Rage of chance
Those tax-exile terrorists FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD return home to Liverpool with a new single, ‘Rage Hard’ and a ruthless new attitude. Ted Mico investigates the Scousers’ secret formula for success. Paul Rider takes pics.
WE hold these rights to be inalienable: Life, liberty, and the pursuit of excitement.
These days we hold on very tight. The twentieth century is now 86 years old and even its angelic upstart offspring, pop, merely lumbers along, shoulders stooped, skin crinkled, guide dogs leading the bland. Each day becomes less and less exciting. There are lessons in how to stop excitement becoming excrement…
HOW TO BE A FRANKIE: STEP ONE
FORGET your constitution and remember President John Adams. “When two or more people of the some name and profession meet together it is to conspire against the public.”
Sigh. Here am I sitting at home watching Chris DeBurgh at Number One, waiting for Frankie. The Monkees are on the News and the baboons have token control of the records. My radio is corroding with replicant doggerel: Amazulu begets Bananarama begets Daryl Hall begets Owen Paul begets Sigue Sigue Sputnik. All should be gone!
No wonder the number of rank and (de)file nihilists is swelling. Nihilism is just on unpleasant way of telling the truth. So here it is at last. The truth. And the cure.
Here in Liverpool, here the Liver buildings, here the autograph hunters, here the security men, camera men, weathermen. And over there are the band. Frankie Goes To Hollywood are back. Excitement is what excitement does — and nobody does it better. Here the Albert Dock is draped with its familiar reunion colour of welcome —
The verse: And does it matter?
The chorus: “Does it fuck!”
Holly is the last to arrive, the first to leave. He hasn’t been back to the city since Christmas, but now is a good time. His sister is having a baby. All around him Granada technicians ore having kittens over their pop spectacle. “Rock Around The Dock.”
Welcome to the animal house —
The band still bear the weal marks of the ferocious Frankie backlash. The more they succeeded, the more everyone wanted them to fail. I tell him no. I didn’t tell him that “Relax” the first record I had bought for over a year. Some things are best left unsaid.
Some things need some explaining. There are two burning questions to ask; why did Frankie piss off for a year, and why have they come back? Nasher steps into the breach: “We could have died, but we thought disappearing was more healthy.”
The only place to go was no place at all. Last year Frankie toured the States, Japan, wrote songs and recorded more songs. The time inbetween were devoted to globe-galloping and developing a healthy glow.
“We didn’t have any songs left,” Mark admits, adding, “we had to find somewhere isolated where we could write and record.” Holland, Paris and Ireland have all suffered from Frnakie’s “quiet” break.
The band needed time to sit down and think. In the beginning they were young enough to know they were right. Now they are old enough to think they could be wrong. Frankie will succeed because they know they can fail. The tension between right and wrong produces songs that are here and now. For Frankie songs are either it or not it. Music is either now music or no music at all. And their new single? Now that is it!
Mark: “I wouldn’t be so cut up if the single didn’t make number one and only got number two, I mean, it’s hardly a failure to have the second best song in Britain.”
Yet the band volcano is only fuelled by first prize. Surely no-one is satisfied with anything second-best or second-hand. Mark turns to his fiancée and contemplates the matter…
“You’re right if you think that it might be summat like ‘The Chicken Song’ that stops us. It was a stupid song like that knocked ‘Two Tribes’ off Number One and I remember feeling really sick. I’ll hate it if it happens again.”
Back at the hotel Holly’s dulcet tones pirouette around the room while the remainder sit in the bar.
“I could say I was frightened of failure and sometimes I definitely am, but then I think so what?” His voice has a genteel and polished politeness. “If something doesn’t do well, it doesn’t do well. I’ve been on the dole before, I don’t want to go back, but I know that life isn’t necessarily a marketing man’s success story where you climb up the ladder to some super-star heaven. Anything can be pulled away from you at any time.”
I grab the carpet as Holly waits for me to ask about the band split stories. So I don’t ask. Yet. He looks unhappy, but won’t tell me why. I like Holly.
EGO inflames the greatness in the weak and the weakness in the great. Always carry lighter fluid in the hand luggage.
Crash. Nasher and his wife arrive back from the soundcheck. More drinks for more words.
“Without sounding like an arrogant fuck”, a good beginning, “if we stopped here now there would still be a band in The Guinness Book Of Hit Singles who made four single, three of which went platinum and to Number One. We’ve made our bit of history. If I died tomorrow at least someone will remember who we were.”
