Boney M: A Little History
Boney M. One of the biggest-selling groups of all time. They’re one of those acts that show that you don’t have to “make it” in the USA to become music legends. Kylie Minogue is another.
I first became aware of Boney M. in primary school. I was watching a Christmas song show on one of those music channels (do they still exist?) when on came Boney M.’s ‘Mary’s Boy Child/Oh My Lord.’ I instantly fell in love; it became my favourite Christmas song and kept the top spot for years.
Then, in year 8, when we were learning about Rasputin and the Romonovs, my History teacher showed us the now-iconic video of three people doing the Just Dance routine to the song. If you haven’t seen the ten year anniversary remake that they did earlier this year, you need to go and check it out!
Boney M. was the creation of legendary music producer Frank Farian. Farian’s legacy has been dented by the Milli Vanilli scandal – the revelation that the two members did not actually sing their own songs – but nobody can deny this man’s unadulterated artistry.
Farian was actually the male vocalist of Boney M; the much-loved Bobby Farrell was just a dancer who mimed the lyrics. This was never kept a secret, though.
Maizie Williams, too, never sang on the records, though both she and Farrell performed live.
Williams was treated particularly poorly. She is not just a but the original member of Boney M. She was hired first, with two other women and a man, to be the “face” of Boney M after Farian recorded a song under the name. The other members soon left and were replaced with two female vocalists (lead singer Liz Mitchell and secondary vocalist Marcia Barrett) and Farrell. Williams, however, was not allowed to sing on records.
When it came out that Williams did not sing on the records, it was not a scandal, for this was pretty common practice at the time.
Williams actually had to initiate a court case against Farian and Sony/BMG concerning her rights to perform under the name “Boney M.” It went in her favour, for here we are: Williams’s line-up of Boney M. headlined Hale Barns Carnival’s long-awaited return!
Hale Barns Carnival: The Acts
After Boney M. split, the members all went their own way. Lead singer Liz Mitchell, Williams and Farrell all formed their own line-ups of Boney M, each hiring vocalists/dancers to represent the other members. Farrell passed away over a decade ago, but the women are still touring; their shows are billed “Boney M. featuring Liz Mitchell” and “Boney M. featuring Maizie Williams” (Hale Barns Carnival had the latter).
In fact, this is the case with all the acts at this year’s Hale Barns Carnival. Sunday’s headliner was Katrina from Katrina and the Waves – billed as Katrina of the Waves – who was joined by Five Star featuring Denise Pearson, Doctor and the Medics (just the Doctor) and Brother Beyond featuring Nathan Moore (who is also a member of Worlds Apart).
This is not a problem, though: with all of the acts except Boney M., you’ve got the lead singer.
Oh, and let’s not forget that Hale Barns Carnival used to feature a line-up of tribute artists, so this is evidence that it’s growing as a music event.
Remember – Sunday’s headliner was supposed to be Motown legends Martha and the Vandellas – who unfortunately had to drop out because of travel restrictions, but they will be back next year, singing and dancing on the stage to ‘Dancing on the Street’!
Festivals in the time of Covid
Hale Barns Carnival did a wonderful job of operating a music event during a pandemic. The event took place with a reduced (50%) capacity, with the audience socially distanced. There were blocks (like a car park, but for people) where we were allowed to sit/stand (most people brought camping chairs), each allowing up to 30 people.
I will say, 30 people seemed a little excessive – I’m not sure how 30 people could socially distance in one of those boxes. There was about 12 people in our box; I wouldn’t have wanted many more in there.
We were constantly reminded (in a friendly manner) to follow the rules by the show’s host, and there was security to ensure that people did so. This allowed us to enjoy the carnival safely.
Loos were cleaned every 15 minutes by volunteers – which I, personally, think should happen at all festivals, at all times, even when we are not in a pandemic.
Opening Acts: A Review
Boney M. had two opening acts. The evening kicked off with Darren Proctor, an excellent radio presenter on Greatest Hits Radio. His set consisted of dance and house covers and remixes of greatest hits (obvs.), which really helped get us into the mood.
Proctor was followed by String Infusion, an all-female electric and acoustic string group that offer bespoke service for events.
There were four young women on string instruments who, during some songs, were joined by a sax player or a vocalist. The final song before the encore – a cover of James Hype and Kelli-Leigh’s ‘More than Friends’ (itself a remake of En-Vogue’s ‘Don’t Let Go’) – featured all six members.
The encore was a beautiful tribute to Bay City Rollers, who had been scheduled to perform on this night until lead singer Les McKeowan died in April, aged just 65. String Infusion performed ‘Bye Bye Baby’ – a touching send-off to a great artist who died far too young.
The four girls on string all wore glossy plink dresses that looked a little like candy wrappers (in a good way) and glittery thigh-high boots. The other two members wore short, pink, sequinned dresses.
Even the string instruments were pink! They were let down, however, by the saxophone, which was not, but I’ll let them off, because they looked and sounded incredible.
I really can’t do justice to how camp and fabulous they looked; these are definitely some of the best costumes I’ve seen at a music event.
My only criticism – when they performed ‘Superstitious’, I could not hear the vocalist over Stevie Wonder. Now, I do love me some Stevie, but we were here to hear String Infusion – which includes their very talented vocalist, who was drowned out by Stevie’s signature shrieks.
