ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”

Frankie—How they went there

So what about it then, are sex and horror really the new Gods?

Paul leans back and looks out of the window to where half a dozen young girls are sitting, occasionally shouting in, and who will sit there all day and be replaced tomorrow by more of the same, turns back and replies:

“I wish it wasnt true, dont get me wrong, but I think weve proved that it is, just look how much better Relax sold once people were convinced it was dirty, look what the ban did for us, its what people want—shock and sex and “controversy“.

Its a hot Friday afternoon, and were sitting in the ZTT building, the surroundings are restrained, tasteful high-tech and the ‘centre of the universe feeling you get inside is something more than an overripe imagination at work; lets face it, thats exactly what Frankie have become, just look around you.

Its phenomenal, but then you dont need me to tell you that, Christ, its been on the front of the Echo twice, it must be pretty obvious by now, pretty obvious by then, Frankie Goes To Hollywood went there. Not only have they tapped the mood of the time, zeitgeist if you will, theyve re-defined, manipulated and established their own, creating for the first time a fad/trend/style which not only dominates the charts and the media, but also grips the fashion world: never before have one band appeared to be so completely in control of their own destiny.

So everyone is after them, and tracking them down is not an easy task. Finally, after weeks of chasing I find myself wandering through the Portobello Market and towards the eager little groups of young girls huddled outside my destination. And inside the polished, luxuriant, economy chic of ZTT. Escorted upstairs to the Frankie office where Paul Rutherford and Mark (respectively Boystown, vocalist and guitarist) are waiting. The Holly part of the interview, it transpires, is to take place back in Liverpool after all, but more of that later. In the meantime by conversation today for the most part was with Paul, who was forthcoming if a little apprehensive since, in his own words, he “keeps getting bollocked for saying things he shouldnt in interviews”.

So how does it feel to be rich and famous, and was he worried that having happened so quickly that it could go away again just as quickly? “I dont know about rich and famous, Id settle for richer and infamous, and that feels very nice indeed; as for it going away quickly I honestly dont think that if it all ended tomorrow Id have anything at all to complain about.

(cont.)
I mean if Id been working at it for twelve years and it came and went this quickly, then that would be unbearable, but lets face it we havent had to work at it nearly as hard as anybody else to get to where we are right now”.

And what about being there right now? “I dont really think about it that much, I dont think any of us do, its a very strange thing to stop and think about. Obviously were really confused because our lives have changed drastically, but because of the people that we are we try not to let it affect us, I think were quite sensible”.

Frankie as a band have never really been associated that strongly with Liverpool, until, that is, Frankie were huge then everyone wanted to know them. Did they, I asked, feel as though they were, as such, a ‘Liverpool Band or had they left all that behind them? “I think theres a lot of false patriotism behind this Liverpool thing, I mean I love Liverpool, the place is great, but when we started out there everybody regarded us as a bit of a joke, a cabaret band, now everyones your friend, its amazing how bitchy it all is. Its not like the sixties, but people pretend it is, theres no single recognisable sound or anything like that, were a band from Liverpool, not a Liverpool Band, People get at me and Holly for moving down to London, but wed have moved anyway, basically because were pretentious people we would have ended up in London whatever, but I never feel obliged to justify our move, well I mean it justifies itself really doesnt it?”

So far the phenomenal rise of FGTH has not been accompanied y the things normally associated with a band ‘Making It ie. the tours, the promotions, the slog, did they plan on following an orthodox band route from hereon in?

“Definitely, we all want to get out and play live but were being kept away from it at the moment, there were some plans to play a few select dates but theyve been shelved ‘till next year, its been decided that there are other things more important at the moment, but I cant say what”.

Like breaking America, for instance? “Good guess”.

How do you think youll go down in the States? “Im not at all sure, and to be quite honest with you, Im not arsed, Im not that impressed by America, I used to be, but Ive been there now, theyve got some sticky attitudes, I still quite like the place but I dont have that romantic image any more”.

Did the singles success surprise you?

“When Relax got to Number Six, that freaked me out, but after that it becomes so obvious. At first with Two Tribes they were saying, ‘You do know its going to go in at eighteen, then as it got closer to release it was ‘You do know itll go in Top Ten, then when it was about to go out, they just told us, ‘Thisll go in at Number One, so there was no surprise there at all. As for Relax going back up, that was a shock, in fact it was embarrassing more than anything, are we never going to see the back of it, dyou know what I mean?”

Are you sick of Relax yet?

“Id like to hear it again in six months, but not in between, shall we say”.

Moving on to talk about the press, mention is made of the recent stories in the Sunday Mirror, via The Evening Standard, casting doubt on the line-up of who actually played on Relax “I suppose youve only got to expect it, I mean, the press put you up there so once youre there theyll try and knock you down. O just wish theyd get their facts straight, they said that The Blockheads had played on the single, if, theyd asked me I couldve told them, the Blockheads were hired for a day to record a version of Relax, which they did, and which weve still got, you should hear it, its bloody awful, a different song altogether, bits of it really make us cringe”.

So, just for the record, how many people have actually played on the singles that have come out?

“How many? o.k., theres Ped, Gnasher and Mark, Holly and I, a guy called Andy Richards who plays keyboards, a guy called JJ who programmed the Fairlite, Louis Jordan played congas on Relax but on Two Tribes it was a drum machine. Oh, and Trevor Horn gets one really high note in, a backing vocal on Two Tribes. Thats it, the team”.

Did he feel the Frankie ‘sound would remain? “I think well always be changing, no two songs are that alike, but we wont make any conscious radical departure. The next single for instance is a ballad, which is in itself quite a change, but its just that were not going in straight lines. I dont think we ever will”.

