Title: Frankie goes to America — The power of live!
Author: Max Bell
Source: No 1
Publish date: Nov 24 1984
“…but can they cut it onstage?”
That’s the question everyone’s been asking. Max Bell discovers the answer as Frankie cut up Philadelphia and eat it for breakfast.
Photos by A.J.Barratt
Sunday, November 11
Escape from New York
At ten minutes to four on a wet New York afternoon Frankie Goes To Hollywood leave the Berkshire Place hotel where they’ve been holed up for five days and set off for Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love.
Phase two of the master plan to conquer America.
Today is Armistice Day in England and Veteran’s Day in America… lest we forget.
Several Frankies are sporting poppies with pride as they clamber into a fleet of limousines that are as big as some people’s bathrooms.
The cars, two Lincolns and a Fleetwood, are the type that take two minutes to walk around: each one is forty feet of gleaming steel suicide machine.
Ian Jeffery, Frankie’s tour manager, addresses us all by turn.
"Watch what you do with your cigarettes and beer cans. If there’s one burn on the upholstery the car company will skin us alive."
The Frankies moan but Ian has a point. They may be making money but they aren’t made of money.
"I’m not giving a verdict. Overall absolutely brilliant but it isn’t long enough — I wanted more. Small points are that on ‘Born To Run’ the guitars should be louder. The intro to ‘The Power Of Love’ should be more ambitious, the solos on ‘Relax’ could be longer and Ped should introduce a number and take a break. The lads could heckle him and they should muck around more."
— ZTT label boss/producer Trevor Horn
Just hiring these monsters costs five hundred dollars apiece. Even if the Frankies pooled their daily expenses they wouldn’t have enough to fill one of these babies with gasoline.
Outside on the turnpike
Did somebody say gasoline? The road to Philadelphia leads us through some of America’s most nauseous industrial terrain. Just unwind the windows and breathe in the chemical stench of the Jersey shore oil refineries and the ammonia plants.
Frankie wait until we’ve left the Jersey Turnpike before they play their favourite car game; not I-spy but dropping their trousers and mooning out the windows at no one in particular.
Mile after mile of freeway disappears under twelve wheels. New Jersey, New Brunswick, Pennsylvania and we don’t see a soul.
"It was hard work to win them over and it was bloody hot. I’d like to have been closer to the fans."
— Mark O’Toole
America is a great big freeway. In this country people live in their cars.
After two hours we hit Philadelphia and locate the Irvine Auditorium at Penn State University where Frankie are playing.
Trevor Horn is first out and into the hall. He zooms straight towards the dressing room and attacks the backstage food.
"American crisps," crunches Trev, "are the best in the world". His nose disappears into a huge bag of sour cream and chive flavour.
The band troop in to get changed.
"Does Philadelphia make a lot of noise?" asks Nasher. He’ll find out…
The auditorium is not your average rock venue. It’s a 19th century meeting hall, normally used for organ recitals and lectures, but it has a magnificent decorative wooden ceiling, a large stage and good natural acoustics.
Horn in a dilemma
Frankie soundcheck with more nervous energy than most groups put into their set proper — then return to their room to get psyched up!
"Where’s the ale?" the three lads chorus.
"You’re having one beer each and no more," warns manager Tony Pope, a new rule introduced after their first ever American concert in Washington where Mark O’Toole had a skinful before performing.
"Where’s the bar-b-q sauce?".
— Paul Rutherford
Mark is subdued by lads’ standards, probably because of the rollicking he got from Nash and Ped.
Frankie have fun but work is serious. Professional discipline comes from within.
Before they go on Frankie’s nerves start to creak. Holly disappears to the toilet, the dressing room is shut, the room is cleared.
I go to the hall sweating with excitement. The room is reaching boiling point. Lights are low and the PA blasts out The B52s ‘Planet Clare’, the bass-heavy psychotic dance riff which Frankie have chosen to whip up the crowd before they appear.
Not that we need much encouragement. The show has sold out its 1,500 seats faster than any other gig in Irvine’s history and the atmosphere is so thick you could pick it up with a spoon and eat it.
Trevor Horn wanders out and goes to the mixing desk beaming. Trevor Horn has never, ever seen Frankie play live before outside of Sarm Studio.
"I’m dying to interfere, but I’d only be sticking in lots of effects. No, this is their show."
Frankie won’t admit it but they are more anxious to prove their point in front of Horn than anyone in the world.
Love lost them their lives
Suddenly ‘Planet Clare’ segues into the eerie high-pitched first movement of ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’. The crowd rushes forward and clambers onto the seats. The lights are all off and smoke covers the stage.
“We’ve played better. It felt a bit remote but I got into it at the end. ‘The Only Star In Heaven’ is when it took off."
