Title: Where are they now?
Author: Martin Aston
Source: Q Magazine
Cast your mind back to a simpler time, when "Linford’s lunchbox" was the place where Linford put his butties. Recall a forgotten band from that era. Now address your ruminations to Where Are They Now?, Q, 42 Great Portland Street, London W1N 5AH. Compiled by Martin Aston.
There are fewer more meteoric sagas than that of Liverpool’s Frankie Goes To Hollywood — from almost complete obscurity to the hottest, and the most controversial, act on the mid-’80s scene, with three Number 1 singles out of three in under a year, via a contract with Trevor Horn and his fledgling ZTT label, a Radio One ban for that first single, Relax, a whole nine weeks at the summit with the follow-up, Two Tribes, and a Xmas chart-topper with The Power Of Love. The debut album Welcome To The Pleasuredome and the famous "Frankie Says" T-shirts spread the gospel, and world domination was theirs. But the speed of ascension, plus the physical make-up of the band — the three "lads" (Mark O’Toole, Brian "Nasher" Nash and Ped) and two totally "out" gay frontmen in Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford — was potentially not a set-up that might last the full distance, and so it proved.
"The only way to describe Frankie was like having the keys to the sweet shop for a couple of years," recalls Nash. "We never came out of it loaded, but I got to do and see lots of things that people my age wouldn’t get the chance to. But during the last tour, everybody knew it would end, as the relationship between Holly and the rest of us was so strained. He didn’t want to be in a band situation anymore. Everybody was fed up with the whole thing."
To Johnson, the band were always undermined by what he saw as the media’s negative way: "It always attempted to undermine our own contribution to our records, which were some of the finest pop records of the ‘80s, saying that we were a completely manufactured pop group, like The Bay City Rollers." After the second, much delayed, problematic and frankly lacklustre album Liverpool, the band dissolved, leaving a trail of court litigations, Inland Revenue investigations, personal recriminations and not much in the way of commiserations. Five years after their demise, Claire Nicholls of Bow wonders where are Frankie now?
Holly Johnson (vocals): Became increasingly disenchanted when, on top of the rest of the band wanting Liverpool to be a rock record rather than the pop/dance/rock hybrid of old, Trevor Horn failed to produce Liverpool, as agreed, but then spent a whopping £500,000 (making £840,000 in all) tidying it up. "We had to recoup all that money, which we managed only 18 months ago. Then there was the matter of our contract that wasn’t to our advantage, which the others didn’t really care about." Left the band, only to find himself embroiled in a court case with ZTT, "which was so inaccurately reported. The case had nothing to do with Frankie, but with a personal argument over my terms of contract after I’d left. It was ZTT who took an injunction out on me." Signed to MCA, where he had two hit singles (Love Train and Americanos) and the Blast album, but fell out with the label after his A&R representative was sacked. "There was no-one left who understood my identity as an artist, or my potential. MCA would’ve preferred me to make a Dire Straits album or something. I eventually wriggled my way out of there." Has been writing new songs but is currently busier writing an autobiography (40,000 words so far) and painting (in a figurative, pop-art-ish style). "It’s all therapeutic for me. I’ve been negotiating with labels, but having had several unhappy alliances, I’m prepared to spend a lot of time waiting for the right set-up."
Brian "Nasher" Nash (guitar): After Johnson and Rutherford left, the remaining three re-formed Frankie with ex-Promise vocalist Grant Boult. Almost signed with Circa but Johnson prevented them using the Frankie name — "He said we would devalue what we’d already achieved. The name was a breaker in the deal because the label figured it would give us a head start. You could say we were fairly pissed off at the time." Had to sell his North London house — "It’s a fallacy that you earn thousands of pounds" — and eventually went back to working as an electrician in 1990 — "No, noone recognised me, but then you wouldn’t expect the geezer that was fixing your plugs was on Top Of The Pops last year". Started recording demos with Boult under the name Low ("the music is somewhere in the middle of dance and rock") and returned to music full time after signing with Swanyard Records in 1991. A debut single, Tearing My Soul Apart, has just been released, with an album to follow, and Low will shortly be playing dates as a seven-piece. Admits it was hard to escape the "controversies and court cases and bad vibes" around the Frankie name, "which is why I sat out for a bit and left it as long as I did. It hasn’t done us any harm because the music isn’t really fashionable. We didn’t have anything to gain by jumping on any bandwagon." As for plans to reunite Frankie — "not while John Lennon’s dead."
Paul Rutherford (vocals): Signed a solo deal with Island-offshoot 4th & Broadway in 1989, releasing a single I Want Your Love (the Chic track) and 1990’s Oh World album but failed to establish a solo career. In 1991, released single That Moon (on Bare Fun label) as Paul Rutherford with Pressure Zone. Has been working in the styling/clothing area for various bands but is also currently working with Bruce Smith from Public Image Ltd. Is on the verge of recording new material for a new album, with a view to capturing a liver, though still very danceable, feel. Robert Owens (ex-Fingers Inc) should be a guest vocalist while famous house producer Larry Heard is also scheduled to make an appearance. Rutherford also appears as part of the cast of two videos, Annie Lennox’s Walking On Breaking Glass and Michael Jackson’s forthcoming Give In To Me.
Peter "Ped" Gill (drums): With the reformed Frankie, "found it all a bit of a shock. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I thought it best to get back into a band, but there was nothing happening, nothing I was enjoying anyway. I did a couple of bits and bobs. There was one I shouldn’t even mention — this Australian soap actor from Home And Away released a record, which bombed, but there was a tour, and I got offered money to play it, which was better than twiddling my thumbs." Is currently one third of Love Station production company, who have released two singles on Fresh Records, as Love Station Featuring… one with vocalist Lisa Hunt, the other Yvonne Lenny: "It’s poppy garage music, not hardcore dance. We’re just about breaking even at the moment because you only get to sell a few thousand, but we’re hoping something could get picked up by a major." Has high hopes for the new EMF-style band Slam they’re working with." Summarises the Frankie era as "a great time, but we should have made a lot more money than we did. But that’s how it goes. I can’t complain — otherwise I would have been on the dole."
Mark O’Toole (bass): Moved to LA, where he wrote and demoed material with keyboard friend, but failed to make anything of it. Returned to live in Liverpool earlier in the year, and is currently attempting to set up another musical enterprise.