HOLLY JOHNSON + MATT McMANAMON – BRIGHTON DOME 16.11.23
Iconic singer and songwriter Holly Johnson has arrived at Brighton Dome this evening in celebration of the fact that it’s 40 Years since Frankie Goes To Hollywood ripped through the 80’s music scene with the release of their debut single ‘Relax’. It goes without saying that many concert dates on his jaunt around the UK have easily sold out, as such is the demand to be able to hear many Frankie classics performed by their original singer. Holly’s headline tour was announced immediately after the incredible reformation of Frankie Goes To Hollywood for literally a one off special performance in order to officially open the 67th Eurovision Song Contest which was held in the band’s home city of Liverpool in May. At the announcement of the tour Holly stated “I’m looking forward to sing ‘Relax’, all the hits and a few selected album tracks from the past 40 years. It’s going to be a Blast!”.
Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s ‘Relax’ proved to be one of the decade’s most successful and controversial singles, it sold in excess of two million copies in the UK alone ranking it among the 10 biggest selling singles ever. It remained in the charts for a record 37 weeks. The BBC famously banned ‘Relax’, refusing to play it due to the perceived sexual content. ‘Relax’ re-entered the charts following the release of their second single ‘Two Tribes’ further cementing the band’s place in music history with 2 singles sitting at chart positions Number 1 and 2. They made it a hat-trick of No.1’s with the Mid November 1984 arrival of ‘The Power Of Love’.
Their debut double vinyl album ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ dropped on 29th October 1984 and charted entry at No.1 after shifting around a quarter of a million copies in its first week! The ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ single even made it to No.2 the following year, and single ‘Rage Hard’ hit No.4 the year after. Their ‘Liverpool’ album climbed as high as No.5 in 1986, but by the end of the 80’s the band were no more and out of the ashes flew Holly Johnson, the solo artist, with a No.1 solo album titled ‘Blast’, which produced hits such as ‘Love Train’, ‘Americanos’, ‘Heavens Here’ and ‘Atomic City’. A special 35th anniversary edition of ‘Blast’ has now been released on red vinyl and also cassette. It’s available to purchase from HERE.
The only time Frankie Goes To Hollywood played live in Brighton was on 3rd April 1985 and I was lucky enough to have been present at that concert at the Brighton Centre. To my knowledge, and in fact confirmed this evening by Holly on stage at Brighton Dome, tonight’s concert is only his second appearance here in the city, so after a wait of 38 years, 7 months, 13 days, (or if you prefer it in days then it’s 14,106) Holly is back with us with his band of five musicians to show us what they have to offer.
Despite the long wait, I have personally had an intimate face-to-face conversation with Holly last year and I must honestly confess that despite his mega stardom, that he is in fact a quietly spoken, gentle, kind, unassuming man. It was a joy to be in his company and this evening I felt exactly the same, except there were around 1600+ souls also in the room.
The select 16 tune set commenced at 8:34pm with a video film on the backdrop high above the stage. The band entered from stage right (our left) whilst the film showed images of Holly, and they took to their positions. To the centre rear of the stage was Jon Harris on drums and drumpads; stage right (our left) was the only lady of the team, Daisy May Khan, who was taking care of two keyboards as well as backing vocals; roughly in front of her was David D’Andrade on electric guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals; stage left (our right) was Justin Swadling on two keyboards, drumpads, saxophone and backing vocals; roughly in front of him was Vinzenz Benjamin on bass, keyboards and backing vocals; and completing the lineup out centre front arriving three minutes later at 8:37pm was the one and only Holly Johnson.
Silver fox Holly was looking resplendent in his black shades, black leather, black trousers and black T-shirt, which he flagged up as being made by someone in Brighton. In his hand he was carrying a square black box, which turned out to be a mobile dry ice machine. This was a novel touch that added to the mystique and atmosphere.
