It’s been 40 years since WHAM! released their debut album ‘Fantastic’.
The duo, consisting of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley, were one of the most successful pop acts of the 1980s.
In June, a new documentary marking the anniversary was released charting the meteoric rise of the group.
What’s On Scotland’s Emma Cameron met Andrew to talk about the childhood friendship that survived fame and fortune in a band whose hits still get you dancing today.
But as Emma points out, more than anything else, the story of Wham! is the story of George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley’s lifelong bond.
“Obviously, the music underpins everything, and the music was exuberant and joyous”, he said. “Wham! came out of our friendship – it was a manifestation of that.”
Meeting at school, the two quickly became best friends sharing a unique passion for songwriting.
“He was delivered into my care in 1974. Whether he liked it or not, I was the only person with my hand up when the teacher said ‘Who’s going to look after the new boy?’”, he said.
“When our school band collapsed under the weight of its talent, that just left Yog (George Michael) and I songwriting, and the rest is history.”
From the age of 19, the band became one of the most commercially successful pop acts of the ‘80s, selling more than 30 million records worldwide.
It seems hard to believe they were only together as Wham! for four years.
“The scale of our success and the speed of it surprised us as well,” he said. “They were great pop songs and whilst we took the writing and recording of the music seriously, we didn’t take ourselves seriously.
“We weren’t trying to be anything that we weren’t. We were having fun with it and I think that came through.”
From ‘Club Tropicana’ to ‘Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go’ there are too many hits to pick a favourite – but can Andrew Ridgeley?
“I think my favourite’s ‘I’m Your Man’,” he said. “It’s just got real punch and energy to it, and it was great to play live.”
It was the Top of the Pops performance of ‘Young Guns (Go For It)’ in 1982 which Ridgeley tells Emma brought Wham! into the limelight. Or was it down to the exceptional dance moves?
“Well, they are exceptionally amateur is what they are”, he laughs. “It worked you know; we went to nightclubs, and we utilised the dance moves and developed them into routines.”
If we look at the ‘Club Tropicana’ video – having fun and not taking oneself too seriously has since been emulated by our very own Lewis Capaldi.
“It’s certainly an iconic video. Around that time, Duran Duran had been filming in the Maldives, or certainly in the Indian ocean, and so we felt that ‘Club Tropicana’ really lent itself to be placed in that setting and was the perfect visual accompaniment to the track.”
Throughout the four years of Wham!, the band surprisingly did not tour in mainland Europe. But did they make it to Scotland?
Andrew recalled: “I think it was the Glasgow Apollo where the whole of the balcony was bouncing and we were watching it on stage thinking ‘Oh my god, the whole building is moving!'”
At the ripe age of 23, Wham! called it a day and made the difficult decision to move on.
“We grew up pretty fast – from 19 when we signed the deal to when we were 23 and took the decision to bring Wham! to a close,” he said.
“The constraints that Wham! imposed on George’s songwriting were that, for him to develop and realise his artistic potential, he was necessarily going to have to go beyond Wham!”
Despite the end of a short-lived era, what really stood the test of time was their friendship. And that’s what Wham! is – it’s a story of true friendship.
“It was the essence, and it was the essential pillar around which everything revolved,” Andrew said.
“The film is incredibly authentic to our experience, certainly to my experience. It would have been to Yog’s as well – he would have really enjoyed the film and I think it’s veracity.”