Pink and perky!
GAVIN MARTIN takes a sleaze-cruise with FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD—Liverpool’s answer to Sodom and Gomorrah. Photos by Anton Corbijn.
FRANKIE GOES TO DROOLYWOOD!
THIS BIG plastic igloo with its shiny red surfaces and its gaudy yellow lights is the ideal place to fill up with junk food. You sink into the gooey, unwholesome surrounds the same way as you lap up the relish covered, cheese slobbered burgers in the soft doughy buns.
But Frankie never knows where to stop, his password in life is “give it loads”, he rejoices in excess. “Have you ever had a tastee freeze? They’re really… it’s sort of like a very soft, really creamy, sweet ice cream. It just slides down inside, ooo-ooh, really divine.”
Frankie scoops the spoon into the aereated nipple of coco coloured whipstuff and stretches it out towards his other half, Mmmm “Try It, try it you’ll love, you’ll love.” The globule of Ice, full fat milk solids, preservatives and colour slithers down the throat like a cool healing balm onto the Chilli, French Fries and Cheeseburger already in there vying for space. Frankie leans back, rolls his eyes, temporarily sated, paralysed with satisfaction.
But soon he’ll be up and off again out into the night seeing what other ways he can amuse and stimulate himself.
He’s at it already, Earl’s Court Is Frankie’s kind of town after all. Over at the salad bar a bronzed, bearded Middle Eastern type catches their attention. I look up from my grub and they smile knowingly at each other. “Yes he is quite cute, isn’t he?” Frankie is getting ready for the evening, the cruising and the cowboys (he loves to see a guy dressed in uniform), the scribbled indiscretions on the toilet wall and, his favourite bit, at 11 o’clock when they all leave the pub and line up around the block, taking it in turns to go cruising. There’s all sorts of little games and codes that lie ahead, and when he gets onto the tube and sees a guy carrying a motorcycle helmet (a motorcycle helmet on the tube!) Frankie feels at home.
“It was really great last night we had to go out and give out 20 invitations to act as extras in our video. So Iit was like going out and being told to pick up 20 men,” smiles Paul.
A LITTLE HISTORY
WHAT AM I doing here? Someone who just stopped reading Picture Of Dorian Gray because it was “too faggy”, who’d rather listen to half an hour of Mary Whitehouse than two minutes of Quentin Crisp, who’s never heard of homophobia, just “good sense”.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood was formed just over a year ago by Holly Johnson one time guitarist with Big In Japan and solo artist on Liverpool independent label Eric’s. Fuelled on anything from Bowie to Burroughs, Jean Genet to Lindsay Kemp, The Velvet Underground to T.Rex, Johnson set about presenting a scorching leather bound version of the lifestyle he and soon to be recruited pal Paul Rutherford led.
They built up a steady live reputation, female duo The Leatherpettes providing attraction for the heteros, and were approached by a succession of A&R men whose stock reaction was “I loved it, but I don’t know what my boss would think”. An appearance on The Tube however brought response from the then emerging Morley/Horn ZTT partnership and the group took the opportunity to work with the famous producer immediately
BLESSED ARE THE POP STARS—
THEY WILL GET PAID TO INDULGE THEIR FANTASIES
“WE USED to know Paul Morley when he was in Manchester and he was working for the NME. We used to hate him to be quite honest, he was like this div from Manchester. He made people like Howard Devoto, created their whole standing as far as the press were concerned. Made them out to be much bigger than their capabilities, which was a shame because Howard Devoto was quite talented. Maybe now he’s doing the same thing with us in a way. I guess we fitted into his little fantasy, and he fitted into ours.”—
FGTH didn’t receive an advance from ZTT (“When you’re working with someone like Trevor Horn you don’t mind making sacrifices”) and they’re down in London staying in the Columbia Hotel on £5 a day expenses. Still they seem to have enough to get some of that smoking stuff and both Paul and Holly are quite relaxed, interspersing conversation with slow stoned giggles. They start to tell me about the video they are ostensibly here to make with Bernard Rose (who directed UB40’s ‘Red Red Wine’ shot).
