After dominating the music scene in the 1980’s on both sides of the Atlantic thanks to hits including “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” and “Karma Chameleon”, Culture Club have remained a semi-staple of the industry ever since. With a new album due out next year and as the band prepare for four racecourse shows later this month – 3 in the UK, 1 in Ireland – bassist Mikey Craig called up ThisIsTheLatest to talk career longevity, social media and future plans.
TITL: Hi Mikey, thanks for taking the time to talk with me today. I hope you’re well?
Mikey Craig: I am, thank you. I’m in the back of a taxi at the moment so if the call cuts out, or the sound goes a bit strange, that’s why.
TITL: You’ve been a part of the industry for more than 30 years now and have outlasted several of your artistic counterparts from that time. What would you has been the secret to your longevity?
M: To be fair, we’ve been apart for most of that time, so coming back like we have has really helped make things still feel really fresh if you know what I mean? I think the big thing for us has always been our songs. Whenever we get back together, even after being apart for such long periods like we have, the songs still sound very fresh and still feel good. I think the reason for that, particularly with tracks like “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” – they’re not typical, 80’s sounding, big synth sounding songs. They’re kind of unique songs – simply done and they have a uniqueness about them.
“Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” for example, back in the 80’s there were 24 track studios, and we only used 12 tracks. We put the song down really simply, really heartfelt – and that kind of carried on with us. We kept things kind of simple and now when we go back to those songs, they don’t feel dated.
TITL: Are you at all surprised by your on-going success and popularity?
M: We were so popular back in the 80’s. The thing was also, America made up so much of the music world back then and we conquered it completely. We went over there and obliterated the place. We were in the R’n’B charts, we were in the country charts – the segregated everything and had charts for everything back then – but we kind of broke down the barriers. We took the place by storm. I think that has a lot to do with why, now, we’re able to go out on the road and still find good, big sized audiences still enjoying the music. We were such a phenomenon.
Love it or hate it, America is one of the best places in terms of touring and performing – for me it’s the best place to be playing in. We were there last year for quite some time – we were out on the road on and off for six months whereas in the 80’s, I think that the longest run we did was about three weeks. At one point last year we were out for three months and it was great. We took our time, we went all around and did things that we wouldn’t ordinarily do like visited art galleries in every city, went for walks and visited places of interest. We did all those grown up kind of things that you don’t necessarily do when you’re younger.
TITL: Looking at the music industry now, given that you were such a phenomenon back in the 80’s, whose popularity would you say you were on par with?
M: Take That, or…what’s that boy-band called?
TITL: One Direction?
M: Yes, One Direction. It’s funny actually, we saw them one day when we were in New York last year and had a day off from touring. We were walking by Central Park, about 10-11 o’clock having just come out of a restaurant, and there were all these girls at the entrance to the park. So we asked what was happening and they said there was a One Direction video being shot in the park and that they were going to go in and be a part of it. It kinda reminded us of when we were doing our thing back in the 80’s; how kids would be up all night waiting for us outside the studio, outside concert venues and whatever. We asked whether the boys were going to be playing live and they said that it would depend as they sometimes forgot the words and had to be reminded of them (laughs).
I can imagine the situation One Direction are in; being here, there and everywhere so much so that sometimes you don’t know where you are. I guess we were certainly on a par with them. I mean, the media is so much bigger now that had we had as much as there is now back when we were around, then we would probably have made hundreds of millions of pounds, but I’m quite happy as I am.
TITL: To what extent do you think the media has impacted, both negatively and positively, the music industry, particularly given, as you’ve mentioned, there wasn’t as much of it around back in the 80’s and there was no social media or this 24/7 craving for news, interaction etc.?
M: Media, particularly online, is a double-edged sword. There are a lot of artists from our generation, who started out in the 80’s as we did, who miss out on royalties for songs because people share files and download things illegally. At the same time, older artists are now being looked at and heard about by younger generations. I don’t particularly like social media and I don’t have an Instagram or Twitter account – I keep well away from it whereas George has got all of the above and millions of fans and followers – but I can imagine that it must have its benefits. I tend to be a bit more private, but I can see where it can benefit people and cause problems as well.
TITL: You’re playing Epsom Downs, Haydock and Newmarket racecourses here in the UK later this month. How did those shows come about and have you ever played at a racecourse before?
