The Wham! interview “Nothing Looks The Same In The Night” was written by Carol Clerk for Melody Maker, October 29, 1983.
Carol Clerk perseveres with a recalcitrant Wham! while Tom Sheehan (smudges) fumes.
At the beginning, it looked bad. Very bad indeed. Gorgeous Georgie and Handy Andy were clearly not deligted to see us. The briefest of introductions gave way to a stony silence from the mainmen of Wham! as they stared grimly at the bar table and allowed a protective entourage to close ranks around them. This wasn’t supposed to happen. Gorgeous Georgie and Handy Andy were supposed to come somersaulting into the bar with their shorts on, flashing the famous smiles and bubbling over with all kinds of entertaining chatter. Or something like that. Obviously, the duo had packed the smiles away in their suitcases with their sportswear. Gorgeous Georgie glared horrendously in our direction and the press officer, or more accurately, negotiator, started talking. No, Wham! were not prepared to do any photo session the next morning. No, Wham! would not pose for any location shots. No, Wham! would not be dressed for pictures at the soundcheck. Tommy could have 15 minutes before the gig. That was all. “The Duranies were never like this,” muttered a crestfallen Tommy Sheehan as we took some small consolation in a pint of the local Liverpool brew. “Is this dodge or what?”
“I was in a bad mood earlier,” said George Michael as we dallied over an Indian meal after the triumph of the Royal Court Theatre show. The transformation was astonishing, George and his guitar-playing partner Andrew Ridgeley had changed from the sullen prima donnas we’d encountered earlier into normal and rational, friendly and talkative, human beings.
“I’ve developed a capacity for moods lately,” continued George. “I never had them when I was younger. I don’t believe very much in horoscopes and things like that, but the things I’ve read about Cancer, my sign, have fitted me absolutely down to the ground except for one thing that didn’t suit me. These things always said I’d be alright if it weren’t for my moods. And now I’m getting them, just like Andy. I wish it didn’t happen; that’s for sure. When it comes to one of us being ratty, we’re not tolerant at all. We’re not good for each other in that situation. It gets to the stage where we usually shut up, eventually.”
“Most friends have arguments,” added Andy. “People tend to think of us arguing as an exception, but they shouldn’t. I think I sulk more than George does. It’s strange. I think that sulking is more of a woman’s approach. Sulking gets women attention for a start, where with men, I don’t think it does.”
“I don’t agree with that,” interrupted George. “People all sulk for the same reasons.”
Taking an interest in the theme of the conversation, George shuffled his rice around on his plate and galloped on. “Earlier this year, I didn’t feel very good in myself. We had so much work piled on us. We’d taken off with ‘Bad Boys’, we had an album coming up and we had no manager. I was in quite a state and I was getting ratty with Andy. I was getting pissed three or four nights a week and I smoked cigarettes every night I was out. After that I went to Cyprus for a holiday and I found myself smoking all the time. I’d always thought of myself as a social smoker, but I was meeting people who were all smoking so I was getting through a pack a day. I haven’t touched one since that. That was probably the most testing period of my friendship with Andy, although we did have a bad patch once before. Before I went on the holiday, I was starting to forget what we were making music for. We started out because we loved performance, but once we were successful, we didn’t seem to be doing any performance.”
“There was so much business pressure on us too,” recalled Andy. “It was ridiculous. We just couldn’t handle it.” Business is something that the Wham! boys have taken a firm interest in, even though they now have a manager to deal with a good part of it for them. Committed to professionalism, determined to have the band’s machinery run like clockwork while insisting on a say in every aspect of the organisation, George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley are the least likely members of the pop elite to be taken for a ride. Hence their suspicion of newcomers.
The current Club Fantastic tour is creating pubescent mayhem round the country, consolidating the popularity of Wham! as recording stars. At Liverpool, an unseated gig, there were scenes of wild teenage frenzy and unbridled impulse. Members of the crew later claimed that 24 cases of fainting and one broken collar bone were on record. And John Press Officer later insisted that the girls were throwing tampons at the stage, though I don’t remember any whizzing past my particular ears. What did surprise me, though, was the number of young gentlemen observed in the audience, enjoying themselves just as vigorously as the female contingent. While the boys danced and laughed, tanked up on underage ale and encouraged by the possibility of a grope on the way home with some over-excited Wham!-ette, the girls trembled on shaking legs, dreamed of being cast away on a desert island with Gorgeous Georgie and Handy Andy, screeched their innocent lust in impossible attempts to make each cry the loudest in the hall, and fought, really fought, to get closer to the front. There wasn’t a mouth in the whole place that wasn’t making the right noises at the right time in “Bad Boys” or singing wholeheartedly along with “Wham Rap”, “Young Guns” and “Club Tropicana”.
