Title: Frankie in Italy (Part 1)
Author: Mark Ellen
Source: Smash Hits
Publish date: 28 February 1985
Frankie Goes To Hollywood are playing at the San Remo Song Festival. So are Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Bronski Beat, Sade, Chaka Khan and an awful lot of other people. Is it one of those nice, quiet affairs where everyone behaves themselves and goes to bed early with a hot milk and biscuits? No, it’s not. Mark Ellen still hasn’t fully recovered. Photos: Eric Watson
Through tunnels, over bridges, past peaks, across valleys, hired 12-seater minibus is snaking its way down an autostrade in the mountains of North Italy.
The view is spectacular: acres of orange roof tiles, clumps of palms, occasional church spires, mild Mediterranean waves lapping against the shore. The very picture of peace and tranquility.
Well… almost. Come inside the van for a second. A Rolling Stones LP is blaring from the speakers. A voice (Nasher’s) is shouting “whack it up, louder! It’s dead good, that!”, but unfortunately it’s already so loud that no-one can hear him. He gives up, clamps on a pair of headphones, gets out one of his own tape — AC/DC, ZZ Top, Peter Gabriel — stuffs it in his Walkman, cranks up the volume and leans back, blissfully deafened.
We’ve just passed the border guards — Holly: “Ooh, love those uniforms!” — and I’m collecting up the passports. The seven year old snap of Paul Rutherford looks nothing like the mysterious unshaven figure in the black cloak beside me. There’s two photos of B. P. Nash (Profession: apprentice electrician); “one before the nose job, one after,” laughs Paul. By the Distinguishing Marks section in Mark O’Toole’s passport, it reads “birthmark over left eye”; in W. H. Johnson’s passport, he’s written the words “great beauty and freckles”. Six years ago he claimed he was a professional artist; today he’s emptying crayons out of a plastic Superman bag (nicked from a shop in Rome airport) and drawing the coastline in his sketchbook. “Very Picasso: grins Mark. “Very Holly Johnson.”
Ped’s not with them. He claims to have hurt his back falling down some stairs but Nash reckons he did it on purpose because he didn’t want to come. What he’s missing is the 35th Festival Della Canzone Italiana in San Remo, a live TV broadcast that’ll reach 80 million Italians over three days and will later be networked to a further 100 million people worldwide (staggering but true). It consists of endless clean-cut Italian pop stars — all, apparently, singing the same song — plus a smattering of international acts. “Duran Duran — Welcome To San Remo” read the billboard posters by the roadside. “Sade — Welcome To San Remo”. Bronski Beat… Spandau…
“So where’s the Frankie posters then?” grumbles Nasher. He’s already decided the whole event’s going to be “shite” and goes back to hanging out the van window and calling anyone who’ll listen “a plank”.
We arrive in San Remo and things get worse. Everyone hates their hotel rooms and wants to move somewhere bigger, they’re told they’ll have to travel by taxi over the next few days (“Duran are bound to have limos”), and they’re starving hungry and “we want some scran — NOW!”
Nash stares forlornly at the street outside. It’s crammed with exclusive restaurants, cafes and cake shops. “Where’s the MacDonald’s then? The record company are going to hell for this!”
But then hell is what they’re used to. Wherever you find Frankie Goes To Hollywood, you also find someone from the record company paying the bills, and picking up the pieces. This time it’s the turn of Franco, a frail bespectacled bloke from their Italian label. He knows what he’s in for. He’s heard the stories: about the time Mark and Nash ferried all the furniture out of Holly’s hotel room — out the window and along a ledge four floors up — just to “give him some grief” when he got back later; about how the lads refused to do interviews in Rome and just sat around spraying people with coca cola; about how Billy Idol once started smashing the lads’ flat up and they all lent him a hand; about how they pelt unwanted fans with wet look rolls.
By the time we’ve all piled into a nearby restaurant, Franco’s looking badly shaken.
“I’ll have hot steak, hot carrots and hot peas: says Holly. “And I’ll have hot steak and hot spinach and hot carrots and hot chips,” says Mark. “Hot veal and hot chips and hot carrots and hot peas,” demands Nasher. “…Hot steak AND hot veal and hot carrots and hot peas and hot chips,” says Holly. “Just the mussels, ta,” says Paul. “…Hot steak AND hot veal AND hot spaghetti and hot chips and hot carrots and hot chips and hot peas,” says Mark. “…And hot pizza AND hot steak AND hot veal AND hot spaghetti and hot chips…”
Franco looks as though he’s just ordered a nervous breakdown. It should be ready in about five minutes time.
It’s 12 noon the next day. The reception in the group’s hotel is fair humming with activity. Radio and magazine reporters jostle for space with TV crews. Holly Johnson — red bow-tie, grey baggy pinstripe suit, leather cap on back to front — takes a break from searching for a lost crucifix “with real diamonds in it” and leans against a mirror to inspect his face. “Ooh,la,” he sighs. “Look at my crows’ feet! Ooh I do envy those Wham! boys. Still so young!” He’s 25 years old today.
So how does he feel, asks a national news crew excitedly?
“At this very moment I’m coming down with a cold, I threw up in the middle of the night, I woke up in a strange foreign country and I’d rather be in Barbados.” Apart from that he’s fine, thanks.
