He’s been performing and releasing records since 1977 when he was a member of Big In Japan alongside the likes of Bill Drummond, Ian Broudie and Budgie – all of whom went on to great musical success. Obviously everyone is here tonight to hear the Frankie Goes To Hollywood and solo hits but also to see this 80s icon perform live, which is an extremely rare occurrence.
After a half hour 80s disco, which revealed a few faded and stretched Frankie Says T-shirts, the lights dimmed and the band began an instrumental overture of Frankie hits as Holly Johnson entered, top-to-toe in black, carrying a dry ice machine.
The trademark thumping bass drum and bass guitar is locked in, accompanied by two synths, and ‘Warriors Of The Wasteland’ opens the show with a wild solo from lead guitarist, David D’Andrade. There’s a familiar plucked guitar, followed by the whole band as Holly proclaims “the animals are winding me up!” and the “Hoo Ha, Hoo Ha” chant is enough to get people out of their seats to dance to ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’. The sunglasses are removed and we are told the last time Johnson was in Brighton was 1985 – “before you were born”.
A sax intro eases us into ‘Love Will Come’ which is followed by the first two songs from the ‘Blast’ album, and with less band blast we get to clearly hear Johnson’s distinctive voice. We are promised, and get, some “Latino action” on a jaunty ‘Americanos’ with keys player Daisy May Khan providing strong backing vocals with D’Andrade. Johnson cheekily prefaces ‘In And Out Of Love’ from his fourth solo album, ‘Europa’, with “you won’t know this one” but it’s a fine pop song with a euphoric gospel feel. He roams the stage creating his own dry ice effects while sipping from his water bottle (also black).
‘Rage Hard’ shows us the rockier side of dance music with Johnson dancing on the spot and head held back when holding a long, powerful note. There’s a lot of love in the room for this man but the affectionate shoutouts sounded “like Pinky and Perky” to him. The video background has been featuring great visuals all night and there’s a flowery theme for ‘Perfume’ with funky wah-wah guitar, lush harmonies and salacious lyrics.
The band are introduced with drummer Jon Harris singled out as being “a tattooed sex god who can pound away all night”. Holly worked the stage, and crowd, superbly as he grooved his way through ‘Atomic City’. For ‘Love Train’ he says, “So this is Brighton and you’re always ready for a ride – you can get up for this one” and the audience abides with a surge to the front of the stage.
We are instructed to sit down for ‘This Was Me’ from ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ as Johnson reminisced about old times as photos of his younger self appear behind him. This new anthem could be his ‘My Way’ and even brings some people to tears. He informs us he visited Sussex Beacon earlier and praised the great work they do before introducing ‘Watching The Wildlife’ as “Frankie’s last stand”. Cheesy synths resemble the ‘Going For Gold’ TV theme and it’s a great song that shows the second Frankie album deserves reappraisal.
We all know what’s coming as Johnson asks “are you ready for an ejaculation” and a slow intro gets everyone up and dancing as Johnson shines a spotlight to emphasise hitting us with those laser beams and points the smoke machine from his crotch on the “when you wanna come” line. This was pure theatre and the fun continued with a rousing ‘Two Tribes’ to end the show.
Of course there’s something missing and Johnson returns, all in white, for his favourite song. “It’s not just for Christmas”. The stage is bathed in red as a glitter ball spins for a final singalong to ‘The Power Of Love’. He’s a genuine, charming performer with a twinkle in his eye and a tongue firmly placed in cheek and it was a true pleasure to spend 90 minutes in his company. Hopefully he’ll keep his promise to see us again.
Brighton Dome, Thursday 16th November 2023