Posted by: crustynomad | October 8, 2008

Frankie say it again

In looking around my blog I discovered that there are a couple of music articles that I’d written that never made it on to this site. First up is a review of the semi-reformation of Frankie goes to Hollywood in 2004 which was first published in April 2006.

Frankie Say It Again!

I can honestly say that I’ve embraced the popular culture of the ‘noughties’ with all the affection and warmth of that emitted from a 40 watt bulb. This is why a frightening chunk of my record collection – as opposed to those new fangled compact disc thingies – is from an era of big hair, highlights and shoulder pads i.e. the 1980’s.

Back then I never imagined that I’d end up being an old fart but as one who barely recognised a single performer on the recent Band Aid 20 press photo, I just have to face facts and admit it: I’m getting old and my pop idols are beginning to look scarily like my parents. Sigh…

Let’s look back for a moment (the screen goes hazy and we find ourselves back in the lazy days of the summer of ‘84). For those of you that were alive back then (!), you could not move without bumping into the phenomenon that was Frankie goes to Hollywood. Their infamous ‘Frankie say’ T-Shirts featured slogans like: ‘War (Hide yourself) and ‘Arm the unemployed’ while rip off merchants cashed in with alternatives like ‘Who gives a f*** what Frankie says’.

For a fan it was amazing. All those remixes, picture discs, cassette singles, banned videos made 1984 the last true pop happening from a single act. There have been movements like Acid House and Britpop since but no one band has dominated a year in the way they did. The possible exception would be the Spice Girls in ‘96 but we don’t talk about them if we can possible avoid it.

Up until the end of 2003, Frankie goes to Hollywood hadn’t been in the same room since the bands 1987 tour when bassist Mark O’Toole kicked lead singer Holly Johnson ‘up the arse’ backstage at Wembley Arena. Despite everyone appearing to be pals again on that Bands Reunited show on VH1, Holly did not want to perform, especially with just a couple of days rehearsal. ‘We have our reputations to think of’ was his way out of an awkward situation.

According to drummer Peter ‘Ped’ Gill, the singer just didn’t fancy it which though disappointing is perhaps understandable. Maybe he now considers that stage of his life to be over and let’s face it, how many of us would want to be constantly reminded of something we’d done 2 decades before while totally disregarding everything we’d done since. Holly is a talented artist and has exhibited widely to great acclaim. Why should he feel that he has to sing songs that he’s probably heartily sick of by now.

Frankie say: We’re history… or are we?

Murmurings of a reunion at a Prince’s Trust concert celebrating the work of legendary producer Trevor Horn began to surface in the summer of 2004. Now that the band members had had time to get used to the idea that they were still wanted, would they put aside their past differences between themselves AND with Trevor Horn, and join forces once again to blow the pants off the pop world?

Frankie say: Possibly…

Singer Paul Rutherford, Ped Gill and Mark O’Toole plus Mark’s brother Ged, who was in the original line up, agreed to appear but what about guitarist Brian Nash and Holly? On the official FGTH website forum there was furious debate about whether they should appear at all unless it was all five band mates.

The game appeared to be up once Nasher, a FGTH forum member himself, declared that he definitely would not be performing. As he put it: ‘There are no snowballs in hell’. He was having none of it. The public reaction from Holly was equally emphatic – deafening silence – which actually said more about his feelings of a reunion than an international press conference ever could. He did respond to a couple of enquiries from fans to the negative but it was clear there was no going back.

So that was that. Paul, Ped, Mark and Ged couldn’t bill themselves as Frankie goes to Hollywood without Nasher and Holly surely. If Holly appeared the band still had their voice but without it, it just couldn’t work. But no, they carried on regardless and even went to the trouble of trying to recruit a new singer to perform one of the songs on the night.

The audition held in Leicester Square just 10 days before the concert was scarily reminiscent of the X-factor and actually featured some minor celebrities trying to fill Holly’s shoes. They included mullet haired singer Shea Walsh who sang ‘How much is that doggy in the window’ on the last Pop Idol series, Daniel Bryan from Big Brother 5 and eventual winner Ryan Molloy a member of the cast of Jerry Springer – the opera.

Molloy was not just some bloke off the street though. He’s worked with Boy George, Eurythmic Dave Stewart, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani and former Baywatch babe Carmen Electra. In fact, Paul, Mark, Ped and Ged liked Ryan so much they requested that he performed all their set as opposed to having a guest vocalist on the two remaining songs.

For the fans of ‘Frankie goes to Hollywood’, it was clear that the Prince’s Trust concert could be an almighty anti-climax or a triumph and with some trepidation I headed for London on November 11th 2004 to see what the result would be.

On a personal level, this day was to be an experience unlike any other. First of all I met up with some fellow concert goers and FGTH forumites at a fairly non-descript public house near Wembley Park station called ‘the Crock of Gold’. Why here? Well, apart from being very convenient for Wembley Arena it was also the venue for a special low-key gig by Nasher as bonus to the fans who’d supported the band over the years.

