Title: Frankie goes to America — The American dream
Author: Max Bell
Source: No. 1
Publish date: December 1, 1984
Max Bell joins Frankie Goes To Hollywood for a week on high excitement on the road in the USA. Photos by A.J.Barratt.
Monday 5 November
Today begins our great adventure. Arrived at Heathrow for the morning flight on Pan Am 107 — London to Dulles, Washington.
Three of us going. Me, AJ and Frankie’s PR Regine Moylet, a Dublin girl in the press hot seat.
Ooze off 107 and cab it to the Hotel Marriott. Unpacked and raided the hotel mini bar immediately, aiming to live up to Frankie’s first rule; always have fun at other people’s expense.
Phone up the Frankies at their hotel, the plush Georgetown. They’ve just arrived from Toronto, Canada.
Ped, Mark and Nash take turns yelling obscenities down the phone at us so we cab over to their gaff for some more personal abuse. Find Holly in the restaurant wolfing down a steak and chips.
"Hullo children," Johnson coos. "I haven’t eaten for three days."
Up to the sixth floor where Mark is on the phone to Liverpool. "Sound, Ma! I’m in America! Listen, tonight I’m doing a live phone interview with Richard Skinner for the Old Grey Whistle Test, so switch the telly on."
Mark gets passed round the family. "Have to go dad, this is costing three quid a minute." Everyone in the party is in a state of high, almost hysterical, excitement. "A year ago I hadn’t even been to London," Mark tells me. "Honest!"
Ped is moaning about Washington’s Ontario Theatre where the band play tomorrow. Apparently it’s too small to allow Frankie to use all their PA.
"I only enjoy it when it’s loud," says Ped. "Tell No. 1 that the lads are the heaviest band in the world."
We leave Mark speaking to Skinner but come back to find him in a temper. "He didn’t ask me anything he said he would. He says someone at Island had told him they didn’t think we’d crack America and what did I think to that? Prat."
Nasher, the Red Muso, is already living up to his role as the arch prankster. Nasher is the originator of Frankie’s catch phrases. The two essential sayings for this tour are both taken from Frankie drivers.
First one is "Let’s get these Pineapples to Hawaii!!!" which means let’s get this show on the road without further ado.
The second comes from a Canadian driver who turned to the band before taking them to a gig and said "You’re f***ing history, mate!" — as in it’s an honour to drive you, young sirs.
The "history" phrase is now used to mean, you’re a thing of the past. Later on we will get refused admission to a New York club called Limelight and Nasher will tell the proprietor as we leave that "You’re f***ing history!"
The banter is nonstop. Ped rushes around the hotel screaming "Have you got a problem with your box?" and calling everyone in sight a ‘plank’ or a ‘quilt’.
If you really want to talk like Frankie you answer a boring statement, "Naah, not in that colour!" to which the correct reply is "Yeah, sometimes, yeah!"
If you want to embarrass a fan you sneak up behind them and shout "Show us yer skimpies!" Got that?
Meet the crew
The band have all adopted pseudonyms. To call up Paul Rutherford’s room you ask for Chicken Hawk or Mr. C. Hawk; Holly is Mr Universe; Nasher is Johnny Blade; Ped is Dark Horse and Mark is Mo Hawk.
The two backing musicians, keyboards player Peter Oxendale and brother Gerard (Jed) O’Toole, are called Kway Lood and Mondo Bondage — names pinched from The Tubes’ White Punks On Dope era.
As well as the band there are three managers on tour. Three! First and foremost is Tony Pope ("strictly no interviews — I did one with Woman’s Own and they made me look a right prat").
Tony’s rise to fame is extraordinary. He started life as an Island Records driver, which is how he met Frankie. They liked him so much they asked him to manage them.
Tony’s nickname is Tosh, he’s about five eight and 170 pounds. The American managers are Ron Weisner, who used to manage Michael Jackson (but doesn’t anymore) and young Bennet Freed, commonly known as Gordon.
Gordon reckons he’s the youngest manager in America. He’s the son of Alan Freed, the DJ who invented rock and roll. Phew!
Bennet used to manage Wham and Nick Rhodes, and he and Weisner look after Madonna.
The crew is nine strong and led by the indispensible tour manager Ian Jeffrey, undoubtedly the most important person on the tour after the band. Ian’s job is to get Frankie from A to B without stopping off at C to Z. No mean feat.
Ian rarely raises his voice but when he does, boy, watch out!
Pig in Japan
Now we’ve met the entire entourage we go out for a Japanese meal to the, er, Japanese Inn where the lads completely disgrace themselves and Paul has to wag his finger and tut-tut at them. The other diners are horrified but fascinated, particularly one woman who can’t take her eyes off them.
"Psss, psss, that’s Frankie Goes To Hollywood," she tells her husband who looks well cheesed off.
"Sorry, luv!" Mark yells across the room. "Are we spoiling your scran?"
"Yes, you are actually," the woman lies. And adds: "I’m from Guildford."
