MUSIC / Selling his soul, with good cause: George Michael does a lot of work for charity, as Smashie and Nicey would say. It's just as well, says Jim White, or he might not be working at all

IT IS NOT easy being a member of pop's charitocracy. Every time the great and the good of rock do their bit for the Prince's Trust or Comic Relief or Amnesty International, their motives come under suspicion. What are they after with their public displays of charitableness, the cynical mind wonders, a knighthood? Or simply a boost to a flagging sales career?

This week George Michael, abetted by Queen and Lisa Stansfield, releases an EP Five Live, a collection of songs recorded at last year's Freddie Mercury concert and during his most recent 'Cover to Cover' tour. All proceeds are destined for the Mercury Phoenix Trust, established after the Wembley concert to help sufferers of Aids. The record is, as might be expected from George Michael, a belter. But why has he done it?

If the notes on the record are any indication, Michael has a message he wishes to communicate, a message of Aids awareness. 'For God's sake,' he writes. 'For Freddie's sake, for your own sake, please be careful.'

According to his collaborator on the record, Roger Taylor of Queen, this was the original aim of the concert last April.

'Obviously Freddie was a tremendous loss to us,' Taylor explained. 'But we felt we had an opportunity we would be really crazy not to use. 'Aids affects us all' was the slogan we wanted to put across. We didn't expect to make money, but in the end we made several millions. We're anxious that this record continues that element of the original intent.'

Of course any financial gain will be gratefully received and targeted to Aids sufferers in Britain and overseas. And, despite suggestions of compassion fatigue, pop fans are apparently still putting their hands in their pockets to support efforts like this.

'There is good money to be made in the charity record market,' Taylor said. 'Bohemian Rhapsody made pounds 1.3m in Britain alone, for the Terrence Higgins Trust, and as much again in America for the Magic Johnson Trust, which is a good wad of money.'

But is charity and education really George Michael's only reasons for making this record? He is unusually vulnerable to an unfavourable reading of his intent. He is presently in dispute with his record company, Sony: his side of the argument runs that he signed up with CBS, and when the company was taken over by a Japanese hardware manufacturer with no sensitivity to his output, his artistic integrity was compromised. Because of the dispute, he is unable to release any new material.

But he can put out live versions of other people's stuff, if the proceeds go to charity. So, the only way George Michael's fans can get to hear anything new from him, the only way he can promote himself, can remind people of his extensive back catalogue, is to play the charity card. 'Charity is a coat we wear, twice a year' runs the lyric in his song 'Praying for Time'. At the moment it is the only coat he has.

According to Taylor, such a theory is misplaced. 'There is no doubt you can benefit from charity shows,' Taylor said. 'When we did Live Aid it increased sales on our catalogue five-fold. We had no idea it would. As that was the first charity show on that scale, it would have been pretty shrewd of us to predict it. But, after the concert last year, we were very careful that we released no product so that any benefit went straight to the charity. We plead absolutely not guilty to the charge that we used it for self-promotion. And I would hate anyone to think that anyone did the Freddie concert for self-promotional reasons. It was the furthest thing from George's mind, for instance. He has thrown himself into this project. The record really is all his idea.'

George Michael doesn't like to talk about the amount of work he does for charity. In fact he doesn't like to talk about anything at all, having self-imposed a ban on media contacts three years ago. But for this single, perhaps sensing that his motives might be under suspicion, he has decided to break that habit. On Tuesday he spoke to MTV, for simultaneous screening in America and Europe.

'Everyone's got really pissed off listening to celebrities patting each other on the back saying how generous they are being,' he said in the interview. 'And they are right to. The reason I am doing this interview is to support the Phoenix Trust. It's very important these tracks get heard.'

Despite a private financial contribution to charity that reaches almost Cliff Richard levels of generosity, Michael is selective about who he supports publicly. There is no question that if any other performer had died with Aids he would have been less inclined to become so involved. 'I only met him a couple of times, but Freddie Mercury had such a profound effect on me as a child,' Michael told MTV. 'I kind of drank in everything he did.' And he dedicates the record to 'Freddie, who probably saved me from life as a waiter'.

In the end the cynics may have to withdraw. From what can be gathered of Michael's motives, a mix of affection, concern and charitableness appear to be driving him here, not a desire to get one over on Sony. And, in the meantime, enjoy this record. If his dispute against Sony goes the wrong way, he has threatened not to record anything new again. In future, charity might be the only thing we hear from Britain's finest pop singer.

Five Live (Parlophone: CDRS 6340) comprises 'Somebody to Love'; 'Killer / Papa Was A Rolling Stone'; 'These Are The Days Of Our Lives'; 'Calling You'

(Photograph omitted)

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade

radio
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?