Title: Frankie — How they went there
Author: David Sefton
Source: Next 14
Publish date: August 3-16 1984
So what about it then, are sex and horror really the new Gods?
Paul leans back and looks out of the window to where half a dozen young girls are sitting, occasionally shouting in, and who will sit there all day and be replaced tomorrow by more of the same, turns back and replies: "I wish it wasn’t true, don’t get me wrong, but I think we’ve proved that it is, just look how much better Relax sold once people were convinced it was dirty, look what the ban did for us, it’s what people want - shock and sex and “controversy".
It’s a hot Friday afternoon, and we’re sitting in the ZTT building, the surroundings are restrained, tasteful high-tech and the ‘centre of the universe feeling’ you get inside is something more than an overripe imagination at work; let’s face it, that’s exactly what Frankie have become, just look around you.
It’s phenomenal, but then you don’t need me to tell you that, Christ, it’s been on the front of the Echo twice, it must be pretty obvious by now, pretty obvious by then, Frankie Goes To Hollywood went there. Not only have they tapped the mood of the time, zeitgeist if you will, they’ve re-defined, manipulated and established their own, creating for the first time a fad/trend/style which not only dominates the charts and the media, but also grips the fashion world: never before have one band appeared to be so completely in control of their own destiny.
So everyone is after them, and tracking them down is not an easy task. Finally, after weeks of chasing I find myself wandering through the Portobello Market and towards the eager little groups of young girls huddled outside my destination. And inside the polished, luxuriant, economy chic of ZTT. Escorted upstairs to the Frankie office where Paul Rutherford and Mark (respectively Boystown, vocalist and guitarist) are waiting. The Holly part of the interview, it transpires, is to take place back in Liverpool after all, but more of that later. In the meantime by conversation today for the most part was with Paul, who was forthcoming if a little apprehensive since, in his own words, he "keeps getting bollocked for saying things he shouldn’t in interviews".
So how does it feel to be rich and famous, and was he worried that having happened so quickly that it could go away again just as quickly? "I don’t know about rich and famous, I’d settle for richer and infamous, and that feels very nice indeed; as for it going away quickly I honestly don’t think that if it all ended tomorrow I’d have anything at all to complain about. I mean if I’d been working at it for twelve years and it came and went this quickly, then that would be unbearable, but let’s face it we haven’t had to work at it nearly as hard as anybody else to get to where we are right now".
And what about being there right now? "I don’t really think about it that much, I don’t think any of us do, it’s a very strange thing to stop and think about. Obviously we’re really confused because our lives have changed drastically, but because of the people that we are we try not to let it affect us, I think we’re quite sensible".
Frankie as a band have never really been associated that strongly with Liverpool, until, that is, Frankie were huge then everyone wanted to know them. Did they, I asked, feel as though they were, as such, a ‘Liverpool Band’ or had they left all that behind them? "I think there’s a lot of false patriotism behind this Liverpool thing, I mean I love Liverpool, the place is great, but when we started out there everybody regarded us as a bit of a joke, a cabaret band, now everyone’s your friend, it’s amazing how bitchy it all is. It’s not like the sixties, but people pretend it is, there’s no single recognisable sound or anything like that, we’re a band from Liverpool, not a Liverpool Band, People get at me and Holly for moving down to London, but we’d have moved anyway, basically because we’re pretentious people we would have ended up in London whatever, but I never feel obliged to justify our move, well I mean it justifies itself really doesn’t it?"
So far the phenomenal rise of FGTH has not been accompanied y the things normally associated with a band ‘Making It’ ie. the tours, the promotions, the slog, did they plan on following an orthodox band route from hereon in?
"Definitely, we all want to get out and play live but we’re being kept away from it at the moment, there were some plans to play a few select dates but they’ve been shelved ‘till next year, it’s been decided that there are other things more important at the moment, but I can’t say what".
Like breaking America, for instance? "Good guess".
