Tuesday 23 January 2018

George Michael bids welcome to a new dawn

The former Wham! superstar is back and he is feeling -- and sounding -- good, writes Barry Egan

A SLEEK black limousine purred imperiously along Boulevard de Bercy. It was followed by police outriders and a big black jeep filled with intense security in too-tight black suits that made them look like the baddies in The Matrix. The window lowered and George Michael waved to his adoring public, and then before you could say 'wake me up before you allez allez', he was gone again into the Paris night.

The former Lady Diana confidante and Wham! superstar had just come off stage after performing for nearly three hours to 20,000 fans at the Palais Omnisport last Monday. It was a hot night in the French capital and George -- born Georgios Kyriacos Panayiotou in 1963 to a Greek Cypriot restaurateur father and an English dancer mother -- made it even hotter.

Jean Paul Gaultier, Bo Derek and Rossy de Palma, Pedro Almodovar actress and muse with the very beautiful, but very big, crooked nose, were escorted to their seats just as gorgeous George began the opening notes of his show, ably assisted by a full orchestra. A Hollywood-era red velvet curtain pulled back enticingly slowly to reveal George and the orchestra performing Through. "They may chase me to the ends of the earth," he sang sombrely, like a swing Leonard Cohen. "But I've got you babe, and they may strip me of the things that I've worked for, but I've had my say." His say over, George was soon into a Forties version of My Baby Just Cares For Me. He kicked his heels up in a Frank Sinatra-type dance. It seemed everyone -- Bo Derek and Jean Paul Gaultier among them -- was up and dancing along with George. Even the French X Factor winner beside me was enjoying le bop.

George was dressed exquisitely, in head-to-toe Armani. Gone was the big hair, the fake tan and the well-placed shuttlecock stuffed down the white shorts of his Wham! days. Cowboys & Angels, Let Her Down Easy, You Have Been Loved and Kissing A Fool continued the momentum. Brother Can You Spare a Dime? was as relevant now as when it was written in 1931, (it became one of the most popular songs of the Great Depression). With characteristic aplomb, George gave the song an irresistible rat-pack charm.

This was anything but your standard lounge bar crooner stuff -- this was a grandiose new take on the songs that have made George so popular for the duration of his almost 30-year career. He is bringing his show to the O2 in Dublin for two nights, November 1 and 3, and on his night off in between, he'll kick back in his three suites at the Four Seasons Hotel in Ballsbridge.

The show also included songs from other artists, most notably Amy Winehouse's Love Is A Losing Game as well as The Police's Roxanne (slowed down to Billie Holiday-like blues) and a soft rendition of New Order's True Faith. He introduced a new song, a soulful number which he wrote for his ex, Kenny Goss.

George was not one to hide his emotions. Indeed, when he was sentenced to jail for crashing his Rover while stoned on cannabis, George said he viewed the punishment as karma, adding that he was ashamed to have broken the law repeatedly, and that he was now in therapy for his drug abuse issues.

"I was assured I wasn't going to prison but I thought I was and, like I said, it was much easier to take because I felt it was deserved. This was a hugely shameful thing to have done repeatedly so karmically, I felt like I had a bill to pay. I went to prison, I paid my bill," he told Chris Evans during a BBC interview. "I know people must think it was a really horrific experience but it's so much easier to take any form of punishment if you believe you actually deserve it, and I did."

Watching George hold 20,000 people in thrall, it was hard to believe that the man who danced across the stage singing "It's a new dawn, It's a new day, It's a new life for me . . . and I'm feeling good" was not so long ago in the depths of a soap opera-style crisis in which everybody seemed to want to get involved to help him. As he told Simon Hattenstone of the Guardian in December 2009, a number of stars have said they fear for him, notably Elton John. "Elton lives on that. He will not be happy until I bang on his door in the middle of the night saying, 'Please, please, help me, Elton. Take me to rehab.' It's not going to happen. You know what I heard last week? That Bono . . . oh, for God's sake. . ." George laughed. "Geri [Halliwell] told Kenny that Bono, having spoken to Elton, had approached Geri to say, 'What can we do for George?' This is what I have to deal with because I don't want to be part of that social clique. All I'd have to do to stop it is hang out in London, so people realise I don't look close to death.

"As if Bono gives a shit what I do with my private life. Elton just needs to shut his mouth and get on with his own life. Look, if people choose to believe that I'm sitting here in my ivory tower, Howard Hughesing myself with long fingernails and loads of drugs, then I can't do anything about that, can I?"

After the intermission, El Greco came back in flying form. The 20,000 fans also enjoyed the mesmerising musical arrangements performed with such passion by the Symphonica orchestra (over 40 musicians in total). Cellos, violins, double basses and whatever you're having yourself added to A Different Corner and Praying For Time.

Then after about 50 minutes of chic orchestral versions of his own songs, George left the stage for what appeared to be the last time. Everybody screamed for more. Within two minutes, he was back with some musicians at the front of the stage where he played -- without the orchestra this time -- a 10-minute run-through of Amazing, I'm Your Man and Freedom. Magnifique. Before you knew it, George finished this incredible performance with a re-reading of I Remember You (made famous by Dorothy Lamour in the 1942 movie, The Fleet's In). "Woke up to the sound of pouring rain. Washed away a dream of you, but nothing else could ever take you away because you'll always be my dream come true. I remember you."

There wasn't a dry eye in Paris. Nor will there be in Dublin, I suspect.

George Michael plays the 02 Arena in Dublin on November 1 and 3. Some tickets are still available for the second night. www.aikenpromotions.com

Sunday Independent

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