Culture Club to Return to the Stage for Livestream Show 'Rainbow in the Dark'

Culture Club
Culture Club (l-r): Roy Hay, Boy George and Mikey Craig. Dean Stockings

When it comes the 1980s, the British pop group Culture Club, fronted by their charismatic lead singer Boy George, are forever synonymous with that decade. During the golden age of MTV, Culture Club dominated both the British and American pop charts with such hits as "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me," "Time (Clock of My Heart)," "I'll Tumble 4 Ya," "Karma Chameleon," "Church of the Poison Mind" and "Move Away." Not only were they ubiquitous on radio and MTV during 1983-1984, but Culture Club—and especially Boy George—were also everywhere in the media: newspapers, magazines and the TV talk show circuit. That popularity was further compounded by the adoration of screaming fans wherever the group went. In his 1995 memoir Take It Like a Man, George wrote of that period: "Culture Club were on a success treadmill...We never questioned our success, we just danced madly in its trail."

Almost 40 years later since their formation, Culture Club – George, bassist Mikey Craig and guitarist/keyboardist Roy Hay—are still performing and recording together following on-and-off reunions from the last few decades. On Saturday December 19, the group will be performing a special concert, Rainbow in the Dark, at the SSE Arena, Wembley, which will host 1,000 audience members and be livestreamed across the world. For Culture Club fans, the event provides a respite from the pandemic that has entirely shut down the live music industry.

"The show's going to be upbeat and fun," Hay tells Newsweek. "It's a couple of reasons: to just give people something special in these times. The other thing is just for us to get together, play again and enjoy being a band. I think it's going to be just great on so many levels to play live again, to see the guys get out, and have this thing go around the world. It's amazing."

"What's also needed is bringing together the band and the people who work with us as well," Craig adds. "We're a real tight unit from the sound engineer to everyone that's working with us. They're all great people. It'll be nice to pull everybody back together and find that kinship again."

Naturally, the set list for the upcoming show will draw from the band's greatest hits as well as some recent and even new material. "There will be one of the new songs that we've been working on for a movie called We Are Gathered Here Today," says Hay. "We're going to be debuting that. We're also going to be shooting a video for that during the performance. So that's going to be exciting."

"George always likes to throw something in," explains Craig, "so it wouldn't surprise me if there are a couple of new things in there. And then we pull in a few covers here and there to liven the thing up. But of course, all the hits will be there."

Fittingly, the SSE Arena concert comes on the eve of the 40th anniversary of the founding of Culture Club, whose original and classic lineup consisted of George, Hay, Craig and drummer Jon Moss.

"The early years have been kind of a blur," says Hay. "Everything was so crazy and so exciting. When you travel the world the first time when you're in a band, you never get that magic back in your life. They're just magic times and to be able to do that in a band situation and playing music and discovering the world at the same time, it's just a real gift and something very special."

Formed in 1981, Culture Club forged their distinct identity first musically by embracing a variety of musical styles—pop, blue-eyed soul and Caribbean—which contrasted with the synthpop and post-punk sounds of their contemporaries. Already having a unique look from his days as a trendsetting club kid, George also oversaw the band's image and fashions that were a combination of different influences and symbols.

After signing with Virgin, Culture Club released their debut album, 1982's Kissing to Be Clever. Their first two singles hardly made a dent on the charts. But their third single, the now-iconic "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?", became a huge hit and became the band's breakthrough. Culture Club's performance of the song on the popular British TV music show Top of the Pops drew strong reaction from both viewers and critics over George's appearance, and the group were on their way to stardom.

"The cliché is people thought he was a girl," says Craig of George, "which you probably heard 100 times. A lot of people were bewildered by the whole thing, but they loved the song and they loved George's voice and the way he sang...And so it wasn't just a novelty thing, there was some substance to it as well. That showed when we went to the States, particularly because when "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" was sent out to radio stations in America. A lot of DJs were playing the song and thinking that George was a girl. Of course, when they saw what the band looked like and found out George was a guy, that just added to it.'"