Will history repeat itself? Paul doesn’t think so. Paul is carefree and couldn’t care less. “It doesn’t really matter. This new album is more us. It’s more honest.” He grins. “This is definitely a new departure. More of a boys album. Oh yes, one for the boys. This past year I have enjoyed myself so much. I always wanted to feel special before all this happened, and now I don’t care. I’ve just got to be excited and as long as I’m still excited by whirling around like a Dervish on stage I don’t give a damn. I’m happy.”
Paul treads across the fine line between Clark Gable and Kenneth Williams.Continue »
“I used to always think I was playing a part in a film — even when I was a kid. I was always the lead, but I don’t know who was watching it. Maybe it’s a really lousy movie and no one’s watching it.” He glances at Paul Morley who’s just arrived for the Frankie sales meeting. “Paul will probably be throwing popcorn at me, but I’m enjoying starring in it anyway.”
The continuing rumours concerning conflict at ZTT seem bullshit, for the time being, at least. Holly has just been told The Sun are in the hotel. “Bullshit.” Their entreaties hit a stone-wall. “I don’t talk to The Sun. I know they’ll fabricate things anyway, but why make life easy for them?” Holly raises his eyebrows. It’s cheaper than raising the voice. He is well-aware that he may now join Botham, LeBon and Boy George in the tabloid shooting gallery. Holly doesn’t Quack. The last time Frankie met The Sun, the band threw popcorn over them and were described as monsters. This time the band have more severe plans for sugar and tripe merchants.
SWOOSH! It’s all water off a duck’s back to Mark. Monsters, Liverpool hooligans, perverters of youth, nuns and sheep — it’s all part of being a pop star. “That’s what I always dreamed about when I was a kid. I also used to dream about playing for Liverpool, but my cousin was always better than me so that went out of the window early on.
“Now I sit back and can’t believe I’m doing it. It never feels how you think it’s gonna feel. In fact, it’s a bit of a downer. Not nearly as glamorous as I thought. I’m 22 now and already I’m starting to question things a lot more. I worry about getting old and wrinkled. I worry about that more than the band splitting. The only good thing on my birthday is that I know that Nasher always gets there a year before me!”
A WASTE of a pulse is a waste of life. Waste not, want everything. Whoosh! Frankie are exciting because they can be excited. They seek the thrill of it all. Lineker scoring, “Jagged Edge” cutting, blood gushing, Bryan Adams clanging, Thatcher dying. That moment when your ego straddles the planet, your fists are clenched, your head pushes through the clouds, and you know what it really is. YES!
The question: The same dilemma that faced ZaZa Gabor’s eigth husband on their honeymoon. “I know what to do, the question is how to make it interesting.”
The answer: “Rage Hard” — a fist against the window of pain.
Here it is — “Rage Hard” rose from the embers of a Dylan Thomas poem. “Do not go gently into the good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.” After sex, war, ethereal love, escapism, Holly and Co have torn into the bowels of youth and age — euthanasia?
“Definitely not,” Holly replies. The band have commissioned several synopses for the videos, but haven’t made a decision yet. Holly has already rejected one. “It was really fascist in that it implied that if you weren’t young and beautiful you shouldn’t be alive. That’s definitely NOT what it’s all about. For me it’s an incantation against death and boredom.”
Let the tantra being. Let it be known there is nothing to fear but death and boredom. For Frankie they are one and the same.
“We all hate being bored,” Ped comments between shandies. “We’ll do anything to stop it. If nothing’s happening we create our own amusement. Our entertainment tends to get up people’s noses though. We only do it for a laugh.”
Frankie only reap mayhem and carnage when drunk or bored. Usually both.
“All we did was set the odd chimney alight, has a few late nights, pulled a few handbrake turns in people’s front gardens. That’s all. Well, apart from the time we set off some fire extinguishers over some priceless paintings. We were only messing about though.”Continue »
“So were the blokes that came to put out the fire,” interrupts Nasher. “They were half-pissed when they arrived and got completely legless by the time they put out the blaze. One thing leads to another with us. First a drink gets spilled, then somebody’s house gets wrecked.”
Which leads it to destruction, which leads us back to Montreux, which is a little place in France now knee-deep in demolished equipment. Holly ended up limping about for days after being hit by debris. “Didn’t we have a party?”