After far too many jugs of Sake, the lads find the mention of Guildford staggeringly funny. The Japan Inn manager is delighted to see the back of them, especially as they pay in dollar bills.’
Frankie goes home to bed.
Tuesday 6 November
Today is American Presidential Election Day. Boring. Today is also Frankie’s first ever American gig.
They’ve just played six nights in Canada, where they have No.1 hits. America is an unknown quantity but the buzz is starting. By the time we get to New York that buzz is a roar and by the time Frankie goes to Hollywood, it’s a bang!
The Beatles also played their first ever American gig in Washington — at the Coliseum. They were pelted with jelly babies and the screaming was so intense no one could hear a note they played.
Frankie are playing in an 1100 capacity theatre, but first they have a day of interviews.
An Island America girl tells them they’re doing a fashion spread for Esquire magazine and has to take their measurements. Ped says "If we don’t like the clothes forget it." Mark says, "I hate her!"
At four pm Frankie do an in-store record-signing and fan-kissing session at the Record and Tape Ltd. store. Two thousand kids are plastered around the block and the cops have cordoned off the entire street.
The cops are wearing Frankie badges and the shop has hired a squad of musclemen from Gold’s Gym in New York to hold ‘em back.
First, though, a publicity stunt. Frankie drive to the in-store in a convoy of army jeeps, flanked by military policemen (actors). The whole event is filmed by MTV (which Mark calls Mindless TV) and another lot who are filming for the BBC and Entertainment USA, the regular nightly dose of show biz Americans need to bolster their celluloid fantasies.
The stunt is done in very poor grace because the open top jeeps are freezing.
We drive ahead in one car with the Beeb crew and Ron Weisner yelling abuse at the MTV crew.
He tells our poor driver: "Ignore them, I’m paying you for C’rissakes," while in the MTV van Regine is telling her driver: "Ignore them I’m paying you", in a much quieter voice of course.
At the in-store, Frankie records sprout legs and scamper out to the cash-till. Two young black girls are swooning over their autographs, scribbled over their copy of No. 1 with Ped in his nappies.
Cassandra and Claudia, both 15, got two kisses each. "They were perfect English gentlemen."
Back at the Georgetown, Jed is first to the bar, closely followed by Kway (aka Ox and The Invisible Man). Kway is a rock and roll veteran, having been in the original Glitter Band. He’s from Hull and reckons he’s a close friend of Mick Ronson and Ian Hunter.
At seven the band start getting changed because there’s no dressing room at the Ontario. It’s a comical sight watching them help each other pull their riding boots on.
Meet Holly at the lift. He’s all in white with two ostrich feathers on his shoulder. The lads tell him he looks like Long John Silver. Holly is pissed off and goes back to his room to make some minor adjustments.
His room is called the Queen’s Suite. Ha, ha.
"Mmm, what to wear…" Holly muses. "Shall I try braces with these pants? Nooh! Too daywear."
At nine we pile into the van and drive a mile or so to the Ontario. There’s no back door so the band are rushed through the crowd to a small room by the toilets. The support band Fourteen Carat Soul are long finished and people are getting restless.
The audience is mostly teenage — die-hards at the front, cool types at the back — but when Frankie come on everyone dashes to the stage. The band are magnificent and make a mockery of the detractors who say they can’t play. The set is entirely dance music but with a punk commitment.
Paul and Holly are a revelation as frontmen and vocalists, while the lads provide the instrumental power and heterosexual appeal —loads of it. Mark is regularly mobbed by stage invading girls, one of whom pins him to the floor for a snag throughout the entire bass solo on ‘Two Tribes’.
For some reason Holly talks to the crowd in a camp American accent in between songs while Paul waves an American flag and rips up a Reagan rubber mask.
Funnily enough in the entire week we spent in the USA I never found one person who admitted voting for Ray-Gun.
Afterwards at the hotel the band are having a mini-inquest. Nash and Jed’s guitar synthesizers had packed up and so had Ped’s drum sequencers, but Mark is gatting most stick.
"You were out of your box before we went on, Mark!" Nasher tells him. The Psychedelic Furs (who were at the gig) were clocking you.
"We carried you, la."
Mark just laughs and swigs down a bottle of champagne.
"Don’t do that in England," Ped adds. "Call yourself a lad!"
Tony Pope smooths over the cracks. "Whatever you’ve got to say, say it now and then shuddup, ‘specially you Mark ‘cos you’re bladdered."
The band change and go to a local club, Cagney’s.
Ped and Nash go exploring while Mark gets the zeds in Poor boy is tired and emotional so Paul takes him home.
Later Paul and Holly are dancing to Prince and drinking the Rutherford cocktail, a B52 Shooter made with Advocaat.
Back at the hotel a fan asks Ped if Frankie mean it, if they’re politically motivated and so on. You’d think that after a statement like ‘Two Tribes’ people would be satisified but they never are.
