ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”

Frankie talk dirty!

After a year at the top, Frankie Goes To Hollywood have got a reputation to live up to. Chris Heath finds that theyre only too happy to oblige.

Join us for an evening of conversation, insults, sex, and, in the end, violence.

Hello,” says the reclining figure on the sofa in front of me, “Im Holly.”

Nervously I smile. As I clumsily lower my shoulder bag to the floor I try to acknowledge both the faces greeting me in this empty Brixton Academy dressing room, but as Holly and Paul are on opposite sides of the room its difficult.

Paul rises. “You can do it if you like,” he says to Holly, as if referring to an earlier contingency plan that has just been confirmed by their first impression of me. “Ill go on to the pub.”

“OK,” Holly replies, and Paul quietly slips out the door through which, only seconds before, I had entered. I sit down tentatively on the edge of Hollys sofa, rummaging in my bag for my tape recorder, my excuse for being there. Hoisting himself slightly more upright with his elbow Holly turns and stares at me, big bold eyes through tortoise-shell rimmed glasses:

“Whats your name then?”

Its impossible not to love Frankie Goes To Hollywood, and its impossible not to hate them. So sudden, so strong, and so strange has been their rise to success that they have transgressed nearly every rule and anti-rule of pop music, for which they are both cheered and jeered. If youre the average Jamming! reader — slightly ‘alternative I suspect — then maybe the things youll cheer are: the assault on taboos (sex, war), the use of anti-Reagan and anti-nuclear propaganda, the powerful antidote their music provides to the dishwater pop of Wham! and Duran Duran, and the use of art, artifice, and intellect in the marketing of pop. And the things youll jeer: the wimp-out third single, the re-emergence of the hackneyed rocknroll stereotypes, the intellectual masturbation of their most excessive marketing ploys, the way theyve sold you the same song again and again in a different shirt, the way they shy away from any definite political comment or commitment.

And if anyone thought Frankie were to be the great 80s alternative, the monumental destruction of all that went before, theyve been disappointed. If they are the voice of a generation its only of a generation that despairs at the very idea of having a voice of its own.

If you go to Holly Johnson expecting the arrogant dismissal of the past as compared with the (artists own) present which has become de rigeur for all budding pop messiahs all you get is talk of Bowie (“fabulous”) and The Rolling Stones (“theyre not ‘just another pop group — theyre The Rolling Stones!”)

But if (and I think this is a good idea) you instead look at Frankie as todays truly great exponent of the contradictions in music between marketing and honesty, pleasure and paypackets, love and macho guitar posing — then you might understand why Frankie Goes To Hollywood are, if not a wonderful group, a truly wonderful phenomena.

Wham! may have “made it big” in terms of record sales, video shoots and suntans, but its Frankie who hove actually made it. Its Frankie whove actually rediscovered the heights, with all the excess, fantasy, mystique, naivety, charisma, calculated ness, legend, and unreality that makes pop music something which anyone intelligent must simultaneously love and loathe.

And Holly is, of course, the spearhead of all this. Some people see ZTT as the core and essence of Frankie, but these days theyre wrong. ZTT may have been almost totally responsible for Frankies genesis and early growth but nowadays, as Holly persuasively points out, “to the people in the street the five of our faces are Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Its got our faces stomped on it and they cant take that away from us. No-ones going to shout ‘Frankie at Paul Morley or Trevor Horn in the street.”

Put like that it does sound a little ridiculous, doesnt it?

“I dont do many interviews or things like that,” explains Holly, looking away as if a little embarrassed about trying to make me feel privileged. “I select them very carefully, because I dont really like doing them. Mainly because of the past results. It would enhance your reputation,” he explains, angling his palm towards me, “a lot more if you said ‘Oh, I met Holly Johnson and he was on absolute arsehole and talked a lot of drivel, and misquoted me. Youd be the boy of the week on the paper, hove a good laugh, and it would be to your advantage. And thats what happens.”

I reply silently with my beseeching ‘well you can trust me, cant you? look, and wonder if he believes me. Then we talk. I ask and he answers, confident, modest, intelligent, guarded. Sincere? I dont know — he may be too clever. Often he laughs: “ha ha ha, ha ha ha”. Its a nice laugh, but then Hollys a disgustingly likeable person. I hate it when journalists go on about how nice people are — it smacks of a mixture of awe, sycophancy and self-congratulation — but Holly really is quite charming. Though I doubt hes an angel.