“In all honesty, we thought about doing it before we went on stage but we didn’t know if we’d have to pay the bill.” Nasher smiles. Some people thought he would temper his wreckless spirit when married. Some thought wrong. He still cries through “ET” and “The Colour Purple”. “All the other people at Montreux just played their stupid songs and went off to their parties. We wanted to do something more. Then we decided not to do anything in case we had to pay. Suddenly Ped kicked his bass drum over, the guitars went next and then the amps. All that craps Holly was reported to have said about our loutish behaviour was taking the piss. He’s as bad as us. Worse sometimes. We did this music festival in Dortmund last year and things ended up all over the shop ‘cos of him. He gets these moods when he just feels like going for it. And when Holly feels like going for it, he goes for it in a big way!”
THE only difference between big dreams and wet dreams is the laundry bill.
After “Rage Hard” — the aftermath. After maths — the new album, “Liverpool”. An apt title for a band that is moving from the pleasuredrome into the semi-detached bungalow of realism. After the phallus — the fallacy. The more fantastic and frenetic their world becomes, the more Frankie revert to reality.
Holly: “This album does deal with realism to a greater degree and it may not be as commercially successful because of that. This part of Frankie may not be as attractive to some people as the last phase in Frankie’s life. There are certain rock elements on the new stuff as opposed to dance, but they’re still quite different. In a way, personally, I’d always veer more toward dance.”
CLANG. Pick that up Ped. He does with articulate ease.
“Don’t forget, the last time we were in a studio to record the first album we didn’t know nuttin’. We were inexperienced and therefore not very good. Most of the stuff was done by producers and mixers with us siting there going ‘yeah’ and ‘great’ and not knowing what was going on. This time there is more us. Much more us. This is more down to earth. More hard-hitting.”
Stripped of hype, hysteria, emulators and myth, Frankie may end up sounding like Van Halen. No chance. The band take the compliment though. Mark is fast out of the traps to counter: “Because it’s more honest and sounds more down to earth doesn’t mean we’re going to be like Billy Bragg!”
Billy will be relieved. So will producer Steve Lipson, the man responsible for the orchestral manoeuvres of Propaganda’s first (and last?) album. Trevor Horn is still billed as executive producer. He points his finger now and then, a signpost in the circuit-boards, but the band feel more responsible for the end result. With this ascent from mannequin to man has come the urge for more credibility. Mark in particular wants this silence the corner who still write off the bond as wax-works moulded from the miscreant minds of Morley and Horn. He even wishes little girls didn’t like the band, believing that their passion stifles the band’s standing. Mark has been reading too many music papers.
“Probably, but I’d still like to be taken more seriously. There’s so much more content in our songs than, say, Duran Duran. This next album will piss on over the first.”
I tell Mark that this wouldn’t be difficult. Continue »
“Yeah, it was really a novelty album,” he explains. “I don’t think I’d have bought it if I was a punter. I don’t know why we did it really. Things have changed now. We’re not going to have all the triple re-mix special 12-inch garbage again either.”
Paul has yet another promise about the inevitable tee-shirts: “There are bound to be some, but it won’t be like that mega-crap that went down the last time. Honest.”
Back on plastic, the 12-inch of “Rage Hard” will include an irreverent and irrelevant version of “Suffrigette City”. The band like Bowie. The next single, probably “Warriors Of The Wasteland”, may include a cover-up of The Doors’ “Roadhouse Blues”. The band like The Doors. They like lots of things. Except The Sun and liars. Usually both. Paul grits his teeth allowing the vowels to hiss: “I hate fuckin’ liars I really do. I feel more strongly about that than anything at the moment. This business is filled with bullshitters. You might as well do what you want to do and fuck everyone else. I can’t bear people pulling the wool over other people’s eyes all the time.
“All those shitty little bands who travel up motorways in Transit vans and think they’re real serious and God-like. Fuck ‘em all. Besides stuff produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, I don’t listen to much pop now. Only Ennio Morricone. Does he count?”
Life without a moustache has made Paul more vehement. He’s harder now with a dose shave.
“I shaved it because it didn’t look beautiful any more. I’m trying to look like a spring chicken again. I love shaving —
Is nothing sacred?
“Beauty is. I’ve always thought most pop stars were incredibly ugly. If they were in the least beautiful they wouldn’t be musicians but models or actors. Pop is spotty. It uses Oxy 10. It’s not mature or good looking.”
What was it Spinoza said? Yes, he said that one can only appreciate beauty through its imperfections. It should be easy to discover beauty in pop — but it isn’t. Look at Morton. Paul doesn’t know his Spinoza from his spinach. His taste is impeccable. He leaves both at the side of the plate.
“We’ve grown up a lot,” he continues. “I still get confused sometimes but I’m not worried about things. I can always just walk straight out. Things now are more relaxed, less anxious. I had my Tarot cards read and this woman told me that all that was bad in my life, all my degradation was behind me now. I don’t know enough — a little bit of degradation is good for the soul!”
