Celebrity Interview - Holly Johnson
PUBLISHED: 00:00 30 October 2014
Liverpool-born Holly Johnson, former front man of Frankie Goes To Hollywood, gave up music for painting for 15 years. Now he's back
This is billed as your first full solo tour since your last outings with Frankie Goes To Hollywood in the 1980s. Can that really be so?
A That’s true. I’ve never done a solo tour. I was supposed to do one in 1989 to promote the Blast album but I was exhausted by that time after years of TV and press and promotion. I turned down a substantial sum of money. I felt my health could not cope with it at the time.
The new album, Europa... is there a theme? It seems very life-affirming music.
A Absolutely. Also it’s a retrospective of me as a songwriter because some of the songs were written a long time ago and some were written recently. It’s autobiographical in a sense; the positive messages in the songs are my way of getting behind myself and pushing myself along, encouraging me to stop procrastinating and get on and enjoy life as much as I possibly can.
For many years you were out of the music scene altogether. Where did you go?
A I went to art college - something I’d planned to do in 1983 when I had felt music was going nowhere for me. But then I couldn’t go because FGTH took off suddenly. Sir Peter Blake was instrumental in me going back to art college. He invited me to exhibit at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2001 when he got some of his music biz friends like Ronnie Wood and Paul McCartney to put in work. Through that exhibition, I met Eileen Cooper, a Royal Academician, who invited me to come to the Royal College of Art and work alongside the MA students, which I did for about four years.
Looking back, all these years later, how do you now regard the Frankie period?
A I think of FGTH as my performance art degree, in a sense. It was also my attempt at a fictional conceptual pop group, very much in the same vein as Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. It was almost as if Frankie was a character I was playing, and it had a finite life span from which I had to move on. I had to run for my life. It became a toxic situation that had moved away from the original vision I had of it.
The album comes almost exactly 30 years after Frankie’s biggie, Welcome To The Pleasuredome was released. Is that just a coincidence?
A It is. I feel as an artist, I’ve always lived in the shadow of my own past. I can’t really compete with the mega pop phenomenon that was Frankie Goes To Hollywood. I think of FGTH as my performance art degree, in a sense. It was also my attempt at a fictional conceptual pop group, very much in the same vein as Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars. It was almost as if Frankie was a character I was playing, and it had a finite life span from which I had to move on. I had to run for my life. It became a toxic situation that had moved away from the original vision I had of it.
You’ve lived in London for many years. What does your home city of Liverpool mean to you now?
A When I visit Liverpool now, it’s a lovely place - lovely hotels, cafes, cultural happenings. It was a different story when I lived there. I lived in riot-torn Toxteth with charabancs of policemen outside, who had been brought in from Manchester to deal with the riots. Everyone I knew was unemployed and struggling, and there were quangos set up by Margaret Thatcher’s government to control the city.
But now it’s brilliant. The area I lived in is now called the Georgian Quarter, and it’s got lovely restored houses, beautiful squares, and films are made there regularly.
What are your favourite places up north?
A I recently visited Alderley Edge, when I played at the Rewind North festival. I’d never been to that area before and I thought it was really nice.
As a child I’d go to New Brighton and Freshfield and places like that. There are some beautiful places in Liverpool - Sefton Park, for example. I always remember really beautiful sunsets, and going down to the Pier Head and taking a ferry across the Mersey. It’s a great place with people of character, and I’m really looking forward to playing there.