Title: Frankie in Italy (Part 2)
Author: Mark Ellen
Source: Smash Hits
Publish date: 14 March 1985
The story so far: Frankie Goes To Hollywood are appearing at the San Remo Song Festival. So are Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Bronski Beat, Sade, Chaka Khan and Jermaine Jackson. Frankie have been claiming they could “blow Spandau off stage any day” (and just about everyone else for that matter), and we left Nasher, drink in band, teetering on a third floor balcony telling most of North Italy how much he loved them. And somewhere in the middle of it all is Mark Ellen. Now read on…
Nasher careers down two flights of stairs, rebounds off a news reporter and stumbles out, blinking, into the entrance hall. He’s had a couple of drinks, he’s about to go on stage, life couldn’t really be rosier. “I can’t wait to go on tour,” he cackles. “I love my public and my public love me!”
The doors open and in burst Duran Duran, hotly pursued by a forest of lights and cameras. They’re led by a bloke called Red Ronnie (Italy’s answer to Jonathan King) and a crew from his TV show Be Bop A Lula. “I’ve had enough of I this camera stuff,” says Simon le Bon with a regal wave of his hand. Red Ronnie persists. What’s your message to the kids of the next century? “Remember us,” says Simon. “Here,” he points to Frankie, “meet my buddies!”
Mark O’Toole and Andy Taylor are all over each other — back-slapping, shouting, the works. “Hot-blooded these Italian types, aren’t they?” yells Andy. “Climbed all over the car. Nearly had a crash on the way down!”
Paul Rutherford waves from the corner; he’s doing a live radio interview, signing programmes and dancing as he speaks. Holly Johnson’s standing next to him telling a reporter how he’s buying a church. But why? “I’m starting a new religion,” he drawls.
It’s chaos. Utter chaos. No-one knows what’s going on. The British group Talk Talk have already played (well, mimed — it’s a ‘playback’ festival). So have The Village People. So have some 11 Italian pop acts including a warbling loon called Banco — a cross between Demis Roussos and the European butter mountain — and the truly frightful New Trolls. Bronski Beat have just come off. Jermaine Jackson and Pia Zadora have just gone on. Duran are next, then Spandau, then Frankie, Chaka Khan, new Motown star Sam Harris, Italian heart-throb Gino Vannelli — direct, it seems, from a Foster Brothers window display — and then the act that’s currently Number 1 in the Italian LP charts, Sade.
But where’s Nasher gone? And where’s Mark? Well, someone had better go and keep an eye on them. We struggle back upstairs, passing Bronski Beat on the way. No thanks, they won’t be coming to the club later on (they’re possibly avoiding Frankie). “It’s madness here,” says Larry, “sheer madness.” And there’s Sade. What does she think of the organisation? “Dunno. I’ll let you know when I find some.”
Back on the third floor things are getting hysterical. Spandau Ballet, Nasher, Mark, three of Duran and various roadies, girls and friends have taken over a dressing-room. More yelling, more back-slapping and bottles of booze. Terrified Italian pop stars are being steered past by nervous managers. “Hey, Sade!” shouts Mark. “I bought a copy of your LP…” “…yeah, and I snapped it in half,” shouts Nasher.
Paul Rutherford is standing on the stairs watching Mark and Nash whooping it up with Spandau. He smiles.
“Two-faced, aren’t they?”
Duran Duran on stage PLEASE! They troop past, raising eyebrows wearily. Another live TV show; they’ve done it all before. “Is this what we’ve worked so hard to achieve?” says John Taylor sarcastically. We watch them on the TV monitor. Impeccable stuff. You’d never have guessed they were miming if Simon hadn’t knocked over the mike stand and ended up having to sing the last chorus of “Wild Boys” into the handle of his walking-stick.
Spandau Ballet on stage PLEASE! And on they charge looking radiantly wealthy — a blaze of purple buccaneer trousers, big boots, gold earrings, frock coats, pearls and embroidered silk waistcoats. Duran file out past the waiting Frankie, Simon pointing at Holly’s bow-tie. “When you going to get one that revolves?”
