Frankie Goes To Hollywood: Mad Bastards
John McCready, NME, 8 November 1986
WITH A LITTLE help from his friends, Frankie went to Number One. He found that Number One was more exciting than Hollywood ever could be. The bars stayed open all night, and he discovered that singing about delayed ejaculation and inciting furious discussion on all the possible meanings of one little word bought you a season ticket to the biggest roller-coaster ride capitalism could offer.
It was all too easy.
So Frankie went up and down and round and round over and over again. From the Northern diamond mine to the capital pop factory; from club to club, from bitter to Bollinger, from the laughing stock of Liverpool to The Laughing Stock Of London. Frankie was in the limelight; dancing at the heart of decadence. In the end you get sick. And sick of it.
Someone called it The Bang. Peter Gill who played drums for Frankie during the explosion makes it sound like a nightmare. He remembers The Bang like it was yesterday. Brian Nash sits next to him in an empty room we've found at this backstreet rehearsal den. He looks like he can remember it too.
"We were animals. One minute you're on the dole and the next you're Number One. And everyone's screaming about yer and every one's got a 'Frankie Say Bollocks' T-shirt. And you're walking down Church Street in Liverpool and everyone's looking at yer, and you come back here and they're all going 'Party! Party!, you've been invited to a party, special guest!' Oh yeah. Top Of The Pops, birds, money it was just like, 'yeah, go for it'. And we thought anyone from Liverpool who got that, they wouldn't say no, they wouldn't turn it down. No way.
"We just thought, this is the life, we're pop stars now, let's just go. And all of a sudden we went, I'm knackered all the time, I've had enough of this..."
So now Ped and Nasher watch Bullseye – "with Jim Bowen and Every Second Counts with Paul Daniels," But The Lads haven't gone soft. They've just discovered moderation. Ped is at pains to point out that they're still "Mad Bastards".
"We still have a go and all that but we pick the right times. Otherwise we'd do no work at all. And we wanna keep this thing. It's our living. And if it flops we're gonna be well worried and we're gonna be sick."
The Lads are learning the value of discipline. They're learning that those who applaud the dropping of trousers and the downing of full bottles won't miss you when you're back in the New Claims queue.
PAUL RUTHERFORD dances like a dream and talks like a machine gun. This is the same Rutherford who has just bought a studio flat which overlooks Fortress Wapping, the same Paul Rutherford who is on the verge of spending £1,200 on an arty chair sculpted from glass. He tells me it wouldn't be the end of the world if he had to go back to his dad's house in Cantril Farm with only a glass ashtray to remind him of the way things used to be. I know, I know. I laughed too.
"I always say that if I lost all of this I'd just get up and start again. I'd cut my losses, cry for a day and then say fuck that; start again. Basically I've always felt the same – get it, spend it and have a brilliant time. When it's gone it's gone."
Paul is eating Italian in a Soho restaurant. There's wine if you want it. On the wall over there is one of Frankie's gold discs – Paul won't have them in the house – so we're treated like Duran Duran. Today is a good day.
"I can yap 'til my heart's content on a good day. Other days I'm the most ignorant bastard in the world. I don't have to please anybody. And when I don't talk I'm not just playing up, it's because I can't. I have to be honest."
Paul knows nothing of the second album caution The Lads are suffering from. Paul lives like there is no tomorrow because he believes there isn't going to be one.
"The bomb might go off tomorrow. I actually think like that. I'm sure it can happen that simply. It's in my mind all the time..."
What would you do if you knew it was going to happen today? Would you be worried? Depressed?
"No, I can't be that way. If they said 'Right, now we're gonna drop it', I know exactly what I'm going to put down my throat."
"Quite a lot..."
Quite a lot of what?
"Quite a lot of anything I can get my hands on. I'm gonna be out to fucking lunch, I swear..."
For the moment, this means drink. What does drink do to you, Paul?
"It doesn't help, it just loosens my tongue..."
Do you drink a lot?
"Sometimes you have to. When we're together there's no other way – nothing else to do. When you're sitting round waiting in some depressing European TV studio it's like, 'Sorry, we'll have to have some ale cos this is winding me up so much. What a bunch of idiots these people are, they're getting on my tits...' So the only thing to do is to get pissed."
Paul makes getting pissed sound like part of the routine of pop life. Like signing autographs or making records. Is it a boring life, then, Paul?
"It can be. That sounds really terrible but I just want to run away, sometimes. I know I didn't expect it to be this way. I never thought it would be like this when I used to listen to my David Bowie records.
"But, like it was great at first and then it gets really tedious; worse and worse. I suppose a lot of people would tell you that. Maybe it's to do with us being unsettled with it all. So we drink..."
And what happens?
"We have a laugh! There are so many people who can't cope with us. Especially not The Lads, no way."
Are you part of all that, the famed, if a little exaggerated, rampages?
