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Title: A frank exchange
Author: John Wilde

Paul Rutherford, understandably, smiles an ardent, yearning smile. The final obstinate flutters of affront and indignation — provoked by ’Relax’ — have long since died their reluctant deaths. Paul sits back with a satisfied sigh and we laugh over all the fuss and fury brought on by the brazen, blatant discosex of their debut ZTT single. Whatever its intentions, its implications, ’Relax’ made the kind of indelicate impression that was beyond even Paul Morley’s starry-eyed schemes. ’Relax’, for all its porn-decor and its crass, rugged desire for outrage, probably shook up the inanimate, unresisting chart wilderness more effectively than any pop record will do this year. Ultimately, one had to marvel at the volume of outrage and indignation that was squeezed out of it all. The blush on the face of Radio One sanctimoniousness was still lingering as ’Relax’ clocked up its millionth sale. Paul Rutherford can afford to smile his ardent, yearning smile.

He sits here telling me how much the glamour means to Frankie. He admits, with that smile, that the stage has been reached (already) where the novelty assumes familiarity and the glamour doesn’t glow so bright as all the dreams. But all the free drinks and aeroplane rides… well, maybe it’s not so far from all those childhood fantasies. The way that ’Relax’ slowly flirted its way into the chart’s lower reaches didn’t surprise him. Its sudden thrust upwards did though.

"Of course we wanted it to be a massive hit", he tells me. "But I had this feeling that it was going to be too strong for the charts, not lyrically, but musically. Holly wrote the lyrics and, of course, he went on to deny that the song was just about sex. Suddenly, we became scared when we realised that we were in the running. I don’t know that everyone in the band believed themselves when they tried to deny what the song was all about — we did become very-defensive about it all. Honestly, it was never that well planned. Morley had his strategy all worked out, he wanted it to be like the Sex Pistols — all the outrage, controversy — but this time with all the sex. We definitely wanted the record to open a few doors, create a bit of a stir. It all goes back to the very beginning. Originally, they played a couple of gigs without me — they used to have a girl in it then with a different guitarist. When I saw them for the first time, I didn’t know what was going on at all. It was just incredibly wild. So I just jumped up on stage and joined in. That’s when it started for me. At that time, I thought it was like the Sex Pistols all over again. But in a different way. It was different from everyone else, stranger from everybody else. It was like my dream really to be in a band like that — everyone wants to change the world in their own little way. I’d like to think that ’Relax’ was subversive in its own way — but not in a blatant way. I wouldn’t like to think that we shoved it down anybody’s throats. It was pushed down our throats. That’s why we became defensive about the whole thing. It seemed more blatant than it really was, because of the way it was marketed."

The strength of it all probably had less to do with twelve inches of throbbing, writhing sexbeat and more to do with its manipulative finesse at stirring up all the self-righteous indignation and snowball controversy. Paul had his tongue in his cheek all along. While thirsting for all the glamour and notoriety, he didn’t necessarily want it all to transform him.

"I felt, all along, that it wasn’t my problem. If anyone wanted to make their own problems out of it, they were welcome. It wasn’t going to change me. I was determined. Suddenly, there was all this attention on our sex habits. Well, I’ve always been against keeping sex a great mystery — trying to be secret about it. Being private about it isn’t going to break down any taboos at all. I try not to be dishonest about it. It was totally innocent, we just did it for a laugh. People missed the humour of ’Relax’. Sex is still such a taboo. They can’t laugh at it. That’s the only thing that I get serious about — narrow attitudes. Especially with all the stick I’ve been given all my life — about the way I look and my sexual attitudes. Holly and myself always look upon ourselves as total outsiders. We never fall into one category. OK, we’re bent. But neither of us fall into that gay clone scene 100%. We fall somewhere in between. Anyone who has accused me and Holly of perpetrating the gay stereotypes is talking through their own arse. They just don’t know what the stereotype is — there are about ten. I don’t think I’m stereotyped at all. I’m quite ordinary in that way.

"One thing ’Relax’ did was show how obsessed and prejudiced people are about sex. People are going to find out that there is more to Frankie than gay machos into leather and all that crap. I mean, we do have our own morals. I do feel strongly about a lot of things —like an anti-war stance. As The Peech Boys said, ’Life is something special’ It’s as simple as this — I’m having a great laugh and I don’t want anybody to press a button and take it away from me. That’s what annoys me more than anything — people using other people."

