‘Relax’ – and suddenly there came a ban!

On January 11st, 1984, Radio 1 DJ, Mike Read took Frankie Goes To Hollywood‘s debut single, ‘Relax’, off the deck, mid-song whilst live on air, reportedly calling it ‘obscene’ and stating that he wasn’t going to play it anymore. Despite the BBC having played it over 100 times, the band appearing in two sessions, having played Top Of The Pops the previous week and the single then residing at no.6 in the charts, the corporation officially ‘banned’ it from their playlist two days later.

This had the effect of generating enough publicity to push it up to the No.1 spot less than two weeks later on 22nd January and the band and their record company, Zang Tuum Tumb, claimed their first hit single. With a video that was already not deemed fit for TV broadcast, promo photos of the group in S&M gear and two of the band being were openly gay, it was all the press needed to have a field day.

In a stroke of good luck, the band’s producer, Trevor Horn, had remixed the song for a 3rd 12″ that was released just before it hit the No.1 spot. Multiple mixes being a novelty at the time, this version replaced the original ‘Sex Mix’ with a more club-friendly ‘New York Night Mix’, inspiration for which was taken when Horn visited the Paradise Garage club the previous Autumn. ZTT were quick to fan the flames of the ‘ban’ (it was only banned on BBC channels but freely played by other commercial stations) and adverts and posters appeared, flaunting the band’s outlaw status. I vividly remember seeing a huge fly poster proclaiming ‘Big, Banned & Beautiful!’ pasted up in the little town of Reigate where I grew up. In fact, I tried several times, unsuccessfully, to steal it but posters being what they are I just ended up ripping it.

I was fortunate enough to track down the original photographer of the poster’s image – Steve Rumney – for my Art of ZTT blog last year and he’s promised me access to a whole raft of exclusive, unseen/unpublished images that he took back stage at the band’s Camden Palace performance the previous November.

Stephen Rumney: “I used to take photos at the Camden Palace in the mid 80s and I was there the night that Frankie did their first ever performance of ‘Relax’… I think it was the actual release party and as far as I remember I was the only photographer to have back stage and dressing room access. …the pics are pretty wild as they were all drinking champagne and very high spirited as you can imagine… I was right in the thick of it and clicking away madly… there was something in the air that night and you could really tell this was the start of something big…

The photo was not posed … I just caught them before they went on stage… or just after… I may have asked them for a group shot but it was not ‘staged’ as in ‘let’s do a photo shoot’… its why it has that edgy spontaneity… Holly already the gun as he was carrying it around for his performance.

The story is that shortly after the gig I dropped a print off with the Island press office thinking they may like to use it for press… They had commissioned me to do a couple of photo shoots when I was still at college as they had seen my portfolio featured in ‘Blitz’ magazine so I dropped the Frankie photo off with them when I delivered prints for the other photo shoot they commissioned… a week or so later I saw my photo being used all round town on the giant street posters!!!”

‘Relax’ was a pretty big deal for me personally, one of those records that connected on first listen and had to have repeat plays, much to my parents’ annoyance. A song I never tire of and that, with the follow-up, ‘Two Tribes’, probably ranks as one of my top 10 singles of all time. I didn’t hear the ban as we rarely listened to Radio 1 in our house, instead hearing it on Capital Radio who didn’t hold quite such draconian ideals as the BBC. I taped it and would have to play it at least four times in succession after school for weeks on end.

In fact, some of my first pause button tape ‘remixes’ were of the song, made from the various different mixes floating around. It was this too that was one my first exposures to ‘the Remix’ on multiple formats and, coupled with the cryptic sleeve notes and images, it made for a very exciting package to a 13 year old. It was the beginning of a love affair with both the band’s music and their label, ZTT, that has stayed with me to this day. Nothing was more exciting to me in 1984 that Frankie and the other artists on ZTT’s roster – Art of Noise and Propaganda.

‘Big, Banned & Beautiful’ poster design: XLZTT photography: © Stephen Rumney 1983 The photo was taken 24th November ’83 by Steve Romney backstage at a promo gig for the single at the Camden Palace in London. The ‘girls’ in the photo were Ange and Juicy Lucy (the latter actually a man in drag), friends of the band who featured in the original video for ‘Relax’.

You can also read my interview with Anne Yvonne Gilbert – the illustrator of the iconic image on the cover of ‘Relax’ – on ArtofZTT.com

February 14th sees the release of yet another 12″ of the single for the 30th anniversary, this time with a recently discovered remix from ’84 which was lost in the vaults. More info HERE.

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