Five go mad on Merseyside
Frankies Goes To Hollywood. Max Bell goes to Liverpool. Holly goes sick. Paul goes AWOL. Gnasher, Mark and Ped go completely bonkers. Photographer John Stoddart goes home in disgust…
Spending a day with Frankie Goes To Hollywood is not ordinary experience.
The five Frankies are an extraordinary creation.
Their image is the biggest jolt to the complacent music biz nervous system since Little Richard put on his lipstick pout. And their first single ‘Relax’ is climbing the charts, a memorable gasp of pleasure and pain.
So what and who is Frankie? Is he gay, straight, naughty, strict? Or what?
Frankie is singer Holly Johnson, a quiet night-loving charmer with studious glasses and a glint in his eye.
Frankie is back-up singer an dance master Paul Rutherford.
Frankie is bassist Mark O’Toole (hobbies include “being funky”). Is drummer Peter ‘Ped’ Gill (hobbies include driving ‘The White Flash’, his dodgy resprayed Ford Capri). Is guitarist Brian ‘Gnasher’ Nash (hobbies too disgusting to mention here).
This is a band fired on tension and contradiction.
“Holly’s in bed with ‘flu’,” the three musician Frankies explain as I get the ale in at Liverpool’s Beehive pub. And Freddie Mercury clone Paul Rutherford is AWOL for this interview. Bad boy.
“Great juke box, if you like ‘White Christmas’.
“Paul and Holly wouldn’t come here, but if they did they’d say it was really olde worlde. They prefer trendy places”
Have Paul and Holly ever been ‘normal’?
“What, into girls like? At and early age.
“We skit ‘em all the time, But we’re all friends. We’ve known each other since we were The Dancing Girls and we rehearsed in the Bridewell Cells behind the Hollywood club.
“It’s an old police station where they put conscientious objectors during the war. They still have Long Live Stalin graffiti on the walls.”
Drink up. Move on…
Ferry Cross The Mersey.
We board the ferry that crosses the River Mersey, subject of the ‘60s song by Gerry And The Pacemakers that Frankie covered on the B-side of ‘Relax’.
Gnasher points out the landmarks.
“Imagine you’re seeing it for the first time sailing into Liverpool. See the old Cathedral? And there’s the Liver Building and the Echo Building and the India Building. It’s really impressive.”
It’s teatime and Frankie wants his daily cheeseburger. We go to Harveys, the closest thing Liverpool has to McDonalds —
“Paul and Holly would rather hang out in the Café Tabac or the Armadillo Tea Rooms where everyone sits around going ‘Oh, Andy Warhol, yah’, pretending it’s London.”
Liverpool’s best known rehearsal rooms. Frankie set up their gear and play me selections from ‘Two Tribes’ (the next single), ‘The World Is My Oyster’ and ‘Welcome To The Pleasure Dome’.
Ped and Gnasher are almost serious for a minute.
“Everything we do is rock. Paul and Holly may think we’re Boys Town but we’re a rock band.
“We’ve been represented as two faggots, with us as the backroom boys, but we write the music. Holly writes great lyrics and he’s the voice. Paul is the dance master and he always looks great.
“Frankie is about sex and having a good time at somebody else’s expense.”
It’s nighttime, so Frankie goes to Kirklands, a smart wine bar. Holly’s appeared now and apologies for his ‘flu. Would you rather be in bed?
“Ooh. No, well, I’d rather be in the Dorchester. That’s the sleaziest place imaginable. It’s by the Bull Ring flats, a fierce place. And it’s sooo over the top.”
Sipping his Scotch and coke, Holly explains Frankie for his site of the fence.
“We used to be totally about lust, but now we’re dealing with love. I wrote this five-part song called ‘The Power Of Love’ which is all about the power struggle between sexual stereotypes. I got the idea from a friend of mine. She told me that love is the strongest magic of all.
“When you’ve learnt to love hell, you’ll be in heaven.”
Holly says: “My job is to manipulate sensationalism. We want front pages. We want Quincy Jones (Michael Jackson’s producer) to produce us. We want real American success.
“We are ambitious, all of us. It isn’t just two ferocious homosexuals at the front with a back-up band. This is serious.
“I like elements of doubt. I leave my own sexuality quite open. I can see strengths of both sides.”
Give us a last line, Holly.
“Underneath it all we’re just scallies. But we’re hip scallies.”