Title: Frankie goes to America — The scallies go to NYC
Author: Max Bell
Source: No. 1
Publish date: Dec 8 1984
“If Frankie Goes To Hollywood, America will go to Hell.” That was the view of one correspondent in America’s top rock magazine Rolling Stone.
Max Bell continues his journey into the core of America as the wild boys reach the Big Apple — New York City. Photos by A.J.Barratt.
Wednesday 7 November
So began an odd day indeed, as Holly would say. The Cowboy is back in the White House for another four-year term under the banner ‘Bringing America back’.
Outside Ronnie’s Washington abode, a small group of peace protesters maintain their vigil, handing out car stickers that proclaim “Reagan ‘84 — War ‘85”.
With this cheerful prospect to sustain them the Frankies are driven to the White House for a photo session.
After last night’s debut US concert, the party mood has been replaced by a sense of anti-climax. The next show is five days away and now the band are en route to New York City.
“Beware the Big Apple, it’s full of maggots,” says Paul Rutherford.
Board the internal flight and overhear an airline official tell his mate as the band troop on: “So, Vernon, looks like Hallowe’en ain’t over after all.”
The flight is a nightmare for Paul and Mark O’Toole who share a phobia of aeroplanes. The journey is particularly bumpy and the engines are making the type of noises that convince you the fuselage is just about to drop off.
Paul sits stoically in his seat and listens to Roxy Music tapes on a Walkman at maximum volume while singing in a loud, hysterical, tuneless voice.
Mark paces up and down the corridor muttering “I wanna gerroff now!”
Later he reckons: “Paul and me have got this theory we’re going to die in a plane. They terrify me. Even talking about it makes me sweat.
“The only time I’m nearly happy is when they get above the clouds ‘cos then it looks like heaven. I must have about three hundred pictures of clouds taken outta plane windows. Apart from that it’s Lynyrd Skynyrd move over…” (Skynyrd was a rock band who were decimated in a plane crash.)
Arrive in New York but there are no limos or crowds. Find out that ‘Two Tribes’ is 64 in the Billboard Hot 100 and that ‘Pleasuredome’ has ‘shipped’ half a million copies in America, but the lack of fanfares is a reminder that this tour is still a fairly low key, low budget affair.
Everyone seems exhausted except Nasher who goes out for a Japanese meal then returns to the hotel and relieves himself in Mark’s bath.
The highpoint of the day?
Thursday 8 November
Today is rehearsal for NBC’s Saturday Night Live network show, and its coast-to-coast audience of 42 million dedicated viewers.
SNL has a glorious history, having been the launching pad for all the National Lampoon stars from John Belushi to Christopher Guest to Chevy Chase, Bill Murray and Eddie Murphy. It’s a satirical programme, like an American equivalent of Monty Python.
Frankie’s appearance, their live American TV debut, is doubly important now that Frankie’s MTV slot has been put in jeopardy by the Washington incident where Paul and Mark grappled with a camerman on stage.
O’Toole: “They were supposed to film one song and not get on stage. After three numbers this guy was on stage trailing his camera in front of us — on our first American date.
“Paul kneed him and stood in front of the lens and he still didn’t get the message, so I shouted at him that if he wasn’t off in ten seconds he’d get his head kicked in.
“It was a bloody circus.”
Friday 9 November
Trevor Horn arrived on Concorde but kept a low profile all day until the evening when he came down to the hotel bar for an orange juice. He doesn’t drink.
Horn is an amiable owl-like figure who hates giving interviews but lets slip a few interesting observations during the course of conversation.
“My blueprint for making the ‘Pleasuredome’ was The Beatles. Every night after recording I’d go home and the records I listened to most for encouragement or whatever were ‘With The Beatles’ and ‘Beatles For Sale’.
“It’s funny how no one ever complained about George Martin adding cello arrangements or an electric piano to certain Beatles songs.
“The producer’s job is to enhance the band’s ideas as well as to interpret them; only an outsider would think I was interfering.
“People have said I’m a Hitler in the studio, that the album was all my work. That’s complete rubbish. I wouldn’t tell anyone my trade secrets but I honestly felt like getting the press in at one stage and playing them the band’s demos and mixes just so they could see how wrong those criticisms were.
“A lot of the flak I put down to industry or press jealousy of Paul Morley.
