Title: A fistful of Frankie
Author: John Gill
Source: Time Out
Publish date: August 27 1986
FACE TO FACE
A FISTFUL OF FRANKIE
Two years ago, Frankie Goes To Hollywood claimed ‘the world is my oyster’. As they stage their long-awaited comeback, Holly Johnson reveals that it was, in fact, a plate of whelks.
BY JOHN GILL
THE LAST TIME I met Holly Johnson, shortly after Radio 1 had banned ‘Relax’, he complained that he was suffering from a condition peculiar to our times. American writer Andrew Holleran has referred to it as ‘dialing’, although here it’s known more prosaically as ‘tit torture’. His nipples had taken a drubbing at the fingertips of a total stranger in a French nightclub the evening before. The risqué admission - boast, even - was typical of Frankie Then, although most certainly not of Frankie Now.
‘Me and my big mouth,’ he says sheepishly when reminded of the event. ‘My lifestyle has changed a lot since then.’
Indeed it has, and possibly a number of other things besides. Like the rest of the band, Holly is now based in London, and at the beginning of the year he bought an anonymous tunnel-back terraced in West London, which he shares with his personal manager Wolfgang (who responds to pink triangles in a way a vampire might to a cross).
It’s quite possible that this time round, two rumour-filled years since the ‘Pleasuredome’ album and 18 months of speculation since their last single, we are seeing a somewhat contrite Frankie. They are about to release a new single, ‘Rage Hard’, and album, ironically dubbed ‘Liverpool’. ‘Rage Hard’ is allegedly inspired by Dylan Thomas’s famous poem ‘Do Not Go Gently Into That Good Night’ (‘rage rage against the dying of the light’ etc), and Holly and Wolfgang were surprised when the PR informed them that Paul Morley has devised a pop-up fist for the limited gatefold-sleeve edition. ‘No, no,’ Holly pleads at my raised eyebrows. ‘There’s nothing naughty about it at all. It’s about strength, rage.’ That’s as maybe, but it is impossible that Morley could overlook such an obvious ambiguity.
WHILE THEY literally fled the limelight after ‘Pleasuredome’, leaving most of us thinking that Frankie had shot their final load, part of the delay can be put down to the nine - count ‘em! - months they spent in the studio working on this album, and even though ZTT have access to their own studios, Holly admits ‘It was still very expensive for us.’
‘It’s been quite a humbling experience,’ he says, ‘what with all that ballyhoo around the first release. We kind of all got a bit involved in our own self-importance. It was pretty unavoidable, really.’
He denies that this went to the extent of believing their own press, saying, ‘We’d have cut our throats if we had.’ Simply, the band who claimed ‘the world is my oyster’ found themselves a hard act to follow. Like the Italian Futurists who Morley plundered for names and ideas, the Frankie image and campaign was based on arrogance and invincibility, but nowadays Holly’s even denying the oyster routine.
‘I never said it was!’ he insists. ‘A lot of people thought that was a big deal. The voice is me, but it’s meant to be the voice of the devil. It’s the alternative to “The Power of Love”.
Around the time that Frankie were stuffing the charts with Mega, Sex and War mixes of the same singles, a marketing executive foresaw them as the future of rock ‘n’ roll. The noise was irrelevant, but the process was everything: pop groups designed for far greater exploitation over far shorter periods of time. Understandably, Holly does not rate this concept very highly.
‘I hope not. That would be dreadful, a victory for big business, rather than the human being.’
BUT LIKE IT or not, Frankie weren’t designed for the longevity of most pop stars, and the longer they survive the more they risk becoming mundane. He says we won’t be seeing the Frankie Tenth Anniversary Show at Madison Square Gardens - he hates stadium shows, anyway - but admits that it’s the businesspeople who call most of the shots. ‘I don’t want to be like that, but there are certain pressures that the business puts on you. There’s very little control you have.’ This from Frankie? Seemingly so. He adds, almost defensively, ‘Everyone has to promote their album.’
The point, perhaps, is the style with which the noise is produced and then marketed, which is where Paul Morley and his pop-up fists come in. Holly says he does not have a ‘personal relationship’ with Morley, and responds to Morley’s mischievous comment that Frankie were a ‘bunch of prostitutes’ (or somesuch) with, ‘It’s typical of his cynical attitude to life. That’s like the pot calling the kettle black.’ He refuses to be drawn on the numerous rumours about ZTT, but admits, ‘It is like “Dynasty”. I’m amazed that with all the gossip people haven’t killed each other.’
There is nothing remotely controversial on the new album, he says, and looking back one wonders if there was anything controversial in the first place. Frankie may have Gone To Hollywood, but they took sex to the end of the pier, rendering even SM naughty but nice. Apart from admitting using ‘a few sexual innuendos - but then doesn’t everyone?’, any prospect of more news about his nipples is scotched with the claim ‘Your sex life is your own business. That’s not to cover anything up, it’s just private.’
WHILE HE NOW owns a house (I think Wolfgang does the gardening), and has finally acquired the £2,000 Claude Montana jacket he coveted for years, Holly says he is not rich. ‘Well, in comparison to what I was before, I am. But I’m not even approaching being a millionaire, not by a long chalk.’
Depending on events this Autumn - effectively, make or break time for Frankie Goes To Hollywood - the close of 1986 could see Holly either a little closer to that position or farther away than he was before. What if the worst happens?
‘Horrible thought! God! You want me to live out my worst fears? I always have that in mind. It’d be back to the drawing-board completely. I hope I wouldn’t be too depressed, though. Pop is a fickle thing, and you have to remember that.’ Throughout, however, he believes ‘I’ve held on to my own personal integrity just about. I’m still grasping it.’
‘Rage Hard’ is out this week and ‘Liverpool’ will be released on October 16 by ZTT.