ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”

Review of the ‘80s: Frankie Goes To Hollywood

Nobody dominated 1984 like Frankie Goes To Hollywood. In January their debut single Relax was banned by the BBC and promptly went to Number 1 — as did the follow-ups Two Tribes and The Power Of Love. In October their album Welcome To The Pleasuredome rounded off a year of hugely entertaining hype and record-breaking sales figures. After that the Frankies fortunes began to decline, with Holly Johnson leaving in 1987 amid bitter legal wrangles with ZTT. Now established in a solo career, Johnson recalls the bands heyday…

The first thing I remember after Relax went to Number 35, after The Tube which got us Top Of The Pops, was I went to ZTT and said, I cant sign on the dole any more ‘cos if we go on Top Of The Pops well get nabbed by Social Security. So they put us on £40 a week.

Another memory was we were into, like, dressing up and presenting ourselves and we used to buy expensive clothes and because we were only on £40 a week I went to my bank — the Nat West, Knightsbridge — and I put our gold disc down and said, This is me collateral now will you give me a 500quid overdraft? And he said, Let me show this to somebody — and this was the record that was banned — and he came back and he wouldnt let me have it.

And I remember getting banned. That was really disappointing. It kind of took the pleasure away slightly from being Number 1, not having it played on the radio.

If Relax was released now, would it be banned or have moral attitudes changed?

They dont ban things any more, they just dont put them on the playlist. They didnt ban Relax ‘til they saw the video and then Mike Read said the record was “obscene”. But it wasnt obscene really. Everybody dragged out their theories that it was about perverted gay sex, but theres no innuendo to gay sex in it at all. The word “come” was used but that was about it. I tried to explain it to people but they just laughed. The whole media was convinced we were media manipulators creating our own hype, that we wrote the song with a view to it being banned, but we didnt even have a record deal when the song was written.

I remember being pissed off that people didnt take it seriously, musically. The image was very much that we were the creation of someone else, which we really werent. That was an image encouraged by ZTT.

Was there a lot of pressure on you when you followed Relax with Two Tribes?

There was a great deal of pressure as Trevor (Horn, producer) was very paranoid that the first record had to be fantastic and hed spent bloody three months in the studio paranoically getting it absolutely perfect. It was the most hi-tech record ever made at that time. It cost £26,000 which was unheard of for a single.

You became very successful very quickly. Did that put a strain on your relationships?

When you get that successful very quickly, everyone is convinced that they are responsible for it. So in Sarm Studios thered be, like, ten absolute massive egomaniacs walking round the building. Jill Sinclair would think it was her marketing expertise. Paul Morley would think it was his brilliant advertising. Trevor would think it was his brilliant production. Mark (OToole) would think it was his brilliant bass playing. I, of course, had written the lyrics and had made the most wonderful vocal performance of the decade! It goes to your head. Its like being in a golden kind of magical life all of a sudden.

How long did that last?

Too long, really. I had to stop taking acid. We were pretty wild, you know. I used to go on stage on acid and I just had to clean up my act a bit, basically, because Id have to get up at 7.30 the next morning to get a plane to Greece to do a PA. But when you get that kind of fame, you either become a basket-case or you revert to being perfectly normal again, more normal in fact.

Did you learn a lot from 1984?

I was so convinced I knew everything anyway. I didnt learn a bloody thing.

Do you regret that?

No. How can you learn something when youre just being shunted across the world promoting the same three records? You were exhausted most of the time. Most of it is like a complete blur — Belgium, Germany, France, slogging our guts out.

If you had to do it all again, what would you change?

I would have made sure I had a better bloody contract. And I think I would have been even ruder to people. ‘Cos a lot of people I wasnt rude to turned out to be complete arseholes. The So-Called Friends Syndrome.

Do you still see the rest of the band?

I dont see them. Not at all. By 1987 I was sick to death of all of them and they were sick to death of me. Wed been thrown together 24 hours a day for two years, on the road, in dressing rooms. Some groups survive it but its really intense. Everyone thought they were Gods gift. There was a fashion war going on — whos bought the new Yohji Yamamoto collection first? I feel sorry the bands relationships were destroyed, rather than the peripheral fairweather friends. It should have been the other way round.

But then again, Im happier now really.

Interview by Adrian Deevoy