What’s particularly interesting is that Nasher also had tickets for the Prince’s Trust event and would be in the surreal situation of watching his former band-mates appearing on stage without him. However, before either of these events took place I was privileged to meet the reformed Frankie at Wembley Arena while the sound check was taking place.

The guys were all friendly and down to earth, happy sign autographs and pose for photos and appeared to get as much of a buzz from the situation as the fans did. It’s obviously been a while since they were the centre of attention so who can blame them.

The most curious thing for me was to find myself with my back to the stage half the time while some of my musical heroes – Trevor Horn, Art of Noise, ABC etc – performed their sound checks. It was easy to be blasé as I’d be seeing them later. After some concerted ushering from nervous security guards we were eventually persuaded to leave.

Back at ‘The Crock of Gold’ we were treated to a superb performance from Nasher and his band. I felt I was witnessing something special that night by being just a few feet from a musical idol but Brian is so laid back he seemed like a mate anyway. The intimacy of the occasion made me feel that this the way that music ought to be played and not in some great aircraft hanger sized building.

Unlike the concerts he played at Wembley in 1987, Nasher had shift his own gear. He looked really contented and it seemed to me that his life now is exactly how it wants it. If he’s happy why would he want to make waves by putting himself in the public eye again? I have a lot of respect for someone who would do that.

Backstage at this venue was the pub toilets which in itself is worthy of a mention because the ‘stage’ was so small that the bassist had to lift the neck of his guitar so that patrons could get by to relieve themselves. I thought that was great.

I was unfamiliar with Nasher’s solo-work but just loved the rendition of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ which was given a special intro using ‘The Power of Love’. Great stuff indeed and I eagerly bought his two CD albums, ‘Ripe’ and ‘Le Grande Fromage’ at the end of the evening.

So, to Wembley…

‘Produced by Trevor Horn’ in aid of the Prince’s Trust is the stuff of dreams for fans of record label Zang Tuum Tumb. In the 80’s, Trevor and his team of musical geniuses, techno wizards and marketing mayhem makers provided the music industry with an almighty reality check back then. ZTT saw before everyone else the true possibilities that music had and milked them for all they were worth.

On the crowded stage tonight were many of those backroom people from those heady days such as Oscar winning Anne Dudley, percussionist Luis Jardim and engineer/producer Steve Lipson but the question on everyone’s lips tonight was ‘When are Frankie playing?’. Would they top the bill in their reformed state?

The line up for event would have many a student of the 80’s salivate. In addition to Frankie, we were going to be entertained by sets from Pet Shop Boys, Simple Minds, ABC, Art of Noise, Dollar, Grace Jones and prog-rockers Yes who Trevor had given their first US number one with ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’.

Trevor Horn’s band, Buggles, were also reformed to play live the huge hit, ‘Video killed the radio star’ for the very first time. If that wasn’t enough, we were treated to the contemporary sounds of Belle & Sebastian, Lisa Stansfield, TaTu and the awesome Seal whose performance tonight was absolutely stunning.

The clock ticked on and at 10:30 the Frankies still hadn’t hit the stage but suddenly there they were. The opening rain forest sound effects of ‘Welcome to the Pleasuredome’ sounded and we were suddenly back 20 years. The music crashed in like an atom bomb and suddenly everyone was on their feet again.

My thoughts were with Ryan Molloy at this point – the weight of expectation on his shoulders must’ve been enormous and as if to ease him gently, Paul Rutherford sang the opening couple of lines for him. We needn’t have worried because Ryan gave a terrific performance and looked ever inch the rock star in his black eye make-up and spangly top that bared his chest. It wasn’t Holly but I could live with it because this was a moment I thought I’d never see again.

Next up was ‘Two Tribes’. Paul was having the time of his life and was bopping away as if his life depended on it and what else could we end the show on than with ‘Relax’. With the esteemed guests of Prince Charles himself and his soon to be wife, Camilla, partying away, this was truly a night to remember.

I owe Trevor Horn a lot for bringing me the music of my childhood and for another chance to wallow in nostalgia. I’d also have to thank those good people at VH-1 who, despite not quite pulling off a full reform, helped bring together. If they hadn’t made the ‘Bands Reunited’ show, I seriously doubt that we’d have had this one last hooray.

Frankie say: ‘Are you sure?’

Since Wembley, Frankie goes to Hollywood have remained together of sorts and have performed a number of other gigs around Europe. Unfortunately a UK tour in the autumn 2005 was cancelled but it is being rescheduled to coincide with a new album which we believe is being written as we speak.

It could be argued that they are playing a dangerous game and risk tainting a glorious back catalogue but I don’t buy that. Many of those songs pre-date any of Trevor’s involvement thus proving their creative abilities. What’s important now is that they are coming back together fresh with new ideas and I can’t wait to hear the results.

We’ll never get another summer like ‘84 but how could we? No-one else has managed it since then and Frankie, who cares?


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