Title: We have ways of making you talk: Holly Johnson
Holly Johnson formed FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD, the most controversial pop group since The Sex Pistols. Throughout 1984, Frankiemania rivalled Beatlemania. These days, Holly paints and records music — his first album for a decade is out now
What do you think of Frankie today?
“I was looking at some old footage recently, and it was like it was a different person. What a confident young man! The supreme arrogance of youth.”
You had good reason to be arrogant.
“The people loved us, but there was a lot of criticism in the media, which resulted in us not being taken as seriously as, say, The Smiths — who had much less of an effect on pop culture than we did. But because of their positioning in alternative rock, they are the band written about most reverentially. But they were no supernova like we were. Frankie Goes To Hollywood was a pivotal moment in rock and dance music.”
Your earliest influences were Bowie, Bolan, Ferry and disco, weren’t they?
“I vacillated between Eric’s — the new wave punk club where I met Echo, Julian Cope and Ian Broudie — and the gay club where I’d dance to disco music.”
What Frankie were doing would today be like a bunch of white boys from Up North forming a band under the influence of Timbaland, Dr Dre and The Bomb Squad. You were a culmination of the white funk initiative.
“We were more of a rock thing. Duran and Spandau were more poppy wine bar. We were tougher. We wore leather knickers and jackboots.”
Plus, you had that intellectual framework.
“Well, I read Jean Genet when I was 15. That was my homosexual sensibility. Paul Morley [ex-NME scribe turned record label ZTT’s in-house agent provocateur] would quote from more obscure people in an attempt to make himself look clever.”
The Eighties were the Sixties for many…
“The Eighties get slagged now, even by people who did fabulously well out of them, like Sade. I think the Nineties have been musically disappointing. All these uninteresting heterosexuals, the Met Bar set, being photographed with their Gucci and Prada bags, with no taste whatsoever, thinking they can buy it from a shop in Bond Street; there’s nothing interesting about them at all as human beings. Meg Gallagher? I didn’t say that.”
The Nineties have been very blokey.
“All the interesting ones in the Eighties were gay: Boy George, Marc Almond, Morrissey — ooh, is he or isn’t he? Neil Tennant is a Johnny-Come-Lately to gayness. I had lunch with David McAlmont — he’s more like it.”
You were a Menace II Society!
“Well, we had the distinction of having a Number One record that was banned, the last one being by The Sex Pistols. There were allegations of hooliganism because of the lads on one side, then there was the gay Relax Is About Anal Sex thing, Was it shite! But that’s what they wrote. ‘The Power Of Love’ was meant to be about gay love. The tabloids would make things up.”
What a great combination: hooligans and homosexuals. Nowadays, hooligans and homosexuals join forces and you get a band like Ocean Colour Scene.
“They haven’t entered my musical landscape.”
What was the most shocking moment of your career?
“When I gave the interview about my HIV status.”
These are more liberal times, what with Shaun Ryder swearing on TFI Friday. Is it harder to be controversial?
“I’ve got nothing against Shaun Ryder, but I don’t think being uncouth constitutes a widening of people’s consciousness.”
Why have you made another album?
“Because I wrote a book and thought that would be good before my life ended, and I had an exhibition of my paintings, and I thought, ‘Fuck. I’m still here,’ and it looks like I’m gonna be here for another while because they’ve invented these drugs to keep people like me alive, so I’d better make another record.”
Is Soulstream the hi-NRG disco album of your dreams?
“It’s not hi-NRG! It’s got three dance tracks out of 11! ‘Lady Luck’ and ‘Soulstream’ have got breakbeats. ‘Soulstream’ is like Burt Bacharach meets Soul II Soul with a bit of electronica in it; ‘Don’t Give Up’ has got a beat, but it’s not a disco number by any means. ‘Hope’ is electro Spector; ‘The Best Invention’ is a weird hybrid of hip hop and other stuff; ‘Hallelujah!’ is Holly in the house, no two ways about it, but on a gospel tip and having a go at organised religion; ‘All You Need Is Love’ is Mr Oizo does reggae with The Beatles tagging on behind. ‘Legendary Children ’ is pure disco techno with a bit of Noel Coward thrown in; ‘In The House Of The Rising Sun’ is my trip hop/big beat number.”
Were The Spice Girls the Nineties Frankie?
“‘Girl Power’ was ‘Frankie Say Relax’, wasn’t it? I really like the first LP: before they appeared on crisp packets.”
Who is the 20th century’s supreme individual!
“Princess Diana — not as an artist. but as a human being, for the effect she had on so many people in so many ways, I’ve never witnessed such a huge outpouring of emotion as when she died. The fact that she visited someone with HIV in hospital — no other fucker would have done it. Andy Warhol is the artist of the 20th century.”
Frankie’s antics were legendary. Were you as wild as, say, The Beatles in Hamburg?
“I took a few drugs and shagged a few people — God, didn’t everyone? I was too busy writing songs and dreaming of being a pop star to do the lull hedonism trip. I stopped taking drugs when I was 25 — just as Ecstasy came out.”
Theory: Oasis are what Frankie would have been like without you and Paul Rutherford. You were the most dangerous, subversive kind of pop star: an intelligent, stylish hedonist…
“I like the idea of corrupting the youth of the nation. But I wasn’t trying to be a role model. It was a laugh. You can have a laugh in your early 20s — you think you’re gonna live forever.”
Soulstream and a remixed version of The Power Of Love are out now on Pleasuredome