20 June 2012

I remember when they had such fun and everything was fine

The rumours that Wham! were reforming started last night; this morning they appear to have been confirmed. The interim period had fans now in their late 30s and early 40s contemplating the possibility of a tour, but it's actually for just one gig.

Almost every major act of a past era reforms at some point or other, even the Beatles managed it. But I never thought Wham! would do it, even as a one-off designed to promote, with some cynicism, an ailing George Michael's latest solo work. George himself spent the first decade of his solo career bemoaning and publicly denouncing everything he did with Wham!, while Andrew Ridgeley was never a musician or performer but merely an effective pop star and wing man. Still, there is the 30th anniversary of their first release this year, so the official reason for doing it is sound.

Unlike every other all-male band or duo of that early to mid-80s era, Wham! at their peak were pretty much impossible for boys to like. They were, in their music and image, so tailored towards adolescent girls that lads, in public at least, found it too much of a credibility (or, more likely for 12 year olds) sexuality issue to say that they could dance to Freedom and not be embarrassed. This was especially so during that specific era of Wham!, when they ditched the leather jackets and put on the Hamnett T-shirts and luminous gloves, lost the gel and got out the hairspray, and George wrote about sex rather than arguing with parents or lolling about on the dole. It was as if these two lads - 19 and 20 at the time - had been told in 1983 that the next album had to stop inspiring their male peers to stand up for themselves and instead start inspiring their female peers to chase them down the street. From the beginning of 1984, everything was about girls. Ironic when one takes a long term view, of course, but there was actually no act more heterosexual than Wham! in that period, when examining their song content and reading their interviews. George was seeing an Oriental model called Kathy Yeung, Andrew had begun the relationship with Keren Woodward of Bananarama that still thrives to this day.

But I liked Wham! It was hard for me not to, really - I was an 11 year old boy obsessed with pop music, buying Smash Hits and No.1, watching Top Of The Pops religiously and listening to Bruno Brookes reveal the new chart on a Tuesday evening while doing my homework. But while my classmates knew of my liking for Howard Jones and Duran Duran, the Wham! thing was all about the girls. There were a couple in my class, and in every class, who were crazy about them.

The material now is still very slick and approachable (a retrospective review in one of the inkies called Wham!'s sound "juvenile Motown", which sort of works) and with a grown-up head on shoulders, one can see the songcraft in stuff like Young Guns (Go For It) and Wham! Rap (Enjoy What You Do) - the seven minute version of which I absolutely love - and then later material like I'm Your Man and Everything She Wants, the latter of which could easily still be the best pop song George Michael wrote, given how much of a moody bore he threatened to become in his solo career.

In between, there was Wake Me Up Before You Go Go - the first number one, the biggest seller, the least enjoyable today - and the aforementioned Freedom. I still think the reason they brought out Careless Whisper in the autumn of 1984 as a George solo single was a) to provide an antidote for what Wham! had released in the same year; and b) to prove that George was capable of writing "proper" stuff. And yet, and yes, that particular song, his first proper masterpiece of pop, was co-written by Andrew, unlike almost everything issued by Wham!. They and those representing them did like to confuse us.

I saw a Wham! tribute act once. I didn't intend to; they were doing a gig at the student union bar of Hull University in 1998 and I was seeing an undergraduate at the time. We went along the the union for a Friday night drink, unaware of any gig going on, and found this bunch of mid-30s blokes, plus two female singers, wearing the Hamnett T-shirts and performing Wham! songs - and they did all of them too, the full repertoire. I loved it, though I felt slightly self-conscious through it - not because of the boy-likes-girlie-act reason this time, but because as a 25 year old in a room full of 19 and 20 year olds, I appeared to be the only one who knew all the words. The following week, the union bar had the Lo Fidelity Allstars on. I was bored shitless. The lass I was seeing passed out at that gig and dumped me a few weeks later.

If rock fans of the 80s are still gagging for the return of the Smiths (who will be the exception to the rule of major acts reforming - ie, they'll never do it), then pop fans of the same era have always wondered about Wham!. It seemed possible, as George's solo career became more of a sideshow and his attitude to Wham! softened, and now it's taking a step closer. I have a CHOOSE LIFE T shirt that fits, so...

1 comment:

Kolley Kibber said...

I remember them as the mainstream pop band it was ok to like, even if you were really incredibly hip and trendy like what I was. They always seemed a bit more knowing, as though they were partly sending themselves up and were having a great time doing it.

George had been a bit of a fixture on the Radlett scene (there was one!) and was known to be gay, so we all felt a bit sorry for him in being corralled into ham-fisted declamations of his supposed heterosexuality like the 'I Want Your Sex' video, but such were the times. I've still got a soft spot for him.

I'm half curious to go along to the reunion gig, if for no other reason than to see how Shirlie looks these days. I was mistaken for her on a regular basis for the best part of a decade...