Frankee Goes To ‘ollywood on stage PLEASE! What now? Look at the state of Nasher! There’s 2000 people in that studio audience, there’s 31 million watching live at home, the programme’s then being networked to another 100 million viewers across Europe, the States, Canada, Australia, Indonesia, even parts of Russia — just about everywhere, in fact, but Britain — and Nasher is completely sozzled. “He’s bevvied,” says Mark. “Bladdered. He’s got a lot of blood in his alcohol stream.” Will he fall over? Will he stand up? We’ll have to wait and see.
And they’re on. The four of them shuffle out onto the side of the stage and out of sight. We wait, nervously, for the four tiny figures to appear on the backstage TV screen. There’s Holly… and Paul… and Mark… where’s Nash? There he is! Wobbling, giggling a lot, but still on his his feet.
“Signore e signori per favore!” It’s the compere — rather prim, Italy’s answer to Selina Scott “Numero uno a tutto il mondo — FRANKEE GOES TO ‘OLLYWOOD!” Polite applause. She then asks the question that’s on every Italian’s lips: “So please, which one is Frankee?” “He is,” grins Holly, pointing at the audience.
And before they can say any more, “The Power Of Love” soundtrack begins booming from the speakers. Holly stalks the stage, refusing to use a microphone and mouths the words while chucking red roses to the startled crowd. Chaka Khan’s watching in the wings: “Go Frankie GO!” she shrieks. “Ooooh he’s so cool”
Mark and Nash are leaning back-to-back, pulling faces, doing daft heavy metal poses and generally arseing about. Suddenly Mark strolls off — Nash goes flying backwards disappearing off the screen. No. Please. Help. But wait! He turned around. And he’s back. Back he comes into the picture, heading the other way with a grin about a mile wide. Will he stop? What? It’s the end of the song. Thank God for that. And they’re off stage, and Chaka Khan’s on and it’s over and we’re getting out, quick. Out through the lobby, past the cameras, past the lights, past the security guards, the gates, the crowds, back in the cars and away.
Away to the Whisky A Go Go club. The waiters all freeze as we file in. Is it? It is! This is their lucky day. Within two minutes —literally — the Sade LP’s been whipped off the turntable, “Relax” (the American remix) has been slapped on in its place and two free bottles of champagne have appeared, both nestling in ice buckets. People are already pouring in off the street to occupy the nearby tables.
“It gets boring actually,” says Holly. “A year ago they wouldn’t have even let us in the door.” He hates clubs anyway — “they’re just holes in the ground full of mirror-balls”.
As Nash and Mark get stuck into more free bevvies and start doing camp impersonations of “Larry Lamb” (as they call Boy George), it becomes obvious how different Holly is from the lads. He talks about records — Vivaldi, Mozart, jazz and his collection of paintings, and how he took three weeks to perfect “The Power Of Love”, the lyric he’s most proud of. (He is, I’m told later, “deeply in love”). He talks about the part he’s recently recorded in the Brian de Palma film Body Double — “I get thrown on a bar by leatherboys and a Chinese woman walks all over me. It’s sex and horror and not very pleasant to watch.”
What about the group?
“I don’t know,” he sighs. “You wonder sometimes where’s it all going to go? I mean, how can you top an LP like ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’? Imagine, after all this, having to go back to being a waiter or something. That’s what happened to Sandie Shaw.”
He isn’t much like Paul Rutherford either, who’s quite quiet, enthusiastic, the friendliest of the four of them and always the most elegantly dressed. Tonight he’s wearing “fashion gigs” (sunglasses with plain glass for lenses), a jet-black pleated Yohji Yamamoto cape, a white pleated shirt, baggy black trousers and matching shoes, braces and arm bands all in black leather embossed with gold. He looks like a Persian bible salesman. Mark leans over. “We’re changing the name of the group, yer know, with him as singer. We’re called Ram-Jam Chucklebuttie & The All-Star Tabla-bashers.”
The best moments for Paul in the Frankie story aren’t the musical ones. They’re things like appearing on the cover of The Face magazine and being photographed by ‘60s legend David Bailey (who gave them all gloriously camp nicknames: Holly was “Noel Coward”, Paul was “Blackbird”, Nasher was “Brigitte Bardot”, Ped was “Marlon” and Mark was “The Handsome One At The Back”). And he loves getting free clothes from ‘name’ designers, like the stuff he’s got on. “Princely, isn’t it?”
The place is filling up. Duran are here, Spandau are right behind them. I’ve never seen so many expensive clothes in one room at the same time.
