Frankie taking off the rose tinted glasses
That’s how Frankie Goes To Hollywood describe their progress from ‘Relax’ to ‘Liverpool’. A journey that’s seen them put hedonism on hold as they touch on a little reality. Self important? … Well … they do still like oral sex …
Souse nous: Roger Morton Serious photography: Joe Shutter
Let’s consider Holly Johnson’s shoes. Brothel creepers, they are, with little metal studs, and a Christian cross on top. Three years ago, Frankie stepped out of the S&M bars, banging a bible of slippery sex, and sly excitement.
They whipped us up good and proper with their leatherbound pleasure principle, and their vulgarity. Hyped by Paul Morley’s scandal mongering wordplay, and smeared with Trevor Horn’s horny production, they even made some great dance records. ‘Give it loads’, they said. ‘Get it on’, they said, and everyone had a party.
But that all seems very distant, now. As we’re presented with the second coming of Frankie, in the form of the new album, ‘Liverpool’, Holly looks at the cross on his shoes and tells me he’s stepping forward with righteousness. But what sermon is he preaching? What does Frankie say now?
With Paul Rutherford spending most of the interview reading a magazine, Holly answers questions in a tone of extremely weary tolerance. He seems more concerned about what the garage down the road is doing to his car.
Holly: “A Sunbeam Rapier, 1962, Mk III. It’s all right. It only cost £1,200. I just passed me test, last Wednesday.”
They’ll make you drive the tour lorry now.
Holly: “You’re kidding me. No-o way.”
You don’t see yourself as a roadie, then?
Holly: “It’s not how I see my role in life … Although maybe, one day.”
About the album, then …
Holly: “It’s difficult.”
Paul: “It’s dead serious, isn’t it?”
Holly: “Oh extremely. I describe it as ‘taking off the rose tinted glasses that was being worn when Welcome To The Pleasure Dome’ was written’.”
Who was wearing them?
Holly: “I think I was. I think we all were, really. It’s like it was party, party, then.”
Paul: “The last one just had a really hedonistic feel to it.”
Holly: ‘Well, that’s what it was all about. Enjoyment.”
At first, you made a big splash, and a lot of noise, and it seemed like you wanted to upset and disturb people a bit.
Holly: “Only with our spontaneity.
Paul: “It wasn’t that calculated.”
Didn’t you want to be the best, the most daring, band ever?
Holly: “We were.”
Paul: “We really went out, and made some fun, and people got into it. Music got exciting again, for a little bit.”
Does the idea of Frankie Goes To Hollywood becoming just a normal pop group worry you?
Holly: “Well that might be a worrying thing, if, say, we’d had a big hit album in America, and then been totally controlled for the second album. If we had taken off in America, I think a different kind of pressure would have been applied. A commercial pressure.”
After spending August in Ireland, doing some songwriting and getting pissed, Frankie went to Holland to record ‘Liverpool’. This time it was produced by Steve Lipson, with Trevor Horn as ‘executive producer’.
Holly decides to play me his favourite track, ‘For Heaven’s Sake’, while he goes to the toilet. It’s a measured piece of sensual techno-pop, with a lyric which talks of breaking away from repression and recession.
Holly: “My main attitude when sitting down to write this album was, ‘well, it’s pointless trying to regurgitate a carbon copy of the first things we did … those successful pop things’.”
And you say this is a move away from ‘hedonism’?
Holly: “Well it comes back to the word ‘realism’. Part of growing up is observing the state of the society you live in, and realising how the whole thing’s structured. The way we have big corporations who will produce arms, for example, and make sure those arms are outmoded very quickly, so the government buys new arms, because they’re selling arms to Russia, so we have to buy this new updated tank or bomb. And it’s purely a commercial thing.
“And then there’s the situation of the way corporate business subdues a mass of people that we call the working class, from which background we come. Things like that. Things you don’t have to be particularly bright to see.”
Do you think of yourself as a ‘political’ person?
Holly: “Not political. You see, politics is a difficult word for me. It seems that if you have a politics, you have to adhere to a certain manifesto, and I don’t stand behind any particular set of ideas.”
Will you vote at the next election?
Holly: “I don’t know … We’ll-see when-the-time-comes. If my conscience prods me to vote in a certain direction, then I will. And to some people, that is a disgusting viewpoint. Like, me sister would be pretty appalled by that … But I’ll wait and see. It’s the last bastion of privacy, isn’t it, who you’re going to vote for.”
And privacy is a bit of a sore point for Holly. Aware that when Frankie went a-courting he set himself up for a lifetime of inquisitions, he nevertheless resents being intruded on. The media attention he gets is described as ‘like being f**ked by on Arab’. Where the three Frankie ‘lads’ opt for yobbism as their defence, Holly just seems guarded and bored.
How much do you need the other three members of the band?
Holly: “I don’t want to answer that question. You can’t measure need like that.”
But are you content with the band as it is?
Holly: “I like the album, and that’s the important thing for me.”
Do ZTT still do things without telling you?
Holly: “Constantly, constantly. But I don’t think it’s anything to do with … Well maybe there’s some deviousness there, maybe there isn’t. But you know, they’re not that incredibly well organised, and neither are we. And neither is the country.