With that debut’s miraculous success, Frankie find themselves in a position to extend the fantasy that, presumably, is their raison d’etre to begin with. Likewise, their label, the irrepressible Zang Tumb Tuum, suddenly find the freedom on their hands to do what the hell they want. Paul is wary of the need to avoid complacency all round.

"It can be difficult because we realised our main ambition with the first record. I mean, I everyone wants to sell a million. In a way, that success makes it so much harder to follow. So it gives us that sense of challenge. There’s elements I can’t handle, like the thought that I might be able to go out and buy my own house. Amazing! It’s things like that. Also, wondering how we would go down in America. I just hope we don’t have to go to The States — I don’t think I’d get out alive!!! All the fame that goes with it though — because we didn’t get to do TOTP regularly etc., it hasn’t been realised fully. There’s no real personalities there. Nobody know who we are. I know Holly treats it like an art, so he’s serious enough about it not to become complacent. I treat money too lightly to become obsessed with it."

If anything, Frankie’s runaway success gives ZTT the license to gamble a little more frivolously, to kick over the traces with more gay abandon, with more license to toy with new possibilities and improbabilities. ZTT promises to treat pop music with a little respect for the madness and inventiveness amongst us. If pop has to be superficial, then ZTT would ensure that theirs would be a superficial adventure. At least. Frankie’s speedy upsurge cast itself even beyond their sky-high expectations, From now on, the fantasy would take shape. As they all willed it to be.

"The idea of fantasy in anything we do enables us to be even more creative. It goes for all the band, All our little dreams are being realised. Frankie exists so that we can live them out publicly. There’s so many sides to it as well — video, artwork, as well as records. Everything that happens with ZTT (as a label) is important to the development of Frankie. It has proved that it can work. I’m just happy that I’m living. Sometimes it’s that easy.

"What makes me jump up and down? Well, there’s things that make me jump with ecstacy. Then there’s things that make me jump with fear. Planes — they bring out the fear in me. I’m sure that I’ll die in a plane. I have this feeling. But Frankie? I want it to be a celebration of being alive!! I want it to say that the world has no real reason to be gloomy. The only problem there should be is death. It sounds too simplistic to put it like that. But it should be that black’n’white.

"I sometimes worry that what we do is analysed far too deeply. That’s why we would sooner do interviews with the teenybop mags from now on, rather than the others. Ultimately, they’re the ones that buy the records — the kids."

It surprises him that the sociologists of the pop world were intent on ripping apart the whole rhyme and reason of their existence when, to him, they were making a record about something so unambiguous and unblurred as coming. He didn’t want Frankie to be seen as some over-serious pop resolve. He wanted it to be seen as an orgy of pleasure. Ideally, Frankie would be like humping your best friend. An ideal fantasy… a little bit tempting, daring, downright depraved. They wanted to flaunt their sense of fun, take their masturbatory fantasy out into the open where they imagine it belongs — with a dash of indecency and a sprinkling of the forbidden. Sex was neither their manifesto nor their shock tactic but if that’s the way you wanted it… It had bugger all to do with sexual politics and everything to do with the celebration of the sexual act (whoever, wherever).

Paul tells me that he worries that people think Frankie have no depth. And I wonder along with him. He never read too much into it. People might tell him that ’Relax’ (for all the fuss and bother) was as emancipating — and invigorating — as a sticky, stained copy of ’S&M Monthly’. He’d simply smile that ardent, endearing smile of his.

"People were telling us what it was about. Maybe that was part of the beauty of it. Since it was such a massive hit, we can sit back and laugh at all that was said about it. There was a time when it was a bit tedious though — when everyone seemed to be upset about it. Holly insists that the record was about selfmotivation, finding an excuse to be happy. That’s what we’re all about. And what better way to get happy than sex? People are happiest when they come — in that instant. ’Relax’ proclaimed that we were the outsiders and the new single continues that. We never will fit in. It took a long time for The Thompson Twins to start talking to us. Mind you, that might have something to do with Holly writing ’Thompson Twats’ on their dressing-room door. Most of those pop-stars are so standoffish towards us for some reason. For me, the most uncool thing to be is cool.

I can’t look ahead at all. I can’t see us twelve months from now and try to envisage what we’d be like. I’m not that presumptuous. I can only see it in short stages. There was so much waiting for the new single to come out. I just couldn’t wait. What ’Two Tribes’ wanted to do was talk about happiness, but with more depth than ’Relax’, I thought the first single was a bit bland like that, strangely enough. The Idea is basically the same — just saying, whatever’s going on, have a good time. Every single is going to be different. ’Power Of Love’, which we did for the Peel Session might just be the third single. When the album finally arrives, it will be so diverse, every song will be different. To a certain extent, it will have that sex element throughout. Every thing we do seems to be done in a very sexy way! I think, even if ’Relax’ wasn’t about sex it would still have been dead sexy — just the sound of it was so full of that sex feel. That’s why we listen to so much black music — that incredible sex rhythm. I love songs that make you want to dance or make you want to cry — mostly black records. The last white record that made me cry was This Mortal Coil’s ’Song To The Siren’ — that was so full of emotion."

