First Night: The Boy takes a trip down memory lane

Culture Club

NEC

Birmingham

AT THE beginning of 's new version of "Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?" there was a quote from Quentin Crisp: "Popularity breeds contempt." But, on the evidence of last night's gig at Birmingham's National Exhibition Centre, this is wrong. The black economy was thriving - and not just among the ticket touts. Babysitters all around the Midlands cleaned up as the Eighties generation, both males and females, donned their mascara and lippy one more time and made a pilgrimage to pay homage to their youth with , ABC and The Human League.

Rumours that the huge traffic jam on the motorway leading to the NEC was due to checkpoints by the fashion police proved unfounded. Aside from a healthy smattering of bleach-blond hair, the age range of the 9,000- strong audience was surprisingly broad.

The evening had the feeling of a Christmas panto, as the crowd sang along to Eighties hits such as ABC's "All Of My Heart", The Human League's "Mirror Man" and 's "Do You Really Want To Hurt Me?"

Both ABC and The Human League resurrected the phenomenon of role playing, with more costume changes than an episode of the Clothes Show. ABC's vocalist, Martin Fry, thrilled the audience by returning for an encore in a gold lame shirt and suit.

The Human League's vocalist, Phil Oakey, no longer wore his trademark wedge haircut, sporting instead a closely shaved head in tune with the band's spartan synth-pop.

But it was clear that people had come to see Boy George, whose headwear was truly biblical. He looked like one of the three wise men.

In the Eighties the campness of , its disguise, was borne out of necessity. When Boy George sang "Karma Chameleon" - "and a man without conviction ... I can paint the contradictions" - you understood what he meant. Few pop stars have trod as carefully the precarious line between knowingness and innocence.

He began by telling us that: "This is a bit of a nostalgia trip to a time when Joan Collins wore gravity defying shoulder pads. But some of you don't look old enough to have been there."

Despite being hounded by the popular press throughout the Eighties about drugs and his sex life, the fact is everyone from teenagers to grandparents love George. There was more than one grey-haired lady dancing in the aisles. In an age of fleeting celebrity George is loved as a true star.

As he returned for an encore of Karma Chameleon all it needed was a refrain of "Maggie! Maggie! Maggie! Out! Out! Out!" to give the evening a perfect Eighties ending. But there was no miners left to give the rallying cry.

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