Title: Tribal gathering
Author: Mike Chapple
Publish date: Jun 16 2004
Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s Two Tribes made musical history. Mike Chapple talks to the band’s guitarist, Nasher, about their success.
ARE we living in a land where sex and horror are the new gods? These are what some may consider are the prophetic words of Holly Johnson at the conclusion of one of the most awesome pop songs of the 1980s, Two Tribes by Liverpool’s Frankie Goes To Hollywood.
It was awesome not least because it is exactly 20 years ago that it shot straight to number one on the day of its release in an age when sales in excess of 100,000 were needed to reach the top of the singles charts and not the pitiful amount required today.
Awesome too that the controversial quintet - who flaunted two extrovert gay male singers and whose debut release and previous number one, Relax, had been banned by the Beeb for its advocation of the joys of copulation - had chosen their second release to concentrate on the threat of Armageddon.
It stayed at the top for nine weeks and it meant another set of lads from the Mersey was shaking the world.
Sex, horror and gods, indeed. Two decades on and the band’s guitarist Nasher "don’t call me Brian" Nash is reflecting on the sheer euphoric rush of it all.
"To be honest, it’s quite difficult to remember precise moments in time - 84 blurs into 85 and into 86," muses Brian in his droll Norris Green tones, unblunted despite half a lifetime living down in the Smoke.
"We all knew Two Tribes was going to get up pretty high on release date. I think the first time we realised just how big it was going to be was when we were doing a signing session at HMV in Church Street the week before."
At the time he remembers he was sharing a London pit with, bassist Mark O’Toole and Peter "Ped" Gill , and having a whale of a time - which perhaps explains some of the memory blanks.
"It was a bit chaotic," he understates.
"It was like something out of the Young Ones, out every night to clubs such as Stringfellows and the Hippodrome.
"It was all a bit a rock ‘n’ roll knowarramean? We had these red celebrity passes for the Hippodrome which allowed us to go straight to the front of the queue. We’d have mates up for the weekend and there’d be like 10 mad scallies and they’d ask on the door ‘are they with you?’ and in we’d go.
"It’s nice being able to share things like that." The fun extended to Top of the Pops and a "live" recording of Two Tribes.
"We asked the record company to get us some replica guns and we did it with Holly and Paul (Rutherford) waving them about and me with one and a stocking mask over me head.
"The BBC thought it was shocking but the Top of the Pops producer at the time Michael Hurll thought it made great television."
Visually, however, Two Tribes will forever be remembered by some for the ground-breaking video by Godley and Creme featuring caricatures of Cold War opponents Reagan and Soviet leader Chernenko in a no-holdsbarred wrestling match.
Together with the grandiose hi-tech sound production of Trevor Horn, it became part of the lush Frankie package contrived by their record company ZTT- a feature that Nasher feels sometimes detracted from the value of both the music and the band’s ability as musicians.
"At the time, video was becoming a huge medium and it wasn’t concert footage that ZTT wanted. They also wanted Trevor Horn to be the golden boy. But someone came up to me recently and said ‘I remember the Frankies live and you were wicked, man’,"
To emphasise the point, Nasher - who explains that Two Tribes was written by Mark, Ped and Holly - adds with dry Liverpudlian wit: "At the end of the day, you’ve still got to have a good song - after all you can’t whistle a video up a ladder."
Following Two Tribes, the band went on to score a Christmas number one with The Power of Love. It made them the first band since another bunch of Merseysiders, Gerry and the Pacemakers, to hit the top with their initial three releases.
After that things started to go a tad wobbly, however.
They tried to conquer the then notoriously conservative US market with a short tour.
Although Nasher feels that they were some of the best live gigs that the Frankies ever played - "it was like being on tour with a football team, with us all pulling together" - given hindsight it was never going to work.
"Can you imagine what they must have thought in the mid west about a band which had two guys who were openly gay?" he concludes.
The wheels finally came off after the release of the second album, Liverpool, which cost £1.2m, a then colossal amount which would come back to haunt them.
Soon after Holly and Paul left, effectively spelling the Frankies’ demise.
The subsequent years were notable for bitter wrangles with their record company including a High Court battle extraordinaire in which Johnson won not only his artistic freedom but substantial damages which had vast implications for the rest of the UK pop industry.
But that’s another story.
MEANWHILE, Nasher faced a lean time and only began to see any money from the Frankies’ golden period with the release of the greatest hits package in 1992 which finally recouped the recording costs the band had been lumped with.
These days Nasher lives in Finchley with his wife of 19 years, Claire, from Maghull, whom he says keeps his feet on the ground, and their three children Lois, Lucy and Taylor.
The money from Two Tribes and the other hits is still trickling in - "I’m not not rolling in it but there’s enough for a few takeaways".
Then there’s the cash gleaned from the notorious Frankie Says T-shirts, the rights to the slogans for which ZTT’s Paul Morley inadvisably sold off to the band for £50 each.
"If we hadn’t got that, mate, we’d still be living off cold cans of baked beans," he snorts with laughter.
He also has his own band, the eponymously-titled Nasher, a Liverpool season ticket which he shares with his dad, Eddie - who still lives in Norris Green - and still, despite rumours to the contrary, gets on well with the rest of the band.
He and Holly even exchange Christmas cards every year.
But, most importantly, he has no regrets.
"That would be picky," he concludes. "The regrets are far outweighed by all the great things that happened. It was great to see the reissue of Relax go back up the charts. John Lennon had to die for that to happen to his songs!
"I’ve also been around the world for nothing and I played in band that made two records which are in the top 10 best sellers of all time.
"So, I’m not complaining."