Take a power trip Down Un­der

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - Front Page -

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

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