ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”

Pink and perky!

GAVIN MARTIN takes a sleaze-cruise with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD—Liverpools answer to Sodom and Gomorrah. Photos by Anton Corbijn.

FRANKIE GOES TO DROOLYWOOD!


THIS BIG plastic igloo with its shiny red surfaces and its gaudy yellow lights is the ideal place to fill up with junk food. You sink into the gooey, unwholesome surrounds the same way as you lap up the relish covered, cheese slobbered burgers in the soft doughy buns.

But Frankie never knows where to stop, his password in life is “give it loads”, he rejoices in excess. “Have you ever had a tastee freeze? Theyre really… its sort of like a very soft, really creamy, sweet ice cream. It just slides down inside, ooo-ooh, really divine.”

Frankie scoops the spoon into the aereated nipple of coco coloured whipstuff and stretches it out towards his other half, Mmmm “Try It, try it youll love, youll love.” The globule of Ice, full fat milk solids, preservatives and colour slithers down the throat like a cool healing balm onto the Chilli, French Fries and Cheeseburger already in there vying for space. Frankie leans back, rolls his eyes, temporarily sated, paralysed with satisfaction.

But soon hell be up and off again out into the night seeing what other ways he can amuse and stimulate himself.

Hes at it already, Earls Court Is Frankies kind of town after all. Over at the salad bar a bronzed, bearded Middle Eastern type catches their attention. I look up from my grub and they smile knowingly at each other. “Yes he is quite cute, isnt he?” Frankie is getting ready for the evening, the cruising and the cowboys (he loves to see a guy dressed in uniform), the scribbled indiscretions on the toilet wall and, his favourite bit, at 11 oclock when they all leave the pub and line up around the block, taking it in turns to go cruising. Theres all sorts of little games and codes that lie ahead, and when he gets onto the tube and sees a guy carrying a motorcycle helmet (a motorcycle helmet on the tube!) Frankie feels at home.

“It was really great last night we had to go out and give out 20 invitations to act as extras in our video. So Iit was like going out and being told to pick up 20 men,” smiles Paul.

A LITTLE HISTORY


WHAT AM I doing here? Someone who just stopped reading Picture Of Dorian Gray because it was “too faggy”, whod rather listen to half an hour of Mary Whitehouse than two minutes of Quentin Crisp, whos never heard of homophobia, just “good sense”.

(cont.)
To wit: finding out the whys and wherefores behind Liverpool post-punk S&M gay cabaret act Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the latest release from the sparkling Zang Tumb Tuum conglomerate. And also filling in a few details, sinking into the environment they feel at home in trying to keep an open mind. And thats all Im keeping open, mind.

Frankie Goes To Hollywood was formed just over a year ago by Holly Johnson one time guitarist with Big In Japan and solo artist on Liverpool independent label Erics. Fuelled on anything from Bowie to Burroughs, Jean Genet to Lindsay Kemp, The Velvet Underground to T.Rex, Johnson set about presenting a scorching leather bound version of the lifestyle he and soon to be recruited pal Paul Rutherford led.

They built up a steady live reputation, female duo The Leatherpettes providing attraction for the heteros, and were approached by a succession of A&R men whose stock reaction was “I loved it, but I dont know what my boss would think”. An appearance on The Tube however brought response from the then emerging Morley/Horn ZTT partnership and the group took the opportunity to work with the famous producer immediately

BLESSED ARE THE POP STARS—THEY WILL GET PAID TO INDULGE THEIR FANTASIES


“WE USED to know Paul Morley when he was in Manchester and he was working for the NME. We used to hate him to be quite honest, he was like this div from Manchester. He made people like Howard Devoto, created their whole standing as far as the press were concerned. Made them out to be much bigger than their capabilities, which was a shame because Howard Devoto was quite talented. Maybe now hes doing the same thing with us in a way. I guess we fitted into his little fantasy, and he fitted into ours.”—Holly.

FGTH didnt receive an advance from ZTT (“When youre working with someone like Trevor Horn you dont mind making sacrifices”) and theyre down in London staying in the Columbia Hotel on £5 a day expenses. Still they seem to have enough to get some of that smoking stuff and both Paul and Holly are quite relaxed, interspersing conversation with slow stoned giggles. They start to tell me about the video they are ostensibly here to make with Bernard Rose (who directed UB40s ‘Red Red Wine shot).