Frankie, he confides, have been overreacted to. Their live PA’s, particularly, he feels have been treated with more scandal than they deserved. "I’ve seen much worse things on a stage", he laughs. To him, Frankie are ’almost tame’. I tell him that ’sexism’ is an interesting word to play about with. He smiles a knowing smile.

There was all that fuss about the way we presented our act on ’The Tube’ — about the semi-naked girl. Well, she wanted her face on the screen as much as we wanted ours. I say ’bullshit’ to all that controversy. Do what you fucking want! It’s okay if it’s your bag to sit down and complain about being put down as a woman, but it’s not my problem. I personally don’t feel sorry for women like that, because I think they bring it upon themselves. Instead of going out and having a laugh, they want to sit and brood about it all day. There’s so many unnecessary problems in the world. Why does any woman want to complain that showing a pair of tits is being unfair to them? It’s not really a problem. I know women and I know they’re not all the same. But I don’t think in terms of male/female, black/white. So what I say is ’If you want your fanny shown in a magazine — go an’ do it gal’. It’s been there for years and the world goes round because it’s like that. I suppose I’m a bit of a fatalist… I believe everything just happens — as though everything was meant. To me, when you’re fucking somebody, that person is a sex-object — everyone wants to come. You become totally selfish when you’re pumping away.

"I don’t want to wave banners for anyone else. It’s like with my gay sexuality. If someone wants to call me a stereo-typed gay, then that’s their problem. It doesn’t really affect me. If people can just see a moustache… it’s a natural instinct to label people. We do it all the time. For me, it’s a matter of realising how unimportant we all are as people. The only thing that’s important is this earth spinning around. As a mass, we’re very important, but as individuals we’re not important at all. I’d just tell people not to worry about the categorisations that are put upon them. They have to define it for themselves."

Paul was telling me how much they want to break down the last taboo: sexuality and, more specifically, homosexuality. Frankie don’t believe in a subtle means of persuasion. Instead, they try to take the argument by storm — believing that if they are seen to enjoy it enough, the barricades will topple accordingly. Frankie’s hell-for-leather misogyny is like the antithesis of Boy George’s huggable sweetness. I suggest to Paul that George’s polish and tact has the edge that will change minds, win hearts. He disagrees.

"I think it’s the opposite way round. The only people who are interested in Culture Club now are middle-aged women. He’s not upsetting, anyone. He’s not breaking down any barriers. He’s just establishment. The only reason he gets away with it is because he sings nice little songs. I don’t think he’s at all interested in breaking down any barriers. He just does it for himself. He knows who’s buttering his fucking bread now. That’s why he’s been going on about Princess Diana being the best-dressed woman in Britain. He’s turned into something of a monster. To everyone, he’s just a singer. If you stuck on a porn movie with two fellas… it would be the same as it’s always been. You can only get away with it if you look like Boy George. It doesn’t mean that you can walk around with a pair of leather knickers on. Boy George, at the very most, is like an English eccentric. He sounds like Matt Monroe or something."

Paul admits that ’Relax’ probably changed nothing at all. He sighs a long sigh as he tells me that attitudes can’t really be changed at all. Most people who bought that record would just apply it to their own lives. It’s not necessarily about homosexual relations entirely, it just happened to be sung by someone who is gay. It can just be about someone that you love. You just apply it to whatever’s going on inside you. "Can I separate love and sex? Well, I love my dad but I don’t want to screw him."

As we turn to go, we catch sight of that man Morley watching a couple of young Frankie fans, gathering at the front door of ZTT waiting for a glimpse or maybe a quick autograph. He shakes his head in disapproval and tells me that Frankie’s next step will be nothing short of magnificent. The next step will make The Redskins. Killing Joke and The Clash look like minor Auberon Waugh’s. Outrage (so he says) for the sake of outrage. Because what else is there for the sheer sake of it? "With ’Two Tribes’, we’ll be doing things that have never been done with a pop record — in a way that is enjoyable and not serious or solemn. This next step will just be poking fun. It’s an exciting prospect."

I’d be the last to contend that particular point.