Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Strange Refuge: Holly Johnson Discusses His Favourite Albums

In our final Baker's Dozen of 2014, Ian Wade talks to the former Frankie Goes To Hollywood frontman following the release of Europa, his first solo album in 15 years, about his all-time top 13 LPs

Holly Johnson is a busy man. This year, he released his first album for 15 years, the rather good Europa, and is basically running everything single-handedly. He’s his own record label, he’s also completed a short UK tour (which, again, he’s not done since 1987), and has been heading out and around Europe to promote it further afield.

Europa sees the one-time pop filth scourge surrounding himself with contributors such as Vangelis, Roxy Music’s Phil Manzanera, Vini Reilly of The Durutti Column, Frankie Knuckles (one of his last remixes) and Eric Kupper, helping him flesh out songs and ideas that he’d accumulated over the years, and gives Holly a series of tunes to sit alongside his catalogue.

The wider public first got wind of Johnson when Frankie Goes To Hollywood made their TV debut for The Tube, and released their first single ‘Relax’. The slow-burn crawl up the charts was helped slightly by a radio DJ taking umbrage at the single, and its fate was then secured, going on to be a million-seller, and one of the top ten biggest selling singles of all time in the UK.

This year has been a series of anniversaries from there on – 30 years since the band became only the second group to go to no. 1 with their first three singles – ‘Relax’, ‘Two Tribes’ and ‘The Power Of Love’ – also notable that Johnson popped up on the B-side of the first Band Aid single, which added to the quarter of a year Frankie had already spent at the top spot – and a double debut album which had pre-sales of over a million and enlightened fans with mail order Jean Genet boxer shorts.

Then things started going awry within the Frankie machine, and Johnson was only just able to pull himself from the wreckage of bad deals and general unpleasantness. He returned as a solo turn in 1989, and hit the top spot again with his debut album Blast. Another album followed – 1991’s Dreams That Money Can’t Buy – before Holly dropped off the radar for a while, returning in 1999 with Soulstream.

In the early 2000s, he went off to study for an MA at art school, and he even had his own paintings exhibited at the Royal Acacdemy in 2001, and then over the years has taken to performing occasional shows for the likes of Rewind Festival, where he can play the hits to a rapturous response, but now it’s 2014 and he has something fresh to offer for old and new fans alike.

After some faffing about arranging a meeting, we finally took tea in a fancy member’s club, and chatted about the records that made Holly Johnson. He’s exquisite company.

Europa is out now via Pleasuredome. Click on his image below to begin scrolling through Holly’s choices

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