Culture Club
(MANDATORY CREDIT Ebet Roberts/Getty Images) UNITED STATES - JUNE 30: Photo of CULTURE CLUB and Mikey CRAIG and Jon MOSS and BOY GEORGE and Roy HAY; Posed group portrait L-R Mikey Craig, Jon Moss, Boy George and Roy Hay Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty

Culture Club arrived in America in grand fashion as part of the Second British Invasion alongside Duran Duran, Eurythmics and the Human League. The publicity surrounding the band, especially about the always-quotable George, was tremendous and a rabid fan hysteria followed. Their success culminated with the smash 1983 album Colour By Numbers, which included Culture Club's first and only U.S. number one hit "Karma Chameleon."

"It was on those moments in life where we sort of had that punky energy early on...and the first album reflected that," says Hay. "We started to develop a little bit of songwriters. I think on that second album, we had a bit more confidence and we really brought the ideas—both George lyrically and myself musically, and Jon and Mikey rhythmically. "Karma Chameleon" is a very special record. Subsequently, it created its own legacy. Of course we have to end every show with it. Otherwise, people would kill us."

By this point Culture Club were a pop phenomenon that included them winning a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1984 (during which George delivered his famous "drag queen" remark). But the constant touring and press attention over time—not to mention George's substance abuse and legal issues, and the drama surrounding his then-relationship with Moss—took a toll on the band that led up to their breakup in the late 1980s.

"Tumultuous is the word," Craig says. "I think the highs were really high, and the lows were really low. At times, it was such a roller coaster that it was too much. Jon and George were in a relationship, and the speed that we were moving at was just too much for the relationship to handle. It happened so quickly that you hardly got time to take it in properly."

"It was a little challenging," says Hay. "I feared for what actually did happen in the end, in which was [George] was overexposed and it became too much for everybody, and that's why in '86, it all just blew up. We all knew it was going to head that way, and then it was too much for everybody, including George."

Over the years, the band has reunited a few times, first in 1998 and then in the last couple of years that included touring the United States and releasing the Life album in 2018. Amid the upcoming show at the SSE Arena, Hay, George and Craig have been collaborating on some new music together; both Hay and Craig had been setting up their home recording studios. "We're sending tracks backwards and forwards," says Craig, "like Roy will send me something, I'll play something on it, send it back to him, and so on and so forth. Then he'll send it to George, George will put something on it. I really imagine that will start to sort of speed up early New Year, and it wouldn't surprise me if a new album starts to emerge during the year."

Four decades later, Boy George still remains a popular celebrity as well as an icon within the LGBTQ community, while Culture Club broke ground in pop music in terms especially for their multiculturalism and celebration of individuality. "I've always felt like Culture Club was a one-stop shop for anyone who felt different for any reason," George once said in an interview with the Tampa Bay Times in 2018.

"That's kind of an important thing that we did, says Hay. "We weren't a political band, but we were a huge political statement. We never went out and said, 'You have to be like us. That's how we will get along.' We got every conceivable aspect of mankind in this band, and we go from reggae to rock. 'So if we can do it, why can't you?'"

"Roy always says that if you had a Culture Club poster on your wall, then we've done our job," says Craig. "We've reached out to people who perhaps were forgotten about or perhaps were too shy or too embarrassed to come out and say: 'I like this band' or 'I like this type of movement,' 'I like this type of clothing' or whatever. There are other people who are like that locked away in their bedrooms at the time, and I think Culture Club gave this type of person the opportunity. That's what I love about it—that we were able to transform some people's lives, and let them know that they're valued as well. That's really it."

Culture Club's 'Rainbow in the Dark' show will take place at SSE Arena, Wembley, on December 19, For information on tickets, click here. (First responders can access the livestream for free by filling out a form).