Title: They’re back!
Author: Chris Heath
Source: Smash Hits
Publish date: 27 August 1986
Back! BACK! Yes, after 18 months of faffing about and not making any records and getting married and painting and motor racing and selling egg-cups and making Yorkshire puddings, Frankie Goes To Hollywood have… made a record. Chris Heath is rather impressed.
This time a couple of years ago Frankie Goes To Hollywood were doing rather well. Their second single, “Two Tribes”, was just about to go to number one for eight weeks, their first single, “Relax”, was climbing back up to number two (having already been at number one earlier in the year) to become the fifth best selling British single ever. They’d sold more t-shirts (with slogans like RELAX (DON’T DO IT), FRANKIE SAY WAR and ARM THE UNEMPLOYED) than any pop group had ever done before. Later in the year they were to have another number one, “The Power Of Love” and their LP, “Welcome To The Pleasuredome”, was supposedly the first album ever to sell over a million copies on advanced orders. They seemed completely unstoppable. But there were problems…
For one thing lots of people said that Frankie weren’t the slightest bit talented — their success was just due to some very clever promotion (the t-shirts, the endless different versions and re-mixes of the singles), the Mike Read “ban” of “Relax” that sent it shooting to number one and the skills of producer Trevor Horn. And even those who did believe that Frankie were talented had to admit that the group had already released all their best songs — the singles they had written before they were successful — and they desperately needed to write some new material. So, after a tour which included parts of Europe, Britain, America and Japan, followed by a holiday in Hawaii to recover, they had to get down to some hard work. It wasn’t easy.
First they went to Ireland. The only trouble was that it “wasn’t very well organised there.” Some of the group, who didn’t like the place in which they were staying, kept bunking off to Dublin for some fun. They all really wanted to get back to England but they couldn’t — they were now tax exiles. So they tried the Spanish holiday island or Ibiza instead.
”I didn’t like that,” remembers Holly. “It’s very hot with lots of flies.”
But a few rough versions of new songs were recorded, and they returned to Ireland. Slowly a little more work got done — Holly was writing lyrics, the three “lads”, Mark, Nasher and Ped, were writing the music (with Trevor Horn hardly ever anywhere in sight) and Paul was twiddling his thumbs and getting a bit fed up. Then they went to Holland to record the album. Except that they could only record part of it — they hadn’t written enough songs yet. Off they shot, to Jersey this time, for more “inspiration”.
”Was it hard to write the songs?” sniggers Nasher. “If there was a pub nearby it was hard. If there wasn’t, it wasn’t so hard.”
Finally they returned to Holland and finished the album, which, after a series of ludicrous titles, they simply called “Liverpool”, and which includes songs like “Warriors Of The Wasteland”, “Is There Anybody Out There?”, “Watching The Wild Life” and the new singles, “Rage Hard”.
The new stuff’s quite heavy,” says Nasher, “even though that’s a bit of a cliché. But it’s good. We’ve been more grown-up in the attitude and execution and we’ve been much more involved, has more shout.”
”Some of the stuff on the last album was a bit crappy,” admits Ped (and they all seem to agree with this except for Holly). “This album’s ten times better. It’s more what we really are — five fellas from Liverpool singing songs about the way they feel about things.”
”’Rage Hard’,” says Holly, “is quite alternative — moody rather than commercial sounding. Have you read the poem Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night by Dylan Thomas? It’s kind of inspired by that. It’s an incantation against death and lethargy, and it’s supposed to encourage lots of creative idealism in the listener.”
Hmmmmm. What would the lads thing of that explanation?
”They’d laugh at me,” smiles Holly, “but I’m used to that.”
”I really don’t know,” sighs Holly Johnson wearily, tucking into a bowl of strawberries and cream. “Why do people keep saying I’m leaving the group?” Apparently there’s not a shred of truth in the rumour.
”Of course I’ve felt like leaving loads of times,” he says, “when I’ve been really fed up on tour and wished I was back on the dole in Liverpool. But I feel like that about anything.” And, in any case, there’s no way he’s going to give all this up now — he hasn’t made nearly enough money.