One of the promotional devices dished out to record dealers with the release of the power of love was a vibrator. Demand was substantial. What, I ask Mark, should they give away to promote “Rage Hard”?
“A much, much bigger vibrator!”
He’s right. I don’t know what Mr Morley told or gave the traveling salesmen, but they left his meeting with enormous smiles on their faces.
Say what you mean until the meaning is demeaned by the saying. Then it’s time to change underwear.
Alone again between fleeting shadows I ask Holly if he’s leaving. He says yes and goes to the toilet. On his return he says “no.” “have no intention”, “no”, and “don’t worry”. I ask him about reality. His reference-points to contour words for the “working man” may have got distorted, or left in an airplane locker.
“I don’t think I’m divorced from reality at all. I’m much too sensible for that. I’ve never been off the rails — well, maybe in the past, not lately. You can’t afford to go crazy. You have to stay sane. Continue »
Holly is as nervous as the rest of the band. This is not only their first outing since Montreux, but Liverpool brings with it the inevitable chicane of family reunions. It’s tough to be outlaws with the in-laws. His Holliness also seems a man of moral rectitude.
“Put it this way, if I had the situation that the guy from ‘Close Encounters’ was met with at the end of the film, I would get on the space-ship.”
Holly is a man who demands more. More talent, more excitement, more adventure.
“When I was in Ireland, I became a shop assistant in a pottery shop for the afternoon. Now that was an adventure.”
Sound thrilling. High drama or high-jinks. Is this man serious? He also confesses to watching “Dune” 22 times this year. Twenty-two rare and momentary sightings of Sting being upstaged by a tortoiseshell loincloth. He can’t be serious.
“For me that wasn’t really the high point of the film. The first time I saw it I fell asleep! Yet the more I watched it, the more fascinated I became. Image-wise, it’s one of the classiest films ever made.”
He is attracted by vivid imagery — from Stephen King to “Witness”, to Mark Rodgers from Hollywood Beyond.
Offers for film parts have arrived and been refused, for Holly would prefer to act behind the camera.
“If I made films there would always be a happy ending.”
Hollywood by name and nature. A true romantic. For Holly, every baggy suit has a silver lining. Still no creases though.
“Most of the time I’m happy being who I am, but I’m a bit of a frustrated artist really. I’ve started painting what I would call cartoons. They’re more stylised than real life drawings. I get upset because I feel I don’t do it well enough. I’m a bit of an unsatisfied person really, which is a drag.”
Silence. Holly retraces his steps. I ask him if he feels spiritual and the lifting voice drops to a confessional whisper.
“I pray sometimes. I don’t know why.”
Shshshst. You-know-who. Holly won’t elaborate on what he prays for though he assures me it’s not Number One records. He doesn’t know who he prays to and a yawning chasm opens up with questions as to why Frankie appear reluctant to leap on board the good ship charity.
“We don’t get asked very often.” Hooray for Hollywood. Holly himself has recorded a track for a forthcoming anti-heroin compilation album to be released this September.
“I personally try not to be unkind to anyone. This country and this city has quite enough problems of its own. Charity should begin at home in most respects. Otherwise, you’ll end up spreading your dirt on everyone else’s doorstep.
LAUGHTER is just on “S” away from slaughter.
So here we are waiting far the ambulance to take the band to the concert. Frankie Goes To Hospital. As we speed through the streets, Liverpool remains out of sight. Gone are the dole queues, gone the doldrums, gone the grey, gone the bizzies, gone the Liver buildings. Frankie have made it past the jetset. Boeing, Boeing, Gone. The city has changed since they’ve been out of sight.
Paul: “I’m not sure if it’s changed or we’ve changed.”
So echo the rest of the band. Liverpool looks a lot smaller when you’ve seen the world and the world recognises you.
Holly: “It’s changed visually a great deal, although I haven’t noticed most of the decay I know is going on, I see new buildings going up. I don’t think Liverpool will be the forgotten town. I think it’ll be the town that won’t go away! We’ve got spirit here.”
Ped loves Merseyside because it shows you who you are. “I get knocked back from clubs all the time, though I never say who I am in order to get back in. Continue »
Nasher thinks that Liverpool is the one place in the country the band rarely get hassled. “People are just sick of the sight of us.” The entire bond still believe “Brookside” is the best thing on telly. All five have the answer to who raped Sheila Grant. Four too many.
