Bitching to be clever: The time Neil Tennant reviewed a Culture Club gig in Smash Hits that Boy George has never forgotten

When Culture Club played London’s legendary gay nightclub Heaven for the first time on a chilly summer night forty years ago — the last Monday of June 1982*, no less — Smash Hits’ newly employed review person Neil Tennant was sent to report on the goings on and the atmosphere got even colder. In fact it’s fair to say he didn’t see much of a future for them. For a start, they didn’t appear until 1am; moreover, he seemed unimpressed by the band’s “white, reggaeish rhythms” aided by (ahem) pre-recorded backing tracks.

Months later, the single Do You Really Want To Hurt Me hit No. 1 amid a storm of “Is it a boy or a girl?” headlines and Boy George and co were on the way to becoming one of the most commercially successful performers of 1983-84, but they lost “it” very quickly.

In other words, they were doing alright until The War Song effectively killed their career stone cold dead.

By this point, Neil Tennant’s viperish quill was readying a jump from the assistant editorship of Smash Hits over the fence and into a far more enduring pop act, the Pet Shop Boys. A rehab’d George presented his one-time nemesis with the Best British Single gong at the Brits ’86 for West End Girls and almost five years after the review still moaned that he “didn’t like what he said about us, actually.”

He was still banging on about it years later in his 1995 memoir Take It Like A Man.

“Will Boy George ever forgive me for my review of Culture Club at Heaven in 1982? (Probably not.)” 

Tennant wrote those very words in a tribute piece to the magazine as it ceased publication in 2006. 

Though, of course, midway through the PSB and BG timeline the two sides did bury the hatchet to conjure up a sublime single in the shape of 1992’s beautifully melancholic The Crying Game. Recorded for the movie of the same name, it would be George O’Dowd’s last Top 40 solo hit in Britain.

Here’s the offending article anyway. 

Swingorilliant then.

Culture Club, Musical Youth: Heaven, London

Neil Tennant, Smash Hits, July 8 – 21, 1982

THERE’S A nightclub in London called Heaven which is normally ruthlessly well run, organised for fun and good value. Tonight it’s catering for a “rock” audience so, of course, the story is different.

At eleven o’clock 200 people are standing in a crush round the door trying to get in to see Virgin Records’ trendy new signing, Culture Club. No one’s saying whether it’s sold out or not or what. It doesn’t really matter because a “rock” audience is expected to put up with anything.

Actually getting into the club was the main excitement of the night, after which just about everything was an anti-climax.

Inside the fashion accent was on the head. The hats: big brims, stove-pipes, rasta woolies. a couple of trilbies. The hair-dos: dreadlocks, plaits, pony-tails and a beehive (hair is longer). Everyone had come expecting an occasion and they didn’t get one.

Support act, Musical Youth, were definitely the stars of the show. They’re a very young reggae band with a keyboards player and a guitarist/vocalist who look as though they’re still at primary school. Phrases like “infectious enthusiasm” spring to mind when one recalls these toasting tots.

By the time Culture Club came on stage it was way past my bedtime (well, after one) and they did little to help stifle the yawns. Lead singer, Boy George, has studied at the David Sylvian School of Vocalising but adds a heavy dub echo and looks very pleased with himself. Tight white reggaeish rhythms were boosted out by the band and a tape recorder, but few of the packed audience danced.

When George made a taunting reference to the lateness of the hour – “How are you all going to get home tonight?“ – it was time to go.

© Neil Tennant, 1982 via Rocksbackpages.com

*’twas the very week I became a teen. No scene. 

Interestingly, the same edition features Tennant‘s first Smash Hits cover story: Tennant talking to his 2022 remix fix collaborators Soft Cell

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