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Thursday, September 2, 1999 Published at 16:27 GMT 17:27 UK


Return from Hollywood

Holly Johnson is back on the music scene after 10 years

By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas

Eighties pop group Frankie Goes to Hollywood found fame in the controversy sparked by their erotic club anthem Relax.

[ image: Frankie Goes To Hollywood: A 1980s' pop sensation]
Frankie Goes To Hollywood: A 1980s' pop sensation
But there was one thing on which most people agreed: Holly Johnson, the band's flamboyant frontman, had true bravado and a zest for life.

That spark was however all too abruptly snuffed out.

In 1987 Frankie acrimoniously split. Worse still, in 1991 Johnson was diagnosed as having Aids.

Now, after 10 years away from the music scene, Johnson is making a triumphant return - in fighting form and with a single and album up his sleeve.

Down but not out

Not that the 39-year-old Liverpudlian has been idle in the interim. There's been his autobiography, A Bone in My Flute, in 1994. In 1996, he held an exhibition of his art in London's West End. He has even set up his own record label, Pleasuredome.

But music is what he loves best and what he is back to do.

[ image:  ]
"I felt an upturn in my health and outlook and I just felt like singing again. But I am really just setting out to resume the work that I did when HIV so rudely interrupted my life," Johnson says.

Frankie Goes to Hollywood can be credited with making some of the most successful dance records of the 1980s.

The sky-high success of Relax in 1984 - bolstered by its ban from BBC Radio 1 after it realised the meaning of its lyrics - was followed the same year by number one spots for Two Tribes, The Power Of Love and the album Welcome To The Pleasuredome.

New perspective

Watch a clip from Holly's new video
Johnson says he has no idea whether the new single Disco Heaven, and album Soul Stream, will emulate his previous chart fortune. But at least it is worth a try.

[ image: Johnson in 1989: Enjoyed success with his solo album Blast]
Johnson in 1989: Enjoyed success with his solo album Blast
Indeed, close your eyes, and Disco Heaven is reminiscent of Johnson's club music days, albeit influenced by the current trend in Seventies glitter ball revival.

The video, which he describes as his "directorial debut", features Boy George and Jasper Conran imitating gay and disco icons such as Divine and Lee Bowery. The lyrics mention Andy Warhol, Sylvester and more.

"It's about all the friends I have loved and perhaps lost," Johnson explains.

Holly Johnson on Disco Heaven: A great note to end summer on
But if Disco Heaven is anything to go by, Johnson could seem to have lost his feisty edge and in some ways, he admits, this analysis is true.

"I'm not as arrogant as you are when you are young when you feel everything is a divine right and you think you are the best thing since sliced bread. I have a different perspective on life," he muses.

Of course, if Johnson is a changed man, it's hardly surprising. Not many of us could live through such a marked reversal in fortune and come out unscathed.

[ image: Elvis Christ by Holly Johnson]
Elvis Christ by Holly Johnson
The Frankie break-up was followed by bitter legal rows wth their record company. He argued again with his new label in 1989, after the success of his solo album Blast.

But although the downturn in his career was demoralising, it was the Aids diagnosis that sent Johnson into retreat. "It was a huge shock," he says.

No regrets

He is however keen not to dwell on the subject and adds: "Now I have moved on. I am not the HIV, it's not what I do and I tend to feel there are other more interesting things about me."

Holly Johnson: The media keeps trying to make him a spokesperson for gay rights
His autobiography and his paintings are evidence enough of that.

Fear of death in the early days of diagnosis compelled him to take up writing and painting earlier than he intended - but Johnson is not one to live in the past.

"I have enjoyed my life and did what I felt like doing. In ignorance I didn't practise safe sex but I am certainly not going to regret my behaviour that was done in ignorance of the actual situation," he says.

[ image: A Bone in My Flute was a best-seller]
A Bone in My Flute was a best-seller
In fact, the only aspect of his life Johnson has sought to rewrite is his old Frankie hit The Power Of Love.

The next single from Soul Stream will be a slower version of the classic song. It was originally sped up to make it short enough for radio play and, Johnson says, made him sound "ever so slightly Mickey Mouse".

He hopes to go on tour at some point. But for now, his priority is watching how his new record is received - particularly among his old Frankie Goes to Hollywood fans.

"I hope it makes them feel uplifted and distracted from the stress and strains of everyday life."

And he laughs: "I hope they will like it but if they don't, well then it's tough isn't it?"

Disco Heaven is released on 6 September and Soul Stream on 4 October.

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