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 - Music - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Arts and Entertainment
Queen Christina left the judges baffled with her audition
X Factor
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.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week