Title: Bloody tourists!
Author: Dave Rimmer
Source: Q Magazine
Publish date: November 1986
…they come over here, appear on our TV shows, drink all our beer, wreck the place, and then expect us to go out and buy their bleeding records!
Dave Rimmer discovers the joy of “European Promotion” with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD
No one gets in here!” screams Brian Nash, slamming the caravan door and flicking the lock. “No one!” Outside hover a few members of the Frankie entourage, temporarily at a loss.
“It’s a good whack, isn’t it?” chuckles Mark O’Toole. “Locking yourself in a caravan.”
Nash grins with satisfaction. “We’ve never done this before.”
“Yes we ‘ave,” says Pedro Gill. “Remember that caravan in Paris?”.
A crashing noise from the bedroom. Paul Rutherford is coming head first through the window.
“That’s it,” shouts Nash. “No one else gets in now.”
A knock at the door. It’s ZTT press officer Lorraine. Everyone chants “Password, password!” Lorraine says she’s got some beers. That was the right password. They open the door and haul her in.
“European Promotion” is what it says for today in the Frankie Goes To Hollywood appointment book. Yesterday it was “Video Shoot - David Bailey” and the day after tomorrow is clearly marked “Wogan”. But today the job involves flying to Germany, miming to Rage Hard on a TV show called Peter Illman Treff and doing as many interviews as their German record company can persuade them to do.
A short flight and a short coach ride have brought the group to the Discothek TARMCENTER, a tacky leisure complex inauspiciously located on an industrial estate outside the one-horse Ruhr town of Bochum. In the car park are a number of caravans, labelled according those who will use them as dressing rooms: Human League, The Housemartins, Iron Maiden, Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Frankie have been pretty bored. Even when you haven’t done it all before, European promotion is at best a routine part of being a pop group. The caravan site offers the first possibility of entertaining mischief they’ve come across all day.
“It’s like a pop stars’ holiday camp, isn’t it?” says Paul, peering round the lace curtain at the Human League caravan next door.
“Has anyone got a match?” Mark wants to know. Someone offers a lighter. No good. He needs it to let the tyres down. Ped lurches up out of his seat and into the back, starts hauling the mattress off the bed. “Don’t worry lads, don’t worry.” He drags it across the cabin, muttering, “Second childhood, innit?” and jams it up against the door. Manager Tony Pope can be seen approaching. “He thinks he’s cracked it,” grins Ped, looking out the window. “He’s gorra key.” Tony opens the door, Mark leans on the mattress, everyone else screams and shouts as they wrestle back and forth.
“I love being childish,” pants Mark. “I fucking love it!”
Do we need to sum up Frankie’s success? Two unapologetically sensational number one singles, banned videos, banned records, broken records, an international success, a media phenomenon, a whole summer’s worth of trouble and t-shirts and 12-inches, a double album that even if it didn’t in the end sell so spectacularly still managed advance orders of over a million, two more number one singles, more broken records.
And all about two years ago. A distant fuss, now, in the present continuous of pop. Paul: “It all seemed really shallow in the end. Because we’d done nothing. It changed nothing. The minute we didn’t have a record out, Morten Harket did, and the whole emphasis shifted another way.”
Changed nothing but the lives of five scallywags from Liverpool. Frankie got to Hollywood. Indeed, I saw them there in June ‘85. Apart from playing one of the most exciting concerts I saw all year, they were charging round in full designer kit, throwing people in swimming pools, living it up as to the glamour born. All except Holly, who kept himself to himself and his lover/companion/“personal manager” Wolfgang.
And the minute they didn’t have a record out, they were faced with the problem: just how were they going to follow that little lot? In the words of Mark O’Toole: “A bit of a heavy one on the head that, like.”
American and Japanese tours out of the way, various holidays in Florida, Los Angeles, Hawaii and New York behind them, August found Frankie in Borris House, a “fucking delapidated shithole” in County Carlo, Ireland. Tax exile time. And time to write some new songs. The Lads set up their “swag” downstairs and began “mucking about”.
Mark: “We’d never been in a situation like that, even with all the success and that, nobody had ever said to us before: you’ve got to write like three hit singles. We didn’t have a clue whether we could do it or not.”
Ped: “We’d be sitting there and we’d have about ten riffs and then we’d think: that one’s just not going to cut it. Neither is that one actually. And that one’ll never be like Two Tribes…”
When they did come up with something, they’d record it on a four-track and send it upstairs to where Holly was working on melodies and lyrics. “It was a horrible feeling. I just decided in myself that it was more important to satisfy myself as a writer than to satisfy public expectation.”
