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Singer Goes To Court, Wins Freedom From Frankie Pact

LONDON — Former Frankie Goes To Hollywood singer Holly Johnson has won a High Court case here against his former label, Zang Tumb Tumm Records. As a result, he will be able to pursue a solo career with MCA Records, with whom he recently signed.

Producer Trevor Horn, a co-owner of ZTT, had alleged that Johnson was still under contract to the label and could not sign with another company, but a High Court judge ruled Feb. 10 that restraints in an agreement signed five years ago by the two sides were unreasonable and unfair. The judge characterized ZTTs 1983 agreement with Frankie Goes To Hollywood as an “unreasonable restriction of trade” and dubbed the provision barring former members from entering into other record-company agreements “nonsensical.”

Experts relate the decision to the celebrated Schroeder/Macaulay judgment, in which a publishing agreement was overthrown for being in restraint of trade. It had been thought that that ruling had little application to recording contracts, where the investments involved are much higher, but it now appears the Schroeder/Macaulay judgment may indeed apply.

The judge also criticized ZTT for failing to exercise adequate control over expenditures. The sums spent on the bands recordings exceeded the agreement that only reasonable costs should be incurred, he ruled.

During the 16-day trial, it was revealed that the bands second album, “Liverpool,” had cost more than $1.3 million to produce. Production costs for the first album, “Welcome To The Pleasuredome,” and the singles “Relax” and “Two Tribes” were also described by the judge as excessive. ZTTs counsel had argued that extensive studio work was required to compensate for the bands limited musical capabilities.

No one from Frankie Goes To Hollywood played on “Relax” or “Two Tribes,” according to defense attorney Andrew Bateson. He alleged that session musicians and Horns studio wizardry were entirely responsible for the finished tracks. Even Johnsons voice had needed considerable studio enhancement to “bring it into line musically,” he said.

Released in October 1983 and initially banned by the BBC, “Relax” went on to become the fifth-biggest-selling single here ever, and “Two Tribes” was almost as successful. The album “Welcome To The Pleasuredome” did include some performances by band members, but most of the work was done by Horn, the defense charged.

The judge also examined Johnsons publishing agreement with ZTTs publishing arm, Perfect Songs, and ruled that clauses routinely included in such contracts after Schroeder/Macaulay were not sufficient protection from its implications. In particular, he struck down the provision that when a publisher has not exploited a copyright and an artist wishes to reclaim it, he must give notice of doing so within a set period — usually three or six months — after the expiration of the initial term.

No decision was made on who will pay the estimated $350,000 in court costs, but rumor had it that MCA helped finance Johnsons case.