"I'm a little older than them. I've seen a bit more. Sometimes I think spewing up in a pint glass isn't very funny and other times I think it's hysterical. I don't know. Ask them about it. I can sit down and drink with them but I never used to go for the tits and ass."
He laughs at this.
"Maybe that's what it is. It's mostly what I haven't got in common with them. But I do swing more towards The Lads these days. And me and Holly are alike in a lot of respects...we've known each other now for nearly 12 years..."
So are you bored with each other?
"No, not at all."
Do you and Holly still go out and drink together?
"He doesn't go out much, Holly."
Is that a recent thing?
Is that a Wolfgang thing?
Paul laughs: "Don't make me say these things, please. Yes, I suppose it is but Holly's changed, we've all changed..."
The flow stops momentarily. Paul remembers the roller-coaster.
"We're the only people that understand each other. We're the only people that it happened to three Januarys ago."
A LOT OF water has passed under the bridge since then. And the madness can't last forever. Frankie Goes To Hollywood are learning to live again. Learning to live with the money, learning to walk down the street and ignore the staring game. They're finding ways to wind down and ways to get by. It must be hard when all the world still sees you frozen; a freshly exploding champagne bottle in hand, the star turn at life's pop cabaret.
Holly has his antiques and his quiet life. Ped has his 2.8 injection Capri with real leather seats and The Lads have learned that getting pissed is even more fun as the exception and not the rule. Paul Rutherford has formed The Laughing Stock Of London.
"That's what they called me and my mates so we had a party at the Limelight for ourselves. It was great, I wore a wig. I like wigs...I don't give a fuck what people think. A lot of people I know have mellowed out low. They say, 'We're not into this, we're not into that, and it's like when I get to 40, I'm not going to be able to lift me legs so I might as well wear them out right now. You've got to have a great time. Especially when there are all these people above you planning your death."
What, you mean like pop people?
"No. Governments, leaders, politicians."
So why not try to change things instead of waiting for The Last Voice You Will Ever Hear?
"You can try but it never works. And it feels like there's no way out. It's going to take a second coming to get us out of this shit..."
At this point Paul's infectious positivism drops down dead. He has two solutions to the problems of this land, or at least his own problems...The first is to set up a commune on the coast of Scotland where the Laughing Stock can sing and dance and draw and paint and have the time of their privileged lives.
It's alright if you've got the money, isn't it Paul? Some people can't afford to run away.
"No, it's just a question of priorities, of what you really want. Some people want a car and a house. I'd sooner have a video camera or this glass chair.
"But now that I can have all of those things, I don't know if I really want hem. I don't like the 20th century, I don't like what's going on. There's too much trouble and I've been thinking of blotting it out. We came up with the idea when we were stoned one night. It's such a hippy ethic but, who cares. I think we all revert to that. We're all casualties of the '60s. We don't need this constant flood of hatred that keeps coming through our doors and windows. It really is starting to freak me out. And then again, I'm quite happy. I don't want to sound like a complete paranoid. But I think it would be a really nice way to live."
The second solution would be the removal of Margaret Thatcher.
"I just feel complete hatred for her. I'm into violent protest. We have no options left, we've tried everything else. She's evil – second only to the Anti-Christ, whoever he may be..."
Paul scrabbles in his bag. He pulls out a copy of Roald Dahl's The Witches and points out some lines on a page: "Look, that's what she is, she's a witch. When I was reading this I kept thinking of her." He reads from the book: "Real witches dress in ordinary clothes and they look very much like ordinary women."
The book is closed.
"She's a complete bastard. I see the hate in her eyes. It's like she's got a blackboard and she's scrubbling them out; people and places, one by one. I know a lot of people who feel this way. I don't think I've gone mad."
Why not do what you can, why not speak out? As he does it Paul denies its value.
"It doesn't work. People don't want it shoving down their throats. The only people I can think of who did it were John and Yoko – they made the thickest Yanks sit up and listen. And then there are people like Weller. I've sat through years of Paul Weller's blurb. I think it's depressing, his blurb. I think he's completely guilty – guilty of being rich and he can't cope with it."
But hold on, Paul, you're not short of a few bob yourself...
"I'm not rich, not as rich as him. It's a hobby for him and I don't like that. People don't want to hear that from pop musicians. They can get better stuff elsewhere. They want to go down The Grafton (a Liverpool nightspot famed for its Grab-A-Granny-Night), have a drink and a laugh.
"But I don't expect any sense from pop music. I've never really listened to it apart from Bowie and singers like Sade and Chrissie Hynde.
"And the charts are the f**king worst. I'm really disappointed in English people for settling for such shit. I think we should drop the bomb on pop, it's not relevant, we don't need it."
Like we don't need Frankie?
"I know, we're up there with them aren't we? But I'm still going to slag 'em down. I thought you had to be nice to them all but you don't owe them a f**k. They need a Luger in the head. It's all been stolen from us."