— Rhythm guitarist Jed O’Toole
Out of the darkness seven figures stand with their backs to us. The noise becomes a deafening wind storm, the drums strike a martial beat, the bass breaks out, the lights go on and…
All hell is let loose. This IS Frankie Goes To Hollywood, live, armed and extremely dangerous. The next hour provides the proof which everyone seeks from this band more than any other in the history of rock and roll.
Can they deliver the goods?
From left to right this is how Frankie stand and deliver. On keyboards, Peter Oxendale (aka the Invisible Man), then Mark O’Toole on bass, Holly Johnson right at the front on vox, Paul Rutherford, dance master and backing singer extraordinaire, Ped at the back raised on a podium, grinning from ear to ear, then it’s Jed O’Toole on rhythm guitar and next to him is Brian Nash, or Johnny Blade, guitar hero.
Frankie is dressed to kill in white shirts and white French Hussar pants with black stripes and knee-high horse artillery boots. Holly adds his $800 Japanese robe from Barney’s NYC as a finishing touch.
Wish you were here
The music is so intense I hardly notice the film strip slides of atrocities and political blackmailers behind the group. ‘War’ gets stomped out like the last punk anthem, faster and louder than on record but with all the ingredients in place.
"Pretty good. It showed up the Washington gig, which was shite. This was OK but we can do better. A lot better. And we will."
As the line "What is it good for? Warrrrrrr" echoes round the hall, the barrier in front of the camera pit snaps and the first casualties are taken out, shaken but not badly injured. The band start to get hot.
‘Love Has Got A Gun (Wish You Were Here)’ catches fire and I can make some sense of what is happening. Holly’s voice is simply magnificent, an instrument of soul power. Mark and Nasher hold down the
"When you mess with Springsteen you’re messing with God, but their ‘Born To Run’ is amazing!"
- Justin, 18, West Philly
front line; funk bass, metal guitar and hard stares.
Girls strain towards the stage. Paul Rutherford is the most abandoned with his dervish dancing. Paul gives it loads and loads.
Most surprising of all are the harmonies which walk a line between raw power and Mersey beat sophistication.
‘Gun’ is unloaded and Holly demands "What do Frankie say?"
The crowd, totally apeshit crazy by now, responds with "RELAX!" and they’re right.
As ‘Relax’ reaches its climax, a dry ice cloud covers the band and a single spotlight rests on Holly. "Calm down children, "he chastises before the opening chords of ‘The Power Of Love’ stir a different set of emotions.
"I’ll protect you from the hooded claw, Keep the vampire from your door, When the chips are down, I’ll be around."
For your pleasure
This death-defying love song is followed by the crux of the set — ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ — ten minutes of ecstasy. ‘Dome’ is Pink Floyd ‘67 meets Funkadelic ‘78 equals Frankie ‘84.
For the Brits here the lines send shivers down the spine. "We’re a long way from home, "but feeling proud.
‘Black Night, White Light’ and ‘The Only Star In Heaven’ set up the glam rock mood which is taken to a bizarre, logical conclusion in ‘Krisco Kisses’.
‘Krisco’ is when the whole band gets off. Paul is stripped down to his Hussar pants, gyrating from side to side, whipping Mark and Brian to new peaks. Mark slides over to Nash and they vamp the Bowie/Ronson sex act that used to make Ziggy Stardust’s ‘Moonage Daydream’ seem like the most fun you could have with your clothes on.
Deneice (15), Tina (16), Steve (18), Perkafsie and NW Philly
"Absolutely it. We’ve just got the album and we listen to it the whole time. Too bad they didn’t do ‘San Jose’."
— Deneice(15), Tina(16), Steve(18), Poughkeepsie
This brash piece de resistance is topped by a dynamic assault on the senses; the terrifying four-minute warning, the throbbing bass, the Holly Johnson patented "Oowowowowoh! TWO TRIBES!"
The bass slams out and kicks you in the stomach. Rutherford comes out front in a Reagan mask — the effect is shattering. "We’ve got Two Tribes — we’ve got the bomb."
What seems like political and moral logic in England is a complete shock to a country riding on a wave of patriotism that could
"I liked ‘Relax’ with the explosions. It was all much better that I’d ever hoped. It’ll hold my attention for a long time and only the best concerts do that."
— Maria Sinagoga (20), Philadelphia
devastate us all.
This ain’t rock and roll, this is genocide.
Play Frankie play
"Were we good enough for you, Philadelphia?" Holly asks. "Do you want more? Do you deserve more?"
Frankie come back onstage in their leathers and shades for ‘Born To Run’, an American anthem. They wave the flag and bring the house down with their tongue-in-cheek rock theatre.
"Now, what do Frankie say again?" This time ‘Relax’ hits the sex mix, the slide show leaving us in no doubt as to the song’s meaning.
The second coming is heralded by blinding explosions and a shower of glittering stars. Did the earth move for you too, honey?
When Frankie Gets To Hollywood, America will know what a real rock’n’roll band is. America will know once again that Liverpool is the rock and roll capital of the world.