”I used to say when I hadn’t any money that I wasn’t into material things,” he admits, “and I did things like throw the television out of the window. But as soon as I experienced money and I could buy some of the things I liked, I started to enjoy that. And, whatever people think, I’m not a millionaire or a half millionaire or even a quarter millionaire. I’m not stinking rich because I’m not the greatest businessman on earth.”
Consequently, he sniffs, he can’t afford to but too many object d’art, though it’s one of his greatest passions.
”I do like conversations about artists. I’m quite into the English artists of the Bloomsbury group at the moment.” Nevertheless he has to content himself, for the most part, with his own masterworks. He recently took up oil painting and has knocked out “some flowers, the head coming out of the waves.” Another little pop star sideline like Nick Rhodes’ Polaroids? He shakes his head. “I don’t think anything could be like Nick Rhodes’ Polaroids,” he tuts.
As well as painting he’s been “going to a few exhibitions, the cinema, watching videos, playing with my synthesiser, writing poems and reading books” in his London flat.
”I tend to get things out of my system in my poems so they’re much more extreme than my song words,” he explains. “Whether it be about injustice or art of genius or lust or Dublin. My favourite line is in one called ‘Howling Lust’ — it ends ‘rapes you in the kitchen’. That’s my favourite.”
Doesn’t he do anything that isn’t at all, er, “arty”? It seems not.
”When I grow up I’d like to be Jean Cocteau,” he giggles. “I always want to be doing something creative; to do with conjuring something from nothing.” Even in Ireland he helped out a mate called Alice by serving for a day in her pottery shop.
”I had to sign all these bloody autographs,” he frowns, “and I said ‘I’m not signing any more unless you buy something’ so all the 30p egg-cups went immediately. People who ask for autographs can be a bit horrible because they’re not always your fans. Some idiot in Liverpool the other day said ‘Aren’t you in Frankie Goes To Babylon?’ and in Holland I was mistaken for the lead singer of the Pet Shop Boys. I laughed me head off!”
The best thing about Ireland, though, was his new crockery. “I got a nice hand-painted tea set. It’s lovely — it’s got cornflowers and poppies on it. I use it all the time. What’s a tea party at Holly Johnson’s like? Well, there’s biscuits, usually muesli cookies — I don’t like gingernuts. I make the tea and put it on a tray and put it on the coffee table. Depending what mood I’m in, I either say ‘help yourself’ or I do it. I don’t mind being ‘mum’ but I do tend to make a mess. I don’t make cakes but I’ve got a Kenwood Chef and I have made Yorkshire pudding in it. They rose really well.
”I haven’t asked the lads round for tea because I don’t think they’d come. That’s not their idea of a good time. They’d break the place! Well, they wouldn’t but I think they’d get pretty bored if I didn’t have any blue movies.”
”It was the best do I’ve ever been to,” grins Nasher. He means his wedding in July to Claire Bryce.
”I got married,” he explains simply, “because I was in love. When you’ve found someone, you might as well do it now rather than wait another six years.”
The best man was his old mate, Eddie.
”He stood up and said ‘I’ve known him for years and he’s still an ar-larse’ — that’s like ‘someone who is an old arsehole’,” laughs Nasher. “My speech? I said my mother-in-law borrowed her hat from Martin Degville because it had one of those numbers over the front and feathers in the back. She understood. Big Joan’s well up on Sigue Sigue Sputnick.”
The honeymoon was in the Seychelles “getting sunburnt, driving down the island, visiting other islands and doing, er, the usual thing you do on honeymoons.” Now they’re settled into their London flat, Claire’s getting ready to go back to her job as a nurse.
”I suppose I’ve got more responsibility,” Nasher considers, “because I got a new cat today. There’s two now, Clancy and this one. They don’t like each other at the moment — the other one freaked out this morning. But that’s as far as my marital responsibilities go — tow cats and my wife. The cats are the hardest.