How do you think you’ll go down in the States? "I’m not at all sure, and to be quite honest with you, I’m not arsed, I’m not that impressed by America, I used to be, but I’ve been there now, they’ve got some sticky attitudes, I still quite like the place but I don’t have that romantic image any more".
Did the singles success surprise you?
"When Relax got to Number Six, that freaked me out, but after that it becomes so obvious. At first with Two Tribes they were saying, ‘You do know it’s going to go in at eighteen’, then as it got closer to release it was ‘You do know it’ll go in Top Ten’, then when it was about to go out, they just told us, ‘This’ll go in at Number One’, so there was no surprise there at all. As for Relax going back up, that was a shock, in fact it was embarrassing more than anything, are we never going to see the back of it, d’you know what I mean?"
Are you sick of Relax yet?
"I’d like to hear it again in six months, but not in between, shall we say".
Moving on to talk about the press, mention is made of the recent stories in the Sunday Mirror, via The Evening Standard, casting doubt on the line-up of who actually played on Relax "I suppose you’ve only got to expect it, I mean, the press put you up there so once you’re there they’ll try and knock you down. O just wish they’d get their facts straight, they said that The Blockheads had played on the single, if, they’d asked me I could’ve told them, the Blockheads were hired for a day to record a version of Relax, which they did, and which weve still got, you should hear it, it’s bloody awful, a different song altogether, bits of it really make us cringe".
So, just for the record, how many people have actually played on the singles that have come out?
"How many? o.k., there’s Ped, Gnasher and Mark, Holly and I, a guy called Andy Richards who plays keyboards, a guy called JJ who programmed the Fairlite, Louis Jordan played congas on Relax but on Two Tribes it was a drum machine. Oh, and Trevor Horn gets one really high note in, a backing vocal on Two Tribes. That’s it, the team".
Did he feel the Frankie ‘sound’ would remain? "I think we’ll always be changing, no two songs are that alike, but we won’t make any conscious radical departure. The next single for instance is a ballad, which is in itself quite a change, but it’s just that we’re not going in straight lines. I don’t think we ever will".
How about the LP? "Well, we’re about a third of he way through it now, its called ‘Welcome to the Pleasure Dome’ and Relax and Two Tribes are on it because they’ve got to be, the record company told us, but we’re going to do different versions again".
So, are you happy with things at the moment? "Oh, I suppose, I think we’d all like a house, and a car, but it’s got to the point where we’ve always wanted to be, so we are all happy, I think. But it’s like everything else, we don’t really think about it that often. It’s all part of the Frankie thing, we’re not that concerned about things, e’re not concerned about ensnaring people, they either like us or they don’t, we don’t put pressure on people, say like Wham or someone like that who really go for the hard sell — we don’t work the same way. Things like the ban really work in our favour, give us the dangerous edge, but that’s something which has come about naturally".
What’s the strangest thing your new found fame has thrust upon you? "Erm, people treating you as their hero, getting followed home on the bus, all them out there (he gestures out of the window at the girls, still huddled in a doorway oppostie waiting for a glimpse of the Frankies) all that big star thing, its funny being at the other end, I remember being really chuffed when I got Bryan Ferry’s autograph, I suppose everyone should have heroes but I never honestly thought I’d be one".
With a final word ("World domination is the play, I think we’re going to do it") Paul and Mark are off to harangue the more persistent fans, those who’ve been pushing things through Paul’s letter box, and I’m back off to Euston to pursue the second half of the interview.
Twenty-four hours later, back in Liverpool I finally manage to track Holly down to the home of Jayne Casey, (without whose help I might still be trying). Their previous connection is more than well known in Liverpool, now certainly isnt the time to re-tell the Big In Japan story, but the memory lingers. Holly is doing a more than passable Holly Johnson impression, flitting round the room taking photographs of everything in sight. I feel something of an intruder at my own interview, but Im sure I get much better answers to the questions that do get asked.
I’m sure Lawrence will be delighted to learn that talk returns to the high quality of his clothes throughout the chat, and if he wants the commission for the stage gear, he should get on the phone right away.
