ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”

Frankie goes to the Ritz

Lost voices, over affectionate teenage girls, bitchy critics and Richard Nixon. Just a few of the occupational hazards enjoyed by Frankie when they finally did go to Hollywood (well, New York anyway).

That Frankie would go triumphantly to Hollywood was never that much in doubt — the West Coast always seemed an ideal stage for a hot band. Though, in theory, New York should have been the city of Eastern promise, the conquest was far from straightforward.

The press werent exactly welcoming, there was the counter attraction of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and all you could hear on the radio were Cyndi Lauper, Chaka Khan, Hall and Oates and Wham!

Its late Saturday afternoon and Im sitting in the bar of the plush Berkshire Place Hotel, the temporary and incongruous residence of Liverpools finest. In the foyer, Karl Malden — the TV show cop with a cauliflower nose — does an unmolested tour of duty while a posse of teenage girls await their prey. Ten minutes later Paul Rutherford alights from a taxi and is surrounded by the small but persistent band, bemusedly compliant as the more adventurous attempt to kiss him.

Back at the bar Messrs Nash, Gill and OToole are enjoying the odd drink or three. As they depart, in saunters Holly Johnson, who doesnt want to speak to anyone.

The reason becomes apparent when at the behest of unofficial barside medics, he hoarsely orders tea with honey. His voice is shot to ribbons.

Ahead is the final of three sell-out nights at the small and atmospheric Ritz club, about 40 streets away downtown.

The opening gig could have been more successful. Certainly the critic from the pretentious New York Time thought so. Having compared the band to the village People, he went on to describe Holly Johnson as being redolent of “a mediocre lounge singer, as emotionally unconvincing as he was technically impoverished.” Praise indeed.

By all accounts, Fridays gig was better received and Saturdays window shopping is punctuated by sightings of the burgeoning range of Frankie T-shirts finding their way into the heart of the Big Apple. There are other tell-take signs.

Two Tribes is making steady progress up the US singles listings. An unflattering press doesnt appear to have harmed the albums appeal and MTV have agreed to take up the video, albeit with two cuts. A big worry, it transpires, has been persuading Richard Nixons lawyers to sanction the clip of him in the promo. In the land of the born again, even disgraced former presidents have clout.

At the Berkshire Place its Holly Johnsons turn to disappear. Paul Rutherford re-emerges, persuaded by the same band of girls. One approaches Regine — the sympathetic and sorely tested press person sent over by Island Records UK — with a request for inclusion on the guest list. While Regine listens politely, I seek out a cab. Its around 6.30.

What seems like an age later, were at the midnight hour and Frankie take the stage, launching first into ‘War. The prevalent thought is that for a band which made the headlines for allegedly not playing on their hits, theres no lack of musical proficiency. And while Hollys voice shows evidence of strain, its a massive improvement on its teatime condition.

At times, the performance is more Holyhead that Hollywood. But sheer energy — in particular, Rutherfords manic stage antics — endear them to the audience. After the pre-planned encores the world really does come to an end. “Frankie Say No More” is the farewell message flashed on stage.

As he leaves the Ritz dressing room, Paul Rutherfords encapsulated review is that Fridays gig and tonights crowd would really be something. Not that hes displeased with the way things are going.

Peter Gill is engaged in conversation by a girl I recall from outside the hotel. Why, she implored, has they stopped playing? “Well I get tired and want to go home,” answers the drummer deadpan.

Apart from Paul, the band do not rendezvous with the Island party at tonights choice of nightspot.

Tomorrow its Atlanta. On Monday, the world.