”Who’s the boss?” he laughs. “There isn’t one. I make the breakfast and she makes dinner. I make beans on toast in the microwave Makr and Ped gave me as a wedding present. (Paul, Holly and their manager gave him a giant chess set.) She makes all kinds of exotic dishes for dinner. She’s just started having a crack at curries — she didn’t think she liked them, but she does now. I think she was always put off the idea of having hot poop the day after.
”Kids? I don’t think it’s fair at the moment living in a flat four floors up. But I love kids and when we do start we won’t stop. How many? How big’s a football team…?”
”I’m in love,” laughs Mark O’Toole. “I’m not embarrassed about it. I met Lorna when we were on tour in Florida — she was visiting her mum in Jacksonville — and we got engaged at Christmas. I proposed in Amsterdam in a hotel. We bought the ring there too — a white gold solitaire. That was quite good, going out to get that, because we thought it would be like a big happy day but it was chucking it down with rain. But we have a good laugh. We went to Pizzaland to celebrate. I had a plain one — but she likes all those toppings because she’s American — raw asparagus and stuff like that.
”I also rang up her mum and asked her permission. She said ‘yes’ and talked to me,” he sniggers. “about the responsibility. But we’re going to wait till we feel like it before getting married. I’d like to do it somewhere like Jamaica on the beach — without any hassles. Nasher’s wedding was a good laugh — the only thing was the cake was too late as we were too drunk to eat it. It was a good one, though, — four tiers with a fountain in the middle spouting water.”
And even though he says they tease Nasher about “Mr and Mrs”, he comfirms there’s not danger of Frankie ever falling apart.
”The only person who’s ever stormed out is Paul when I stuffed an ice cream in his face in the middle of a photo session when ‘Relax’ came out. He left for five minutes but then he came back.”
There were, says Mark, quite a few good “japes” back in those days. Before Frankie were too successful Paul would stay with friends in London while the rest of them all shared a room.
One night Holly came in with this girl, one of his mates, and we’d unscrewed all the doors and pulled all the lightbulbs out. We saw him go upstairs and we ran after him — he opened the door and it fell in, he went for the light and the light wasn’t working so he went for the bathroom light and that door fell in and we could hear him saying ‘somebody’s trying to burgle us, somebody’s trying to burgle us…’.”
But these days Frankie seem to spend a little less time messing about and a little more time thinking about the group.
”We’re the most original thing in 10 or 15 years. I think we’re… quite good.” In other words, better than A-ha — “They’re crap — they’re Norwegian, know what I mean?” — and Sigue “Sigue” Sputnik. “The new Frankie?” he laughs. “Nah. The difference is they’re crap.”
In fact Mark can see only one thing that can get in the Frankie’s way.
”I’m a bit worried,” he whispers, trying to conceal a huge grin, “about Nasher. He’s a bit of a husband. He goes home for his tea now and things like that!” But, he adds reassuringly, the matter’s in hand.
”We’ll sort him out — we’ll have to get him therapy I think.”
”I’ve been getting really bored,” sighs Paul Rutherford. “We were so busy before and then it stopped and we were out of the country and that made it worse. I think the tax exile bit was a mistake. It got really awful at one stage and we just wanted to go home. We felt so anxious and were away such a long time. Financially I should think it was the right thing to do and I did care about the money a bit, but now I’d rather be happy. What’s the point in having money if you can’t share it with your friends?”
Paul only does backing vocals on the new LP (as on all the previous records) so he escaped for a lot of the time to New York, “hanging out with friends who aren’t in the music business, just being normal, going out for a drink, watching movies and making movies with little video cameras.”
”It’s a boredom phase,” he explains, looking very bored indeed and winding his bandana impatiently around his body in every possible way. “I’m searching for new things to do. I suppose I’m a bit disinterested with it all.” Not that he’ll be storming out of Frankie just yet. “I’ll give it five years,” he smiles.
