In 1983, a band of five young lads from Liverpool appeared on hip British music show The Tube. The band was called Frankie Goes To Hollywood, who apparently took their name from a tabloid headline about Frank Sinatra, and consisted of Holly Johnson (lead singer), Paul Rutherford (vocals, keyboards), Peter Gill (drums), Mark O’Toole (bass), Brian Nash (guitar). They had a fine selection of songs including “Relax,” and “Two Tribes,” and rather original fashion sense, incorporating boxing and bondage gear. Even so, they were making little headway as were still unsigned to any record label.
They did, however, have management, who financed a demo video to hawk around record companies in hope of a deal, as Holly Johnson later recalled in his autobiography, A Bone in My Flute:
Bob and Sharon Johnson, who had recently become our London-based managers, arranged for us to make a video demo of two songs. Bob had a friend at Arista Records (Simon Potts) who invested six hundred pounds. We recorded ‘Two Tribes’ and ‘Relax’ in a sixteen-track studio in Clapham [London]. A while later Bob hired a video camera, which was operated by a photographer friend of his. We used the basement of the Hope and Anchor to record our performance. During the recording, the manager of the venue drew Bob aside and accused him of using the premises to make a porn video.
We had really gone to town on the bondage look. I wore a pair of leather knickers and an old Seditioneries cropped T-shirt, with unzipped nipple holes and bike tyre pieces on the shoulders. that I had inherited from [Dead or Alive singer] Pete Burns. Paul purloined a pair of leather thigh guards that strapped at the back, which left his arse completely bare. He also waved around a fake Luger. We dressed the boys in denim shorts with the odd bit of leather. Mark wore a black ‘Lone Ranger’ mask and denim shorts. The Leather Pets [backing dancers] were there in studed leather mini dresses and suspenders holding up laddered stockings; we chained them to the scaffolding.
The video was, by Johnson’s own admission, “very seedy and tacky” and included a sequence of “simulated sodomy” that Holly performed on Paul.
For any era this video was outrageous. Unfortunately it didn’t have the desired effect. Bob Johnson hawked the video around several record companies, to no avail. The younger A and R men seemed keen but didn’t think they could persuade their older bosses. Island’s Chris Blackwell supposedly sent a telex saying something like ‘Not on my lifetime’. Simon Draper at Virgin allegedly said ‘We’ve already got one old Queen we can’t sell, why do I need another one.’
However, the performance promo did attract interest from Channel 4’s music show The Tube. The show’s proudcers thought the video was “too lewd to be shown” at teatime on a Friday, but were keen to have Frankie Goes To Hollywood interviewed and perform “Relax.” As it turned out, this was the toned-down performance (though still in bondage gear) that won Frankie and record contract and launched their careers, as Holly explains:
...so they came to Liverpool and filmed us at the newly opened State Ballroom, Liverpool’s glitziest disco. We had the use of the laser lighting, which was the latest thing, and the camera men loved doing soft focus crutch [sic] shots of The Leather Pets.
It was a resounding success when it was shown later in the year. The camera somehow liked me.
A member of Yes, who was recording ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’ with Trevor Horn, brought the clip to Trevor’s attention. Trevor claimed he could make a number one hit out of that song [“Relax”], then promptly forgot all about us.
Horn didn’t quite forget about Frankie Goes To Hollywood, as he did go on to produce their single “Relax” (which did go to number one) and their excellent debut album Welcome to the Pleasuredome, which all helped FGTH dominate the charts across most of the world in 1984.
This is Frankie’s debut appearance on The Tube, where they performed an early version of “Relax” and were interviewed by Jools Holland.
More Frankie Goes to Hollywood after the jump, including bits from the “lewd” video deemed too extreme for early 80s British telly…