A frank exchange
Paul Rutherford, understandably, smiles an ardent, yearning smile. The final obstinate flutters of affront and indignation —
He sits here telling me how much the glamour means to Frankie. He admits, with that smile, that the stage has been reached (already) where the novelty assumes familiarity and the glamour doesn’t glow so bright as all the dreams. But all the free drinks and aeroplane rides… well, maybe it’s not so far from all those childhood fantasies. The way that ‘Relax’ slowly flirted its way into the chart’s lower reaches didn’t surprise him. Its sudden thrust upwards did though.
“Of course we wanted it to be a massive hit”, he tells me. “But I had this feeling that it was going to be too strong for the charts, not lyrically, but musically. Holly wrote the lyrics and, of course, he went on to deny that the song was just about sex. Suddenly, we became scared when we realised that we were in the running. I don’t know that everyone in the band believed themselves when they tried to deny what the song was all about —
The strength of it all probably had less to do with twelve inches of throbbing, writhing sexbeat and more to do with its manipulative finesse at stirring up all the self-righteous indignation and snowball controversy. Paul had his tongue in his cheek all along. While thirsting for all the glamour and notoriety, he didn’t necessarily want it all to transform him.
“I felt, all along, that it wasn’t my problem. If anyone wanted to make their own problems out of it, they were welcome. It wasn’t going to change me. I was determined. Suddenly, there was all this attention on our sex habits. Well, I’ve always been against keeping sex a great mystery —
“One thing ‘Relax’ did was show how obsessed and prejudiced people are about sex. People are going to find out that there is more to Frankie than gay machos into leather and all that crap. I mean, we do have our own morals. I do feel strongly about a lot of things — like an anti-war stance. As The Peech Boys said, ‘Life is something special’ It’s as simple as this —
With that debut’s miraculous success, Frankie find themselves in a position to extend the fantasy that, presumably, is their raison d’etre to begin with. Likewise, their label, the irrepressible Zang Tumb Tuum, suddenly find the freedom on their hands to do what the hell they want. Paul is wary of the need to avoid complacency all round.
“It can be difficult because we realised our main ambition with the first record. I mean, I everyone wants to sell a million. In a way, that success makes it so much harder to follow. So it gives us that sense of challenge. There’s elements I can’t handle, like the thought that I might be able to go out and buy my own house. Amazing! It’s things like that. Also, wondering how we would go down in America. I just hope we don’t have to go to The States —
If anything, Frankie’s runaway success gives ZTT the license to gamble a little more frivolously, to kick over the traces with more gay abandon, with more license to toy with new possibilities and improbabilities. ZTT promises to treat pop music with a little respect for the madness and inventiveness amongst us. If pop has to be superficial, then ZTT would ensure that theirs would be a superficial adventure. At least. Frankie’s speedy upsurge cast itself even beyond their sky-high expectations, From now on, the fantasy would take shape. As they all willed it to be.
“The idea of fantasy in anything we do enables us to be even more creative. It goes for all the band, All our little dreams are being realised. Frankie exists so that we can live them out publicly. There’s so many sides to it as well —
“What makes me jump up and down? Well, there’s things that make me jump with ecstacy. Then there’s things that make me jump with fear. Planes —
“I sometimes worry that what we do is analysed far too deeply. That’s why we would sooner do interviews with the teenybop mags from now on, rather than the others. Ultimately, they’re the ones that buy the records —
It surprises him that the sociologists of the pop world were intent on ripping apart the whole rhyme and reason of their existence when, to him, they were making a record about something so unambiguous and unblurred as coming. He didn’t want Frankie to be seen as some over-serious pop resolve. He wanted it to be seen as an orgy of pleasure. Ideally, Frankie would be like humping your best friend. An ideal fantasy… a little bit tempting, daring, downright depraved. They wanted to flaunt their sense of fun, take their masturbatory fantasy out into the open where they imagine it belongs —
Paul tells me that he worries that people think Frankie have no depth. And I wonder along with him. He never read too much into it. People might tell him that ‘Relax’ (for all the fuss and bother) was as emancipating —
“People were telling us what it was about. Maybe that was part of the beauty of it. Since it was such a massive hit, we can sit back and laugh at all that was said about it. There was a time when it was a bit tedious though —
I can’t look ahead at all. I can’t see us twelve months from now and try to envisage what we’d be like. I’m not that presumptuous. I can only see it in short stages. There was so much waiting for the new single to come out. I just couldn’t wait. What ‘Two Tribes’ wanted to do was talk about happiness, but with more depth than ‘Relax’, I thought the first single was a bit bland like that, strangely enough. The Idea is basically the same —
Frankie, he confides, have been overreacted to. Their live PA’s, particularly, he feels have been treated with more scandal than they deserved. “I’ve seen much worse things on a stage”, he laughs. To him, Frankie are ‘almost tame’. I tell him that ‘sexism’ is an interesting word to play about with. He smiles a knowing smile.
There was all that fuss about the way we presented our act on ‘The Tube’ —
“I don’t want to wave banners for anyone else. It’s like with my gay sexuality. If someone wants to call me a stereo-typed gay, then that’s their problem. It doesn’t really affect me. If people can just see a moustache… it’s a natural instinct to label people. We do it all the time. For me, it’s a matter of realising how unimportant we all are as people. The only thing that’s important is this earth spinning around. As a mass, we’re very important, but as individuals we’re not important at all. I’d just tell people not to worry about the categorisations that are put upon them. They have to define it for themselves.”
Paul was telling me how much they want to break down the last taboo: sexuality and, more specifically, homosexuality. Frankie don’t believe in a subtle means of persuasion. Instead, they try to take the argument by storm —
“I think it’s the opposite way round. The only people who are interested in Culture Club now are middle-aged women. He’s not upsetting, anyone. He’s not breaking down any barriers. He’s just establishment. The only reason he gets away with it is because he sings nice little songs. I don’t think he’s at all interested in breaking down any barriers. He just does it for himself. He knows who’s buttering his fucking bread now. That’s why he’s been going on about Princess Diana being the best-dressed woman in Britain. He’s turned into something of a monster. To everyone, he’s just a singer. If you stuck on a porn movie with two fellas… it would be the same as it’s always been. You can only get away with it if you look like Boy George. It doesn’t mean that you can walk around with a pair of leather knickers on. Boy George, at the very most, is like an English eccentric. He sounds like Matt Monroe or something.”
Paul admits that ‘Relax’ probably changed nothing at all. He sighs a long sigh as he tells me that attitudes can’t really be changed at all. Most people who bought that record would just apply it to their own lives. It’s not necessarily about homosexual relations entirely, it just happened to be sung by someone who is gay. It can just be about someone that you love. You just apply it to whatever’s going on inside you. “Can I separate love and sex? Well, I love my dad but I don’t want to screw him.”
As we turn to go, we catch sight of that man Morley watching a couple of young Frankie fans, gathering at the front door of ZTT waiting for a glimpse or maybe a quick autograph. He shakes his head in disapproval and tells me that Frankie’s next step will be nothing short of magnificent. The next step will make The Redskins. Killing Joke and The Clash look like minor Auberon Waugh’s. Outrage (so he says) for the sake of outrage. Because what else is there for the sheer sake of it? “With ‘Two Tribes’, we’ll be doing things that have never been done with a pop record —
I’d be the last to contend that particular point.