Perhaps it’s the fact that Boney M epitomise the brazen kitschiness of the 1970s disco era -“ the shiny capes, silver pantsuits and knee-high boots emblematic of a time too far out ever to be revisited. Perhaps it’s because the songs are so shamelessly inane.
Whatever, Boney M are part of a unique class of 70s survivors, their music (including hits Rivers Of Babylon and Brown Girl In The Ring) as enduring as that of ABBA, their videos (featuring karate-chopping Afro-donis Bobby Farrell and strutting disco vixen Liz Mitchell) so wildly camp they could only be hailed as classic.
People like that just don’t exist any more, or so I had assumed before a relatively terse email landed at our offices last week: Please advise if you are interested in talking with Liz Mitchell. I await your urgent response.
The idea of chatting with the founding member and lead singer of Boney M (above, centre) seemed so surreal I might just as well have been invited to tea with the Cowardly Lion and The Scarecrow.
It was around half past midnight for Mitchell when she called me from the London home she now shares with her husband and three children. Clearly this family life belied the status of Liz Mitchell as disco queen.
Oh no, honey. I have to be up again in two hours because we’re going to play the Ukraine. We have been touring non-stop now for the last eight years, going around and around and around the world, Mitchell exclaims in a enchanting Euro-Jamaican accent.
As a consequence of this relentless touring schedule, the modern Boney M experience is a tighter affair than that offered by the line-up of the 1970s and 80s. Their live shows are still massive crowd pullers across Europe, and the non-singing members Bobby and Maizie Williams have been replaced by legitimate vocalists.
The Boney M show these days is very live, very upbeat and very spiritual, I guess. Maybe in the old days because of the problems that existed with the members -“ with Bobby and Maizie not actually being able to sing -“ there were difficulties in the group. I could never be as expressive as I am now because -¦ I don’t know -¦ there were so many problems -¦ then.
While this response seems mysterious at first, it is actually remarkably candid of Mitchell. Those problematic early days signified a time when the artistic output of Boney M (the name, according to Mitchell, is taken from the 70s Australian TV show Boney, while the M stands for Mitchell) was dominated by producer and creator Frank Farian, the man who later went on to create doomed 80s two-piece Milli Vanilli.
I think Frank [Farian] discovered a new path when Bobby and Maizie were not singing, he saw that the miming still worked on stage. For three years no one was the wiser, but it was abusive for me as an artist, Mitchell says.
Nobody was checking if we were miming and he thought -“ great, I’m gonna try this one again with [Milli Vanilli]. When I knew he was recording the songs for Milli Vanilli I was very sad. I hoped they didn’t feel as abused as I felt. It’s very sad. Frank is never going to understand what he did to those boys [Milli Vanilli] until someone does it to him.
Another change audiences will notice at September’s Australian Boney M concerts will be the band’s image. Silver pantsuits and capes are out, apparently.
Trust me, times have changed, Mitchell says. You know about the 70s love flower-power people? They were wild. Oh, they were wild. People might not be completely happy with glittering bodysuits and full afros right now. The whole thing just looked really crazy, I think, when I look back at it now.
Crazy enough to attract an international gay following? Mitchell grows excited to learn she is being interviewed for a gay and lesbian publication.
Oh wow! From the very beginning, from the time of our first song and our first poster was put up, we had a gay following. I don’t know if it was because of the three girls and the one man -¦ I don’t know why! People say to me, look -“ Boney M look gay. We were pioneering some sort of gay look. That’s it -¦ I guess.
Boney M hit Sydney in September, kicking off at the Wests Leagues Club on 5 September, Canterbury Hurlstone Park RSL on 6 and 7 September and the Star City Showroom on 13 September.