THE CAB is waiting outside to take us to The Lads' King's Cross den. It's time to talk about drugs. Why didn't you take part in that anti-heroin thing with Holly, Paul?
"Me and Nasher were supposed to go but I was completely smacked out of my head, that's what it was..."
He laughs. I think this is a joke. So you use drugs?
And your favourite substance?
"No...I'm going to walk into something here, aren't I? No. I don't use dangerous drugs at all..."
The cab barges through all that traffic. It's noisy outside. Inside there's silence...
"...I think there are people who are bright enough to use drugs..."
So you use them sensibly?
He laughs cautiously: "I have done."
Tell me about Ecstacy, Paul.
"What have you been reading?...there's a bit of a witch-hunt going on at the moment isn't there? I've taken acid and shit like that but I think it's the best. Once you've taken it I swear you will never forget. Margaret Thatcher should have a tab of that...last night I drew a flamenco dancer, you know?"
And what were you on then?
"I was just bored. I saw a red pencil, a yellow pencil and a black pencil and those are the colours of flamenco, aren't they?"
Yes, they are, Paul.
IT'S TIME we talked about Liverpool, the reason why all these words are here. Liverpool is big, barbed responsible pop music. It's a kind of cross between What's Going On and your favourite Van Halen album; a cross between Holly's Fire and Brimstone (all those angels and devils!) and all the firepower The Lads can provide.
For Paul it's "the hardest record I've heard for ages. There's all this wet shit going round by people like The Mission. They're just not up to scratch. It's the biggest record around. No contest."
For Nash it's a question of pride.
"We're really proud of it because it's the product of a year's work. So it's called Liverpool but we'd have been proud of it if it'd been called 'Stratford-On-Avon'."
For Ped, just back from the Hyper-Olympic game in the alehouse round the corner, it's more than just a racket.
"Yeah, it's hard like, but it's not just this big heavy backing track and 'H' singing about pulling chicks and riding his cycle into hell or whatever. The lyrics are important, too."
Ped and Nasher have done so many interviews – from Paul Morley to yours truly – that they've had time to formulate some ideas on one of pop life's little chores.
Ped puts it like this: "If the feller comes in and he's alright then we'll be nice back. But if he starts talking through his arse then we'll have a go back."
"So you've been warned," says Nash.
Oh yeah, I say.
"They just pick out all the worst quotes. Things like 'Yeah, let's smash the winder'" (Nash approximates a heavy Scouse accent) "It always comes across bad in print. As if you're being a yob when you're just having a laugh."
And what happened when Paul Morley started talking through his arse. Why didn't you give him a hard time?
"How d'you know we didn't?" says Ped.
Nasher elaborates: "Have you noticed there's no sleeve notes on the album? We said, 'No one wants to read your pretentious bullshit so leave it out'. It got to the stage where 'The Pleasure Dome' single came out and it was like 'Dionys; us – Greek Gods-bullshit-bullshit-bullshit' and everyone just switched off."
So the oil rag strangled the engine driver. The bullshit had to go. And so did the clothes.
"We've sorted it all out now," says Ped. "Maybe we got sucked into it all at first. We were standing there with all this gear on and we were looking at Smash Hits and the telly and saying, 'What prats we look'. All that designer crap, it got flung."
And no designer drugs, either.
"We've had all that as well. 'Do you want some Argentinian Flake, then? It's £200 but it's worth it'."
They are both creased up at this.
"If you put your foot down they won't come back to you," he adds.
"But don't get us wrong. We still have a laugh. We're still the Elephant Men of pop. When we're out we still get followed by the papers," Ped assures me. "They say, 'Ah, the lads are out, they're gonna flip us off, drop their kecks, end up with some dodgy slags and get pissed'. They're all expecting it like. So we behave ourselves..."
Today, The Lads will rehearse for 12 hours. At least that's what they told me. They are unlikely to get completely pissed or drop their kecks.
"You see," says Ped, "you've got to have something, some songs to get anywhere. You can nose-dive from a plane and land on your arse, you can dress up in rubber kecks and stiletto heels like Tony James, but you've got to have some songs."
"What happened to us was just a fluke and then you get someone like him trying to fake it and it just backfires. But you've got to have something real. Otherwise it doesn't mean a thing."
Liverpool is a serious step in the right direction. I think it means something. And The Lads know you can't live in The Pleasure Dome; on champagne and Argentinian Flake forever. Paul Rutherford says that Frankie used to be about kids having a great time. "But we're not singing about having fun anymore. Definitely not. Then, it was hedonistic, it was right, it was exactly what people needed."
So what do people need now, Paul?
"I don't know. I really don't know."
And why should he? Like Ped and Nasher he's just trying to make sense of his own crazy pop life. God knows that's enough to cope with.
© John McCready, 1986
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