Nick Rhodes has borrowed a camera and is loosing off snaps in all directions. “Put that thing down, Rhodes.” says John Keeble. “You know you can’t take photographs.”
Andy Taylor is laughing about how he failed to meet up with Frankie at Christmas. He wanted to join them on stage for one of their Liverpool shows but he couldn’t find out which hotel they were staying at. They were all booked in under false names, Mark explains. He was “Batman”. Nash was “Spiderman”, Paul “Darth Vader”, Holly “Luke Skywalker” and Ped was “Skeletor”. “Well, no wonder I couldn’t find you!”
Nash is shouting “you are scum!” at anyone in earshot and, eventually, has to head for bed early as he’s “so bevvied”.
Five hours later it’s getting a bit ridiculous. Sade’s here. So’s Sam Harris (“a finer, littler version of George Michael”, according to Holly). The Village People have showed up (Holly’s talking to them). Spandau are telling Frankie how they’re “outselling Springsteen in Australia”. People keep ordering more booze. Simon le Bon’s talking to a TV pop show hostess. Nick Rhodes is talking to Paul (Mark’s just clapped him on the back and said, “Cheer up, Nick, you always look so miserable!”). And Mark and Andy Taylor have kicked all the glasses off one of the tables and are up there punching the air and singing “Woolly Bully”.
It’s now seven in the morning and time I got out of here, and the same goes for John Taylor. He’s propped against the bar looking like he hasn’t a clue what country he’s in.
“Well, I haven’t really. 15 hours ago I was in New York. I’m absolutely, completely exhausted.” He’s depressed, he says, about a publishing problem he’s having over the Power Station single. “Next week,” he says wearily, “we’re playing Saturday Live in America to 30 million people and we’re on the cover of Smash Hits this week and the record isn’t even out yet.” He lays his head on the bar top. “I’m too depressed to talk about it actually.”
He ought to go to bed.
“I should really.” he mumbles, “I should.”
“So Andy Taylor’s going round town calling me names, is he?”
Nasher, a little hung-over, is pouring himself another beer. It’s midday and he’s got “a mouth like a paperhanger’s bucket”.
Well. Mark points out, he did keel over at one-thirty and have to go to bed. And that makes him “a wimp” in Andy Taylor’s book, “a big poof”.
Nick Rhodes and Paul got on really well, someone tells him. They talked for hours about painters — Picasso, Matisse…
“What’s Matisse?” snaps Mark.
“Probably some arty poof’s drink,” says Nasher draining his glass.
Another drink, Nash?
“Yeah, I’ll have a bottle of Matisse and four cola-colas — NOW! I hate art,” he declares. “It’s shite.”
How did he get on with Spandau in the end?
“Well… OK.” He looks a bit embarrassed. “What am I going to say to them? ‘You bastards, you said something horrible about us in Smash Hits?’” He tops up his beer. “That Steve Norman’s really sound.”
“Those clothes, though,” Mark grins. “Look like they’re made out of curtain material.”
“Basically,” Paul cuts in, “Spandau just can’t take the fact that a bunch of rougharses (Frankie) came up behind them and blew them off. And they still can’t forgive us for calling them soft. They’re basically just dead straight lads. But. dead soft.”
“Eh, Franco!” Nash is thirsty. “Encore beer! Encore bevvies! Encore Matisse!…”
Remember Franco? He’s the bloke from the Italian record label the lads have been driving insane for the last three days. They want things; he pays for them. It’s probably just the knowledge that, in about three minutes time they’ll all be back in those taxis, off to the airport and heading for England, that keeps him from going stark, raving mad.
Then he hears the news about Mark (Mark — the one who once lost his passport just before flying to America and was so late getting a new one they had to stick him on a Concorde; Mark — who once hailed a London taxi and told it to take him home — Liverpool). Mark apparently got back at seven this morning, rang up his girlfriend, Caroline, in Liverpool and then fell asleep leaving the receiver off the hook. Five long hours. Forty three pence a minute. Franco flinches.
“Yer lucky, mate,” says Nasher.
Lucky? How can he possibly be lucky?
“Ver lucky Ped’s not here. He’s a headcase, Ped. Off his tree. Dead good at the lads’ favourite pastime — getting completely bevvied,”
Nash turns to me. “D’yer know the lads’ motto?”
No, but I can guess…
“Take ‘em for everything!” he cackles.