Paul: “‘EastEnders’ is a fuckin’ farce. That Anita Dobson, how wonderful is she? ‘Ello darlin’. How are you darlin’’…What on actress. A one line dog. Actually… “Paul pauses to check the wind direction before caution flies back in his face.
“Since I’ve come back I’ve been really into trees. England has a lot of trees.” I tell him Nijinski was on arbophiliac. The only coital relationships he ever enjoyed were with on oak tree in the back yard. A bit of oak is good for the soul.
“Willows are more my type,” he replies. You think he’s joking? “Am I fuck!”
IF you can’t make people shit their pants there ain’t no point getting dressed in the morning.
Frankie are stars. They are also five ordinary light bulbs. They are near enough to be part of everyone, but distanced enough to be copied by no one.
“That’s what makes us so popular,” insists Nasher. “A lot of people could see themselves in us. They could see these 21- and 22-year-olds getting away with murder and they love it.”
No ordinary murder. An iridescent manslaughter. Glorious. Holly describes the band’s special extra as “Ingredient X.” Must be something in their sweat or hormones. The star that burns brightly burns quickly, but Nasher has a promise: “We’ll be a wart on the arse of the music business for some time to come.”
Nasher seeks longevity, a career — citing The Rolling Stones and Spandau as worthy of praise just for sticking to their guns — even if they’ve shot their feet off. Mark hates the idea of tradition. The only career he wants is on a downhill rollercoaster. Frankie should never drift into the scheme of things — no matter how good the schemes are.
“It just wouldn’t give you that same buzz,” says Mark. “We’re like a new band now. I’d rather always be a phenom… phenomono… phenomenon than an old boring tosser. It’s a bit like a part in a thriller this way. No one knows what we’ll do next. We may even disappear again after the next album.”
During the past year the band have cultivated diverse diversions to engender adrenolin. Now Ped goes down to Brands Hatch and is taking lessons from a couple of Formula Three drivers. There are no plans far a nose-job. He just loves the idea of doing 130mph on a back straight and knowing that one tiny mistake could cast a life. His.
“It’s more difficult for me to get excited nowadays,” Paul says with wistful remorse. “I used to get excited about listening to other people’s music and dancing all night at clubs, but not anymore. There’s nothing much around. My thrills come from fairgrounds and waterskiing.”
And willows. While Nasher extols the virtues of Malibu, Paul yearns for his pueblo in Mexico, and Mark talks about his dreams to conquer the US, back in the make-up room Holly claims his adrenalin is aroused by seeing a good Picasso or Matisse in the Tate. He wants to live in Venice.
For Frankie, “Ingredient X” marks the spot where high-brow meets low-brow unexpectedly. The entire band lift off at the moment the tapes are switched on.
Ped had considered saying hello to Run DMC (also playing tonight) until he saw the size of them. He decided it would be safer meeting Bernard Manning with a hangover, Instead the band make haste with plans to torpedo Feargal Sharkey if he arrives as planned on the Virgin Challenge.
“Do ya think they’ll fly his chin in separate?”Continue »
Time flies and the bounty hunters are out in force.
“Giz ya autograph ‘Olly… Go ‘ead”. Everyone has the right to excitement. Excitement fosters obsession, witnessed by the postman delivering enveloped devotion by the sackful.
“They’re dead weird those letters,” Mark shakes his head in bemusement.
“We used to have all these girls taking pictures of themselves and sending them in. We had this thing called the Ugly Board in the office where we’d pin all the ugly birds. It was a bit like Readers’ Wives only worse.”
Paul: “The worst was probably ,these two girls in Scotland who sent us down some plastic bogs and asked us to jack off in them and send them back. I didn’t though. You have to save some things for yourself.”
Holly: “I got 36 fan letters in two weeks off this Japanese girl. In the end I wrote back to her saying, ‘I’d pay more attention to your school work if I were you’. Then I got this excellent-made effigy of me which I’ve kept. I won’t let it go astray in case someone puts pins in it!”
Pens line up to burst the Frankie bubble as the troops assemble on the back stage barge in silence. Waiting to blow Feargal back to the land of the bog and the little people. Everyone stares at everyone else until the tension fractures.
Is that it then?
“Is it fuck!”
EIGHT steps and you can walk. Now is the time to JUMP!
Applause. Banners wave. Flags bluster. Speakers crackle: Ladies And Gentlemen. Fireworks explode. “Rage!” Holly jitterbugs down the gangway. Screams ignite. Red jackets spin. “There’s nothing to fear.” Fists clench. “Hard!” Strings cascade. Chorus repeats. Blast off. End.
Now this is it!