I’m not sure why they chose to have the vocalist singing along with Stevie. Perhaps the band could not get the rights to the instrumental version of the song, or perhaps they were not allowed to perform it without Stevie’s vocals. If that was the case, they should have excluded the vocalist from this song and just had the girls on string perform it, or just dropped it from their set altogether.
Aside from this song, their set was wonderful; they are, without a doubt, one of the best opening acts I’ve ever seen – and I’ve seen Demi Lovato and Beverley Knight open for Enrique Iglesias!
Boney M: A Review
Now, let’s get to what you’re all here for…
Boney M. kicked off the show with ‘Sunny’ – which was very fitting given the fact that Hale Barns was literally hotter than Ibiza that day.
I’d only realised Boney M. sang ‘Sunny’ earlier this year – I’d been playing it because it was, well, sunny.
‘Sunny’ was originally recorded by Bobby Hebbe and has been covered by many others since – even Cher – but Boney M.’s version is just so vibrant, feel-good and sunny!
It was a fantastic opening to the show; we were all on our feet dancing right from the get-go.
This was followed by ‘Hooray! Hooray! It’s a Holi-Holiday’, which got us in the mood further. We were, essentially, on a day holiday – and the weather (hotter than Ibiza!) made it feel like we were holidaying abroad.
Next up was the iconic ‘Daddy Cool,’ which featured some excellent dancing from the male vocalist/dancer. Whilst nobody can replace Bobby, this guy sure did a great job; he had impeccable stage presence, was a great hype man for the women (especially Maizie) and really got the audience involved.
‘Ma Baker’, ‘Belfast’ and ‘Brown Girl in the Ring’ followed, with the band changing the lyrics of the latter to ‘Brown Girls in the Ring.’ I’m not sure what the reason for this lyric change was – were they referring to themselves? They were singing to and pointing at the audience, which seemed only to include 2.5 brown girls amongst hundreds of White people, so it would be a little strange if they were directing that lyric to us.
This reminded me of something I’d read recently: Sheyla Bonnick, who had joined the band with Williams but left before they started recording hits and now fronts a tribute version of the band, admits that she rarely sees Black people in her audiences. Why? She thinks that Black people think Boney M.’s music is “naff,” what with it being simple, reggae-tinged, feel-good music (albeit cleverly arranged). Disco music with some Caribbean flavour, in a nutshell, suited for a White, Western audience.
I noticed that this audience was very, very White – but it is Hale Barns…
Boney M. did, however, cover one of the most iconic songs by one of the most iconic Caribbean artists: ‘No Woman No Cry’ by Bob Marley and the Wailers. Whilst no cover can compete with the original, their version is great, and I’m glad they performed it live.
After that, they finally sang ‘Rasputin’, which took me right back to Ms. Hurley’s year 8 history class! I will say, this performance was not quite as energetic and vibrant as I’d been hoping.
Majestic’s remix of ‘Rasputin’ recently topped charts around the world. This remix works so well because it does not change the song too much; it just modernises it so that another generation can enjoy it.
Following this, Maizie took to the stage alone to introduce Boney M.’s biggest number 1 hit – the seventh best-selling single in the UK of all time – ‘Rivers of Babylon’.
By their reaction to ‘Rasputin,’ it seemed the audience had been waiting patiently for that song, but it now transpired that it was ‘Rivers of Babylon’ that they had been craving.
Whilst my generation loves ‘Rasputin’ – possibly because of its pop culture status what with the ‘Just Dance’ routine, and of course the aforementioned remix – older people seem to love ‘Rivers of Babylon’ most of all.
Whilst this was said to be their last song, the show’s host came on stage and begged them to sing another. Literally – he was on his knees begging Williams to sing another!
Boney M. had to go home, but they didn’t want to disappoint this fiery crowd, so they met us in the middle and sang ‘Gotta Go Home’!
I love it when artists are meta and tongue-in-cheek like this. Diana Ross (who I’m seeing next year) famously opens her concerts by coming out to ‘I’m Coming Out.’
Most young people will recognise ‘Gotta Go Home’ because it was sampled by Duck Sauce in ‘Barbara Streissand.’
As aforementioned, Williams did not sing on Boney M.’s records, probably because her voice was not as strong and soothing as Wright’s and Barrett’s. Her voice is great, though – and let’s not forget that she’s 70!
The other two female vocalists, Jordan (ponytail) and Samantha (afro), had very strong voices. Williams clearly brought them on to sing the parts that require power house vocals, whilst she took the lead on ‘Hooray! Hooray! It’s a Holi-Holiday’ – a wonderful performance, might I add.
This really was one of the best music events I’ve been to – and I’m sure I’m not just saying that because I’d not been to one in 16 months!
The crowd was relaxed yet energised, the staff were organised but friendly, and the acts were top-notch and vibrant.
Hale Barns Carnival: Upcoming
Hale Barns Carnival’s opening party had to be pushed back because restrictions were not lifted in June, as had been planned. Instead, they were lifted the day after the carnival ended. What luck!
The opening party is now an after-party, headlined by Odyssey, taking place at Altrincham Garrick on Friday 3rd September. There will be two shows: 6PM and 9PM.
Hale Barns Carnival returns next year from Friday 15th until Sunday 17th September. Sunday’s headliner is expected to be Motown icons Martha and the Vandellas, who could not make it this year because of Covid-related travel restrictions.
The carnival has had marvellous weather for the past five years and was hit by a heatwave this year. If Martha and the Vandellas are headlining next year, there better be a ‘Heatwave’!