The band of six kicked off in earnest with the first of three cuts from the 1986 ‘Liverpool’ Frankie album, this being ‘Warriors Of The Wasteland’, with accompanying film. In fact every tune had a film to it. Tambourine in hand, Holly merrily sang away and expressed with the music via his black gloved hands. The title track from the debut Frankie album followed in the form of ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’, which was very well received indeed. After this number Holly removed his cool shades and addressed the crowd. It was now certain at this very early point in the show that Holly’s vocals are still spectacular and he DID sound as he did back in the day on those early Frankie recordings. There may have been two black bottles of some forms of liquid refreshments readily available to top up the vocal cords throughout the performance which must have helped. He alternated, I noticed, so that’s one water and one….?
The next musical selection was the first of a half dozen cuts from Holly’s solo No.1 album, ‘Blast’, this being ‘Love Will Come’, where Holly’s vocals (on this tune only!) sounded not too dissimilar to those of David Bowie. I conveyed this fact to my friend and after a very short while, she informed me that the fellow sitting behind her had just said the same thing! The 1989 single ‘Americanos’ (the second ‘Blast’ selection), signalled to many of the seated crowd to get up and have boogie. For 2014’s ‘In And Out Of Love’ (from the ‘Europa’ album), I noted that bassist Vinzenz ditched his instrument in favour of a side facing keyboard, thus there were a trio of keys on the go.
Things were about to heat up with the arrival of ‘Rage Hard’ (the second from 1986’s ‘Liverpool’ album) and thus Holly’s jacket was carefully removed by guitarist David and some jolly banter was had. After which we were due another cut from ‘Blast’, this time it was the turn of ‘Perfume’, after which Holly introduced his band. This is always greatly received by reviewers who are endeavouring to work out who the other musicians on stage are. A trio of other tunes from ‘Blast’ followed in the form of the funky ‘Atomic City’, with its Tears For Fears ‘Mad World’ meets ‘Daktari’ theme keyboard break which segued straight into ‘Heaven’s Here’ with it’s, dare I say it, Wham’s ‘Last Christmas’ sounding backbeat and finally on to ‘Love Train’, which Holly informed us that we could get up and dance to this one. Thus many folk took him up on his offer and so this was a popular choice, judging by the hearty applause at the end.
The tempo was initially brought down drastically for the next selection, this being the newest tune in the form of ‘This Was Me’ (from 2021 ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ (Film Soundtrack album), which Holly informed us was about memories and how fabulous we were in our heyday. Although a quiet starter, this soon built up beat wise and sounded rather like the Pet Shop Boys. This was one of the set highlights for me. After that track had concluded, Holly informed us that they had visited Sussex Beacon today. For those that are unaware of this, it is a charity specialising in care and support for people living with HIV in Sussex. This cause is very close to Holly’s heart.
The final Frankie Goes To Hollywood final single ‘Watching The Wildlife’ was the next selection. After which Holly picked up the mobile dry ice machine and said “Do you like my handbag?” and then shortly afterwards added “Are you ready for any ejaculations?”. It was time for that banned No.1 mega-smash ‘Relax’ which was the signal for everyone in the crowd to stand up and dance. During the tune the dry ice was released in simulation and his torch was shone at us into the crowd. This was a great delivery, and I for one certainly could have done with the 12” version! I could have also done with a 12” version for the main set closing number, ‘Two Tribes’, which was another corker, as you would expect.