“Its felt like luck, incredible luck, the last twelve months. Though there were some people when it happened who stood up and said ‘I created this, this is my baby, Im responsible for this. That was typical of certain people.”

You mean Paul Morley?

“Im not naming any names. Just saying that I find all that ridiculous. Not even I created Frankie Goes To Hollywood, nor Paul Rutherford, Mark OToole, Brian Nash or Peter Gill. It was just the right people in the right place at the right time, and it worked. There was no central genius or ‘very-clever-person that invented the whole thing.”

What of Paul Morleys role anyway? He seems to have disappeared into the background of late. (A long silence, then Holly answers hesitantly) “Thats alright by me. (more silence). Actually were getting on quite well at the moment, better than we ever did. But I feel sorry for anyone who had to grow up in Manchester.”

Do you meet him often?

“I meet him occasionally”.

Does he have much say in what you do now?

“He just suggests interesting things. I rung him last week and said ‘Weve got to get Gilbert and George to do an album cover and he said ‘Yeah, yeah, definitely, I was going to ask them to do a video. I thought ‘brilliant, were on the some wavelength at last.”

Arent Paul Morley and Trevor Horn two of the most unlikely people in the world for you to have ended up as friends with?

“Extremely unlikely. Trevor more so than Paul, but then I can have a much longer conversation with Trevor because you can discuss music with him. You cant discuss it with Paul. You can only discuss concepts with him, or a T. Rex single or two.

“Id like to do three albums, then think ‘can I cope with this?.”

And the next one is called “Warriors Of The Wasteland”?

“Yes it is.”

That sounds like a Block Sabbath title.

“It does, but only if you look at it from a certain point of view. But if you look at it in terms of The Wasteland by T. S. Eliot, and the warriors from the film The Warriors, just street kids, then it gives a much more interesting slant.”

So is that how you see yourselves — Warriors of the Wasteland?

“In so much as everyone has to be. A warrior is just a term for an angry man.”

But its particularly a word for those who rise up out of, and claim to represent others in their positions, isnt it?

“Yes, it has got that nuance to it. Its romantic. Self-glorification. Which is what pop music is all about to a degree.

“No, it will not be a double album. We want it to be an ordinary album at an ordinary price. I thought ‘Pleasure Dome was a bit expensive.”

Are you proud of it?

“I think its a good album. Note that I didnt say its a good double album. The main weakness was that too much time was spent on the title track. It did need to be good, but it was dwelt on too much and some of the other tracks suffered. Like ‘Black Night White Light — that could have been amazing.”

And now theres a fourth single, a remixed, re-edited (but not re-recorded) version of ‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome, backed by T. Rexs ‘Get It On (the Peel Session version) and a new song, ‘Happy High. Do you feel a great pressure to have a fourth number one?

“I dont. I reckon Island and ZTT do. Incidentally I originally envisaged ‘Pleasure Dome as our third single. My plan was ‘Two Tribes, ‘Relax, ‘Pleasure Dome then ‘The Power Of Love,”

Is there any truth in the rumour that Island need a fourth single to repromote and help shift the remaining copies of the LP?

“I think that might have something to do with it. But I dont think there are many left.”

So for the Frankie campaign has been beautifully orchestrated in the smooth way each single has been impregnated with a ridiculous significance — ‘Relax — the sex single, ‘Two Tribes — war, ‘The Power Of Love — religion/love.

“Ooooh, I know” (as if confessing a guilty secret).

Do you hate that?

“No, I think the symbols are awfully cute. I like the way it altered the whole thing and made it feel special. But I would have been happier if it had been done in a less obvious way. Because it put a pressure on the writing team to come up with a main life subject.”

But werent all the songs written before that campaign was thought up?

“Yes, but not with that in mind. They were just normal songs.”

So whats the symbol for “Pleasure Dome”?

(Evasively) “I havent seen the artwork.”

Someone walks in and lobs a grey crumpled paper bag at Hollys feet. He feels inside and brings out two shirts.

Gifts from a fan outside. “Are they for me?” he asks, as if they could be for anyone else. “I hope they fit,” says the accompanying note. “Kenny from the fan club said you were a 24.”