Holly: “The basic idea is that there’s this virginal character Frankie and his girlfriend’s just left him. He’s never had sex and he’s walking down the street and gets lured into an orgy scene by this character in black. It’s going to be a club scene, the sort of clubs we like to go to. It’s interesting drawing a comparison with the Soft Cell thing. Where they pantomimed it we’re going to do it for real. OK? So it’s going to be Emperor Nero in this club, a huge man who gets his whole body shaved for sexual kicks and feeds people to tigers and lions. We’re using the actual Esso tiger…”
“Really strong images, like a Fellini film,” chips In Paul, inexplicably.
“For us it’s just like getting someone else to pay for our fantasies. That’s the whole idea. We’re just having a party. It’s such wonderful imagery to use, though if you haven’t been in an Amsterdam leather bar you won’t quite understand.
“There’s lots of ideas behind the name, we twist it loads. It changes all the time. If you imagine it as this Hollywood Babylon on the other side of the planet that Frankie wants to get to. He’s lived his whole life hearing about, seeing images of it filtered through movies and television—
But they seem intent on warping the golden sense data of the dream factory. Compelled to a sort of homo-erotic outrage.
“We really had to hit hard to get off the streets, child. To create a reaction, especially in Liverpool because there’s so many bands. Continue »
But all that ancient Roman, Nero imagery, isn’t it very decadent, very stupid?
“It’s totally decadent but then that’s totally glamorous as well. Things haven’t really changed. The way people used to go and watch gladiator fights and much blood and gore—
ANOTHER LUMP OF SUGAR IN A DIFFERENT ORIFICE
THE TRACK the video is promoting is ‘Relax’, the first ever FGTH release. A monster jam discosex workout. It’s Frankie as you’d expect him to emerge, all squelching and sucking, kept on course by a thundering pelvic thrust metronome beat. Its roots are in the disco of Summer, Sylvester and mid ‘70s Whitfield, its head twisted and turned by McLaren’s plundering escapades but its heart is in a sleazy bordello, pining for the sweat and spunk in the backroom.
Holly: “It’s like these untamed creatures meet Trevor Horn and his stamp is all over it. Because it was our first single, and there’s no ready made market, we just had to have as much fun as we could when we were making it. We just thought—buzz—
“I always loved the sounds that Trevor got on his records but it seemed like something far beyond our reach because it was so glossy and commercial. I always thought the content and people he did it with was rather weak until McLaren. But I still died when he phoned us up.
“I mean on ‘Relax’ Trevor interpreted the sound, of course. I mean, he’s a really strong guy, OK? It’s hard to really talk about this. We’re aware of the situation, we’re a band produced by Trevor Horn and its shoved down our throats a bit. We were wary of being his puppets at first but as soon as we met him that all went out the window. He’s just a human being, he’s that little guy who used to be in Buggles.”
I think of the shallow, squirming sexuality presented by current pop—
“I think it’s becoming a bit trendy actually, after our Tube show you got quite a few like Fashion and even that Tracie girl giving it much sex and whip. I think it’s catching on.
“But with those people it’s in a very superficial way because they haven’t got the bollocks to go for it really. They only know it as an image, not a reality. You get studs and leather in every magazine now but it doesn’t really count for much. Like that whole punk thing was borrowed from a gay S&M attitude but it wasn’t given any attention at the time.
“Our main purpose is pleasure, to communicate a good feeling. Sex is part of it, sex is enjoyable isn’t it? It’s about not being hung up or feeling guilty about any particular so called deviation you’d like to get into. It’s quite normal. The gay/S&M angle is regarded as taboo but it’s just people getting down, getting into enjoyment because it’s not long that we are here.
“I met this Irish guy in a pub once and he asked me was I into M&S, it was really lovely. So sweet.”
INTO THE LION’S DEN
HOLLY: “CHILD, the first time we turned up for a gig in London was in Cha Chas and we were put in a cage, a fuckin’ cage and suspended over the dancefloor. They put a mirror opposite us so people could see us from the bar. The support act was a guy in a leopard skin toga who put skewers right through his face and through his arms—
Sounds like you were in your element.Continue »
“To a degree, yes. But you know what most of the kids down there are like. It’s all World’s End clothing, hipper than thou attitudes and we were like these screaming animals in a cage. The reaction was really cool.”
