One of the biggest groups to stand out and make their mark in the 70's was BONEY M. Their career was comet-like in that they seemed to blast out of nowhere. Suddenly every discotheque around the world played Boney M and every TV show wanting to be hip had to have this stunning-looking and fabulous-sounding foursome from the Caribbean.
Their sound - a mix of reggae, disco, funk, gospel, soul and rock - hit the charts around the world in a flash. Within moments, it seemed, everyone knew the Boney M. name and music, and their onward progress would maintain its star-studded track through our consciousness, day and night for over ten years, with an endless stream of unforgettable, sensational hits.
Much has been written and said about Boney M. over the years. Like many bands who subsequently drifted apart it seems that their members' individual memories tend to tarnish or fade shortly after their glorious heyday of fame, stardom, glitz and glamour. The purpose of this page is to relate the definitive story as it really happened and recall the essence of an overnight success which went on to manifest itself with over 40 hit singles, at least 30 albums (many more if we include the regional variations and ongoing compilations), up to 200 million units sold, plus numerous live tours and tv appearances spanning three decades. And so from the day Maizie Willliams, a classic high-cheekboned, long-legged, (some said "lusciously boney") fashion model and dancer, was discovered in 1975 by impresario Katja Wolf and selected as the very first spark of a brand new band, the fire ignited and the legendary phenomenon of Boney M. was aflame.
So let's start with the Boney M. name - plucked by Frank Farian straight from the TV screen in Germany where the popular Australian crime drama series Boney was showing. The show itself was based on books by crime writer Arthur Upfield and the visual allegory for Farian was perfect: the character Boney (an abbreviation of Bonaparte) was James Laurenson, a blacked-up, fair-haired white actor with blue eyes playing the character of Detective Inspector Napoleon 'Boney' Bonaparte, supposedly part Aboriginal, part white, carrying out investigations across Australia. And in front of the screen was Farian, a white man singing what sounded like a black song with a rich black voice, rather embarrassed by the fact that he was really a white man in vocal disguise! We are perhaps fortunate he never considered stretching to the lengths of his tv inspiration but instead used his better judgment to breathe life into a band that properly reflected his sound and truly became the personification of his vast talent. As for the "M." - we're not sure - any suggestions you send us will be investigated!
Maizie's own story had begun on the tiny and remote, oval shaped Lesser Antilles Caribbean island of Montserrat where she and her five siblings were born under the shadow of one of the many smoking giants in that island chain, commonly named Mount Soufriere. Fortuitously she and her family left for Europe several decades before the smoke would turn to lava and ash and destroy their home, previously one of the most beautiful places in the world. Maizie finished school in Birmingham, England, went on to study drama, funded by some part-time modelling and, typical of her modesty, was surprised to win the title of Miss Black & Beautiful in a Brighton beauty contest. This inspired the name of her first band, The Black Beautiful People, and the title also opened several modestly lucrative doors to the modelling world. While on assignment at Modewoche (Fashion Week) in the German town of Hanover she was approached in a restaurant and asked through an interpreter if she would dance to a new record. Suspicious enough to refuse but even more curious to know if this was for real Maizie little knew that her fabulous career was about to take off. Fortunately for us her hesitation turned into acceptance, and with her massive talent and stunning good looks firmly on board the story of one of the world's most successful bands tentatively began.
Maizie Williams is not only the longest surviving member of the original Boney M. band but, along with Frank Farian, probably the most influential in deciding the long term line-up since it was she who vetted the subsequent members to make sure they would all share a certain chemistry. The initial line-up had been without question a visual front for a record that was already a radio hit, while the follow-up combo was selected more for its broader talent and potential longevity. Maizie Williams, and two others she remembers only as Nathalie and Mike, were briefly recruited to dance to Frank Farian's hit: Baby Do You Wanna Bump, for Dutch TV - a song sung entirely by Farian himself at that point. The first real band was then put in place for the follow-up, the other original members leaving largely through lack of faith in the project. Maizie and Frank approved and recruited in turn Marcia Barrett, Bobby Farrell and finally Liz Mitchell. Together they went on to establish Boney M. as a closely dependent and indefatigable recording and performing entity in which they all, to different degrees, performed, sang, danced and generally contributed to their greatest ability.
