Monday 16 September 2019

Ed Power: A talented, complex and troubled artist who was endearingly vulnerable

George Michael performing at the Point Depot in 2006 Picture: Steve Humphreys
George Michael performing at the Point Depot in 2006 Picture: Steve Humphreys

Ed Power

He was a terrible dancer. That was one of my abiding recollections of George Michael, who has passed away from a suspected heart attack aged 53 - a chink in his artistic perfection that made this troubled, occasionally self-destructive icon endearingly human.

Michael rolled into Dublin in December 2006 a mildly controversial figure. His cheeky anti-Iraq war tirade 'Shoot The Dog' had seen him run out of the United States with figurative pitchforks.

And yet, during what was ostensibly a 'greatest hits' show at the old Point Depot, he couldn't resist doubling down on the sentiments expressed in the song by unveiling a giant inflatable caricature of George W Bush (upon which a "British" bulldog could be seen committing an unspeakable act).

However, it was Michael's flailing choreography that elevated the performance beyond slick pop revue.

The singer was clearly an uncanny talent, with a voice that communicated excitement and anguish with equal persuasiveness.

Nonetheless, as he negotiated favourites such as 'Faith' and 'I'm Your Man', he displayed an endearing vulnerability, bopping back and forth like a 19-year-old on their first sun holiday.

George Michael singing during his last concert here in 2011 Picture: Collins
George Michael singing during his last concert here in 2011 Picture: Collins

Glimmers of the young buck of Wham! smashes such as 'Club Tropicana' peeped through the superstar exterior. These contractions were part of his appeal from the outset.

With Wham! he blended pop irascibility with a melancholy which seemed out of place for a twentysomething with blow-dried hair, outsize stubble and a 'Smash Hits' following.

He would later strike a blow for equality and diversity by acknowledging his sexuality (particularly on 'Outside', the video for which referenced his arrest for "lewd" behaviour in a Los Angeles public toilet).

Even in a year marked by pop star deaths, his passing came as a shock. It was all the more poignant that it happened on Christmas Day, the inspiration for perhaps his most enduring moment - 'Last Christmas'. The cause of the star's death was heart failure, according to his manager Michael Lippman.

Elton John was one of the friends who paid tribute, writing on Instagram: "I am in deep shock. I have lost a beloved friend - the kindest, most generous soul and a brilliant artist. My heart goes out to his family and all of his fans."

Michael wasn't a frequent visitor to Ireland, though always seemed appreciative of his loyal fanbase here. Wham! had played the RDS in 1984, a brace of Dublin gigs squeezed between dates at Whitley Bay Ice Rink.

His return to the same venue as a solo artist in June 2007 would meet with a last-minute technical hitch, however, that forced the postponement of one of two scheduled concerts (a truck conveying stage equipment to Ireland had crashed en route from Bucharest to Prague).

Michael's final Irish concert, in November 2011, was perhaps his most poignant. The singer was touring his opinion-splitting 'Symphonica' project, a collection of classical-tinged covers subsequently released as his swan song LP.

This was quite a way from 'Wake Me Up Before You Go Go'. With Michael sporting a suit and backed by a 40-piece orchestra, he performed sombre pieces from cult artists such as New Order and Rufus Wainwright.

However, for all the solemnity, he cut a quirky presence. Though Michael's voice soared and fluttered as expected, between songs the "banter" was strangely jittery.

A woman lays a football with a message written on it with flowers and tributes outside the Oxfordshire home of the pop superstar yesterday Picture: Getty
A woman lays a football with a message written on it with flowers and tributes outside the Oxfordshire home of the pop superstar yesterday Picture: Getty

Stuck for something nice to say about Dublin, he told us that on his previous tour we'd been nearly as good as the audience in Rotterdam - a weird remark yet also one that confirmed Michael was never one for meaningless blandishments. Not everything he did made sense artistically - but it flowed, always, from the heart.

Irish Independent

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