Frankie goes to the Ritz
Lost voices, over affectionate teenage girls, bitchy critics and Richard Nixon. Just a few of the occupational hazards enjoyed by Frankie when they finally did go to Hollywood (well, New York anyway).
That Frankie would go triumphantly to Hollywood was never that much in doubt — the West Coast always seemed an ideal stage for a hot band. Though, in theory, New York should have been the city of Eastern promise, the conquest was far from straightforward.
The press weren’t exactly welcoming, there was the counter attraction of the Thanksgiving holiday weekend and all you could hear on the radio were Cyndi Lauper, Chaka Khan, Hall and Oates and Wham!
It’s late Saturday afternoon and I’m sitting in the bar of the plush Berkshire Place Hotel, the temporary and incongruous residence of Liverpool’s finest. In the foyer, Karl Malden — the TV show cop with a cauliflower nose — does an unmolested tour of duty while a posse of teenage girls await their prey. Ten minutes later Paul Rutherford alights from a taxi and is surrounded by the small but persistent band, bemusedly compliant as the more adventurous attempt to kiss him.
Back at the bar Messrs Nash, Gill and O’Toole are enjoying the odd drink or three. As they depart, in saunters Holly Johnson, who doesn’t want to speak to anyone.
The reason becomes apparent when at the behest of unofficial barside medics, he hoarsely orders tea with honey. His voice is shot to ribbons.
Ahead is the final of three sell-out nights at the small and atmospheric Ritz club, about 40 streets away downtown.
The opening gig could have been more successful. Certainly the critic from the pretentious New York Time thought so. Having compared the band to the village People, he went on to describe Holly Johnson as being redolent of “a mediocre lounge singer, as emotionally unconvincing as he was technically impoverished.” Praise indeed.
By all accounts, Friday’s gig was better received and Saturday’s window shopping is punctuated by sightings of the burgeoning range of Frankie T-shirts finding their way into the heart of the Big Apple. There are other tell-take signs.
’Two Tribes’ is making steady progress up the US singles listings. An unflattering press doesn’t appear to have harmed the album’s appeal and MTV have agreed to take up the video, albeit with two cuts. A big worry, it transpires, has been persuading Richard Nixon’s lawyers to sanction the clip of him in the promo. In the land of the born again, even disgraced former presidents have clout.
At the Berkshire Place it’s Holly Johnson’s turn to disappear. Paul Rutherford re-emerges, persuaded by the same band of girls. One approaches Regine — the sympathetic and sorely tested press person sent over by Island Records UK — with a request for inclusion on the guest list. While Regine listens politely, I seek out a cab. It’s around 6.30.
What seems like an age later, we’re at the midnight hour and Frankie take the stage, launching first into ‘War’. The prevalent thought is that for a band which made the headlines for allegedly not playing on their hits, there’s no lack of musical proficiency. And while Holly’s voice shows evidence of strain, it’s a massive improvement on its teatime condition.
At times, the performance is more Holyhead that Hollywood. But sheer energy — in particular, Rutherford’s manic stage antics — endear them to the audience. After the pre-planned encores the world really does come to an end. “Frankie Say No More” is the farewell message flashed on stage.
As he leaves the Ritz dressing room, Paul Rutherford’s encapsulated review is that Friday’s gig and tonight’s crowd would really be something. Not that he’s displeased with the way things are going.
Peter Gill is engaged in conversation by a girl I recall from outside the hotel. Why, she implored, has they stopped playing? “Well I get tired and want to go home,” answers the drummer deadpan.
Apart from Paul, the band do not rendezvous with the Island party at tonight’s choice of nightspot.
Tomorrow it’s Atlanta. On Monday, the world.