After about two weeks, Frankie got bored. Holly helped out in a friend’s pottery shop. Ped ran several hire cars “ragged” seeing how high he could get them off the road going over humped back bridges at 60 miles an hour. They started going for weekends in Dublin, pissing it up with fellow tax exiles Spandau and Def Leppard at “the only gaff there”, a club called The Pink Elephant.
Ped: “First it was like Saturday and Sunday. Then it was Friday, Saturday, Sunday. Then it was Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday.”
Mark: “Sometimes they’d turn into weeks.” One night, Nasher set the chimney alight and brought out the fire brigade by flinging a huge wicker basket on to the fire. And why?
“Because we hated the gaff. We just fucking hated it. Horrible. Six of us there. Fucking grim. Apparently the Thompson Twins were there before us and they loved it. You know, sitting down at a country table for your fucking nut roast, you know what I mean?”
And still trying to write. Mark: “Like each song you’d go: Phew! We’ve got three. How many have we got to go now?”
After six weeks and four songs they packed up and moved to Ibiza.
Ped: “Well we just went to Ibiza for a laugh like, didn’t we? We thought what should we do now? Let’s go to Ibiza and pretend we’re doing some demos. Booked the studio, go in, we’re doing demos. We used to get up about two in the afternoon, go to the studio till about four, have our dinner, go back in the studio for an hour or two, get ready, out, bladdered!”
Holly was the only one who didn’t enjoy Ibiza. “It was a bit hot and flies everywhere and you know those Spanish places are a bit primitive and you can’t drink the water and all this business.” Holly’s also the only one who claims to have enjoyed Ireland. “I can’t give you some great reasons for that. I just enjoyed it the most.”
Holly’s independent attitude, his disinclination to join in all the drinking sessions, the fact that these days he’s more likely to stay in and read than go out and party, that his part of the songwriting is a solitary one, that he’s still with Wolfgang even when he’s with the rest of them, all must have helped fuel persistent rumours that he was leaving the group. The week before Bochum, the gutter press was filled with reports to this effect.
“I’ve never made any statement to anyone that I am leaving the band,” Holly, bored with the subject, explains in the peace and quiet of Frankie’s other caravan. “That’s it basically. Full stop.”
Holly looks at you very hard and speaks in a camp Liverpool drawl that seems to emphasise every single word.
“The rumours probably began at Christmas when I was very depressed and very pissed off at the way our organization was run and the lack of Trevor Horn at the studio sessions. I said, I don’t know if I want to continue recording this album. Well everyone got really paranoid around me, thinking I was going to do some dodgy number. I spoke to somebody in our organization, I thought in confidence, about how I felt and that person panicked and started ringing everyone up and it all blew up from there. But basically it started with one person saying the wrong thing at the wrong time.
“That was last Christmas, which is you know six months away. I think it makes it all more interesting anyway. It gives them something to talk about. A bit of spice.” He laughs. “I mean, I can’t deny we didn’t need the press, you know what I mean?”
Frankie do their first rehearsal. The stage fronts a swimming pool, is flanked by pink classical columns and floored with pink plastic. At the back hangs a row of garish windsurf sails, like rabbits strung outside a butcher’s. There are two plaster lions and one plaster discus thrower. In the pool are several toy boats and a skin diver with a camera.
“Tacky,” observes Wolfgang. “Really tacky.”
At the playback: mayhem. Paul swings his microphone like a helicopter blade. Ped bangs the drumkit all over the place. Holly sings with his back turned, wary of about 50 German photographers. Half way through everyone walks off in protest because they can’t hear the song properly. At the climax, a TV company employee pushes a toy boat towards the camera. It sinks.
The caravan is going downhill. Empty bottles are rolling around. The mattress is hunched against the wall. One light fitting has been torn off by Nasher who poked it out the window to try and bang the Human League caravan. Another has been pulled out by Mark because it got in his way when he pissed in the sink.
Outside hovers a German record company person who, quite sensibly, hasn’t even tried to get in. At the door, Mark harangues him about the sound. Holly can’t hear. Can they have more fucking volume, more fucking speakers? “What about the Human League. They’ve got loads of speakers?”
Holly is sitting by a window hinged at the top like a rubbish chute. He tilts it open and tosses an empty beer bottle over his shoulder. “Did you hit anyone?” asks Nash. Holly glances back. “Nah.” Mark, armed with borrowed penknife, leaps out the door, tries to let the tyres down, fails, and goes off to talk to the fans clustering by the fence instead. Ped selects a full bottle of mineral water - “Mark, Mark - catch!” - and lobs it over to smash at his feet. “Oooh, that’s a good idea,” decides Holly, grabbing another and doing the same. “I like it. They make a good sound.” They do too. A satisfyingly resonant gravelly crunch.