Holly: “The basic idea is that theres this virginal character Frankie and his girlfriends just left him. Hes never had sex and hes walking down the street and gets lured into an orgy scene by this character in black. Its going to be a club scene, the sort of clubs we like to go to. Its interesting drawing a comparison with the Soft Cell thing. Where they pantomimed it were going to do it for real. OK? So its going to be Emperor Nero in this club, a huge man who gets his whole body shaved for sexual kicks and feeds people to tigers and lions. Were using the actual Esso tiger…”

“Really strong images, like a Fellini film,” chips In Paul, inexplicably.

“For us its just like getting someone else to pay for our fantasies. Thats the whole idea. Were just having a party. Its such wonderful imagery to use, though if you havent been in an Amsterdam leather bar you wont quite understand.

“Theres lots of ideas behind the name, we twist it loads. It changes all the time. If you imagine it as this Hollywood Babylon on the other side of the planet that Frankie wants to get to. Hes lived his whole life hearing about, seeing images of it filtered through movies and television—its where weve got all our information about living and how to communicate with people.”

But they seem intent on warping the golden sense data of the dream factory. Compelled to a sort of homo-erotic outrage.

“We really had to hit hard to get off the streets, child. To create a reaction, especially in Liverpool because theres so many bands.

(cont.)
To stand out we had to give it loads, loads of sex because that was the easiest and quickest shocker to get attention.”

But all that ancient Roman, Nero imagery, isnt it very decadent, very stupid?

“Its totally decadent but then thats totally glamorous as well. Things havent really changed. The way people used to go and watch gladiator fights and much blood and gore—they just go to the movies now. Is it a sign of a society about to tumble? Well its been tumbling for a long time. It grows really quickly again, I dont think it will ever die itll just reach a limbo.”

ANOTHER LUMP OF SUGAR IN A DIFFERENT ORIFICE


THE TRACK the video is promoting is ‘Relax, the first ever FGTH release. A monster jam discosex workout. Its Frankie as youd expect him to emerge, all squelching and sucking, kept on course by a thundering pelvic thrust metronome beat. Its roots are in the disco of Summer, Sylvester and mid ‘70s Whitfield, its head twisted and turned by McLarens plundering escapades but its heart is in a sleazy bordello, pining for the sweat and spunk in the backroom.

Holly: “Its like these untamed creatures meet Trevor Horn and his stamp is all over it. Because it was our first single, and theres no ready made market, we just had to have as much fun as we could when we were making it. We just thought—buzz—and then well know when its right.

“I always loved the sounds that Trevor got on his records but it seemed like something far beyond our reach because it was so glossy and commercial. I always thought the content and people he did it with was rather weak until McLaren. But I still died when he phoned us up.

“I mean on ‘Relax Trevor interpreted the sound, of course. I mean, hes a really strong guy, OK? Its hard to really talk about this. Were aware of the situation, were a band produced by Trevor Horn and its shoved down our throats a bit. We were wary of being his puppets at first but as soon as we met him that all went out the window. Hes just a human being, hes that little guy who used to be in Buggles.”

I think of the shallow, squirming sexuality presented by current pop—the vanity and preening of Wham, Spandau, Googoo and Heyward, and wonder if maybe the sleazy pantomime of FGTH will knock things up a bit, get someone to buckle down with it. Are they out on their own?

“I think its becoming a bit trendy actually, after our Tube show you got quite a few like Fashion and even that Tracie girl giving it much sex and whip. I think its catching on.

“But with those people its in a very superficial way because they havent got the bollocks to go for it really. They only know it as an image, not a reality. You get studs and leather in every magazine now but it doesnt really count for much. Like that whole punk thing was borrowed from a gay S&M attitude but it wasnt given any attention at the time.

“Our main purpose is pleasure, to communicate a good feeling. Sex is part of it, sex is enjoyable isnt it? Its about not being hung up or feeling guilty about any particular so called deviation youd like to get into. Its quite normal. The gay/S&M angle is regarded as taboo but its just people getting down, getting into enjoyment because its not long that we are here.

“I met this Irish guy in a pub once and he asked me was I into M&S, it was really lovely. So sweet.”

INTO THE LIONS DEN


HOLLY: “CHILD, the first time we turned up for a gig in London was in Cha Chas and we were put in a cage, a fuckin cage and suspended over the dancefloor. They put a mirror opposite us so people could see us from the bar. The support act was a guy in a leopard skin toga who put skewers right through his face and through his arms—lots of blood and stuff. We had to follow that.”

Sounds like you were in your element.

“To a degree, yes. But you know what most of the kids down there are like. Its all Worlds End clothing, hipper than thou attitudes and we were like these screaming animals in a cage. The reaction was really cool.”

