Boney M, bringing back the joy

NEW TOUR: Maizie Williams, second from left, and her version of Boney M.
NEW TOUR: Maizie Williams, second from left, and her version of Boney M.

BONEY M stalwart Maizie Williams keeps one person at the front of her mind every time she takes to the stage: her former bandmate the late Bobby Farrell.

"We were like family, he was like my brother and I can't just forget about him like that," she tells Weekender.

Farrell died from heart failure in 2010.

"We had amazing times together, all of us. So the history of us being together and his part in our success will always be in my heart.

"Whenever we're doing shows I think about him and wish he was still around," she says.

Montserrat-born Williams had been the key to Aruba dancer Farrell joining Boney M, a band whose songs epitomised the disco era of the late 1970s.

"Whenever I'm on stage performing them they still feel as if they were from yesterday, they have a sense of newness and energy to them," Williams says of the band's chart-toppers, including Rivers of Babylon/Brown Girl in the Ring, Daddy Cool, Ma Baker, Sunny and Rasputin.

"It's a joy to still be able to enjoy what you're doing after so many years," she says. "And to see the audience still enjoying the music too puts joy in your heart - it's uplifting, it's overwhelming."

Williams was brought up in Birmingham, England.

She was a model who won the Miss Black Beautiful contest in 1973 but dreamed of joining the entertainment industry.

She fronted her own band in England, called Black Beautiful People. She also took acting classes and appeared in pantomimes, before moving to West Germany to appear in a fashion show.

At the same time, German singer-songwriter Frank Farian was enjoying moderate success in the Netherlands and Belgium with a dance track featuring his artificially created deep voice, called Baby Do You Wanna Bump, which he released under the pseudonym Boney M.

Unwilling to promote himself, Farian asked the Katja Wolfe booking agency to find troupers he could hire to dance and mime to his songs for television and live performances.

They settled on Williams, Farrell, Liz Mitchell and Marcia Barrett.

Farian continued to write for the band and used his own studio-enhanced voice combined with Mitchell and Barrett's vocals for their eight albums, but deemed Williams and Farrell's voice unsuitable for recording and used them only for live performances.

"Frank had a concept of what direction he wanted to go in as a producer and at the end of the day the concept worked," Williams says matter of factly, although Farian was ridiculed a decade later when he made the same decision with Milli Vanilli.

The band's big break came when they dressed in daring stage costumes and appeared on television show Musikladen to perform Daddy Cool, from their debut album Take The Heat Off Me. This appearance helped the single rocket to No.1 in Germany.

"It was an exciting time," Williams recalls. "You were rubbing shoulders with legends, people who I used to watch on TV as a teenager and never really thought I would ever meet them or much less be working with them or on the same set."

Farian's interest in the group had faded by 1985 - their last album before they officially disbanded, Eye Dance, was largely regarded as a disappointment.

Since then each member has formed their own version of the group, with ever changing line-ups, occasional live performances and re-recordings of the band's classics.

"I don't think there's much of anything I would like to change, except for probably our [life] experience, we were quite naive in a lot of ways when it came to the business side of it," Williams admitts.

"But in the entertainment side of it there is nothing I would want to change - it was spectacular and it was a blessing and it was a wonderful time."The group's legacy has stretched beyond any infighting over the legal rights to the name Boney M, with a stream of greatest hit compilations, re-releases, covers, tributes, a London musical based on their music, and a surprisingly enduring popularity on film and outside the West in places such as South Korea, China and Taiwan.

Williams has since released a solo album, Call Upon Jesus, and continues to work on "laid-back, jazzy, classic" material. But she will be leaning firmly on her inescapable past when she brings her Boney M line-up to Newcastle next month.

"I was beginning to think you'd forgotten all about us, so I'm looking forward to it."

Boney M performs at Wests Leagues Club on June 15.

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