Wham! article “The Sundance Kids” from the August 18-31, 1983 issue of Smash Hits magazine written by Ian Birch.
A year ago Wham! made records and simply had fun. Now they’ve got managers, gossip columns and solo careers to worry about. Ian Birch hears about the art of growing up fast.
“Is this what these things are normally like?” asks a slightly bemused Mrs. Ridgeley. It’s obviously not what she expected. Doing a photo session is a complicated business. Choosing props, setting up lights, trying out poses and putting on make-up can take ages. What’s more, she hadn’t intended to be here. As she’s on her summer holidays (she teaches at a junior school near Bushey), she fancied a day in London. A spot of shopping and maybe an exhibition. Cadging a lift off “the boys”, she had meant to leave as soon as possible but “the boys” asked her to stick around for a while. And she did – for most of the day. But then Wham! still have close links with home.
Andrew’s younger brother, Paul, did some drumming on the “Fantastic” LP. Mrs. R. keeps Andrew’ press clippings while Mrs. Michael does the same for George. Both mums, apparently, were a mite worried about their boys’ recent trip to Ibiza. “I hope you pair didn’t get into trouble,” smiles Mrs. R. “Well obviously you didn’t or you wouldn’t be here.”
Wham! were in Ibiza to shoot the video for “Club Tropicana”, their fourth monster hit. It tells the tale of two blokes (guess who) and two girls (Shirlie and Dee, of course) gradually getting acquainted on holiday. “There are lots of passing glances,” roars George, “but we never quite get together and there is a little twist in the tail which we can’t give away.” The choice of “Club Tropicana” as a single has come in for some hefty criticism. Not only is it the fourth single to be taken off “Fantastic” but some believe it shows Wham! sneaking into a more mainstream direction. George is ready for the remark.
“We’ve been slagged off for releasing it of course. It looks like we’ve gone more mainstream because we can do that now. The fact is that it’s one of our oldest songs. Really, ‘Wham Rap!’ drew us off course. Because we had so much press support then, we allowed ourselves to be swayed by it which we always said we wouldn’t do. But it was a subconscious thing. Although ‘Young Guns’ was a lot more mainstream, we still had the rap element and the social message in the anti-marriage lyric. With “Bad Boys’ we tried to get back to pop and when we realised how big our audience was getting, we thought it didn’t matter about holding on to the club crowd. That’s why we went back to ‘Club Tropicana’.”
This kind of criticism is always a sure sign that a group are becoming extremely popular. The more famous you become, the more gossip abounds and recently Wham! have been the subject of many a malevolent muttering. One rumour is that their record company wanted to sack Andrew and turn George into a superstar. They’re both amazed by the suggestion. “Really,” says George. “Where did you hear that? It’s a bit dangerous, isn’t it? We never had any idea of that and, anyway, they wouldn’t have a chance in hell.” Another snippet – in the same vein – is that the twosome hate each other and want to call it a day. This hasn’t been helped by the news that George is making a solo single. “It’s so stupid,” sighs Andrew, “it’s just sensationalism.”
“No-one credits you with enough suss to develop two careers – one as a solo person and one with Wham!,” continues George. “What’s happening is this. As a solo artist, I want to go more towards soul. If I was left to my own devices, I’d probably try and sound like Marvin Gaye for the next five years. But the important thing is that together we make a pop group.” What makes the rumour even dafter is the fact that George’s single, aptly called “Careless Whisper”, was written by both of them.
The strength of Wham! lies in the way they supply different needs and balance each other out. And by that I don’t just mean that George sings and Andrew plays guitar. Their relationship is much more complex than that. George, for example, is much more talkative than Andrew. But when he starts to spiral into elaborate theories, Andrew will bring him down to earth and George appreciates that. Andrew accepts that George is a better songwriter and, rather than feel under pressure, can develop at his own speed. And they both understand that they look better together than apart. George sums it up.
“We work better from a friendship that’s built up over the last 10 years. We’re not Paul Newman and Steve McQueen but it is like Butch Cassidy And The Sundance Kid – two blokes the same age who know each other back to front, upside down, inside out … giblets and all. There’s a real strength there and we’ll keep playing on that. Though it sounds calculated, we want to make sure people realise that all the time.” You’ll be able to see this in action on their first UK tour which starts in Aberdeen on October 10. Called ‘Club Fantastic’, it’s a smart mixture of a Radio 1-styled roadshow, disco and concert.
The evening will start with Gary Crowley, a deejay on London’s Capital radio and an unofficial member of The Style Council posse, spinning fiery discs. Then Wham! – complete with Dee, Shirlie and a sizeable backing band – will play a first set. After this, a brief intermission when Wham! videos will be screened. This might include a “biography section” which would show the duo as whippersnappers. “My father’s got miles and miles of ciné film of us as kids,” warns Andrew jokingly. It’s not surprising as Andrew’s dad works for Canon cameras. Wham! will come back for a second set and the evening will finish, wherever possible, with Gary playing more records. “How many concerts have you been to,” says Andrew, “when you just don’t want to go home straightaway.”
Another obvious step for Wham! is the American market which they’ll be tackling later this year, although neither is exhilarated by the prospect, as George explains. “It frightens me. I know it’s going to take up all our time unless we really put a clamp on it and say, we’re taking it at this pace – like it or not. America can come slowly. It doesn’t have to come in a blast. If it did, it would probably kill us.” America presents a further problem. As there is already an American group called Wham! the British duo have to add ‘UK’ to their name in order to avoid horrific legal complications. At least they now have a manager, Simon Napier-Bell (who has looked after such names as Marc Bolan and Japan in the past), to ease this kind of burden. But not having a manager for so long has made them group up with extraordinary speed.
“Yes, it has,” says George, “and I’m not particularly pleased about that. When I look back at ‘Wham Rap!’, there’s a freshness and optimism that I don’t think we’ll be able to get back. And you have to realise that. It might just be that we’ve gone from 19 to 20 rather than going from being anonymous to being famous. You have to see that, forget about it and think, one day I might come up with something as inspired as that. Otherwise, you carry on writing pop songs as well as you can.”
I don’t think they need worry so much. The new songs on “Fantastic” prove the point. See you next year, and the year after and the year…
- Wham! Interview in Smash Hits Magazine about “I’m Your Man” (1985)
- After George Michael Strained His Back (Smash Hits, 1985)
- Wham! In China (Part 1), Smash Hits Magazine (1985)
- Wham!: Why We’ve Reached Breaking Point
- Wham! The Art of Parties (No. 1 Magazine, 1983)