokes. No, you’ll do just fine.

Moss is no stranger to the promotional junket, after all, nor has he ever shied from a spotlight or a microphone or, well, a telephone. His explosive relationship with George was the band’s worst kept secret, something that has been extensively covered in numerous biographies and television specials to the point of tear-stained caricature. Moss helped form the band with George, Hay and bassist Mikey Craig in 1981 after a stint with punk legends the Damned. Within a few years of hoofing it through the new-wave/new-romantic alleys of London’s post-punk music business, Culture Club’s pervasive-yet-huggable perversion of sociocultural norms saturated the world over, pulling sensitive teenagers and grandmothers alike into the band’s musical fold. It was a time of androgyny that avoided talk of sex outright in favor of “a cup of tea.”

Now, after a few years of management shifts of stuttered planning – George released another solo album in 2013, This is What I Do – the band has returned to its mothership and is proving itself all over again. For a clue as to just where on the zeitgeist the band is in 2015, look no further than the fact that Caitlyn Jenner introduced them at a July show at the Greek in Los Angeles. The reviews so far of the new Club – replete with a sobered-up and vocal-register-downed George (he sounds downright husky these days) – have been glowing.

“We’ve had some tough people reviewing us and it’s almost like our weakness is our strength,” Moss says. “It’s quite nice, because I think people are sort of reawakening to Culture Club. Also there’s a whole new generation [of fans]. There’s a sort of academic interest in Culture Club as well. The whole social history aspect.”

On its face, that history involves four key albums, with the first two picking up most of the acclaim and precious metals, Kissing to be Clever and Colour by Numbers. Subsequent efforts saw diminishing returns. Waking Up with the House on Fire (which notably featured the lyric, “War is stupid, and people are stupid”) hinted at divisions in the group’s bloating identity; From Luxury to Heartache came with televised The A-Team appearances attached (plus a message to “Move Away” as its lead single). Things got dicey, George caved to drugs and global gaffes, and minus one notable reunion for VH-1 in the U.S. and a failed reunion album that never made it to the shelves stateside (despite a Dolly Parton duet), the clubhouse seemed to be indefinitely boarded up.

“Culture Club, I suppose we just came somewhere out of London. I think we became very much the voice of the dispossessed, at the time, if you like,” Moss recalls. “The main thing about Culture Club is that George is very clever. We didn’t mean to be clever; it was just by default, really. It was very subversive in a very palatable way. And I think that’s something that George – one of the things we really messed up in Culture Club – George, I don’t think he realized the effect that he had. He started to see himself as being an intellectual puppet who couldn’t talk about sexuality.”

If that closet strewn with kimonos and platform heels served the band well in its public appearances and merchandising – everybody has been Boy George for Halloween at some point in his or her life; some still are – in retrospect, Moss thinks it served the public in a fairly dramatic manner, as well.

“What I find sad about Culture Club and George is that we sort of got forgotten about, which is ridiculous,” he says. “We were mainstream album leaders that spearheaded the ‘80s movement. And also, I think there we did a lot to change society’s attitude here in America, in Europe, and in the world and so on.”

That’s something the band has been working on correcting in the past year, however. Prior to George’s reportedly serious throat troubles last year, all signs were “go” for a new album, Tribes, which had already been preceded by a lead single, “More Than Silence.” The record is “not there yet” for the tour, Moss says, though he adds that the work they did with producer Youth (Killing Joke) produced up to 15 “really good songs.” Tribes, he suspects, will be released by indie distribution house Kobalt early next year.

“It’s funny, I was speaking to [Duran Duran keyboardist] Nick Rhodes on the phone yesterday, and I said, ‘what are you doing?’ and he said, ‘What do you write about for a bunch of 17-year-olds?’ We’re trying to base ourselves off of Duran Duran, because they’ve been steadily going on releasing albums and playing,” Moss says (Duran Duran releases its new album Paper Gods on Sept. 11 via Warner Brothers Records). “For bands from the ‘80s, they’re not out of date. They’re getting new audiences, which is the main thing, really, if you think about it.”

This tour likely won’t be the breeding ground for a new army of wannabes in dreadlocks and makeup, though. Recent setlists have largely covered the known territory of Culture Club’s early-‘80s heyday along with several of George’s more successful solo hits (“The Crying Game,” “Everything I Own”).