Paul: “They’re such a cool audience to handle. I don’t know what’s wrong with them. Spoilt, I suppose. They think that they’re it but we know we are. I’d like to have seen them in the cage, that’s for sure.”
Sometimes they’ve been able to turn the tables and use the limelight to their advantage.
Holly: “The time we played The Tube Jools Holland was sitting around moping all day. I think he’s sort of bitter because he’s a real muso and he’s on the other side of the camera. Very sad. He needed cheering up so we bound the Leatherpettes in pink ribbon and gave them to him. He brought them to his hotel and showered them with champagne, real champagne.”
“…We don’t care what your name is boy, we’ll never send you away.” And A Little More History
HOLLY DIDN’T attend school too much after the third year. He started to hang around town, and around parks. He met people there, people who had a great influence on him (!) This is probably mirrored in the roles he and Paul (the tall dark stranger) take in the video. It’s Holly who sings and writes the songs with either the bass player and/or the drummer, Paul is the image co-ordinator having spent a year in London before the group formed, on the dole but still “giving it loads on the gay scene”. Apart from his back-up vocals he is in the band mainly because of his “stunning” looks, and he obviously exerts some influence on Holly.
Holly; “Back In ‘77 it was really exciting because there’s always been really odd, arty people in Liverpool end suddenly you were finding yourself in there. It was great because I found school pretty hard to handle. I was well shy, always the weirdo.”
Paul: “One week if you wore make-up you were a queer, the next you were a punk. It was great, a chance to do things. This sounds really heavy but it was a chance to be honest with yourself, to be yourself. I think it’s a bit more Jaded now.
“It’s still a really good place to have a rest. We didn’t realise that when we felt we were stuck there but now, in the past year we have.”
Holly: “There’s some great people In Liverpool, Jayne Casey of Pink Industry, a very big influence on us both. The early gigs were great—
“Smack? That’s the dark side of it, it’s true there’s still a lot of it on the streets. We have a lot of younger friends into it and there’s nothing you can do to pull them out of it. It’s really sad, you have to keep away from those children or they’ll try to drag you into it. It does my head in even thinking about it.”
Back to back with ‘Relax’ is the FGTH version of ‘Ferry Cross The Mersey’, the federal republic of Liverpool’s national anthem these past 20 years. It is a hitherto unexplored, unexpected side to the group and shows that Holly has a depth and emotive base to his voice that would shame many. At first I thought of Ultravox doing ‘No Regrets’, but then I thought of something far more stirring, a genuine overhaul and upheaval. It is the spirit of swinging ‘60s Liverpool pulled throught to the bleakness and uncertainty of the present day. Camp, grandiose but oddly affecting.
Holly: “That was Trevor’s idea, I thought what? and just laughed it off. Then I thought, don’t be so negative, just try it and if we don’t like it then throw it out. Well he came up with this beautiful, amazing backing track that gave me a chance to sing rather than just shout.
“It’s a really sad song now and I think it’s really important. Continue »
PAUL: “WE’VE been thrown in at the deep end now, what we always wanted but when it happens you realise you’re in deepwater. It’s funny to catch yourself in it, you just crack up. Fame sounds fun but I don’t think anyone is ever prepared for it. It’s the sort of thing I dream about, everyone recognising you, going “It’s them it’s them.”
Holly: “Ultimately it would be great to do a Frankie Goes To Hollywood movie, with music an essential part of Hollywood, obviously. We were amazed how much everyone picked up on the sex attitude actually. It was just something we were exploring. We’ve got an idea to do a Disneyland video, a real glamour video for instance. We just want to have fun.
“I think the media will absorb what we’re doing eventually, the way it absorbs everything. Then we can just change the theme of our movie. It doesn’t have to be sex—
FGTH have stopped playing live for awhile, they say it’s because of lack off finances, Morley says he wants to ban all live performances for two years at least. But their campaign is planned—
DEFINITIONS: (1) SLEAZE
HOLLY: ‘WHEN we do play live our sound is going to be a lot rougher than on record. Over the past few months we’ve come to the stage where we believe we are a valuable musical force again whereas before we thought we were a side show sex thing. Our music has got a lot smoother, smoother with sleaze and class. What’s sleaze? Go to Amsterdam child and you’ll definitely find out. Divine sleaze, it’s either something you are or you aren’t.”
