Saturday, July 01, 2023

The Wham boys of Morecambe

 Life got a tint of optimism in 1983, thanks to a couple of sharp teenage dudes from Watford.

As I was emerging blinking from the dark turn that punk had taken in 1983, edging towards the end of The Jam and The Clash and willing to accept new sounds and styles, along came Wham!

George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley gazed out from the cover of their debut album Fantastic with the swagger and confidence that shiny 80s icons and boy bands alike would copy for evermore.

I bought mine from HMV in Manchester, after my first copy was robbed off me at a cafe next to Euston station when I’d splashed out my pocket money on a trip to London to see what the fashions were.

I saved up a couple of weeks later and made sure it was glued to my hands when I took it home on the train to Lancashire.  

It was a rite of passage in more ways than one.

The thing that grabbed me more than anything - and trust me when I say that even my raging and confused teenage hormones didn’t entertain the idea that George might be gay - was that they had something positive to say about unemployment.

Soul on the Dole was the line in Wham Rap (Enjoy What You Do?) - it spoke to a reality of embracing the hustle.

In the next breath they were dreaming of Club Tropicana where drinks are free. It felt aspirational and hopeful of better times breaking out to a life of international travel and endless summers.

Bad Boys was a fun rebellion at your parents scolding you for being out late.

But for me the most mesmerising track on the whole album was Nothing Looks The Same in the Light, a stirring ballad that proved a foretaste of the incredible songwriting talent that George Michael was to become.

Andrew told Classic Pop magazine this month that he thought it was a dreary filler.

Legend has it that the one song left off the album was Careless Whisper, a song written when he was just 17. 

Yet apart from the obvious song writing credits which attributed every song to George, there was no sense that they were anything other than a prolific duo.

As time went on, George credited Andrew with having been the stronger personality early on to hold them together and give him the confidence to get up and strut his stuff. But the female vocals from Pepsi and Shirley were an important part of the whole dynamic too.

Giving his friend songwriting credits on Last Christmas and those early songs was the gift of a true pal.

If you want a bit more of this on the 40th anniversary of the release of Fantastic! Then Wham! are the focus of a new documentary that will premiere on Netflix on 5 July.

With unprecedented access to both George [Michael] and Andrew [Ridgeley]’s personal archive including never-before-seen footage, and previously unheard interviews, it’s meant to chart in their own words the four year journey from teenage school friends to global superstars.

For me, they represented a care-free alternative and a breakout from a one-track approach to the right kind of music. They even spawned a name for a group of lads from Morecambe who seemed to have so much more fun, so many more girls and looked better than everyone else. Yes, the Wham Boys. It was meant as an insult, but better that than the mosh pit at a Discharge gig at Preston Warehouse.

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