Jimmy Somerville describes the last time he was in Sydney for Mardi Gras as a hoot. He was in town to perform at the 1998 20th anniversary party, but he left a trail of wild stories in his wake once he returned to the UK.
Not only did Somerville spend weeks hitting the club and party circuit at full throttle, but he also provided Mardi Gras with one of its most infamous closing shows ever when he performed Never Can Say Goodbye. There were claims he appeared naked on stage, sporting nothing but a smile and an erection.
In between, he even managed to find time for love, having his heart broken by a local lad he fell head over heels for -“ so much so, a song on his last album Home Again was about the experience.
Eight years on, Somerville, 44, is now heading back to Sydney to perform at the State Theatre as part of the Mardi Gras festival. But the times have obviously changed the wild man of 1980s Brit pop.
As he speaks to the SSO from his home in Brighton on the south coast of Britain, he confesses he is painting the banister of his staircase at the same time. And while he talks excitedly about returning to Australia to perform, he says what he is really excited about experiencing this time is the wilderness of Tasmania.
Tasmania? I remember the last time I travelled half-way across the world, I spent all my time in clubs and bars in Sydney. So I thought this time, once I have finished running around and flaunting myself and showing off, I will go on an excursion to Tasmania and have a look around. I want to be able to come home and bring with me a -˜wow’ factor from traipsing around Tasmania.
But before he can venture south to discover the delights of Cradle Mountain, Freycinet and Port Arthur, Somerville has work to do in Sydney. His show opens at the State Theatre on 24 February, and he will then be staying in town for the parade and to perform at the party.
In his State Theatre show, Somerville will perform a range of blues standards and jazz classics, as well as the gay pop anthems Smalltown Boy, Why, I Feel Love and Never Can Say Goodbye from his glory days as lead singer of Bronski Beat and The Communards.
He will also be joined on stage by the Gay and Lesbian Choir, comedian Bob Downe and a satellite appearance by cabaret badboy Eddie Perfect.
As his career enters its third decade, the Glasgow-born singer admits he is more confident in his ability to tackle new genres of music like jazz and blues than ever before.
In some sense, all my early career was my singing lessons because I had never been a singer before, he says. Now I know I am an accomplished vocalist and my voice is strong and powerful, and not many men have the kind of sound I have. With a chuckle, he adds, I’m a unique little fella.
I was always plagued by self-doubt, but I have been plagued by that throughout my life -“ it is just part of me. You get to a certain time and a certain age when you listen to what people say and think about you, and you just say in response, -˜Fuck off!’
While Somerville earned his place in music history as the first out gay pop star and was an outspoken opponent of Thatcher’s politics in the 1980s, he is not happy with the current conservatism of the gay image.
He has little time for the concept for gay marriage, nor for the squeaky-clean image projected by the likes of Elton John and David Furnish.
Elton John and David Furnish are such the face of gay respectability. It is like the dirtier side of homosexuality has to be swept under the carpet. It has become so sanitised and so chocolate box powdery, and that is really frustrating. The diversity of sexuality should be the beauty of it, but now there is so much focus on this new gay royalty and they are all so squeaky clean. Oh, it is so tedious! he exclaims.
And he’s not thrilled by gay marriage either. Personally, I think marriage, as what it presents and what it means, is so redundant for heterosexuals and homosexuals in the 21st century. It should be about partnerships and everyone having the same rights, but I think leaving marriage to the extremes of the church is where it belongs.
It is so sad we feel it is some kind of progress and we are now turning it into something else to celebrate. I am so disappointed. Of course someone should be able to celebrate their relationship and their love, but drop the marriage and move on and call it something else.
As for his own love life, Somerville says he has little to report. God, at the moment, there isn’t a bloke in me, let alone in my life as well. I think I have dried up on the men front at the moment.
So the timing of his return visit to Sydney, the city of love, might be just what is needed. It will be his first return to the city since performing at the 2002 Gay Games opening ceremony. Well, the sad thing is my reputation usually gets there 24 hours before I do, he laughs. Then again, I am not usually backwards in coming forward. If push comes to shove, I will be in there at the end.
Apart from appearing at the MG festival, Somerville also confirms he will be performing at the party. It might depend on what state I am in, but probably yes.
Which brings him to the stories of his alleged nude stage frolics at the 1998 Mardi Gras. Somerville, who was draped only in a flag around his waist, says the truth is much less interesting than the legend the performance has become.
That was a riot, he says. I was wearing the Freedom flag and I was being well behaved is what I remember, but the most hilarious thing about that is the -˜What did I miss?’ syndrome. The stories of what I was supposed to have done are extraordinary. It was a case of, -˜Was I? Did I?’ but the truth is, -˜I didn’t.’
Everything became 10 times bigger than what it was -“ and that includes my dick in some of the stories. It got to the stage where I was supposed to be running around stage with a hard-on and being really sexual. Well, I know I am a bit of an exhibitionist, but that is really going too far.
Jimmy Somerville performs at the State Theatre on Friday 24 February at 8pm. Bookings on 132 849 or through the Ticketek website.