Gone are the days of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. Now the band’s lead singer, Holly Johnson, is taking his second solo trip across the universe with Dreams That Money Can’t Buy.
At 13, holly Johnson sacrificed his beloved collection of David Bowie pictures in order to buy his first guitar. By 16 he’d lost his virginity and hated his parents. His head was filled with an abyss of misunderstood thoughts, out of which grew short cropped hair and writing etched on the side of his scalp. In 1984 the boy found fame with Frankie Goes To Hollywood, five years later his first solo album launched hits like Americanos and Atomic City.
Now, 1991, the quietly camp star is hoping to have a galactic flight of success with his second solo album. We’re due to meet at his record company’s offices just off Piccadilly Circus in London. I wait in reception, hear a scuffle and look up from the magazine I’m presently reading for the third time… but it’s not Holly who meets my eyes. It’s his cotton wool puff of a dog, the adorable Funky, who suffers throat problems and goes everywhere with his “master.” First Funky offers me a roll of brown tape, then a plastic globe of the world, and finally he proudly drags in his prized possession – Holly.
My Johnson’s kitted out in jeans and a cowboy jacket. He’s shorter than you’d expect, smokes a lot for a man who cares about the atmosphere, has a strong Liverpool accent, and proves to be as friendly as the unferocious Funky. And at 30, Holly Johnson is still as much a David Bowie fan as he was at 13, though he confesses, “I’ve never met him, but it makes me glad, because sometimes when you meet your heroes it can turn out to be a bit of a disappointment.”
Do you ever act the “star” in front of your fans so the idol image doesn’t crack for them?
“Yeah, I always try to be as polite as possible. Some fans scare me a bit. There’s one girl, for example, who’s got tattooed pictures of me all up her arms! And she’s moved into the flat opposite my house – that freaks me out quite a bit. I tried to do things to put her off, but then she got suicidal so now I’ve got to be really careful what I say.”
Do you make pop songs to entertain or to enlighten?
“A bit of both. Basically I see myself as a creative person or an artist who’s exposing themselves. I have a kind of physical need to express my opinions in songs I write. I think I do try and influence people and with Two Tribes for instance, I think I brought people’s attention to the imminence of nuclear war and the futility of fighting between the super powers. Maybe I shouldn’t be so political.”
Where and when are you most inspired to write?
“It could be anywhere – while watching TV, while I’m walking along the street. I could be any situation. I’m exposed to the same influences as everyone else, so since ecological matters have had quite a high media profile in the last couple of years, it’s influenced me to write Atomic City.”
How ecologically concerned are you in your everyday life?
“Well I only buy free range eggs in cardboard boxes and I try to buy washing powder that environmentally friendly. It’s only through little things like that, that things can get better really.”
Why do you want to visit space with Across The Universe?
“It’s about me being stuck in this urban environment, wanting to go on holiday and then finding out that you can’t go to Italy because the beaches are polluted. There’s nowhere left on the planet to go to escape, so the only alternative is space. It’s a tongue-in-cheek song.”
If you don’t holiday, how do you relax?
“I just get depressed! Usually in the winter I get really, really depressed, and between albums I go through a whole thing of ‘why am I doing this?’ I go through all this trauma and then somehow I come out of it in the end… and then it all starts again. I get all traumatized – I think it’s part of the creative process. I’m not someone who’s totally cool and detached about the whole thing actually. I can be emotionally draining, but c’est la vie.”
Were you a melancholy child?
“Well, I was quite a longer really. I always kind of wrote poetry and did drawings. I was never interested in sport which, coming from Liverpool, was unusual where football is God.”
In The People Want To Dance you warn clubbers against drug exploitation – did you fall for those trappings ?
“Oh absolutely! Hook, line and sinker. Between the ages of 14 and 24 most of my nights were spent in a nightclub. In the song I’m saying that it’s not particularly a bad thing, but that getting completely out of it shouldn’t be the be-all and end-all of existence. There are other things in life than just going out, getting drunk and dancing.”
You also advocate the importance of education, what education have you got?
“Not much really, apart form a kind of street, self-inflicted one. I didn’t attend school much after the age of 14 though I did read a lot. In retrospect I think education’s important because you’re exercising your brain and opening up possibilities for yourself. It’s only through education that things will improve.”
Has your situation improved since you went solo?
“Well, it’s much lonelier and there’s less delegation of responsibility – you have to come up with all the ideas. So it’s harder work in some respects. But then again, there aren’t many arguments when you’re solo. I think all people like me want to be famous.”
Will you ever get down to Africa?
“I’m not really interested in places where you have to get those injections before you go! I’m a bit of a coward in medical investigations. I believe Cape Town is beautiful place from what people say… but then again, there’s the whole racial tension and stigma. I don’t think I would be happy visiting there. You hear they’re improving matter… but I don’t know what to believe.”
Are you in love with anyone?
“Sometimes. I have got a permanent partner. I think a relationship in the 20th Century is harder because it’s open to various distractions and prejudices.”
How do you spend your money?
“I buy a lot of art. i collect British modern paintings, especially from one woman who paints brightly colored domestic things. Her work is very pure – she does it for the love of it, she’s not a careerist.”
And what do you work for?
“I must do it for the love of it, because at the end of the day it’s such a tough thing really. You have to deal with so much shit and the business aspect of it is abominable. There’s a lot of pressure involved, and the financial rewards, for me, are not that great so I must be doing it because I love popular music – because, take it form me, it ain’t as great a “job” as people think. There are much easier ways of doing it.”
Holly Johnson’s new album is called DreamsThat Money Can’t Buy and it’s a good follow-up to Blast, which was released towards the end of 1988. Last year Holly released a remix album called Hollelujah featuring remixes of the best tracks from the Blast album. Not worth spending your money on unless you’re a real fan, or unless you simply like remix albums, but you certainly won’t be wasting you money on Holly’s new collection. Featuring great tracks like The People Want To Dance and Across The Universe, it’s very much in Holly’s solo style – up-temp and full of energy.
TOP 40 June 1991