Where's Frankie? Relax! the U.K.'s High Five Have Come to the U.S. for a Debut Tour
Sure, there's a new kid at Kensington Palace, been a bombing at Brighton, labor trouble in the coalfields and lots of other things for the British to think about. But the big news lately—that is, for budding pubescents who are into leather, scorching dance videos and street bands that are two-fifths gay—is Frankie. Or, more specifically, Frankie Goes to Hollywood. No, there isn't a word or comma missing: FGTH is possibly the hottest band to hit the States since the Beatles 20 years ago. And, wouldn't you know it, Frankie Goes to Hollywood comes from Liverpool, too. Lord have Mersey.
FGTH has released only two singles so far—Relax, which is a shrewdly lewd eulogium to sex, and Two Tribes, which is danceably antiwar—but both have sold well over a million copies in the U.K. When Tribes came out this summer, it hit the charts at No. 1 and pulled the fading Relax back up to No. 2. Except for the Fab Four, no other group has ever managed to capture the top two spots on the British charts simultaneously. Of course, there's only one thing that can hype a group faster than massive airplay, and that's forbidden airplay. So when the BBC and other stations banned the suggestive Relax single and video, it promptly turned the tune into a hit and propelled five astonished blue-collar kids out of laid-back Liverpool into the hot core of London's hysterical rock scene.
Now America, which has seen plenty of the band on MTV, is voting on this carefully orchestrated craze as well. Frankie is appearing live in its first-ever U.S. tour and onscreen in Brian De Palma's new film, Body Double. Not by accident, its debut LP, Welcome to the Pleasuredome, hit the stores on Nov. 1. But FGTH's members—singer/writers Holly Johnson and Paul Rutherford (the gays), bassist Mark O'Toole, drummer Peter "Ped" Gill and guitarist Brian "Nasher" Nash—are hardly cause for Frankiephobia. They all seem fairly harmless, still slightly ingenuous and bewildered by it all beneath the shock-rock posturings.
The question arises: Are they little more than the Fabricated Five? "We manufactured ourselves," says Mark, 20, defiantly, referring to the lurid bar-band image that begged for recognition—and a contract. "Our image was erotic, but not pornographic. We 'ad two girls onstage in leather knickers, leather bras, big black boots, whips and stoof like that." Paul, 24, claims, "It wasn't as cool and calculated as people thought. It was a natural progression, from within us. Sure, we chained 'em oop to the droom kits and stoof, but it was a little play we were puttin' on. It 'ad more to do with the Road Warrior/Mad Max phase we were into than S-M. We did it to excite people, to get noticed. It done the trick."
That it did. The bandmates, who took their name from an old poster announcing Frank Sinatra's movie debut, were signed by the obscure ZTT label for some $300 each. Before long the group's name was all over London on T-shirts bearing slogans like, "Frankie Say, Arm The Unemployed" or "Frank-e Say, War! Hide Yourself."
Despite such sentiments, however, success rather than social conscience seems paramount to the band. Holly's gone from the dole ($30 a week) to $300 designer coats; he and Paul have neighboring flats in lively Fulham with their male companions; the other three (who are known as "The Lads") share a three-bedroom place in swanky Maida Vale. Peter: "The girls flock around, and people're always offerin' ya stoof to take. Ya just got to say no or yes. This is a completely wild band."
So it was when the group made its maiden voyage west of Wales for the L.A. Body Double shoot. Holly: "Brian [De Palma] looked just like Yogi Bear. In the scene, I get attacked by leather boys, and a Chinese woman tramples me on my back at the bar and I don't know if she's killin' or massagin' me—all intercut with your so-called obscene footage."
Because the shoot was "so intense," says Holly, afterward Frankie went to Disneyland. "That was wonderful," he says dreamily. "It made up for the hard work and jet lag. Space Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean were amaaazin'. And we stayed at the Chateau Marmont, which is where John Belushi died." Adds Mark: "We went to this joke shop near UCLA and bought these T-shirts with little fake turds and barf on 'em that said: 'I told ya I was gonna get sick.' And M & M's are brilliant. They are me favorites."
Before finding each other three years ago, the Frankie five had managed to finish high school around Liverpool, played in local bands and went through a punk phase. Paul: "You do things very quickly growin' up workin' class—like lose your virginity by 14 or 15. That's why the sex thing about Relax shocked nobody but the press. We're quite honest." Recalls Paul: "I wore all this bondage gear in art school and they kicked me out for 'avin' neurotic behavior. I wore spiked hair, earrings, leather bands with stoods, boots and these bondage trousers with zips up the back and a strap between the legs. But you could walk in 'em. I mean, it was just the normal things." Holly took a slightly different route, reading Burroughs, Genet and "a few German philosophers" by the time he was 15. He says his dad, a taxi driver, and mom, a nurse in a children's cardiac clinic, are proud. "They seen the stroogle."
The "stroogle" has let up for sure, but Frankie says the big money has yet to come in. Actually the big money seems to be going out. Holly admits he is already overdrawn and that two FGTH members "got minus $5,000 checks because they're overdrawn on their advances." Are they ready for stardom? Mark: "It's scary that you might never again 'ave your own private life, but maybe that's only when you're totally mega, like David Bowie."
Paul and Holly both want homes in London, New York and L.A. Paul yearns for "a Bruce Weber [photograph] in each—is that too much to ask?" and Holly is fixated on a "yacht in Kalamazoo, or is it too cold there? What about the Indies?" Holly has the most detailed ambitions: "I wanna do Good Morning America and I wanna meet Johnny Carson. Isn't he the really mega chat-show host? I don't know if I want to meet Joan Rivers. She's really caustic, right?"
She's certainly mega in America—which is what Frankie is all about these days. Holly: "We dragged ourselves oop from nothin' and now we can prosper. We proved the system works. We want to drag people from the humdrumness of their existences. Maybe it will work, maybe it won't. But for the moment this is quite a nice ride. I mean, I might get a Screen Actors Guild card, so keep your fingers crossed." Indeed. Judging by its last foray, if Frankie Goes to Hollywood again, it should be quite a trip.
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