One is grey. “Its not a bad shirt, this,” squeals Holly like a mother at the soles. “Its nice. I might wear this.” The other is white, short-sleeved. He looks dubious. “This ones a summer shirt. Maybe I wont wear it. Though if I ever go to Barbados I will. Its the kind of shirt you should wear in Barbados.”

Suddenly he discovers a small cheap pin-on brooch. “A little lizard! With green eyes!” he exclaims excitedly. “Ill wear this on a special occasion. Its sweet.”

These things happen if youre a pop star.

As I mentioned earlier the accepted folklore is that ‘Relax and ‘Two Tribes are the masterpieces; ‘The Power Of Love is the embarrassingly flabby sequel that broke the spell, burst the bubble. Id beg to disagree. Paul Morley (him again) used to annoy everyone when he went on about the magic of the perfect pop record, but he was on to something. And ‘The Power Of Love is a good example. The real celebration, the true exuberance, that pop can carry are here. Yes, thats right, it does revel in cliché, it is blatantly bold — but isnt that what the power of love is actually like? When it can, love screams and shouts, and does so in all the obvious ways because theyre the only ways it knows how — its boldness (the way its embarrasing, if you prefer) is perhaps the principle thing that convinces you that its real. Love doesnt wait till dark and then tiptoe quietly into the room if it can help it. It promises the dual threats of a total freedom and a frightening acceptance of possession: “Ill protect you from the hooded claw/keep the vampires from your door“. Wimp that I am, ‘The Power Of Love has made me cry more than once. Of course I dont tell Holly that, though Im sure hed understand:

“I think its a classic, infinitely better than ‘Relax or ‘Two Tribes. They were rock grooves. ‘The Power Of Love is a song. Anyone could sing ‘The Power Of Love. Frank Sinatra could — which I think is the mark of a good song. What do I think of those people that are cynical about it? Theyre the ones whove got C.S.E. English, arent they? Its the sort of song old people can sing in a pub, which I think is fabulous.”

So what reaction would he rather, I wonder, — two lovers swooning to it or a guy sitting alone in his bedroom aching to it?

“Id much rather people sung it in a pub,” he insists, “or at a football match. Thats the mark of a popular song. Or walking past some building workers and seeing a painter up a ladder whistling it. Thats writing a prole song.

“Its the only good song Ive ever written. Thats why I feel so protective about it. It may be the only good song I ever write.”

Holly has plenty to say about other pop stars. Like Sade. Frankie gave her a rather over-the-top thumbs-up in the N.M.E. poll forms they handed in, and at first Holly tries to insist that “ooooh, we think shes fabulous, so stylish”. But after a bit of goading he admits they hate “the vibe shes laying down. Very Face magazine — a cocktail bar with Humphrey Bogart in the background wearing a white tuxedo”. Later he reveals that they all call her “The Marquis de Sade”.

Bronski Beat next: “I must say I thought ‘Aint Necessarily So was a fabulous thing to do, but Ive heard on the grapevine that they hate us. And I dont like their extreme leftism. I find the whole thing about the Pink Triangle redundant. But theyre sincere and they definitely have a place in the scheme of things, because theres that group in the Oxfam trenchcoats who like them and The Smiths.”

Ah yes, The Smiths… “I liked the album cover with Joe Dallesandro. Theres something I love about them and something I dont love. Theyre in danger of becoming a bit Howard Jones-y. Lyrically though, that album (‘The Smiths) was a bit of a masterpiece. That is to say a masterpiece from living in a city that is perpetually under a grey sky. Morrisseys aware of his appeal and uses it to full advantage. Theres a definite cloak of alternativism there. Theres the pretence of not being a pop idol, but hes far more a contender for pop idoldom than I am.”

I refuse to believe this. Despite his protestations to the contrary the Holly Johnson before me, hair swept back (“I cant do anything else with it”), smartly preened, even to the extent of wearing a tie-pin (“because I always get dinner on my ties otherwise”) is probably the ultimate candidate for pop idoldom. Still, hes right in suggesting that Morrissey isnt far behind.

Holly smiles. “I think wed better go to the pub.” And we walk out into the evening breeze, past the fans sitting on a parked van outside the back exit. They say nothing, just stare as we pass.