Holly discovers that if he bangs his window, it flies open and whacks passers-by on the shoulder. Some girl gets it. Then their press officer. Then Tony Pope. Then the German record company coming back to say yes they can have more volume but they’ll have to do another rehearsal.
Holly: “What, with all those photographers out there?”
Nash: “Do you want all these horrible posters to appear of ZTT’s top band?”
Mark: “It’s not hard to be ZTT’s top band, like.”
Bang! Someone else gets it in the shoulder.
The Lads are summoned to the other caravan for an interview with huge and influential German pop mag Bravo. When I wander over, Paul is hanging round with a bottle of beer in his hand and The Lads are sitting opposite a bearded 40-year-old in a horrid red tour jacket.
Tour jacket: “What is Rage Hard about?”
Mark: “Art Deco.”
Ped: “Nouvelle cuisine.”
Tour jacket: “What is the album called?”
Ped: “Art Deco.”
Nash: “Nouvelle cuisine.”
Paul dives into the fray, snatching tour jacket’s tape recorder from the table and replacing it with the doorstep. He dances across the cabin until tour jacket, clearly quite pissed off, leaps on him from behind. They wrestle for possession. Tour jacket retrieves his walkman but only after wrenching Paul’s new suede jacket. Paul kicks him in the shin. Tour jacket storms out. The Lads all shrug and wander back to the other caravan.
Bang! Another passer-by gets it.
Mark: “We were big in Germany, too.”
Holly: “I hope you’re going to say we’re all nice lads really.”
Ped: “What is nouvelle cuisine anyway?”
There was a time when The Lads used to go to the Hippodrome a lot. One night during Two Tribes’ nine-week reign at number one, they walked in to hear their own voices booming out: “My name’s Mark. My name’s Ped. My name’s Nash”.
“We thought, what the fuck’s going on here?” remembers Mark. “It was the first time we’d heard that mix.”
With Frankie in the hands of the ZTT triumverate - business by JiII Sinclair, production by Trevor Horn, marketing by Paul Morley - there was a lot they didn’t find out until after the fact. In the studio they just used to sit there nodding their heads. Mark: “Even if it was shit we were scared to say, you know. Like who were we to question like Trevor Horn’s genius?”
When Morley penned a series of ads that said Frankie made Wham! look like Pinky and Perky, Big Country like a rustic handshake etc, the band read them with horror. Ped: “We were apologizing, saying: listen, it’s above our heads all that, we didn’t do it.”
The frisson was of course part of the act although at times ZTT played the part of the evil, manipulative record company a little too well. The deal Frankie signed was derisory: a £5000 publishing advance, a £250 advance for each of their first two singles against a five per cent royalty. (Compare to a royalty of around 14 per cent for solo artist Sade.) Out of that came Trevor Horn’s fees and all studio costs. The studio was owned by ZTT and Horn would sometimes spend weeks in there, mixing and re-mixing.
Still, Frankie knew what they were getting into. What the hell, no one else would sign them. And possibly no one else would have taken them as far as Horn and Morley. Fresh off the dole, for a while the group found bright lights and free ale and Top Of The Pops compensation enough for little money and less control - although the not entirely unfair accusation that they were “Trevor’s band”, didn’t play on their records and all that, rankled a bit.
But as interview followed photo session followed TV appearance, Frankie’s profile grew stronger and so did their resolve. By early ‘85, the gulf between ZTT theory and Scally practice was clear. While Morley was defining ZTT’s aim as being “to tell Duran Duran to fuck off”, there were Frankie, boozing it up with their new mates Simon and Nick and John and Andy. While Morley talked about a “kamikaze attitude” to marketing, the band were thinking about careers and planning an American tour (a move Morley denounced as “conventional”). The kamikaze approach is all right when you’re the director of the record company that’s reaping in the profits. If you’re on one per cent each, with nothing to go back to but the DHSS, you start wanting some security.
Paul: “Why on earth should anyone want to be unconventional? Who wants to sit in left field all their life? It’s pretty fucking lonely there. And you’re ever so pretty poor as well.”
Mark: “What am I doing talking about ‘markets’, a fucking scallywag from Liverpool? Caught meself there.”
Nash: “I can’t even buy me own flat, never mind me own pub.”
After Ibiza, Frankie headed for Holland to record with producer Steve Lipson, Horn protege and engineer on their last album. From the start they were adamant that they wanted more say.