How about the LP? “Well, were about a third of he way through it now, its called ‘Welcome to the Pleasure Dome and Relax and Two Tribes are on it because theyve got to be, the record company told us, but were going to do different versions again”.

So, are you happy with things at the moment? “Oh, I suppose, I think wed all like a house, and a car, but its got to the point where weve always wanted to be, so we are all happy, I think. But its like everything else, we dont really think about it that often. Its all part of the Frankie thing, were not that concerned about things, ere not concerned about ensnaring people, they either like us or they dont, we dont put pressure on people, say like Wham or someone like that who really go for the hard sell—we dont work the same way. Things like the ban really work in our favour, give us the dangerous edge, but thats something which has come about naturally”.

Whats the strangest thing your new found fame has thrust upon you? “Erm, people treating you as their hero, getting followed home on the bus, all them out there (he gestures out of the window at the girls, still huddled in a doorway oppostie waiting for a glimpse of the Frankies) all that big star thing, its funny being at the other end, I remember being really chuffed when I got Bryan Ferrys autograph, I suppose everyone should have heroes but I never honestly thought Id be one”.

With a final word (“World domination is the play, I think were going to do it”) Paul and Mark are off to harangue the more persistent fans, those whove been pushing things through Pauls letter box, and Im back off to Euston to pursue the second half of the interview.

Twenty-four hours later, back in Liverpool I finally manage to track Holly down to the home of Jayne Casey, (without whose help I might still be trying). Their previous connection is more than well known in Liverpool, now certainly isnt the time to re-tell the Big In Japan story, but the memory lingers. Holly is doing a more than passable Holly Johnson impression, flitting round the room taking photographs of everything in sight. I feel something of an intruder at my own interview, but Im sure I get much better answers to the questions that do get asked.

Im sure Lawrence will be delighted to learn that talk returns to the high quality of his clothes throughout the chat, and if he wants the commission for the stage gear, he should get on the phone right away.

Interrupting the general flow of conversation, I enquire how things are going, from a personal viewpoint at present, guardedly: “Oh, o.k., Ive just had a really good time in New York, that was great fun, and doing Top of the Pps last week was quite funny, meeting Fully, I told him ‘dont you dare put that record out”. Explanatory note: Fully being Pete Fulwell, one time co-manager of Erics, and of Erics records, therefore Hollys first vinyl offerings—one single done for Erics, the ‘b side of which is rumoured to be good. Fully is now responsible for Eternal Records and Wah! hence the TOPT encounter. End of explanatory note.

I inform Holly that Probe are, or were, in fact selling said single for a fiver, but that it was just a pile that had been lying around, not a repressing.

Moving on to the present, I ask Holly if hes enjoying ZTT, to which he replies that he thinks all record companies are ‘vermin, but given that factor was he working alright with them?

“Theyre good because they dont skimp on things and the product they release is always of the highest quality, but I still think theyre all vermin. What they have done is given us a great PR job”.

When Paul Morley gave an interview in which he spoke of the company as paramount and gave the band a very secondary position, I asked Holly if this bothered him?

“Of course it does, Im aware of those things and realise they are trying to build up their own image as much as possible”.

Do you think that devalues the music?

Oh defnitely, I mean Paul Morley talks like he built Frankie, but what have they given us? I mean, we didnt have a thirty piece orchestra before, but everything was there when Paul Morley saw us, the imagery, the songs. You know, the man who put the sperm on the 12 inch, thats about all he did put on it. Its in ZTTs advantage to make us look manufactured to keep a hold on us, not just from the point of view of knocking our confidence, but also itd be hard for us to sign anywhere else if we got dropped from their label if they can put that idea across successfully. Theyve built it up like its Trevor Horn and Paul Morley and were brainless”.

And you resent that?

“Yes I do, because I think its a device to hold onto us and keep us down, keep the ball in their court”.

Does it actually shake your confidence?

“It does, because you come to believe it, and when you try and do something new your confidence is knocked because you think ‘Well, its not Relax is it, and will ti sell x million. Thats how record companies work, divide and rule, which makes it easier to control the band, Ive stopped taking seriously what the record company say and started to look more at the motives behind it. I mean it got to a point a couple of months back where the directors of the record company were ringing me up and saying ‘Who do you think you are, you think you are Frankie Goes To Hollywood. They use tactics like that, like ringing you and saying, ‘The rest of the band hate you, theyve come and told us, which is really petty, but it works and you get all paranoid and do all sorts of paranoid things, Holly freaks out. They dont play pleasant games, the record companies”.

But do you feel in control at this point in time?

“I feel in control because of things like that, not because of a genuinely comfortable feeling. In a way were lucky because me and Paul have got some past, if wed not had that the pressure would crack us up”.

But then Frankie are a product of their own era—an Ultimate Marketing Concept for the Eighties. ZTT as a label and Paul Morley as a mouthpiece for that label will eagerly point out that Frankie are little more than a successful manipulation of Market Forces Read, or listen to, and of his interviews and youll see the ultimate synthesis of the cynical ‘business side of the business philosophy. Speak to A&R men, record company executives, youll the same thing.

This philoosophy is fine as far as it goes, and there is little doubt that Frankie owe much to the almost faultless promotion that ZTT provided for them, but the fact that Paul Morley can practically write-off the contribution misses one important thing, that Frankie existed before ZTT, the name, the band, the songs, the image, the personalities, and no amount of cunning market manipulation will work without that first stage of a product to promote, and only a ‘product as well considered and spontaneous as Frankie in the first place will ever be such a runaway success.

So Frankie have made the omelette, but not without breaking a few eggs, Holly seems well displeased with how things operate, but if they go on like this then soon, no doubt, it will be Frankie who call the shots, and the record companies who will listen. Then, truly, nothing will stop them.

D.S.