M: We have never set foot on a racecourse before – actually, no – I’ve been to one once, though not to perform. It’s going to be a whole new thing for us. I guess agents and concert promoters are looking at new ways of putting on shows – in countries like Australia, people play at wineries – so I guess here the equivalent is racecourses. It’ll be interesting to see how it goes. We’ll probably spend the day looking at some of the races and then in the evening, if everybody’s not too burnt out, we’ll get up on stage and give them a good time.
TITL: I saw Olly Murs at York Racecourse a few weeks back and that was an experience. A good one, mind!
M: I heard that he played to something like 30,000? Is that true?
TITL: A sold-out capacity crowd of 38,500…
TITL: For those who have never seen you live before, what can they expect from a Culture Club show?
M: Well they can expect, as George puts it, something old, something new, something borrowed and something blue. Of course there’ll be ardent Culture Club fans who’ll want to hear the hits so of course we’ll play them, but we’ve had a new album sitting around for quite some time – I don’t think time permits me to go into why it’s been sitting around for this amount of time – so I think a couple of tracks from that will be played as well. Then there’ll probably be a couple of tracks we’ve borrowed from other people. I think people’ll enjoy it – you’ll enjoy it if you come. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. It’s very big band, by the way – it’s almost like an orchestra on stage; we’ve got loads of extras though I think they may be cut down for these shows. I think you’ll like it.
TITL: I’m currently working on how to get down there and back…
M: Work on it, work on it! (laughs)
TITL: Which of your songs do you most like playing live?
M: It’s great to play tracks like “Do You Really Want To Hurt Me” and “Karma Chameleon” because you know, you could actually just stop playing, hold the mic out to the audience and they’ll sing it for you. It’s wonderful doing that – it gives you a really good feeling. But I also like tracks like “Miss Me Blind” which is more of an up-tempo, R’n’B’ish kind of song that I was very involved with. Jermaine Stewart – if you remember “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off” – I collared him and got him on backing vocals. I enjoy playing “Miss Me Blind” – it’s one of my favourites. I also like “Church Of The Poison Mind” – we tend to open the set with that. It’s a great set to be honest with you and I think everyone you come into contact with, talk about it with and who go with you, if you can find your way there!
TITL: I know you’re heading to Australia towards the end of the year but do you have any other tour shows or performances coming up?
M: As I said, last year we were out on the road for, in total, for around six months on and off. We went everywhere. We went twice to Australia, then to Malaysia, Japan, Canada, the United States…we stopped off in Hawaii for a little while – we did a show in Switzerland – we did a hell of a lot of stuff last year. We’ve kinda slowed things down a little bit this year. We’re doing four racecourses this month and then towards the end of the year, we’re going to do some more shows again in Australia because George has been out there doing The Voice so apparently that’s led us back out there and there’s a demand for some shows.
But before we get out there, we’re going to do North America – Atlantic City and a few other places. We’re going to go to South America – somewhere we’ve never been – and do three or four shows there; one in Brazil, one in Argentina, one in Chile and maybe one other. I’m sure they know of us around there, but those shows will kind of introduce us properly, get them warmed up for us possibly coming back next year. On the way back from Australia we’ll probably stop here and there – Singapore; we haven’t been there for quite some time, and Hong Kong – and then that’ll be it. That’ll be a wrap for the year and we can start working on next year when the album will come out and another three month or so tour will be planned around that I imagine.
TITL: A busy few months then!
M: Well it’s been a quiet year for us compared to last year, but yeah – busy, busy, busy!
TITL: Just one last question then. In an industry that’s constantly changing and already chock full of bands and artists, what advice would you give to those trying to forge their own path and career within it?
M: Study law (laughs). My son has a band – he teaches, but he’s got a band as well and they’ve been trying to launch. It’s pretty tough situation now. A lot of people say to me ‘Why don’t you help him?’ but I’m not going to open doors for him – he’s got to be able to do it for himself. It’s tough for a new band now out there. I’d say be true to what you’re doing, to yourself or yourselves, and if it doesn’t happen immediately, just keep working at it – keep going. Be true to what you believe in – it’s as simple as that really. That’s what we did. It depends on the thinking of the person or of the band I guess. If you don’t mind being poor for ages and ages, then you can play music – you can play indulgent music, but if you want to make some money then you gotta have something that’s going to bring in a wide audience.
TITL: Thanks so much for talking with me today. I am seriously going to try and make your show at Haydock…
M: You must, you must – come and say hi!
TITL: That would be awesome, but if I don’t make it, I hope you have a great time your racecourse shows and again, thanks for talking with me.
M: My pleasure Rebecca, thank you.
For more information on Culture Club or to purchase tickets for the upcoming racecourse shows, visit their website.