“Theyre kind of part of the furniture,” Holly explains, a little embarrassed that people actually spend their days waiting for a glimpse of him. “But one day they wont be there, and they werent there last year.” Will it be a better day for them when theyre gone? “They wont be so cold,” he answers with a wry smile.

Even the President Of The United States sometimes has to stand naked“, once rasped someone called Bob Dylan. “Ooooh, I must have a wee,” announces Holly on the walk to the pub. The effect isnt quite as strange, but the similarity is illuminating.

“Its a full moon,” he observes, looking up, “maybe thats why Ive got a sore throat.” We go into the pub.

I take a stool between Nasher and Holly. Opposite me are Ped and Mark — Marks arm encircles Zoe, an extra from their latest video. Paul sits detached from this circle, quietly chatting to Regine, their press officer. Changing to suit the mood of the new situation Holly grabs my notebook off me and sarcastically starts to recite my rough list of questions for the earlier interview. “What have the last 12 months meant to you! Ooooh!” I rise and wrestle to get it out of his hands until he releases it. Then the Lads — Ped Nasher and Mark — start. As they speak I copy down their words, to their chagrin, onto the pad on my knee. The Lads, as you will soon see, are the three rudest people Ive ever met.

Mark: “Who are you?”

“Hi Im Chris.”

Ped: “Do you wear tarts nickers?”

I dont answer.

Ped: “My names Jack The Lad and Im dirty as fuck. Ill kick your fuckin head in.”

I scribble down his words.

Nasher: “You cut me out of the picture (Nasher was missed off the last Frankie Jamming! cover, issue 19). Im not fuckin talking to you.”

Mark: “Paul Morleys got nothing to do with us.”

Ped: “Im going to get someone to show your arse off and show your balls to your chin.”

Nasher: “Im not talking to magazines anymore except when Im sober. If you print anything I say Ill show your chin your balls.”

Ped: ‘Write this down: ‘Testicles! ‘Balls! Write that down! If youre an iron hoof youre going to get decked. Do you know what an iron hoof is?”

I wait for elucidation.

Ped: “A poof! Are you a poof?”

Mind your own business.

Ped: “You are, arent you? (Pause) Youre just trying to be like Paul Morley, arent you (to the others) Hes a bit of a Morley, isnt he?”

Holly (to the others): “You all hate Morley!”

Mark: “No I dont!”

Nasher (to Holly): “We hate you. But we dont want that in the press.”

Mark (to Holly, pretending to be servile — this is all a joke) ‘Would you like me to polish your shoes? (to me) Have you ever tried to tongue your own hoof?”

Not often, I answer sarcastically.

All: “So you have tried then?”

Nashers food arrives. Whats he having today? Yummy. A pastie, chips, baked beans, and one of those small bits of lettuce known as ‘salad in pubs. He literally smothers it all in HP sauce and, carefully disregarding everything his mother ever told him about etiquette and nutrition, gobbles it up. I venture a question.

Do you like being famous?

Nasher: “No, I like Cornish pasties.”

Ped (with ridicule): “Youve got cords on! Jumbo cords! Hes got cords on! Ha ha ha ha ha ha.”

Ped is wearing a black and white cloth shirt, old jeans and training shoes.

Mark (about me): “Hes a Hesham boy.”

Holly (to me): “Are you a Hersham boy? (to Mark) Whats a Hersham boy?”

Ped (about me): “Hes trying to get up us.”

Nasher: “Youve actually caught us at a bit of a weird moment after four pints. (To Holly, about his own messy haircut) I get it cut at Smiles in Knightsbridge — where David Bowie gets his done.”

Ped (to me): “Why dont you ask us some questions?”

Nasher: “Youre a bit of a Morley, arent you?”

Mark (to the others): “Hes that arty he doesnt even interview people.”

We rise together to return to the Academy for photos, Holly is in a hurry — a dinner date. On the way out Nasher furiously feeds 10p pieces into the fruit machine. “Need the cash, eh?” I inquire. He doesnt answer. Suddenly, behind us, a fight erupts.