At Sheffield City Hall, the next night, events were slightly more subdued. This was a seated venue, and the grand rush towards the stage happened with rather more co-ordination, the various obstacles of furniture impeding speed and progress. At least I could see this time. And having seen, I’m obliged to concede that this is a thoroughly spectacular show, the 15-strong band with their costume changes and choreography providing an ever-changing landscape and musical force that’s quite compelling – even for a neutral like myself. Mind you, a good 99 per cent of attention is commanded by the leading men, and I wondered… I wondered… about this appeal of theirs.
George earns his screams for his uninhibited athleticism, his carefree flailing of the arms towards every inch of his audience in turn, his between-song provocations and the clean trustworthiness of his image. Andrew is for the dirtier girls; the droopy eyes, the knowingness of his smirks and eyebrow wiggles mixed with an apparent boyishness, sending shockwaves shuddering through the bodies of the understanding little girls of the Wham! army. For everyone… well, for everyone there’s the change to sing along with a collection of songs that are always danceable but varied enough to take in the aggression of “Ray Of Sunshine”, a reasonable cover of the Miracles’ “Love Machine”, and “Come On”, as well as melodic and slower-paced compositions like “Blue”, “Nothing Looks The Same In The Light” and George’s solo song (produced as a single by Jerry Wexler – ex Aretha Franklin etc), “Careless Whisper”.
Opened by deejay Gary Crowley (a real cheerer-upper), the extravaganza is dissected by a 15-minute Wham! video that covers their school and family life and includes pictures of the boys as babies – shots that inspired the loudest screams of all. My own interest was aroused by the opening “morning after” scene, with George and Andy struggling out of bed in their pyjamas, hideously hung-over. “I was hung-over the day we did that video,” admitted Andy. “We got up at 7 am that day to fly back from Bournemouth to London in a four-seater aeroplane. It was so uncomfortable and cold. From Elstree to my house was the longest journey I’ve ever done. I was so ill.”
“We got home at 9.15 am and at 10.00 am we had to film the video,” added George, pushing the remains of his curry to the side of his plate. “The hangover bit was my idea. We wanted to bring ourselves down to the level of everyone else. Other bands like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet and KajaGooGoo get very much above their audiences, and the best way to counter that was for us to use an extreme idea in the video. We only had three weeks to work on that video. We filmed it the week before we went out on tour.” The video, like the tour programme, like the costumes, like the musicians in the band, was planned with George and Andy in complete control.
The only thing they can’t control, apparently, is the behaviour of their female fans. George: “The girls genuinely puzzle me. I look at all those people who don’t understand what they’re screaming at and I question it. I think it’s ridiculous. Something I find strange is that fans start to become fans as opposed to people. They all start to look the same and expect the same things from you.
“In one sense it’s very flattering. I’m really grateful those fans are out there, but they do lose their self-respect. You don’t have very much respect for them. They’re looking at you as something you’re not. I look at them and I think ‘What is it that’s actually making you think that much of us?’ I tend to see 14-year-old girls very differently now which is wrong because they’re not all like that – it’s only a small percentage. I don’t think ‘stupid cows’. I do have sympathy. And I think it’s a great release for them. It’s a shame there’s not such a release for blokes. I remember around 13 or 14 it was ‘fight, fight, fight’ for blokes just for the release. I just feel puzzled.”
If you feel puzzled, why don’t you talk to these fans and find out exactly what their motives are? “The conversation never ever leans that way,” said Andy. “It’s not what they want to talk to you about, and it’s not our practice to try and make them question why they’re doing it. They wouldn’t have answers for it. They just enjoy being fans. So there’s no point.”
George thought about it for a little longer as the last drains of wine disappeared down the last throat. “My only strong interest at that particular age was music,” he declared. “I knew what I wanted to do and I was working towards it. But if I was a person who didn’t know what I wanted to do, I would’ve loved to have something to latch on to. The closest I got to being a fan was when me and three other blokes adopted the names of the people in Sweet.”
Certainly, Wham! have come across their share of untypical admirers.
George: “The more successful you become, the more extreme the reactions can be. I got spat at on stage the other night! And I once got a letter from a 28-year-old Greek woman with two kids who knew I was a Greek Cypriot. She wanted a picture of every part of my body, but she didn’t want her husband to find out because he’d beat her up.”
