ZANG TUMMM TUMB ARTICLES “the first draft of history”

From diamond mine to the factory

Are Frankie Goes To Hollywood millionaires? Will Rage Hard repeat the success of Relax and Two Tribes? How long before Holly Johnson seeks fresh pastures? Will he say too much? Will he say enough?

“Its just one of those phrases, isnt it? Like, OH MY GOD whats that appalling smell? Oh, I think its Something In The Music Business…

“I was at this party and I said to this bloke in a High Street suit and briefcase and ridiculous dark glasses, to make conversation, I said, ‘So what do you do for a living? and he said, ‘Well, er, like, hey, Im like, er, something in the music business…

“I said, ‘What do you mean, like a crotchet?” (John Dowie)


“HIYA, COME IN, SIT DOWN, HOW DO you do, do you want coffee or tea? Sit down. You know, this is the first time Ive done an interview at home. Weve been here about 18 months, weve just had it done up. The day we exchanged contracts we went off on the world tour so Im just getting used to it. The neighbours? Oh theyre very ok yah types but quite nice really. Shall I be mother? Have we started yet?”

Holly Johnson is at home in Parsons Green. Holly Johnsons coffee cups are modern yellow. Holly Johnsons voice is sing-song Liverpool camp Frankie Howerd. Holly Johnson is entertaining.

“Yeah, I do miss Liverpool, the way it was, my amazing flat in Catherine Street, the way people knock on your door and pop round all the time and you know what everyones doin, yeah, its quite touching. Where are you from? Brighton, oooh, nice. I still go back but a few of me friends have moved down now and its not the same. I dont feel as comfortable there now. Peoples reactions have changed slightly. The Merseyside Echo describes us as ‘Merseyside Millionaires which really isnt the case. Me mum gets attitude off people: ‘Ooooh your sons a millionaire, worra you workin for? People can be weird.”

Holly Johnson is at home with the camera click-click-clicking and the tape slowly running. Holly Johnson is almost entertaining me.

“The album is going to be called Liverpool now, yeah, which I didnt really like at first. I wanted it to be called ‘From The Diamond Mine To The Factory, which was more artistic, which is my personal, you know, bent. I felt that was more relevant, though Liverpool is a very strong title. ‘Es standing on my sink! Youll slip and break your neck and all for a few photos.

(cont.)
Anyway, as far as Im concerned the albums written and recorded, so to my mind Im interested in the next project—thats what Im thinking about and workin on at the moment, knowworrimean?”

Holly Johnson is thinking: I wonder if he knows, I wonder if hell ask me, what shall I say, will he believe me, what if I say too much, I hope he doesnt make me…

“Its all been a bit of a blur, really, the last two years. From signing on to suddenly being Number One, then signing off the dole and ZTT kindly giving us a wage ‘cos we couldnt really sign on when we were Number One. No, I never really liked being a Star. You mean, acting the glamorous celebrity, well I can do it, yeah. I did it for a week. No, really I did! It lasted a week. Its terribly fickle, you know, its so phoney, youre flavour of the week ‘cos youre at Number One. I got bored with it. Of course the papers make up all sorts, you ignore it. People ring up and go, ‘Ooooh, whats this about you in The Sun Today? I have a laugh with the girls at the grocery store. Thats it. To be honest with you, Ive enjoyed the lull. We went to Ireland to write some songs and then to Ibiza to do some demos, then back to Ireland, then to Guernsey and we recorded it in Holland. We went there ‘cos the studios good. We couldnt use Sarm ‘cos its too expensive. It was quite nice in Holland, a bit boring. The canals were all frozen and children skating on them, it was dead pretty. What else? I wrote a book of poetry and Im working on the illustrations at the moment. Whether Ill even try to get it published I dont know. Nothing ever seems good enough, doyouknowwhatimean?”

Holly Johnson is pretending to sell me Frankie Goes To Hollywood. I am pretending to be considering buying the idea of Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Holly Johnson is not really interested in Frankie Goes To Hollywood anymore. Neither am I.

“The new music is much less commercial, it isnt as hi-tech, its more real and more honest, less synthesised sounds. Its got Trevor Horn down as Executive Producer. Its more rock orientated, which isnt particularly the best direction but it is a direction. No-one has a whip-hand, no. I manipulate my own taste onto it, as best I can, but Im not prepared to have a running battle to have my own way constantly.I will have my way—when the time comes. What do I think about it? I think that my input—the lyrics and the melodies—is brilliant. I think Ive done really rather well.

