Take a power trip Down Under
HE may only be a pretend cop but Ray Simpson, lead singer of disco kings the Village People, admits enjoying being an authority figure.
‘‘ When you have a big crowd, 50,000 to 60,000 people, and you’re the master of ceremonies leading them doing YMCA it’s an odd kind of feeling because it’s like whatever you tell them to do, they’ll do,’’ Simpson says. ‘‘ And it’s a real power trip!’’ In fact, the Village People hold the Guinness World Record for leading more than 40,000 people doing the YMCA in Texas in 2008.
‘‘ It’s a funny thing because they [ the adjudicators] actually have to be there, you could have a zillion people doing something and if they’re not there to verify it, it’s like it didn’t happen,’’ he says.
‘‘ Since then I know we’ve had more but they weren’t there!’’
The huge crowds attest to the enduring appeal of the Village People ( pictured), who have notched up more than 100 million sales during their 35- year career.
They began life as a manufactured group, with an eye to cashing in on the disco and gay communities ( in contrast to their image, some of them, including Simpson, are straight).
Somewhere they turned from a pop act into popular cultural icons with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame ( between Betty Grable and Liberace).
They also supported Cher on tour and performed at Ozzy and Sharon Osbourne’s wedding- vows renewal ceremony.
But their heyday was undoubtedly between 1977 and 1979 with original lead singer Victor Willis when they had the worldwide hits YMCA, Macho Man and In the Navy.
Willis quit the group at the height of their fame and didn’t perform again live for more than two decades.
A few months ago he won a landmark legal battle paving the way for him to reclaim a third to a half of the copyright to the group’s biggest songs.
Simpson, who stepped in at short notice for the group’s 1980 feature film flop-turned- cult- classic Can’t Stop the Music and the hit single of the same name, is clearly annoyed with Willis.
‘‘ It doesn’t mean anything,’’ he says, tersely.
‘‘ You know, anybody can go out and do anything they want.
‘‘ You’d have to speak to him about what he’s doing, I really don’t want to go into that.’’
He maintains Willis’s lawsuit won’t affect the group’s viability.
‘‘ Without a doubt it doesn’t affect us at all,’’ he says.
The Village People are frequent visitors to Australia, having provided the entertainment at a rugby league grand final, shot the film Village People Go North Down Under and appeared on the infamous NRL grand final edition of The Footy Show where AFL player Brendan Fevola met model Lara Bingle.
According to a gossip columnist, a Village People member inquired as to whether
They began life as a manufactured group, cashing in on the disco and gay communities
‘‘ footy’s bad boy might kick with both feet, so to speak’’.
This sort of gossip is par for the course, says Simpson with a chuckle.
‘‘ You see, there you go, they’re always trying to stir it up!
‘‘ No, I mean sure, we had fun and everybody went out and we went to a big club and had drinks and food. But what can I say? You’ll always get that.’’
Looking to the future, Simpson isn’t so sure about spending another 35 years performing with the Village People.
‘‘ I expect we’ll do this until some people decide they can’t handle it any more, because it is a bit taxing,’’ he says.
‘‘ We’re singing and dancing and jumping. We complain, we bitch and moan, but it does enhance your life.’’
THE VILLAGE PEOPLE Palais Theatre, Melbourne, November 24, $ 89.50/$ 109.50, Ticketmaster