In October last year, I rocked up to Sydney’s Enmore Theatre with a small group of my closest friends and the mother of one of my besties. We’re all in our mid-20s, so we grew up with pop groups like Destiny’s Child, the Spice Girls and Backstreet Boys (such a lucky generation), but thanks to my friend’s mum we all developed a deep love for the international disco — 1970s New York via Germany via Jamaica — sounds of Boney M.
We’d had a few wines before the show, but by the time we’d waded through the sea of baby boomers in their glitziest Saturday night party gear, the stomping beats of Rasputin broke through that slight booze-haze and we were all in disco heaven.
Over the last few years, there have been two bands touring the world under the name of Boney M. Both of them include just one original member: one features Liz Mitchell, one of the original lead singers. But the band which we saw featured Maizie Williams, who actually did not sing on any of the band’s original recordings even though she performed live with them.
During the concert, Williams’ new bandmates felt the need to introduce her time and again as “your Boney M original member!” which only served to remind that 3/4 of the band were really just random vocalists pulled together for what was more or less a tribute concert. It was still a decent night of entertainment — those songs are irresistible and when they pump through a huge theatre (with a dance floor) the energy is totally infectious, even if there’s only one original member on stage.
In the space of just over a week, the world has lost several of its most notable popular artists and two musicians with back catalogues so extensive and beloved to ensure that they could have toured for another 20 years non-stop, raking in the cash — David Bowie and The Eagles’ Glenn Frey.
But what of those artists who just had a handful of hits — certainly not one-hit wonders, but not necessarily at the legendary status of those who sell out arenas year in year out?
They’ve got their own touring set-up in Australia, playing just a night or two in smaller venues around capitol cities (and even occasionally in outer suburbs). In Sydney, it’s all about the 2500-seat Enmore Theatre, a heritage theatre which has seen better days but has a hell of a lot of character.
This year, 1980s girl group Bananarama, best known for their pop megahit cover of Venus, is playing the Enmore (their line-up now down from three members to two). They had many, many other relatively minor hits, but most audience members are only going to know a small handful of songs.
Returning in March, after playing the venue in 2013, is ’80s popstar Belinda Carlisle, best known for her solo hits Summer Rain, Heaven is a Place on Earth, and Leave A Light On. Again, unless you’re hardcore fan, you’re unlikely to know many more than four or five of Carlisle’s hits.
These concerts obviously trigger strong memories for many of the older audience members, and the audience members are predominately those who were in their teens or early 20s when the artists were big.
But it would be wrong to reduce these concerts to simple exercises in nostalgia. When these classic pop songs are being performed live, they are living emotional worlds into which audiences can dive into — whether that be the bittersweet heartbreak of Belinda Carlisle’s Summer Rain, or the simple joy of Boney M’s Brown Girl in the Ring.
And if this last week taught us anything it’s that we can only share limited time on this plane with any popular artist, and that’s only if we’re lucky. It’s something to be cherished not just because we can worship an artist for their past achievements, but because we can live in those magical musical moments.