Holly Johnson is biding his time, buying time, selling Rage Hard, which is a minute too long, a year too late and sounds like ELP, or, indeed, Queen. This seems the only thing worth saying right now.

“The business side is horrible. I employ people to deal with it for me but you cant remain in ignorance. I do understand it all now but its a horrible learning process. The bands never win because thats the way society is structured: the working classes are never in a good bargaining position.

“Considering that three years ago when we signed a contract I had NO IDEA what I was signing, I had NO IDEA what the first paragraph meant, the education Ive had in the last three years in this business has been incredible. I know now, yes, every infinitesimal possibility, I have every permutation calculated. See, I got mixed up in this incredible whirlwind of fun, right, and then I thought, hang on, just WHAT EXACTLY IS GOING ON HERE? And as soon as I thought that, the whirlwind of fun ended. All the constant touring, TV, hotels, airports, that horrific tour, I got really depressed, which is really out of character for me ‘cos I was always a pretty chirpy sort of person. Right now Id like to do an album that says ABSOLUTELY NOTHING—politically, artistically. People do it all the time! I wanna do that. I like calypso rhythms right now, stuff like that. It would be terribly easy for me to slag ZTT. Naivety did have a lot to do with it.

(cont.)
Obviously Jill Sinclair and Trevor Horn are extremely astute, but not as astute as people might think. They make mistakes too. We made terrible mistakes, terrible. I do have great respect for people like Jayne (Pink Military), whove got their own label, who do things at their own pace and style, like What I Wouldnt Give, which was fab, yeah, and eventually that will happen. My advice to young kids in bands would be DONT SIGN ANYTHING, hahaha. No, you have to get the most expensive lawyers you can, not one of these run-of-the-mill Music Business lawyers whose name gets bandied about from record company to record company:”

Holly Johnson is thinking, ‘Well half the people in the music business are saying were living as tax exiles and half are saying we owe ZTT half a million and Im tired of what people say. Holly is right.

“Business and friends dont mix very well, no. It changes your relationships. When theres a business decision to be made, some of you are on one side of the fence, some on the other and some on the fence. You dont become a person anymore, you become the ARGUMENT. The Eurythmics seem to have got it right. Dave and Annie, hahaha.

“I dont know how much weve made. Ive got a good idea. Ive got a few bob but theres no way I could stop working. Put it like this.I dont know any millionaires.”

This is a good way of putting it. Holly Johnson thinks, ‘How can I put this, how much should I say, how will it sound, I hope I dont tell him, I wish I could tell him.

“I love singing and I love writing songs and Id love to do other things too and I have to carry on in order to reach the next chapter. I think about it all the time. Ive had offers to do certain things that I want to do. Like what? Haha. I cant really talk about them (giggles), Im sorry, I cant really talk about them at all. You cant be any vaguer than that!!! Well… Im interested in film, you know… behind the camera, definitely behind. Paul (Rutherford) never discussed his shops with me. Youll have to ask him about that, I read it somewhere but I dont know anything about it… It is a horrid business, people outside always say, ‘Everyone you meet in the music business is just disgusting and you do constantly meet people you hate.”

Holly Johnson is doing the dishes.

“I like Alison Moyet (giggles) and I met Elvis Costello and he was rather nice too. Im a bit snobby, actually, mmm. I tend to kind of think of everyone else as sort of POP MUSIC, ‘Oh Im not in that (giggles). I met Gene Kelly, he was quite pleasant. I met him at MGM. Oh God, Body Double! OH WOW. You shouldnt have mentioned that one, hahahahaha, well, you live and learn… America… God. I liked watching TV in America. I liked San Francisco. I didnt like New York, I didnt like Los Angeles, I didnt like Detroit. It was so sad. The whole tour was pretty horrific, really.”

Holly Johnson is giggling but probably only because he knows he wont be doing any of THAT again. Holly Johnson is crossing his fingers, holding his breath and hoping he can keep talking, holding out, holding on, not give the game away.

