Title: Frankie finds fame
Author: Chrissey Iley
Source: Ms London
Publish date: 6 August, 1984
After an eight-year struggle for public recognition, Frankie Goes to Hollywood have come out of the closet — and how! Chrissey Iley talks to frontman Holly Johnson about success, sex and his holiday snaps…
HOLLY Johnson’s kitchen is light and airy and not used very much. It’s 10am. He is warming up Raisin Bran for breakfast. He has already been up since 5am — someone told him it was good for the soul — so he is trying it out.
We are looking at his photographs — piles of them lie across the kitchen table all of a weekend in New York. The Virgin Atlantic Airlines maiden voyage. “New York was wonderful — my one regret is that now I can’t say I’ve always wanted to go to New York because I’ve already been.” The first packet of photos are of Gatwick airport lounge and the scattering of minor celebrities that Virgin invited on the flight — Christopher Biggins, Sandie Shaw, Bonnie Langford, quite a few of Katie Rabett — Holly admits he was “dead impressed” at the time. There follows a few drunken “in flight” shots and masses of New York street scenes and clubs stretched over two days.
The best ones had been sifted out and saved until last — like the ones of a friend’s Chevrolet overheating and steaming away on Park Avenue. Holly thought the steam was very New York. Best of all were the close-ups of the hordes of Fleet Street photographers all cramming and grappling to photograph Holly as he boarded the plane. “Now you know what it’s like,” says Holly.
He has a love/hate relationship with his new found fame. For the most part he finds it interesting. Deep down he always knew he would be famous. “Even as a kid I used to carry a copy of Andy Warhol’s From A to B and Back Again in my back pocket.” Warhol predicted that everyone would have the chance to be famous for 15 minutes. Holly is always referring to Andy. Andy is God.
Fame did not come easily, but neither did it come for 15 minutes. It was an eight-year struggle of being on the dole, in various bands and when the dole stopped the money he was a pizza chef and a labourer in Wapping. “There were times when I wanted to give up and I told myself, ‘you’re a very ordinary person’, but it got to the point where I didn’t know how to do anything else so I carried on.”
The present line-up of Frankie Goes to Hollywood has been together for nearly three years. They all lived in Liverpool until six months ago. Six months ago they were still signing on the dole. Holly’s parents live just around the corner from Penny Lane, his dad drives a cab, his mum is a nurse in a children’s heart clinic. They think it’s great that he’s made it, but get bugged by kids asking for autographs.
Just before they were discovered by Trevor Horn they had been about to split up — they were tired of doing gigs where all the record companies’ young A&R men would come backstage and say, “I’d love to sign you but my boss would freak.”
“We were too outrageous for them. We knew we had to make an impact because the competition is fierce. You have to have a selling point so basically we did over the top things. We would go to any extreme to attract attention to ourselves. You have to if you want to get off the streets. Sometimes if you are lucky you get some homo A&R man who falls in love with the lead singer and signs you up for £250,000. We didn’t have that luck. We had to make a heavy play for it.”
Their stage show with naked women chained to the drum kit was deemed obscene. Trevor Horn started his own label, ZTT and Frankie Goes to Hollywood were the first signing. “People have tried to pin all sorts of labels on us, but really we are just out there hustling. People buy the records because they are good — I think we are value for money.”
The lyrics of “Relax” have been greatly misunderstood. “Relax is about getting up off your arse and doing things. I’m always trying to explain to people it’s relax — don’t do it. Meaning don’t relax — you can’t afford to relax for a minute if you want to succeed at anything. It does have sexual connotations as well. The word “come” is used as a form of achievement — as in becoming successful at a certain thing. The process is like coming sexually. You can’t relax if you want to come.”
Holly found it useful to exploit the sex side of “Relax”. “We were prepared to be as outrageous as the media wanted us to be. We have manipulated the media but they have manipulated us. I have never felt that they truly understood what we were doing.
“As far as the issue of my own sexuality is concerned I think the Press have behaved abominably. I know I am setting myself up to be knocked down by making my opinions known publicly, but I am not public property, I am a worker like everyone else.”
Holly has always had glamour, even on the dole he always attracted it. Now he has fame and glamour combined. He is bemused. Suddenly he can’t go into supermarkets. “I think it is quite a joke. I’ve always been around and nobody was interested in me before. Now I’m afraid of disappointing people who think shock, horror, this is the person who got banned.
“I can understand people cracking up in my position. You walk down the street and people nudge each other, which is weird even if they are nice. But I’ll always have a sense of reality because I come from Liverpool.”
There is also a pressure to write more songs in less time. “I’d much prefer it to be like it was when I was on the dole. I wrote a song when I was inspired. I hope the quality of the songs don’t suffer. We have been asked to replace four of the tracks that have been proposed for the album over the next two weeks. They were too eccentric.”
Ironically enough, now that they have attracted attention to themselves by being outrageous, the record company want them to sell records by being dance floor. “If you want to carry on working, you have to come to a compromise because the record company can make sure you don’t work again. It would be difficult for us to get picked up by another label without Trevor, because we are regarded as a Trevor Horn manufactured band.
“One thing is for sure, I can’t wait to get my hands on the money. Money will provide creative freedom. It will enable me to do things that I have never been able to do before like make a film, do really nice screen prints, maybe even set up a record label. I’d very much like to become a millionaire, I think I’d make a good one.”
The ups and downs are incredibly far apart. Holly says this is not the happiest time of his life. He remembers times of being ecstatic on the dole. Nothing much has changed. “I’ve always felt I have something to offer in the same way a poet or an artist has something to offer.” Still looking through his photographs he thinks he will take his next ones in black and white. “It’s more arty.”