Since it's become a matter of debate in more recent times as to how much each member contributed to the band we can address that here. Quite simply throughout their partnership they all sang, danced and performed live, while studio recordings were subsequently mixed by Frank Farian, in a huge part to include his own vocals, and although we can all read the written credits the simple truth was that only Farian really knew who he'd put into the final mix of some of the tracks. Years later it's harder for any individual to remember accurately the parts left on record as they all sang (without Farian on stage) on their live tours. However it's no secret that although she sang in the studio Maizie's less dominant voice appears to have been mostly excluded from many of the recordings, with the exception of some backing vocals, for reasons only the producer knew at the time. Fortunately we can now hear the distinctive quality of Maizie's dulcet tones in her brand new recording released this year and trailed here on Maizie's site. Nevertheless there's no doubting that what their audiences bought into was a four-piece band with a unique combined stage presence and some fabulous tunes written and adapted by the great creative force of Frank Farian behind the scenes. And when the public bought the singles and albums they bought the whole visual and acoustic package in its entirety and with all its exuberance. Right from their first real tour in 1977 the four stars sang and danced to sell-out audiences from Wembley to Moscow, winning literally hundreds of silver, gold and platinum discs and were officially awarded Most Successful Act of 1978 in the UK.
The real break had come from a tv appearance on Germany's Musikladen which sent Daddy Cool and the album Take The Heat off Me flying off the shelves with similar repercussions across Europe after their debut appearance on the UK's Top Of The Pops, leading to worldwide exposure and their first major success. Over the next two years Boney M were one of the hottest music and performance properties, regularly breaking records for sales and chart positions, culminating in the pinnacle of success with three consecutive albums reaching #1 in the highest selling European territories. See Discography. A series of live tours, often a year long, ensued - again the band was breaking records: breaking down international barriers and taboos with sell-out concerts in Moscow, right across Africa, the Middle and Far East, Canada and South America, and with shows and costumes getting more flamboyant with every successive album. Between 1976 and 1979 Boney M. even statistically outsold their mighty fellow Europeans Abba in some territories!
By 1981 the band was aflood with rumours of creative frustrations and a potential split while their record company seemed reluctant to put their full weight behind the latest album Boonoonoonoos which featured a more Caribbean sound. Despite this the band continued to reach new heights everywhere but the UK where the media became somewhat critical of the change in style and cynical about their material being provided by Farian rather than being written themselves. At this point Bobby Farrell was sacked for his unreliability and decided to go it alone but things were complicated when Christmas With Boney M., including Little Drummer Boy, previously released in Europe, recorded and filmed with Farrell became another million selling album. Reggie Tsiboe was brought in to fill the gap but change was not what audiences expected and in 1985 Bobby was brought back. However with five band members the chemistry so highly respected by Maizie in the early days was now ebbing and the long-predicted split became an inevitability. Ten years of living in each other's pockets, touring, constantly working and giving the band the best years of their lives had finally taken its toll. So in 1986 the band had finally broken up, having earned 18 platinum albums, 15 golds, a staggering 200+ platinum or gold singles (too many to count!) and at least 150 million units worldwide. And still, 30 years later, they continue to sell with lowest estimates of 200 million units at the last count!
Since those glorious days the individual members have produced their own solo projects while compilations and remixes of old Boney M. product continue to abound. A brief and promising-sounding regrouping without Liz Mitchell at the end of the 1980s was brought to a halt by Farian (who hadn't been involved), and who forbade use of the Boney M. name while fighting to prevent individual members from using "his" band name. The result was that with ongoing differences between band members each has quite validly toured using variations on the name and to this day that situation persists, while every sympathy is felt for die-hard fans who may be disappointed by not seeing the original line-up together on stage. Nevertheless something of the old atmosphere is perpetuated by each and with their own solo projects being successfully pursued the main theme of the shows these days is as individual as the band members themselves.
For Maizie's part her live show now reflects not just the magic of her days with Boney M. but has the added flavour of new, self-penned Gospel orientated material, producing an exciting, well-rounded performance appropriate for the age we live in... the right amount of nostalgia for a decade gone by, mixed with the place she's at now.
"There's no place for regrets," says Maizie. "We all moved on when the band imploded and separately we share a fabulous part of an amazing time and are happy to enjoy that with the fans who now continue to give us, as individual performers, their ongoing support. Boney M. was a massively successful collective made up of people whose own shows now each convey their own memories of that wonderful time combined with our own natural progress and diverse directions. Having been there from the beginning I watched as we all developed. We made a little bit of music history but the time came when we all had to go our separate ways. Times change, but the history we all made can't be re-written. I'm proud to have been an original and influential part of it."
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Available on playback or with a live band.