I wander around among the lights and cables listening to snatches of their interviews, all getting more ridiculous by the minute. This sort of thing:
Why, please, is Frankie so successful? Nasher: “It’s luck, pure luck.” What is the meaning of the sleeve notes? Holly: “They’re just a reflection of Paul Morley’s deepest indulgences.” Nash:”I can’t understand a word of them.” How important is Trevor Horn? Holly: “He’s not God, you know.” Does the word ‘moral’ mean anything to you? Paul: “We’re not immoral, just honest.” What do you think of Italian music? Nash: “Shite.” American music? Mark: “Shite.” Do you prefer blondes, brunettes or red heads? Holly (laughing): “All of them!”
Ten minutes of this and they all start getting a bit bored. “And when we get bored,” as Nash will remind you, “we start winding people up.”
I hear Holly telling someone he was once an apprentice brain surgeon, born in Kathmandu. Paul has suddenly become a Hare Krishna. He met Trevor Horn in a sauna bath in Amsterdam. Holly has a pet tiger called Tessa “but I don’t let it in the living room”. “Two Tribes” is about Nasher’s experiences in the Vietnam war.
Of course Frankie are old hands at this kind of thing. Once, at a huge Canadian press conference, they announced that the brilliant young artist responsible for the illustration on their LP sleeve was none other than Peter “Pedro” Gill. He got a spontaneous round of applause. “I’ve always been into Picasso,” he’d explained, modestly.
“Hot steak, hot ravioli, hot chips, hot peas, hot carrots…” We’re entrenched in another restaurant and Franco is fast approaching the end of his tether. The festival starts in a couple of hours and lots of the people appearing are being interviewed on the TV set in the corner. I can’t understand a word of it but you can guess the kind of shock/horror angle they’re taking by the way the camera keeps zooming in on Nick Rhodes’ lipstick. Spandau will be there, they say, and Frankie Goes To Hollywood (yells of approval), Sade, Chaka Khan, Bronski Beat…
Looking forward to meeting them all, are we?
“Bronski Beal” Holly drawls, “are beneath contempt” It’s disgusting, adds Paul, that people should make a career out of being “persecuted faggots”. “They’re right in line for a pair of steelies,” is Nasher’s opinion, adding “encore ravioli!”
“Good blokes,” is the verdict “Dead sound, all of them.”
“Two-faced,” says Paul quietly. “I met Gary Kemp in a club once. We had a great laugh. He even gave me a lift home. And the next week I read this thing about ‘I can’t take Frankie seriously as a band’. Well, I can’t be doing with that”
“Gary Kemp has got all the imagination of a trout” Mark decides, prodding a pizza. “She used to be a diplomat. Now she’s down the Laundromat.” Nash shakes his head sadly. “It’s shite. We could blow ‘em off stage anyday.”
Admit it — you’ll be dead nice to them when you see them all this evening. “Yeah, and they’ll be dead nice back,” says Paul. “That’s the game they play.”
Holly lays down his fork, clearing his throat. He’s about to make a speech. “I don’t like any pop groups,” he announces with a wry smile. “I don’t class what we do in the same category.”
“Franco! Encore hot carrots and hot steak and hot veal and hot chips…”
“Eh, Bastardos! One bottle of whisky and four coca-colas — NOW!”
It’s an hour later, we’re back in the hotel and Nasher’s having a nice, relaxing drink. In fact he’s having two or three. He’s just sprayed coca-cola all over the lounge walls and then chucked a few handfuls of coffee beans on the polished parquét floor. He’s got to go onstage in front of 31 million people in just under 50 minutes so he’s, you know, loosening up a bit.
Paul, Mark and Holly roll up — Holly in that hat — they pose for the snap on the cover and we pile into the taxis, locking all doors on the inside, and head for the TV studios.
“I’m engaged,” Nash tells a glassy-eyed girl who’s been sitting outside the hotel now for two whole days. “I’m marryin’ me bird. Don’t put that in the article or me fan mail’ll drop off. Look what happened to Andy Taylor!”
Half a mile down the coast and it’s pandemonium. For Frankie it’s “a bit oveer the top”; for me it’s unbelievable (almost frightening, actually). We’re 150 yards from the metal security gates and the polizia are linking arms to hold back the crowd. People are screaming, car horns blaring, faces being pressed to the window. As we’re rushed from the cars, an army of TV crews and newsmen starts backing up the ramp in front of us. “Hello, Frankie… which one is Frankie, please? Hello…” It’s madness. There’s more on the stairs. “Will you say hello, please, to Radio Verona from Duran Duran?” Mark looks livid. “We’re Spandau-bleedin’-Ballet yer plank!”
Seconds later comes the shrill sound of sirens. A convoy of two police cars, an estate car full of TV cameras and two gigantic black limousines wheels into the courtyard and the five members of Duran Duran are propelled into the entrance hall. The shrieks become almost deafening.
Frankie are now on the third floor heading for the dressing-rooms. Spandau are here, Sade’s here, Bronski Beat are on stage. Frankie are due on ANY SECOND NOW!
But Nasher has other plans.
He lurches drunkenly onto the balcony, shouting abuse at the odd security guard. Below him is the crowd, swaying, screaming, flickering with flashbulbs. Nash, get back here! He’s not listening. Slowly, he raises his arms.
“My public,” he bellows. “I LOVE YOU! VIVA IL PAPA!”
And with that he staggers downstairs…