Apparently what has happened is that the locals at the bar, whod obviously been unhappy about the invasion of their territory throughout our drink, had offered up an empty insult like “Frankie fuck off” as we left. Which on the face of it was no more of an invitation to respond than the offensive treatment I had just received from the Lads (which was so offensive that, in the context, it actually seemed totally inoffensive). But Frankies new minder, eager to prove his credentials, moved up to the bar to challenge them. Fists pile on top of him and the place erupts. I thought this only happened in the movies. All of a sudden hes on the ground and I watch, as if in slow motion, as one of the aggressors raises a chair and deliberately brings it down on his head. Then Frankies road crew pull him clear and we all walk briskly away. The minder is covered in blood running down from a wound on his head. Back at the Academy an ambulance is called, and hes taken to hospital.

“We dont need minders; this wouldnt have happened if he hadnt been there,” says Paul softly. He seems the furthest removed from these antics, and the most troubled by them.

Later on an argument breaks out. Ped reckons they need more minders so that they can win the fights next time. The others, thankfully, insist hes wrong.

For once, Nasher looks depressed. “This is the price of fame,” he scowls.

“Ive never seen Spandau get fucked,” retorts Ped, still trying to argue his case.

Nasher explodes: “They dont go to fuckin ale houses, do they?”

… myth and reality…

… the ad for Frankies new single (‘The Next Best Thing) parades ‘THE BEST THING — listening to Mark OToole whisper words of wisdom in your ear while he strokes your inside thigh

… as my interviewees drift away I wander round the deserted Brixton Academy.

Below me is the fully set-up stage with its backdrop of huge geometrical rises, all lit up with brilliant whitebased lights. I turn round to see Mark OToole over in the darkness at the entrance of the foyer. Hes with Zoe. Slowly he leans over her shoulder and with gentle confidence kisses her deeply again and again and again…

These are the contradictions that make up Frankie. Holly, however, isnt one of The Lads. No, he talks about Picasso (“I know it sounds corny but I really like him”), Duncan Grant (“an English artist from the Bloomsbury Set — Id love a carpet designed by him”), and The Sun. “Im actually scared of them,” he reveals, abandoning his earlier boast that Frankie can use them. “They constantly ask you about sex, drugs, and now Aids. I dont like that kind of interview I think its bad.” He chats about the ‘banned Frankie book (out soon) — “the others were stupid enough to get interviewed in the cupboard in ZTT; I got taken out to dinner” — how much he likes ‘San Jose (“I sung it lying on the couch with the words in front of me — the Lads dont like it though”), and about Prince: “He asked me to present that award to him. Ive never met him. Would I like sex on the phone with him? Not in the least. Id rather ask him questions like ‘what synthesiser did you use on ‘Erotic City or where he gets his clothes from. He isnt my idea of sex on the phone.”

And the final whispers. Any regrets?

“Je ne regrette rien. Ha ha ha. No, its important not to regret anything, just to think ‘oh, Ive been there.”

Words for his disciples?

“I could only say something silly like the Bhuddah would say to his followers, ‘whatever I say to you is ridiculous, you must find out for yourself.”

Relax in retrospect?

“Its one of those records. ‘Relax will sound great in ten years time, like ‘I Cant Get No Satisfaction, or ‘My Generation or ‘All You Need Is Love do now. Its a monster. Theres nothing we can do about that, Im afraid, It was just an accident.”

The most anybody could expect of you?

“To arrive on time. Ha ha ha, ha ha ha.”

And now, world domination?

“It would be great. The total realisation of the arrogance of the name. It would be the total thing and I would enjoy it loads. Frankie Goes To Hollywood as the 1980s Beatles…”

The 1980s Beatles? Well see. Ive no doubt theyll have further exuberant triumphs, but also tears and tragedy before the spectacle of Frankie Goes To Hollywood is finally ironed out and stuck in place in the history books. Maybe theyll end up fat and disgusting, or abandoned and bitter, or happy and accepted, or maybe worse, more unthinkable, disasters will grip them. Whatever, I know the image of Frankie Goes To Hollywood that will remain with me: Holly, centre stage, his right hand raised, pinching his forefinger and thumb delicately together as if catching an invisible butterfly. Then with his eyes to heaven, letting out a smile that is between a sigh and a gasp, releasing it. All of the passion, the control, the daring, the contrivance, and the indescribable magnetism of Frankie Goes To Hollywood is captured in that gesture. And Ill think of the stolen lies carried with ‘The Power Of Love … men are but bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind… words, what are they? one tear will say more than all of them… dreams are like angels, they keep bad at bay… and Ill know that for us, if not for them, it was all worthwhile. But I dont envy them.