He’s even, amazingly enough, bored with what always seemed to be his main interest — expensive designer clothes. He’s not going to open the chain of shops he was rumoured to be starting — “it never really got off the ground” — and says “I’m just bored of that clothes bit.”
”Everyone is doing it now,” he explains. “It doesn’t work, it doesn’t mean as much now. It’s an obvious thing to do — every band get the advance, runs down to South Molton Street, buys all the clothes, wears them and looks really awful. It used to be six Rolls Royces and a house in the country; now it’s a modest flat filled with lots of expensive clothes.”
So, any guesses why he got rid of his moustache?
”I got bored with it,” says Paul. “I think that five years was enough.”
Any guesses what he thinks of pop music these days?
”It’s boring,” he says. “I’m listening to more and more film soundtracks — Enico Morricone’s Once Upon A Time In The West, Some Like It Hot, Let’s Make Love, Doris Day things…”
Or why he doesn’t spend so much time with Holly anymore?
”We don’t feel the need. We’re no less big mates but we’ve been on top of each other for goodness knows how many years and you get sick after a bit.”
So what doesn’t Paul find boring? Well, he confesses to playing electronic chess, darts and Trivial Pursuit while they were away and once he moves into his London home (he lives in Fulham with a couple of friends at the moment) he’s looking forward to getting out his collection of sophisticated modern toys.
”My favourite is a Mickey Mouse that somebody bought me in Japan,” he says, perking up a bit. “It’s dressed as a magician and you press his hand down and this handkerchief lifts up and you get a piece of gum. It’s melon-flavoured.”
”I’m a bit quieter than people thing,” mutters Ped. “A lot of people think I’m just completely and utterly mad, just like an animal. There’s a little bit of that in me, but I’m also a little shy.”
Shy?! Is this really the person who is supposed to do nothing other than bash the drums, shout obscenities and ask ‘Who’s getting the ale in?’ It seems as if Ped’s changed his ways.
”I regret spending too much money on alcohol and going out too much,” he confesses. “I got fat. I put on a couple of stone, just drinking every night, and I’m trying to get rid of it. I go to the gym with Mark.”
And, though he spends nearly all of his times on the group — “my life for the last three or four years” — he’s also found time to do some motor racing.
”Not racing,” he points out quickly. “Just learning. It’s a good laugh and a break from all this. I suppose it’s the risk that appeals to me — that you can seriously hurt yourself and therefore you’ve got to be good it you want to do it. You can’t just have lots of money. I’ve been down five or six times and the last time I spun the car off at about 90 m.p.h.”
Surprisingly Ped’s got nothing but respect and admiration for Andrew Ridgeley.
”He races,” says Ped, clearly impressed. “If I gave him a race he’d probably thrash me. He has these accidents because he’s trying hard, he’s trying his best. And it’s a good thing to do.”
At home in his rented flat (he’s just bought one of his own which he’ll move into soon) it’s also cars he turns his mind to if he has the time — there’s his Ford Capri 2.8 Injection and a Ferrari outside and endless technical car magazines scattered round indoors. And, he explains, there isn’t a girlfriend in sight to “distract” him.
”I had one for four years and we finished three months back. It hasn’t bothered me since. It wasn’t because of the band, it was just me and her. It’s not really sad, it’s a relief on both parts. And I’m going to live by myself now unless somebody comes along. If it happens, it happens. They’d have to be able to put up with me. I’m untidy — my place looks like a bomb’s hit it with all the dirty clothes from last week, books, magazines, videos and anything that comes through the door on the floor. I’m a bit lazy too.”
They’d also have to prepare to give up going out dancing. “I can’t dance,” he sniggers, “so I don’t go to boogie. I try when I’m drunk and it usually ends up with me flat on me face.”
But he doesn’t care. He’s happy enough being in what he reckons is a very “special” pop group.
”We’re special because of our attitude,” he explains. “We’re supposed to be big pop stars but we’re also scruffy Liverpool lads, obnoxious animals. And that’s what’s good — we’ve got a bit of both.”