Mark: “We’ve never worked so hard, like. Lippo was like: I want yous in the studio every day, you’re going to have a say on everything that goes on the album, every drum that gets hit, and stuff like that. So we were going in the studio at ten in the morning and weren’t coming out till like six or seven the next day. We got rid of that routine after a bit because we were just doing ourselves in. But it was good cos we got dead knuckled down there.”
Paul: “You’re there through the whole process to inject your little bit in there. That’s something that we all wanted to do. And there was nothing else to do anyway. After having a year away it was quite fun to be in the studio for a while.”
Trevor Horn is credited as “executive producer”. What does that mean?
Mark: It means he comes in and says: good.”
Ped: “Walks in. Goes: wrong, do it again. Walks out.”
The painstaking process of finding sounds, trying out arrangements and putting the first few songs together took them up to Christmas. The Lads went up to Liverpool, Paul went to New York and Holly stayed in London. In the new year they went to a hotel in Jersey to do some more writing. Apart from Ped’s birthday when everyone got “extra drunk” and Nasher apparently drank three bottles of Malibu and puked eleven times, a relatively quiet time was had by all.
Ped: “Nice little place, nice people worked there. We could have gone mad and messed the place but if someone’s nice to us we don’t give them stick like. We got more done there. A bit of a better set-up.”
Mark: “The people who ran the hotel were quite interested in music and stuff. We used to let them sit in and watch us write if they wanted to. They’d just sit there dead quiet and it was like having an audience which spurred us on to write a bit.”
Back to Holland with the next lot of songs, more long hours in the studio. In April their tax year was over, so it was straight back to England to finish the LP here. Mark: “I hated it, that year out, I’ll never do it again. No matter how much money you save, it’s not worth it. It was the worst time, just knowing that you couldn’t go home.” They carried on with the LP till August and Lipson was still in the studio, mixing furiously, by the time the band had moved on to European promotion.
The second rehearsal goes much like the first one: Holly with his back to the photographers, terrible sound, everyone walking off in disgust half way through.
Back in the caravan, Ped is in fighting form. “There’s got to be some serious fucking damage before we go home tonight. This caravan’s got to go up in smoke.”
Nash: “It’ll cost us.”
Ped: “It’s only worth about 200 quid.”
Nash: “Yeah, it looks about 200 quid but it’ll turn up on the royalty statement as ‘ten-bed luxury mobile home - 70 grand.’”
Mark: “Like Montreux. That guy wanted ten grand. There was no way the damage we did was worth ten grand. We smashed a couple of guitars but that could only have been about 500 quid.”
Nash: “Well, that bass was worth about 700.”
Mark: “Yeah, and we knocked a couple of amps over but that was all. And he wanted 10 grand! Twat!”
An eery scraping noise comes from outside. Ah, it’s only Ped trying to lift the caravan legs so he can swivel the thing and ram the Human League.
Bang! The window claims another victim. It’s the German record company again. “Can we have some more brew’!” bellows Nash. The beer has run out again. This has been happening every ten minutes or so. “And some scotch or something,” adds Paul. “Or some cognac or gin or vodka. And can you get some champagne because there’s quite a few in here who like champagne.”
Nash: “Have they got any decent beer’?”
Mark: “Yeah, this is shit.”
Wolfgang: “Dortmund. That’s near here. Have they got any Dortmunder?”
Bang! The window gets them on the way back round.
“That’s it H.,” shouts Nash triumphantly. “Keep on doing it until the joke wears really thin, and then still keep on doing it because it’s only then that it gets really funny.”
Sometime after the third rehearsal, Frankie discover the existence of little cards that get you free drink at the bar. The Human League have them. Iron Maiden have them. Everyone but Frankie has them. This means war. A posse is dispatched to confront the record company. The cards are discovered languishing in a back pocket and are finally handed over after a furious argument. Back in the bar over fresh beers there ensues a long discussion about the way Frank have to hassle for everything. They feel hard done by. They probably won’t even fucking get paid for today.
Holly: “Like all those appearances on Top Of The Pops, did you ever see any money for them’?”
A disgusted chorus of negatives.
Paul: “This time everyone’s less anxious. We had a lot to prove that time. I suppose some people think we have more to prove second time around but everyone’s more relaxed about it. We feel much more confident about ourselves because we’ve, well, done a lot of things. And it’s kind of nice doing things in a conventional way I think.”