“Well… Has it become a rock group… I dont know… I hope that never ever happens. No, I dont think it has happened. Otherwise we would be doing just more of the same and we arent. I dont think what I do is heavy and cumbersome. I think thats what makes it interesting—the taste clash. Its like Roxy Music, for example, a lot of interesting elements. Whove I got on my side? No-one. I dont think what I do is routine. Its not empty-headed pop music… I said what I wanted to say and I said it in a way that I dont find embarrassing. The way its done is important to me, yes. I mean I could never write a line like “Call me good, call me bad/Call me anything you want to baby”. I could not write a line like that. Thats what matters to me.

(cont.)
I do think about the future a lot, yes, about the next thing thats going to happen, yes. I worry about my particular job more than anybody elses, thats what Im interested in. Im not interested in what they do so much. Im interested in what I do. We have had a particularly difficult time, yeah, as a unit, but Ive never made any public statements about this, so why are you so certain Im going to leave? Am I going to? Oh God. Hahahahahaha.”

Holly Johnson thinks this is it. At least hes asked at last, I can stop evading and he can stop hinting, but can I say I wish I could tell him? I hope I dont tell him.

“Put it this way, I never ever want to be in a situation like Queen, who are fabulously successful and very clever and all that, but Im not interested in this forever pop group. I always said I could only see three albums. As I said, I like the work that Ive done on this new record and you have to compromise sometimes and yes it is really difficult.”

Holly thinks that must be enough, I hope its enough. I hope its not too much.

“Why am I putting up with it? Youre putting words into my mouth, hahaha. Cant you see my position?! Cant you see youre asking me a ridiculously difficult question and to answer it Im just going to compromise myself incredibly? Its a very special situation, yeah, incredibly complicated. I dont have to say anything thats going to upset anyone, lets face it. It would be bad for me to do that. Everything is in a very fine balance. I dont want to complicate it any more. It would be good if I could just get on with it, yeah, but things arent as simple as that. I could do it like Sylvian, stay with the label… Isnt that good enough for you, hahaha?”

Holly thinks, ‘Lets change the subject.

“I dont think Ive changed that much from the early days, why, what did I used to look like? More extreme? Oh, the leather and that… Well Im not Brian Ferry now, not by a long chalk, haha. I was more into fashion at that time. I was into, you know, FASHION, hahaha. Im not interested in fashion anymore, no. I never was in the first place, but I thought I was. I always thought: WOW! Id love to go into that shop and buy THAT and then all of a sudden I could, so I did. I did it like hell and then I thought, well that was a bit stupid, wasnt it? Being taken in like that. I do go through a lot of phases, though, yes. When it becomes, like, this season, that season, next season, thats ridiculous.”

Holly Johnson is called Holly for dancing to Walk On The Wild Side; he is not very wild these days.

“No, not really. I went through my hedonism phase before Frankie broke, really. The others got into it, yeah. I went to this great Brazilian restaurant last night. I bought a nice sideboard, really nice sideboard. Last week I was supposed to go to Venice but I couldnt go ‘cos I had no roof. Do you want another cup of coffee?”

Holly Johnson, slipping away from secrecy, is back being himself now that hes remembered to be more Norman Wisdom than Noel Coward. One day he might like to be Truman Capote though it might end up like Kenneth Williams and sometimes will be a bit Frank Spencer. Never mind: he is entertaining.

“I never wanted to be be David Cassidy like you, no. I wanted to be David Bowie for a bit. The bit between Ziggy and Baal… quite a big bit… hahahaha. He is very good, though.Modern Love was great, too. The words were great. Ive never met him, no. I had the opportunity to meet him a couple of weeks ago, I knew where he was going to be on a certain day at a certain time and I knew for a month in advance. I had a great time thinking, ‘Im going to meet David Bowie and what shall I wear and what shall I say and when it came to the crunch I thought, ‘Nahhh. Nahhhhh.”

Holly Johnson is thinking, ‘Well at least I didnt say very much?

(cont.)
At least I didnt say anything I shouldnt have. He is thinking it wasnt too bad at all, really. Holly Johnson is dead soft, really, not at all conceited or spoilt, not really at all obnoxious or ridiculously pleased with himself. Not at all like something in the music business.

“Hey yeah, I met Andy Warhol.Andy, hahaha. I kept wanting to say, ‘Hey, Andy, give us that painting (giggles). Thats a Warhol print on the wall there, yeah. Do you wanna see me painting room downstairs in the basement? That Warhol exhibitions useless, isnt it? Whos Don Watson?”

Holly Johnson is a quaver in the music business.