Andrew: “The strangest one I ever got was from a girl who was really anti-Shirlie and Dee (Wham!’s dancing frontwomen – though Dee has now been replaced by Pepsi). She said she’d built a rocket for Shirlie and Dee that would never come down. And I got a really weird one from a boy who said his best friend had died and I was the only person who could replace him.”
George: “Going back to the rocket girl… she wrote to me too when she heard a rumour I’d been going out with Shirlie. She said ‘I smoked 20 cigarettes in a row when I found out, but just because I smoked 20 cigarettes, don’t think I’m common and easy. You’re just like my ex, Ralph. He only wanted me for the bed, but he soon found out’.”
“We haven’t been asked to bed on this tour yet,” volunteered Andy. “I got lots of offers like that when I was in Ibiza recently,” said George, in response to further questioning from your gossip-hungry reporter. “It embarrassed me terribly. I’m very bad at saying no to people. You feel like you’re insulting them. I didn’t take up all the offers, though…”
Are you always pleasant to fans?
George: “If you sign autographs every single time you’re asked, you can’t keep it up. I’d rather do it when I’ve got the time and I’m not tired or whatever. There are lots of kids on the street round the corner from me, and one afternoon when I was walking home they started taking the piss. Then one of them asked me for my autograph and I just said ‘F— off, I’m really tired’.”
Andy: “In a club one night I went past a bloke who said ‘Can I have your autograph?’ and I told him to f— off.”
Wham! have been criticised more than once for singing lyrics that have little to do with their own reality. They’re hardly bad boys in the traditional sense, and rebels – never. But they stick by their use of imagery in the name of entertainment and escapism. And as a long-time believer in the value of pop music for different functions, including pure escapism and entertainment, I defend their right to do so. “We’re not rebellious in proportion,” said Andy, cleverly avoiding the issue.
“We’re not aggressive,” continued George, realistically. “We had the same old fights with our parents that anyone has, but we were never particularly rebellious. We just did things that our parents didn’t want us to do, like working towards music. The ‘Bad Boys’ image amused us to a certain degree. The rebel image is always attractive. You can have a lot of fun playing someone who isn’t yourself when you’re on-stage. We’ve only ever tried to create images people would like, and they do like them. The thing is that we don’t look like we take ourselves seriously. We go so over the top that people see us for what we really are – entertainers.”
What about your own images – as sex symbols? “That’s another of the reasons we’re so lucky to be with each other,” said George. “If you were on your own on the road, all these things would be so much easier to take seriously. I suppose there are some blokes who don’t like the fact that we play up to the girls, but most of the blokes have a laugh and like it. It’s a case of us going ‘Look at the girls screaming at us’. Everything we do is so tongue in cheek. I think people should see immediately that it’s all a bit of a joke to us.”
Andrew: “We just act at being pop stars for one and a half hours, and I don’t see how people could take it seriously.”
The Wham! success story and the rapidity with which it’s happened has taken even them by surprise. But, tacticians that they are, they’re already looking ahead to the day when their popularity in the teenybopper market inevitably sinks. “We haven’t changed,” decided George as the waiters in the restaurant hovered anxiously around, waiting to clear the plates. “It’s just the people around us that have. We still feel the same things and want what we ever wanted. That’s our personalities. We haven’t come along saying ‘Look what marvellous musicians we are’. We’re just saying ‘Look how much fun we can have in an hour and a half’. Fun is something that we will keep in the future. And the thrill of audience participation will continue to be part of Wham! as well. When the teenybopper thing dies down, we’ll come through because we never pandered to it. The fact that there are a huge number of blokes in the crowd joining in and enjoying themselves means something to us. There’s the occasional great funk-pop crossover and we’re hoping to do that. Our songs will stay in the same vein. The sound will change as opposed to the song-writing. We’re going to sound harder next year. And once we’ve reached our goals, we’ll just keep going for different musical goals. There’s so much potential for us to improve musically. It’s a real challenge. I’m sure we can look forward to having a very large audience in the future.”
With that, Gorgeous Georgie and Handy Andy were ready to retire to the hotel. It was left to me to find the errant Sheehan and order up a maxi-nightcap in the bar. It was too late, though. A comforting drinking session with his old mates Darts in the Holiday Inn had set the seal on his somewhat disastrous day. Any more photographs would have to wait until tomorrow…
- Wham! Teen Dreams Come True (NME, 1983)
- An Audience with George Michael: Interview with Chris Evans (1996)
- Wham! You’re On Your Own, George (Sunday Times, 1986)
- Last Wham! Interview: No. 1 Magazine (1986)
- George Michael in Q Magazine Interview (October 1990)