“We were going to do the ‘War Song,’ but now we’re not doing that. I don’t think we’re doing anything from the third album,” Moss laughs, adding that they won’t be playing this writer’s favorite Culture Club song, either. “‘Mistake Number Three,’ that video, it’s the most hideous thing known to man.”

Speaking of mistakes, it doesn’t take much to drag Moss into the romantic territory of his felicitations with George from the band’s outset. In fact, he offers the information without provocation, seemingly proud that it exists on some mantle of social importance, dusted off from time to time. Times have changed, after all, and it must be somewhat rewarding to be memorialized in so many broken-hearted hits, even if you’re a straight man with children now.

“Can you imagine gay marriage 20 years ago? I know, you could go out in major cities, and no problem,” he says, though in smaller burgs you were called “queer” and shoved into corners. “I’ve got three kids, and my ex-wife is very worried about the programs about me and George and our relationship. Kids don’t care!”

That’s something that is in no small way attributable to the rise of Culture Club in its prime, even if the downfall of the band was so public, Moss allows.

“Sometimes in a velvet revolution, that’s the way you do it,” he says. “It had to happen. It’s got to happen. It did happen. It’s just the way you make it happen that’s important.”

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Howard Jones
Former British hair god of the keytar – OK, he’s still sort of a hair god with an occasional keytar – Howard Jones blazed the synthesized trail of conscience-pop in his mid-‘80s prime. Hits like “The New Song,” “What Is Love?,” “No One Is to Blame” and “Things Can Only Get Better” bounced around the radio like a good mood (or lesson) waiting to happen, while more reflective numbers buried deeper in album rosters spoke to his more philosophical side. Last year, he headlined the Retro-Futura tour at the Hard Rock Live with former Thompson Twin Tom Bailey, a generous act that resulted in everyone present forgetting that they had to go to work the next day. Still sounds great, by the way.

Marc Almond
By our imperfect calculations, it seems like British bedsit synthpop legend Marc Almond has never made it to Florida, at least not as a solo act. You probably know Almond best for his turn as half of Soft Cell (“Tainted Love,” “Say Hello, Wave Goodbye”), but he’s had some other stateside chart inroads (at least on the dance floor) with solo numbers like “Tears Run Rings” and “Jacky.” We’re pretty certain that we’re most excited about this part of the show, but don’t tell anyone.

Thrill Kill Kult
Generally known as My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult, but abbreviated here for reasons unknown, the Kult saw mainstream success for a hot second with “Sex on Wheelz” in the early ‘90s before drifting back into goth/cult infamy and soundtrack work (Showgirls, anyone?). A sort of traveling horror show, the Kult should be expected to make a genuine malevolent mess of things while Howard Jones stands aside in horror.

C+C Music Factory (feat. Freedom Williams)
For a minute there in the early ‘90s, C+C Music Factory (then Robert Civilles and David Cole) were an inescapable background noise that made it feel like you needed to go to the gym. “Gonna Make You Sweat (Everybody Dance Now)” was their signature hit, though it came at a pretty bad time. While everybody was bemoaning Milli Vanilli’s lip-sync shenanigans, Civilles and Cole were using a stand-in to cover up for vocalist Martha Wash’s lack of commercial sex appeal. Now, it appears that even the C and the C aren’t with the factory anymore (Cole is deceased), so Freedom Williams – the shirtless one who raps – is taking the reins despite criticism from the act’s sole remaining founder. Fun, right?

Book of Love
Forever memorialized by psychotic associations with films likeSilence of the Lambs and American Psycho– plus Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells,” with which they created one of pop’s earliest mash-ups – Philadelphia’s Book of Love rode the decade shift from the ‘80s to the ‘90s with blissed-out synth-psychedelia laced with darker themes. Surely you’ve found yourself wearing too much eyeliner and slapping a dance floor to the tune of “Pretty Boys and Pretty Girls.” Wait, you haven’t? Sorry. This should be another highlight of the Madeira Beach Unity Fest lineup.

MORE INFO
Unity Fest featuring Culture Club, Howard Jones, Marc Almond, Thrill Kill Cult, C+C Music Factory and Book of Love
Saturday, Aug. 15, 3 p.m.
Madeira Beach Park, St. Petersburg
livenation.com

Culture Club
Sunday, Aug. 16, 8 p.m.
Hard Rock Live, Universal Orlando
hardrock.com

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