“Someone like Phil Spector was far more of a studio madman than me. When Ike and Tina Turner’s ‘River Deep, Mountain High’ only got to three in the British charts he went into a sulk for weeks and wouldn’t speak to anyone.”
While Trevor, Ped and Nasher catch up on the latest football scores I go in search of Paul Rutherford. Despite being with the Frankies for four days, this is the first chance their schedule has allowed for an uninterrupted interview.
Paul is perched up in bed, munching chocolate mints.
“I feel like I’m convalescing: I think they’re trying to kill us off.
“The playing side is great but the nonstop press! And some of these smartarse Yanks keeping on about ‘did you really mean that?’ and ‘why did you say this?’
“I suppose it’s ‘cos they missed out on the banned ‘Relax’ furore so now they need everything explaining.
“Fortunately, we’re getting on fine together, there’s a lot of wind ups, but that builds up an accord.”
As the tour unfolds it’s apparent that Rutherford’s contribution is vast. He acts as a buffer between the lads and Holly while his singing and dancing combine to give Frankie a unique visual presence.
“We try to make it an assault on the senses and I’m certainly not self-conscious. We’re all born posers, anything for a crack, we’re not proud.
“It was so hot in Toronto I took me shirt off and the sweat poured into my trousers so I undid me belt and stuck the mike down.
“The girls’ screaming was so loud it took me a few seconds to realise that the mike was feeding back. I got quite a shock.”
Now that the album is released, Paul is glad of an end to the secrecy that surrounded its making.
“I don’t have to sit there and convince myself, ‘cos it did get great reviews so…
“Nick Rhodes’ one in No. 1 was a bit desperate. I don’t think he wanted to like it, but that doesn’t matter. I don’t want to burst people’s bubbles. It’s more important that the kids like it.
“I’m proud I’m involved and that’s it. People have said it sets a standard and to me it’s like the first real record in a long time.”
Amongst the many delights of the record are the funny little pieces between tracks, the most popular of which is the dole queue rap after ‘Ferry ‘Cross The Mersey’.
“That was used to show up some of the decay in Liverpool. When the band started me, Holly and Ped were on the dole; we weren’t earning so we had to sign on.
“I went to the local office and said, ‘I’m sorry, I’ve left me card at ‘ome’ and the girl freaked out totally. I taped it all on a little machine and we got this mate of ours, Helen who plays Karen’s friend Suzy in Brookside, to do the voice.”
Five little lads
“Brookside is a brilliant programme, it’s far too subversive to be called a soap. Mind you I still love Corrie — Vera Duckworth is God. I saw her once at Granada walking round singing a little song. I’m in love with her.”
Small memories like this prompt Paul’s observation that although he isn’t homesick he does phone home very day.
“We did this MTV thing and I was knackered — felt like I’d been pushed round all day — so I called me ma and said ‘Mum, I’ve had enough, I want to come home’.
“Sometimes it feels like we’re just five little lads. You can lose your cool.
“We did a press reception in Montreal and this ugly fat guy said: ‘I’ve just got one question for you and that is, do you think you’re doing us a favour talking to us?’, and Holly said, ‘Yeah, we are, so get out!’. The next day he was on the radio yelling Frankie Go Home!
“Those things are funny but not constructive.
“It’s not as if we feel precious. I don’t feel at all special.
“Usually I’m friendly and gregarious, but there are times when I wonder why anyone would want to speak to someone as boring as me.
“The MTV people wanted us to be outrageous to order. They wanted me and Holly to go on about the gay angle. It was pure sensationalism. They wanted us to admit that ‘Relax’ was just a gay song and of course it wasn’t.
“People don’t lose sleep over it. We aren’t outrageous, we’re so ordinary it’s untrue.”
But when you become a public figure you cease to seem ordinary.
“Well, I can never make sense of that, I can’t tie it up at all. We’re selling records now but we were nobodies when we got the band together.
“We are ambitious but we’re not fickle. There are far more offensive things to worry about than love and sex.
“Frankie is only saying don’t let anyone bother you, be yourself and don’t take all this authoritarian bullshit.
“I can’t bear working class people who have Conservative aspirations, that’s pretension. I’d still be voting Labour with a million in the bank.”
At this juncture Mark wanders in moaning: “Tosh (the manager) just had a right go at me ‘cos I said we hadn’t had a day off. He says ‘You’re here to work, not to have days off’. We’ll go missing soon.”