"It’s not political — it’s just us," Ped retorts. "Course we like making money but we like working as well."
Someone turns on the TV. Ronnie won.
Let’s go to bed.
THE HOLLY JOHNSON INTERVIEW
Holly Johnson keeps himself to himself for much of the tour.
Holly used to have a reputation for being a wild night-time person but now he’s the one Frankie who believes in getting his beauty sleep, perhaps because he’s the most experienced performer in the band.
Holly enjoys the big city occasions and is happier when we get to New York, when he meets his all-time hero Andy Warhol, the pop art socialite who has been connected with every hip band from The Velvet Underground to Bowie to the Stones.
Warhol collects ‘in’ people and their conversations and Frankie are right up his street. They are splashed all over Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine and he throws a party for Holly hosted by his ambassador, a curvy blonde called Diane Brill.
When I speak to Holly in his room he’s terrifically excited at the prospect of meeting Warhol the next day.
"I’m having breakfast with him at the Factory (Warhol’s studio-cum-office). A breakfast party. Then I’m going on his cable show, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes (named after Warhol’s saying "In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes").
"Apparently you go on and talk about what you’re wearing-that’s so Andy it’s untrue," H laughs.
But touring isn’t a long round of backslapping and parties, is it, Holly?
"No, today we did an MTV special, an interview for Newsweek magazine, two phone-ins, a photo session for Esquire, a Friday Night Video slot and I went to the Nat West bank on Water Street.
"I met this Australian film director, a very cynical person, but he said America made him feel like a speck of dust and I know what he meant.
"There’s a weekly list of celebrities published by a local agency of people available for interview in New York City. There are five thousand names on the list, including us.
"It’s a game, yeah, but one we chose to play.
"I enjoy the TV side because that reaches a lot of people, but I can’t see the point of nightclubbing at places like Area (the New York nite spot favoured by the Frankies — it makes London’s Hippodrome look like the Sale Locarno). That’s like pleasure as work — nothing is achieved except tiredness.
"I love New York and I hate it. New York is ‘hello I love you, give me some work’. Everyone wants a dollar - it reeks of capitalism.
"I almost feel sorry for New Yorkers because there are so many desperate people pushing their wares on the streets.
"It sucks you in and distracts you, it makes you punch drunk.
"There are a lot of walking corpses here who don’t know which way to turn. Then there are the Yuppies, the Young Upwardly Mobile types, which we are, people trying to make it on a bigger level…
"If everything goes according to plan, we’ll crack it this time ‘cos that’s the Frankie phenomenon, so called (laughs). But they don’t really understand us here yet.
"The media machine is vital if you have the right machine."
Could success spoil Frankie Goes To Hollywood?
"That’s a good question let you know."
Holly is probably the most sensitive individual, the Frankie who has suffered the most ridicule and therefore needs to take himself more seriously now. He doesn’t enjoy all the ribbing but he’s hard enough to take it.
"The only time we’re alone is in the back of a limo or just before a gig… we’re coping with each other, we’re riding the storm, but I must say I’m homesick.
"I’m having a good time but I wanna go home."
Frankie were abroad when ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ was released. Was that a disappointment?
"A bit, but I couldn’t cope with every other person coming up to me. The album is good… I wish it had more mystery.
"It was such a public thing, it had already been absorbed before it came out — so the pleasure was almost sucked dry to an extent. Now that it’s in the public domain it ceases to be a personal thing."
What’s your favourite song on the record?
"Definitely ‘The Power Of Love’, it’s the most personal song and the best crafted number. I like ‘Born To Run’ too. The title track is good if a little clean, and the ‘Krisco’ side is glamorous, a touch of ‘70s…"
While Frankie are in America, Brian de Palma’s movie Body Double, featuring their special sleaze version of ‘Relax’, is released.
"I haven’t seen it and may not. It’s supposed to be quite hard core, and blood and guts porn doesn’t interest me. It makes me cringe.
"Apparently people are going to see it just to catch ‘Relax’. It isn’t a massive box office success."
Live performance is what turns Holly on.
"I love it, the concentration involved, the feeling that you’re doing a job and communicating with an audience.
"I get so intensely involved I don’t notice anything else. I didn’t even realise Paul had taken most of his clothes off until afterwards in Washington.
"I can’t wait to play England now, particularly Liverpool. It’s good for the ego.
"Showbiz is a very strange thing, I’ve got a love-hate relationship with that. In Liverpool your mates say ‘You’re there, Holly, you’re there’ but they only see the end product, not what that entails.
"To say it’s hard work is an understatement. The pressures are immense, more so for my family. It’s changed their existence. They always have people ringing their door bells — ‘Is he in?’ or ‘Sign this, do that’.
"People shouldn’t hassle my parents, please!
"Celebrity is an odd state indeed. Having money is a wonderful thing if you can enjoy it, but it brings problems when people imagine you have more money than you do.
"I hope to God I’m gonna make a lot out of this. I’ve worked hard enough for it."