Title: Frankie Goes To Hollywood
Frankie Goes To Hollywood
EVERY DECADE throws up its scandalous pop sensation: Fifties – Elvis (No TV shots below the waist), Sixties - Beatles/Stones (‘With hair like that they ought to be locked up’), Seventies - Sex Pistols (Swearing and safety pins do not a desirable influence on our children make etc etc).
The Eighties were scarcely out of their infancy when the customary boot up the backside of the music industry came to shock the scene out of its easily-digestible fibre-free diet. Culture Club, Wham!, Spandau, Duran… there’s not a single one of them your grandmother probably hasn’t heard of and in a situation like that the time-honoured generation gap threatens to close.
Enter an acknowledged whizz kid record producer (Trevor Horn, who even Mick Jagger now wants to make his records) and a controversial journalist (Paul Morley) whose avowed aim is to promote records and Videos ‘for some 14-year-old in the North of England who hates the world.’
The pair of them launch a record label with a ludicrous name – Zang Tuum Tumb or ZTT for simplicity’s sake – and seek talent. Singing No 1 is a motley crew from Liverpool who decide to name themselves after an old newspaper headline concerting one Mr Sinatra. Frankie Goes To Hollywood is the phrase and Holly Johnson the brains behind its choice.
Holly, with his avant garde classic dress sense (well how else do you describe racecourse-loud check tweeds and silver-topped cane) emerges as the leader, appearing at the front of the stage alongside a backing vocalist who sports a Freddie Mercury moustache and a worried expression. His name is Paul Rutherford and as with Holly it soon emerges that he is gay.
Now whereas Boy George, for example, is busily telling the world about the insignificance of gender and sexuality in an enlightened society, the Frankies start flaunting their ‘deviance’ like naughty choirboys at a white wedding: Suggestive leathers, a video depicting Johnson as Nero in a suitable decadent setting and a debut single with an unambiguously controversial chorus. In fact ‘Relax don’t do it/When you want to go to it/Relax don’t do it when you want to come’ were virtually the only words of the song!
Well, the rest is history but to briefly sum up, DJ Mike Read’s banning of the record after it has already received 90 plays on Radio One and reached No 9 in the charts proved to be the catalyst which fired Relax to the top of the charts where it stayed for five weeks. It is still flying high even as we speak and with sales approaching two million it could yet topple Paul McCartney’s Mull of Kintyre as the biggest selling single of all time!
What about these accusations that it wasn’t yourselves but Ian Dury’s Blockheads who played on Relax?
‘When that appeared in The Sun we were going to break legs,’ asserts Nash good naturedly, ‘but then we thought ‘what the Hell’. If you want the whole story, when we first signed to ZTT, Trevor thought we must just be three naff 18-year-olds who couldn’t play our instruments.
‘He explained that in order to break the record, there ought to be star session musicians playing on it so, he got the Blockheads in. But in the end their version was too slick so he got us to make another. All the notes of the song were then fed through a Fairlight computer which makes them sound different – but there’s no difference between that technique and the one used by virtually every other group of giving their songs to a producer and letting him decide on the final sound.
‘We’re living in an age of technology and it’s there to use,’ he sums up. ‘Lots of bands use it but just don’t care to admit it.’
Well, that’s the case for the defence, m’lud, and not an unreasonable one, either. Right now the Frankies are adding the finishing touches to their first album and quite a treat it will be, too. As a special bonus for the millions of fans who have so far bought their records, the package will include a free 12” single containing even more mixes of Relax and Two Tribes.
‘We still haven’t got the perfect mix for Two Tribes,’ says Ped and it’s impossible to work out how hard he’s trying to keep a straight face. And hot on the heels of cover versions they’ve already brought out such as Gerry Marsden’s Ferry Across The Mersey (‘b’ side of Relax), there’ll be at least one other classic coming Frankie-style.
‘People might think that’s a cop-out’ complains Mark ‘but if it’s a song you’ve always admired. It’s great to be able to make someone else a few royalties.’
Indeed, especially when they’ve already made a few hundred thousand bob of their own!
With Two Tribes, similarly platinum successor also going for broke in the statistics stakes, FGTH are obviously going to be around for some time. But whither their relationship with DJ Read? Presumably, there must be an awful lot of embarrassment when they bump into each other in those hallowed halls of the Beeb surrounding the Top Of the Pops Studio?
‘Actually, the first time I saw him after the ban was when he interviewed me for the cable TV programme in Swindon. I was going to be really rude to him but it just wasn’t worth it in the end. Then off-screen he had the cheek to suggest we give him a gold disc for having made Relax such a monster hit. I don’t think I have to spell out what the answer was.’
This conversation takes place at the BBC TV studios which is quite understandable really for since their domination of the No 1 spot the band seem to spend much of their life there. Over bottles of subsidised Carlsberg 68 on a patio drenched in wonderful summer evening sunlight, Holly talks about his ambitions:
‘I’d love to be an actor,’ he begins, his slow, dreamy tones utterly at odds with the group’s aggressive records, ‘Indiana Jones has got to be my all time hero right now.
Harrison Ford, mmmm! Who else do I like? Mel Gibson is another and Paul Newman. But I reckon my first ambition is to go to America. Would you believe it? I’ve never been.’
Well, shortly afterwards this situation changed when the increasingly stylish singer found himself aboard the Virgin Atlantic Inaugural Flight. The rest of the band weren’t very happy about it, however, as they were supposed to be rehearsing that week-end.
The rest of the group, as they are only too eager to point out, tend to have been overlooked by the media. Apart from Paul Rutherford, FGTH comprises Peter ‘Ped’ Gill (drums) Mark O’Toole (bass) and Brian ‘Nasher’ Nash (guitar).
In contrast to the almost retiring nature of the two front men, The Lads as they call themselves, are three boisterous Liverpool youths whose every other word is either an obscenity or local Mersey-speak like ‘keks’ (trousers) and ‘Give it loads!’ (go for it!). Not unlike the majority in their native city, The Lads are brimming with natural street-wise wit. They’ve taken fame totally unneurotically, even if they aren’t recognised as often as the other two. But that’s because they haven’t been in the spotlight as much.
‘People have started writing in and saying ‘Why aren’t the others focussed on a bit more?’ Little girls want pictures of us,’ claims Ped. ‘In the early days (all of nine months age!) Paul and Holly were promoted because it’s easier to concentrate on two. The same with Wham! yet when they appear on stage they have a full backing band.’
“It’s time people realised we’re not just Trevor Horn’s puppets,’ adds Mark. ‘We might not be brilliant musicians but we are competent and we do write all our own songs. Relax and Two Tribes were written in my bedroom, then we gave the music to Holly to add the lyrics.’