“We do find that things happen without prior knowledge.”
Do people have inflated expectations of you because of Paul Morley’s ‘advertising campaign’?Continue »
Paul: “I don’t think people really understood his advertising campaign, ‘cause I didn’t, and a lot of the kids who were buying the records wouldn’t have understood it.”
Holly: “His job was just to get attention. That’s all, and he succeeded quite well in that. The people who buy our records maybe will just have a little laugh at the advertising, think ‘that looks interesting’ and not really consider it much at all. I don’t want to undermine his role, but I think too much importance has been put on it.”
So, what has Frankie got to offer us this time round?
Holly: (long sigh) “… Well, the people who are going to listen, will listen—
Would you rather I asked you what size shoes you wear?
Holly: “You can, if you like.”
After all the touring, and the endless self-promotion, Frankie seem to have got a little fed up with talking about the ins and outs of pop music. Holly nips off to phone the garage, and on his return, it seems best to let Frankie talk about, well, anything but pop music.
Frankie say, home sweet home.
Holly: “I like decorative objects. I don’t collect a specific thing, but because I’ve got somewhere to live now, I want to make it look nice, so I’ve been buying some nice things to make the rooms more inspiring.”
Do you have matching accessories in the kitchen?
Holly: “I do actually. I’ve got a red mop bucket, and a red mop, and also a red colander, y’know—
“I’ve mode some mistakes with the house, because I tried to do it in a hurry, and now I’m undoing some of the mistakes I made. But I do spill coffee on the carpet!”
Frankie say, vanity kills.
Holly: “I’m quite vain. I’m dead vain although I’m so vain that I won’t really admit that I’m pissed off with a photograph. I’m really that vain.”
Paul: “You get past caring though, ‘cause it’s taken out of your hands. If you get some bad photos, then hopefully, when people meet you, they’ll go ‘Oh, he’s much nicer in the flesh’.”
Frankie say, kill the rich!
Paul: “We just played at being tax exiles, really.”
Holly: ‘Well we thought we were, but it wasn’t like the Bee Gees, or anything. It wasn’t the real McCoy. It wasn’t worth it, let’s put it that way.”
Frankie say, New York’s a go go!
Paul: “I really thought I wanted to live there, but now I couldn’t think of a worse f**kin’ place.”
Holly: “It’s like a kid in a toy shop, being in New York for on English person. We’re used to a more sedate, low key bustle, and you kind of ‘come’ in New York, after about six days. And then, by the tenth day, it’s ‘I wanna go home’!”
Frankie say, my favourite thing!
Paul: “Definitely. Definitely. Sheep shaggin’.”
Holly: “Oh yes.”
Ah yes … Frankie’s at it again. As Holly and Paul know well, a little bit of sex talk goes a long way. All the way to Hollywood, in fact. But this time round, they say they’re out of the pleasure dome and into ‘Liverpool’. And Liverpool makes them think of “rain, and foggy afternoons”.
Do Holly and Paul still see Frankie Goes To Hollywood as erotic cabaret?
Holly: “Occasionally erotic. But then, that was only one song that was meant to be even slightly erotic. It was a really small part of it, although the media being what it was, and is, anything to do with sex was pounced on completely, and magnified with a huge big glass.”
That works to your advantage.Continue »
Holly: “Maybe it does, and maybe it doesn’t. It usually gives people a bit of a one sided view on what you’re trying to say, and what you’re like. There are some people that think we’re all sex-crazed maniacs, because of that publicity. And there are some people that think we’re violent yobbos, and in Japan, I met an American guy who thought I was a communist.
“I don’t wont to be seen as a communist, or a sex crazed maniac, or a yobbo.”
What do you want to be seen as?
Holly: “… A human being … I suppose.”
So this time round, Frankie wants to show us his human face. The face of someone who isn’t too big for his size eight shoes. The face of someone who’s concerned, but doesn’t take themselves too seriously. Someone stepping righteously over the hurdles.
Paul: “I don’t think you should ever take yourself too seriously. Other people do that. Because nothing’s that important. No-one’s that special. It’s like a game, a little power game, of people making you more important, when you’re not.
“I think more people would be creative, if they thought they were more powerful. They let other people do it for them, and school, and the world makes you do that. When you’re a kid, you want to try everything, and I think you should keep that. It’s like I would love to climb a mountain, because it’s something I’ve never done. Even if you’re not the greatest, you should do it for yourself, because there’s nothing f**kin’ else to do in this world. It’s just these little hurdles are put in your way.”
Do Frankie Goes To Hollywood encourage people to do that?
Paul: “I think so, yes. One of the things we were saying is to do something yourself, have fun your own way. Maybe it was subtle, but I think it was there. It was like ‘Yeah, you go out and do it yourself’. Even if it just inspired them to dress up in leather knickers, or whatever. Just find something.”
Holly: “That’s what ‘Relax’ was about, more than anything else. Sex was only used as a metaphor, really. ‘Coming’ was only used as a device … don’t give up and give in … Rage hard … Do y’know warra mean?”
Welcome to the second coming of Frankie.