Paul: “Theyre such a cool audience to handle. I dont know whats wrong with them. Spoilt, I suppose. They think that theyre it but we know we are. Id like to have seen them in the cage, thats for sure.”

Sometimes theyve been able to turn the tables and use the limelight to their advantage.

Holly: “The time we played The Tube Jools Holland was sitting around moping all day. I think hes sort of bitter because hes a real muso and hes on the other side of the camera. Very sad. He needed cheering up so we bound the Leatherpettes in pink ribbon and gave them to him. He brought them to his hotel and showered them with champagne, real champagne.”

“…We dont care what your name is boy, well never send you away.” And A Little More History


HOLLY DIDNT attend school too much after the third year. He started to hang around town, and around parks. He met people there, people who had a great influence on him (!) This is probably mirrored in the roles he and Paul (the tall dark stranger) take in the video. Its Holly who sings and writes the songs with either the bass player and/or the drummer, Paul is the image co-ordinator having spent a year in London before the group formed, on the dole but still “giving it loads on the gay scene”. Apart from his back-up vocals he is in the band mainly because of his “stunning” looks, and he obviously exerts some influence on Holly.

Holly; “Back In ‘77 it was really exciting because theres always been really odd, arty people in Liverpool end suddenly you were finding yourself in there. It was great because I found school pretty hard to handle. I was well shy, always the weirdo.”

Paul: “One week if you wore make-up you were a queer, the next you were a punk. It was great, a chance to do things. This sounds really heavy but it was a chance to be honest with yourself, to be yourself. I think its a bit more Jaded now.

“Its still a really good place to have a rest. We didnt realise that when we felt we were stuck there but now, in the past year we have.”

Holly: “Theres some great people In Liverpool, Jayne Casey of Pink Industry, a very big influence on us both. The early gigs were great—girls in leather, boys in leather knickers, oooo-ooh. As far as having a good time people in Liverpool arent shy at all.

“Smack? Thats the dark side of it, its true theres still a lot of it on the streets. We have a lot of younger friends into it and theres nothing you can do to pull them out of it. Its really sad, you have to keep away from those children or theyll try to drag you into it. It does my head in even thinking about it.”

Back to back with ‘Relax is the FGTH version of ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey, the federal republic of Liverpools national anthem these past 20 years. It is a hitherto unexplored, unexpected side to the group and shows that Holly has a depth and emotive base to his voice that would shame many. At first I thought of Ultravox doing ‘No Regrets, but then I thought of something far more stirring, a genuine overhaul and upheaval. It is the spirit of swinging ‘60s Liverpool pulled throught to the bleakness and uncertainty of the present day. Camp, grandiose but oddly affecting.

Holly: “That was Trevors idea, I thought what? and just laughed it off. Then I thought, dont be so negative, just try it and if we dont like it then throw it out. Well he came up with this beautiful, amazing backing track that gave me a chance to sing rather than just shout.

“Its a really sad song now and I think its really important.

(cont.)
Its just like and extension of the documentaries weve had over the past year. I think now Liverpool things are starting to break through because everyone is working their bollocks off up there.

THE FUTURE


PAUL: “WEVE been thrown in at the deep end now, what we always wanted but when it happens you realise youre in deepwater. Its funny to catch yourself in it, you just crack up. Fame sounds fun but I dont think anyone is ever prepared for it. Its the sort of thing I dream about, everyone recognising you, going “Its them its them.”

Holly: “Ultimately it would be great to do a Frankie Goes To Hollywood movie, with music an essential part of Hollywood, obviously. We were amazed how much everyone picked up on the sex attitude actually. It was just something we were exploring. Weve got an idea to do a Disneyland video, a real glamour video for instance. We just want to have fun.

“I think the media will absorb what were doing eventually, the way it absorbs everything. Then we can just change the theme of our movie. It doesnt have to be sex—we can shock them that it isnt that kind of thing.”

FGTH have stopped playing live for awhile, they say its because of lack off finances, Morley says he wants to ban all live performances for two years at least. But their campaign is planned—two more singles ‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome and ‘Two Tribes are already scheduled. The latter they describe as their masterpiece, an allegory between interglobal and personal relations(!)

DEFINITIONS: (1) SLEAZE


HOLLY: ‘WHEN we do play live our sound is going to be a lot rougher than on record. Over the past few months weve come to the stage where we believe we are a valuable musical force again whereas before we thought we were a side show sex thing. Our music has got a lot smoother, smoother with sleaze and class. Whats sleaze? Go to Amsterdam child and youll definitely find out. Divine sleaze, its either something you are or you arent.”

