After winding up its first U.S. tour in 13 years, Culture Club is headed down under for five shows in Australia and will finish 2016 at London’s SSE Arena on Dec. 14. The last stop on the U.S. leg of their world tour was supposed to be Sept. 11, coinciding with the 15th anniversary of the attack on the World Trade Center, but after appearances in Switzerland and Canada, they returned to the States for six added shows that took them through another date that would live in infamy — the Nov. 8 election of Donald Trump.
“A lot of my friends are really, really upset, but I reminded them that they were still them. You’re always you, and you bring the same to the party that you did always,” George told Billboard moments before he went on to entertain some 1,300 guests at the opening of SLS Brickell in Miami on Nov. 17. “For a lot of gay people, mainstream politics really isn’t where we find the answer. We find the answer in our own community by joining together. There’s an amazing kind of spirit in the LGBTQ community, and you saw that through the AIDS epidemic and you see it so much every day. I’m not sure how much it relates to mainstream politics.”
George took to the hotel’s rooftop stage for a six-song set that included hits like “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me,” “Karma Chameleon” and “I’ll Tumble 4 Ya,” as well as “Purple Rain,” an unexpected tribute to Prince, whom he said he had slept with earlier this year, but later discounted the remark as a joke.
Another recently deceased idol George has been paying tribute to on the tour is David Bowie, whose “Starman” has become an occasional part of the repertoire. He sports a Bowie tattoo on his arm and has been a fan since age 11, when he saw him on the 1972 Ziggy Stardust tour.
“We had dinner once in 2005, which was amazing. He was just very charming and very sweet, he was everything I hoped he would be,” George recalls of a figure that had a profound impact on him. “Bowie’s arrival in the world gave me the confidence to be myself, to be an individual. It was a very freeing experience, not just for me but a lot of kids. Anybody who felt slightly different or outside was able to connect to the message Bowie sent out. God help us, we can use a Bowie now.”
Nina Simone and Gladys Knight are two more inspirational figures George sometimes draws upon, especially when the tour starts to wear him out. No doubt 13 years is a long hiatus, but the time off has done him well. He’s been sober for eight years and, thanks to his low-carb metabolic diet, has dropped roughly 85 pounds, which has made touring a lot easier. More difficult is the ever-changing landscape of the music industry. “The old rules of how you work don’t exist anymore,” said the singer. “There’s no particular time you go out. You’re not necessarily promoting anything. People don’t buy records.”
But they might buy the new album, Tribes, if only the band could settle on a release date. The tour has given them a better understanding of the tracks, resulting in a number of tweaks and added material. Although once it’s completed, with old paradigms shifting, George is not sure how to release it.
“We should think of something else, like put out one track a month. When you’re Radiohead or U2, you can afford to experiment,” he said, mystified but optimistic about a new challenge. “It’s about access. The difference between a hit and a non-hit is repetition. If you don’t hear something on the radio, you won’t buy it. So it’s sometimes just about having a place in the marketplace.”
Another way to stay relevant is television. Having departed The Voice UK earlier this year, George has moved on to Celebrity Apprentice, which bows Jan. 2. Filling in for Trump is another celebrity politician, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who is joined by contestants like comedian Jon Lovitz, reality TV star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi and actor-author Carrie Keagan, who noted, “It felt to me as if [George] was aware that these were the first few steps of a very big comeback for him. He was taking it all in and enjoying the view on the way back up.”
With the show already in the can, George has been hinting at a late 2017 tour to promote Tribes, if it’s done. “We are playing better. Certain songs fall better, we understand songs better,” he said. “So we’ll probably go in and write a few more things and then complete it.”