Paul: “Sleaze is kind of like sex that is classy. Not crude, not ugly.”
Holly: “A good image of sleaze for me would be a 1930s drinking bar wit jazz musicians hanging around and black and white prostitutes at the bar, that kind of scene.”
(2) NORMAL SEX
Holly: “I don’t know what normal sex is. I think all sex is normal cause it comes from people and people are normal. There’s not much that is socially acceptable if the bastions of society, the judges and Mary Whitehouse are deciding. They’re just people with extremely closed attitudes.”
Paul: “Being that closed is perverse. Not being able to face up to that honesty with yourself is perverse. She must have seen so much porn, must have so much strange thoughts running around her head.”
Holly: “She must have a huge guilt complex! Maybe she’s never had an orgasm. Has Mary Whitehouse ever had the big O?”
But how far can you go, don’t you have a concept of decadence?
“Decadence is a dead weird word, OK? It’s someone who is off the party rather than on it. I looked it up in the dictionary and it said a decaying era. I heard it in connection with people who were wild and off the wall, supposedly. I don’t really understand it as a concept, it’s a real voyeurs’ concept.”
Don’t you have any morals then?
“Morals? Things like the ten commandments and all that. Oh yeah, but that’s just a natural human weakness, isn’t it? Maybe it’s not a weakness, maybe it’s a strength. I’m trying not to give anyone a hard time, aren’t you? That’s about the only moral I’ve got.”
Don’t worry about the taste barrier, Holly, just go right on through.
“Amsterdam was fab, I was totally knocked out. Continue »
It sounds vile. Where is the magic and thrill in sex taking place in such unhygienic, graphically crude surroundings?
“It adds a whole new kind of theatre and performance to it. You almost have to be prepared to fuck in front of ten people. It’s fierce. Sex is a performance, especially when it’s with someone that means a lot to you but even then you are patronising and entertaining their existence. Any performance—
Of course the harder and more often they come, the harder they fall. Holly admits that the promiscuity that the gay scene thrives on leads to the possibility of all sorts of horrible diseases.
“AIDS, yeah there’s that danger. Children, don’t catch aids! May they find a cure, that’s all I’ve got to say about it. You can look at it as retribution, Armageddon’s round the corner.
The second coming. Hey! The second coming, that sounds fun. There’s lots of theories, people say it’s the CIA and germ warfare. It depends on the most entertaining one at the time.”
As a force in the world of pop and populist entertainment I’m not putting too much faith in Frankie Goes To Hollywood just yet. I like their record but it’s hard to tell if they’ve made it as puppets or real talents, and threats or comic cuts. I’m suspicious of the art house influences they draw from—a mixture of the tart, the tawdry and the hard to trust, and whether they’re going to use their sexuality preciously, as an excuse for all sorts of tedious overblown imagery (jackboots and inflatable peni). Maybe they’ll try to do something really skilful, really daring. It’s early days yet, but for two 23 year olds they sometimes seem very easily impressed.
“I want big business, I get off on it. Like when we were recording our single, the studio was like this huge Greek dome and Chris Blackwell walked in. He was like the emperor with a beautiful white girl and a beautiful Jamaican girl at either side. I kept thinking this is Chris Blackwell of Crosse & Blackwell. This guy can actually go and watch Grace Jones record. I got a real buzz off that,” says Holly.
WHAT AM I doing here? The Coleherne isn’t very busy early in the evening and Paul and Holly are obviously a little disappointed. I’d come to see them at work in their natural habitat but there wasn’t much work to be done. Gradually the place started to fill up and Holly was enthusiastically telling me how they’d contrived to have various, um, slogans inscribed on the run out groove of their record. The place was getting a bit clammy, all leering brutes and young prancing gigolos.
I felt like telling Holly about a little bar I know of which is actually in his beloved Hollywood. There they have proper barside stools, a selection of the world’s finest beers and a single woman can always be assured of being harassed. At the bottom of their menu they have an inscription too and it goes “ABSOLUTELY NO FAGGOTS ADMITTED”. It was just an idea, but it seemed much easier to get up and leave.