Paul: “Sleaze is kind of like sex that is classy. Not crude, not ugly.”

Holly: “A good image of sleaze for me would be a 1930s drinking bar wit jazz musicians hanging around and black and white prostitutes at the bar, that kind of scene.”

(2) NORMAL SEX

Holly: “I dont know what normal sex is. I think all sex is normal cause it comes from people and people are normal. Theres not much that is socially acceptable if the bastions of society, the judges and Mary Whitehouse are deciding. Theyre just people with extremely closed attitudes.”

Paul: “Being that closed is perverse. Not being able to face up to that honesty with yourself is perverse. She must have seen so much porn, must have so much strange thoughts running around her head.”

Holly: “She must have a huge guilt complex! Maybe shes never had an orgasm. Has Mary Whitehouse ever had the big O?”

(3) DECADENCE

But how far can you go, dont you have a concept of decadence?

“Decadence is a dead weird word, OK? Its someone who is off the party rather than on it. I looked it up in the dictionary and it said a decaying era. I heard it in connection with people who were wild and off the wall, supposedly. I dont really understand it as a concept, its a real voyeurs concept.”

(4) MORALS

Dont you have any morals then?

“Morals? Things like the ten commandments and all that. Oh yeah, but thats just a natural human weakness, isnt it? Maybe its not a weakness, maybe its a strength. Im trying not to give anyone a hard time, arent you? Thats about the only moral Ive got.”

Dont worry about the taste barrier, Holly, just go right on through.

“Amsterdam was fab, I was totally knocked out.

(cont.)
Whereas in England the leather bars are quite tame there they are totally overboard. Like Tom Finland who is a homo erotic illustrator, he paints brilliant images of guys in leather, uniforms, sailors and stuff. His pictures are on the wall, the bar area is caged off and theres slings and jack boots hanging from the ceiling and a giant cocking a light rope from one side of the ceiling to the other and its coming at the knob. Then you go to the backroom and theres an orgy going on. I was really impressed by it, the freedom of attitude.”

It sounds vile. Where is the magic and thrill in sex taking place in such unhygienic, graphically crude surroundings?

“It adds a whole new kind of theatre and performance to it. You almost have to be prepared to fuck in front of ten people. Its fierce. Sex is a performance, especially when its with someone that means a lot to you but even then you are patronising and entertaining their existence. Any performance—onstage or in bed—has got to be from the heart or It doesnt make it, doesnt cut it.”

Of course the harder and more often they come, the harder they fall. Holly admits that the promiscuity that the gay scene thrives on leads to the possibility of all sorts of horrible diseases.

“AIDS, yeah theres that danger. Children, dont catch aids! May they find a cure, thats all Ive got to say about it. You can look at it as retribution, Armageddons round the corner.

The second coming. Hey! The second coming, that sounds fun. Theres lots of theories, people say its the CIA and germ warfare. It depends on the most entertaining one at the time.”

As a force in the world of pop and populist entertainment Im not putting too much faith in Frankie Goes To Hollywood just yet. I like their record but its hard to tell if theyve made it as puppets or real talents, and threats or comic cuts. Im suspicious of the art house influences they draw from—a mixture of the tart, the tawdry and the hard to trust, and whether theyre going to use their sexuality preciously, as an excuse for all sorts of tedious overblown imagery (jackboots and inflatable peni). Maybe theyll try to do something really skilful, really daring. Its early days yet, but for two 23 year olds they sometimes seem very easily impressed.

“I want big business, I get off on it. Like when we were recording our single, the studio was like this huge Greek dome and Chris Blackwell walked in. He was like the emperor with a beautiful white girl and a beautiful Jamaican girl at either side. I kept thinking this is Chris Blackwell of Crosse & Blackwell. This guy can actually go and watch Grace Jones record. I got a real buzz off that,” says Holly.

THE EXIT


WHAT AM I doing here? The Coleherne isnt very busy early in the evening and Paul and Holly are obviously a little disappointed. Id come to see them at work in their natural habitat but there wasnt much work to be done. Gradually the place started to fill up and Holly was enthusiastically telling me how theyd contrived to have various, um, slogans inscribed on the run out groove of their record. The place was getting a bit clammy, all leering brutes and young prancing gigolos.

I felt like telling Holly about a little bar I know of which is actually in his beloved Hollywood. There they have proper barside stools, a selection of the worlds finest beers and a single woman can always be assured of being harassed. At the bottom of their menu they have an inscription too and it goes “ABSOLUTELY NO FAGGOTS ADMITTED”. It was just an idea, but it seemed much easier to get up and leave.