The musicians vacated the stage only to return to perform Holly’s favourite tune (I presume he meant favourite Frankie tune), this being the recurring Christmas smash ‘The Power Of Love’, which Holly informed us that “This song is for life not just Christmas!”. Holly had put his minutes away from the stage to good use, as he had changed into a sparkly white jacket and white trousers. For this tune, guitarist David switched from electric to acoustic guitar. The tune came to a close at 9:51pm and the sextet came to the front of the stage and took their two bows, followed by a group selfie. Holly signed off with “Bless you, thank you for your support. Hope to see you again. Safe journey home”. At 9:53pm they were gone and the very happy punters made their way out of the circular auditorium. Listening to folk on the way out, it was clear that tonight was a success! Hopefully Holly will make a swift return, after all he did say he would be back! Over to you then Holly…………
Holly Johnson band:
Holly Johnson – lead vocals, tambourine
David D’Andrade – electric guitar, acoustic guitar, backing vocals
Justin Swadling – keyboards, drumpads, saxophone, backing vocals
Daisy May Khan – keyboards, backing vocals
Vinzenz Benjamin – bass, keyboards, backing vocals
Jon Harris – drums, drumpads
Holly Johnson setlist:
‘Intro’– FGTH sound
‘Warriors Of The Wasteland’ (1986 Frankie Goes To Hollywood single & from 1986 ‘Liverpool’ album)
‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ (1985 Frankie Goes To Hollywood single & from 1984 ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ album)
‘Love Will Come’ (from 1989 ‘Blast’ album)
‘Americanos’ (1989 single & from 1989 ‘Blast’ album)
‘In And Out Of Love’ (2014 single & from 2014 ‘Europa’ album)
‘Rage Hard’ (1986 Frankie Goes To Hollywood single & from 1986 ‘Liverpool’ album)
‘Perfume’ (from 1989 ‘Blast’ album)
‘Atomic City’ (1989 single & from 1989 ‘Blast’ album)
‘Heaven’s Here’ (1989 single & from 1989 ‘Blast’ album)
‘Love Train’ (1989 single & from 1989 ‘Blast’ album)
‘This Was Me’ (The Feeling cover) (from 2021 ‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) album)
‘Watching The Wildlife’ (1987 Frankie Goes To Hollywood single & from 1986 ‘Liverpool’ album)
‘Relax’ (1983 Frankie Goes To Hollywood single & from 1984 ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ album)
‘Two Tribes’ (1984 Frankie Goes To Hollywood single & from 1984 ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ album)
‘The Power Of Love’ (1984 Frankie Goes To Hollywood single & from 1984 ‘Welcome To The Pleasuredome’ album)
Support tonight came from fellow likeable Liverpudlian Matt McManamon, formerly of The Dead 60s and recent live guitarist for The Specials. Matt is strongly associated with ska, punk, dub and reggae although you wouldn’t have had that inkling this evening at Brighton Dome, as it was a solo acoustic set that commenced bang on the dot of 7:30pm and concluded eight tunes later at 8:01pm.
Matt’s solo work is more closely aligned to his Liverpool Irish roots as bore witness this evening, with him even mentioning that although his songs are quite often about where he’s from (eg ‘Meet Me By The River’), he now resides in County Mayo. His debut 10 tune long-player ‘Scally Folk’ was eventually released via Fretsore Records in 2021 after having worked on it for a whole decade. An extended version containing 16 tracks came out at the backend of last year. His latest release is his recent single ‘Circles In The Sky’ which dropped back on 29th September and this tune is his penultimate number this evening.
It’s a shame that many support artists aren’t “supported” by the punters who have willingly shelled out cash for tickets in order to witness the headliners in action. Once again this happened this evening with Matt’s performance commencing with ‘Liberty Shore’ to a somewhat sparse audience. Clearly this didn’t put him off, as throughout the following tunes (‘Pulling At The Reins’, ‘What About You’ and ‘Out Of The Cold’), his audience grew and it was noticeable that his charm was radiating from the stage. In fact he honestly seemed pleased to be playing for us in Brighton and as he sang and strummed his way through further numbers ‘Meet Me By The River’, ‘Jumpin’ The Gun’ and the aforementioned ‘Circles In The Sky’, Matt had built up the rapport with the gathered faithful in order for them to handclap along with closing number ‘Something’s Changed’.
Matt McManamon setlist:
‘Pulling At The Reins’
‘What About You’
‘Out Of The Cold’
‘Meet Me By The River’
‘Jumpin’ The Gun’
‘Circles In The Sky’