Interrupting the general flow of conversation, I enquire how things are going, from a personal viewpoint at present, guardedly: "Oh, o.k., I’ve just had a really good time in New York, that was great fun, and doing Top of the Pps last week was quite funny, meeting Fully, I told him ‘don’t you dare put that record out"‘. Explanatory note: Fully being Pete Fulwell, one time co-manager of Eric’s, and of Eric’s records, therefore Holly’s first vinyl offerings — one single done for Erics, the ‘b’ side of which is rumoured to be good. Fully is now responsible for Eternal Records and Wah! hence the TOPT encounter. End of explanatory note.
I inform Holly that Probe are, or were, in fact selling said single for a fiver, but that it was just a pile that had been lying around, not a repressing.
Moving on to the present, I ask Holly if he’s enjoying ZTT, to which he replies that he thinks all record companies are ‘vermin’, but given that factor was he working alright with them?
"They’re good because they don’t skimp on things and the product they release is always of the highest quality, but I still think they’re all vermin. What they have done is given us a great PR job".
When Paul Morley gave an interview in which he spoke of the company as paramount and gave the band a very secondary position, I asked Holly if this bothered him?
"Of course it does, I’m aware of those things and realise they are trying to build up their own image as much as possible".
Do you think that devalues the music?
Oh defnitely, I mean Paul Morley talks like he built Frankie, but what have they given us? I mean, we didn’t have a thirty piece orchestra before, but everything was there when Paul Morley saw us, the imagery, the songs. You know, the man who put the sperm on the 12 inch, that’s about all he did put on it. It’s in ZTT’s advantage to make us look manufactured to keep a hold on us, not just from the point of view of knocking our confidence, but also it’d be hard for us to sign anywhere else if we got dropped from their label if they can put that idea across successfully. They’ve built it up like it’s Trevor Horn and Paul Morley and we’re brainless".
And you resent that?
"Yes I do, because I think it’s a device to hold onto us and keep us down, keep the ball in their court".
Does it actually shake your confidence?
"It does, because you come to believe it, and when you try and do something new your confidence is knocked because you think ‘Well, it’s not Relax is it, and will ti sell x million’. That’s how record companies work, divide and rule, which makes it easier to control the band, I’ve stopped taking seriously what the record company say and started to look more at the motives behind it. I mean it got to a point a couple of months back where the directors of the record company were ringing me up and saying ‘Who do you think you are, you think you are Frankie Goes To Hollywood’. They use tactics like that, like ringing you and saying, ‘The rest of the band hate you, they’ve come and told us’, which is really petty, but it works and you get all paranoid and do all sorts of paranoid things, Holly freaks out. They dont play pleasant games, the record companies".
But do you feel in control at this point in time?
"I feel in control because of things like that, not because of a genuinely comfortable feeling. In a way we’re lucky because me and Paul have got some past, if we’d not had that the pressure would crack us up".
But then Frankie are a product of their own era — an Ultimate Marketing Concept for the Eighties. ZTT as a label and Paul Morley as a mouthpiece for that label will eagerly point out that Frankie are little more than a successful manipulation of Market Forces Read, or listen to, and of his interviews and you’ll see the ultimate synthesis of the cynical ‘business side of the business’ philosophy. Speak to A&R men, record company executives, you’ll the same thing.
This philoosophy is fine as far as it goes, and there is little doubt that Frankie owe much to the almost faultless promotion that ZTT provided for them, but the fact that Paul Morley can practically write-off the contribution misses one important thing, that Frankie existed before ZTT, the name, the band, the songs, the image, the personalities, and no amount of cunning market manipulation will work without that first stage of a product to promote, and only a ‘product’ as well considered and spontaneous as Frankie in the first place will ever be such a runaway success.
So Frankie have made the omelette, but not without breaking a few eggs, Holly seems well displeased with how things operate, but if they go on like this then soon, no doubt, it will be Frankie who call the shots, and the record companies who will listen. Then, truly, nothing will stop them.