While Paul describes New York as a “brain frazzler”, Mark prefers to call it a “head wrecker”. But then until a year ago he’d “never been further than Wales for a holiday”.
“I’d never ever been to London and now I’m sitting in an American hotel ordering room service.
“I hate hotels. You get lonely so you turn on the telly and there’s some news about cab drivers getting shot in the head for five dollars. All the TV makes you paranoid. It’s like living on a film set except that you’re packing and unpacking all the time and you can’t get any washing done.
“Then when you go out you bump into all these weirdoes who say ‘hi guys’ and slap you on the back and send you halfway across the room.
“At the moment I don’t know what time it is or what day it is. Like I phoned me ma up and everything sounds dead normal at home, you know, they’re watching Corrie and I’m on Madison Avenue!”
Rutherford first came to New York when he was 18, but the three lads are just getting the hang of this disorientating life style. To combat the alienation, Mark, Ped and Nash have bought walkie-talkies for “calling all lads”.
“We use ‘em at gigs too so I can bleep Nasher in the middle of a song and say ‘Whaddya think of that bird over there?’ I nearly bought a Watchman and a Tellywatch but none of those gadgets work at home.”
The three lads’ legendary camaraderie goes back to school days at St Francis Xaviers and local rave-ups in Clubmoor and Norris Green. But there are also family ties — Mark and Nasher are cousins.
The lads adopted the self-styled name when they first signed to ZTT.
“They thought we’d be like Paul and Holly who were far more mature and didn’t act as mad as us. We said sod that, we are the lads. Even Chris Blackwell (Island’s supreme boss) calls us the lads.
“He didn’t believe we’d be able to play until a few weeks before the tour. He’d been to see U2 rehearsing near us and then he dropped by to check Frankie out and told us that we were better than U2!
“He’s sound for a billionaire.”
What are you going to do with your ill-gotten gains?
“Be nice to do a Ringo Starr and buy the family bungalows, everyone really wants to do that.
“We’re only rich on paper. Maybe we’ll become tax exiles on the Isle of Man. Imagine the three lads as millionaires! We’d still be running around in grots at the gaff.
“I suppose we’d have to buy individual gaffs and a communal gaff ‘cos in twenty years we’ll be a phenomenon.
“Ped’s got this daily ritual. He walks into the living room, scratches his balls, yawns and gruffs: ‘The lads’ gaff!’
“Nasher always gets up earliest, the little egg, but then he’s usually in bed first. He bangs on Ped’s door but Ped’s taken his door knob off so he can’t get in. I’ve got a gong by the bed ‘cos I can’t get up. Nasher bangs it by me ear then he thwacks me with wet towels.”
Hard to believe that the perpetrators of these boyish pranks are also responsible for writing the music on the year’s hottest album.
Muso type comments are kept to a minimum however, with Mark merely admitting that Wham’s ‘Make It Big’ has stolen some thunder in their absence.
“Good luck to ‘em, ours will stand up… It’s got bits for kids and bits for young adults,” he laughs. “I dunno how people will like the Floyd parody ‘Wish The Lads Were Here’. If I was Roger Waters and this trendy young band ripped me off, I’d be made up.”
O’Toole likes everything about the album, “except the picture in the middle of the sleeve. We keep on telling people that Ped did the artwork and they say ‘Oh Ped you must be a big Picasso fan’ and Ped goes, ‘Yeah I’m well into Picasso’. Ped’s sane though, he’s got his head together.
“LA and San Francisco should be the best gigs. Frisco’s the gay capital of the world so Paul and Holly should enjoy themselves.
“After LA the record company wants us to go to Tokyo to do more press. Will we fook.”
Two weeks closer
But the pleasure never stops. That night the band visit three nightclubs before ending up “totally bladdered” at the New York office of the BBC where jovial Peter Powell is hosting a live Saturday morning radio show for Britain.
Powell is growing a beard even as he speaks and the band, minus Holly, are swigging a bottle of wine and giving him the interview he so badly wants. When the polite questions and raucous answers are over, Powell is delighted.
“So no one else from England has done a radio with you boys? Great, great, triffic! It’s an exclusive? Wow! Triffic!”
Outside it’s early morning, police sirens are wailing, steam is billowing out of the sewers and subways into the freezing New York air and Frankie is two weeks closer to Hollywood.