As is conventional, Frankie are pleased with their new LP, “Liverpool”. It feels much more “theirs” than the last one. It took a year but they wrote it all, were around for most of the studio work, have accepted a lot of ideas from Morley but told him where they want to draw the line. They know there’s no point going for the jugular this time. Everything bar the music is much more gentle. Even Holly’s comments on his lyrics have a careful feel about them. “Well I’ll only start sounding pseudo-intellectual if I get into detail talking about, you know, the recession and the way the working classes are treated…”
Mischief to the contrary, doubts disregarded, angry lyrics aside, there’s a settled feel about Frankie these days. It suits them, funnily enough. All of them have bought or are buying houses in London. Nash is newly married. Mark is engaged. Both Paul and Holly are living with someone they love. Only Ped is on his own. Most of his spare time is going into cars. He owns a Ferrari, A Capri 2.8 and a beach buggy. He’s also learning how to drive Formula Ford cars.
I went down to Brands Hatch with him one day. He’d booked two sessions of ten laps each, trying for a lap speed of 54 seconds - something he’d done before but hadn’t registered officially. It wasn’t Ped’s day. Someone had pranged his usual car and none of the replacements seemed up to scratch. On the second lap of his second batch, daydreaming-down the back straight at 85 miles an hour, he lost control and span off at the turns.
“I don’t believe it,” he kept cursing. “I don’t believe it. Trust you to come down on me Andrew Ridgeley day.”
According to Ped, The Lads once drew up a contract. “No Lad must be seen being nice to anyone. All sign it. No Lad must ever talk about Art. Sign it. Anyone disobeys this gets fisted to the bollocks.” Ped seems to be the keenest adherent to the spirit of this agreement. At the slightest hint of any sensible conversation, he steams in with a well-aimed crack.
On his own, though, he’s much more reflective. In the Capri on the way back to London, he was talking about Formula Ford driving. “I really enjoy doing this. I’ve got this interest now, something a bit exciting. It’s not just Frankie, Frankie, Frankie…”
It’s sometimes hard to believe Ped is a pop star. He doesn’t look like one, he doesn’t dress like one, he doesn’t behave like one.
“I can’t stand the thought of settling down and that’ll be it. This is it and this is me life now. I hate that thought. This is my house now and this is what I do. You get depressed when you think like that.”
There it is, Frankie’s main problem. It’ll never again be as exciting as it was in the first triumphant flush of ‘84. Ask Frankie about the future, they all start talking about America. Crack America, that’s what they want to do. It’s partly the money of course. “The cash does help like,” grins Mark. But it’s also a goal, something to aim for, just about the only thing that they didn’t manage last time round. Otherwise, it can all just seem like running to stay in the same place. Otherwise, Frankie get bored.
By the time of the actual live miming performance, the day has got a little fuzzy. Everyone’s a bit drunk. Paul, most of a bottle of vodka later, especially so. Just before going on, he upsets a huge plant pot, smashing it over Tony Pope’s head and showering soil over half the bar.
The audience is crammed tight around the pool. On stage, they still can’t hear anything. Everyone shouts at the German record company to do something about it, quick. “If you don’t get the monitors on in ten seconds we’re going off,” threatens Mark. “Ten seconds or we’re off.” But they don’t of course and the music seems loud enough in the end and they all dance around for three minutes or so then half-heartedly kick the plaster lions into the pool and lob a couple of desultory mike stands in after them. After Montreux, everyone expected this. That’s why the TV company placed them by the pool. That’s why Iron Maiden chucked everything in earlier on: just to upstage them.
“What an anti-climax that was,” sighs Holly as everyone strides offstage and back into the bar. On a monitor in the corner, plain as day, the German record company is being interviewed. Everyone gawps in shock. It’s live, you know.
Mark: “Let’s shove her in the pool.”
Paul: “That’d be brilliant.”
They hare back out the door. Alas, in vain. The interview was taking place miles from the pool. Later I hear she was being asked what it was like working with a rude, rowdy bunch like Frankie. Oh, she replied, they’re nice lads really. Or words to that effect.
There’s no one in the caravan. Some curtains have been ripped down now and the floor is covered with fag-ends, empty bottles and torn up bits of cardboard. On every available surface are plastic glasses full of some sickly sweet and rapidly flattening champagne substitute that no one was foolish enough to drink. The place is, in short, a delapidated shithole.
Paul stumbles in and looks around. “Oh, I’m drunk. I’m so-o-o fucking drunk. But you have to drink. There’s nothing else to do. I hate all this bullshit. I hate it. Oh, I’m so drunk. I hate it. I think I’m going to be sick.” He staggers across to look at the light Mark earlier ripped off the ceiling - “It looks like a lobster pot, doesn’t it?” - and slumps gratefully down on to the bed.