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Holly Johnson (born William Johnson; 9 February 1960; legal name William Holly Johnson) is an English artist, musician and writer, best known as the lead vocalist of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, and former bassist for Big in Japan. He released his debut solo album in 1989 and in the 1990s embarked on a painting career.

Johnson was born in Liverpool. Actively involved in the Liverpool punk rock/New Wave scene of the late 1970s, Johnson played bass with Big in Japan and released two solo singles on the Eric's label. Both "Yankee Rose" and "Hobo Joe" made no impact on the market. Johnson later found fame as the lead singer and lyricist of Frankie Goes to Hollywood, who experienced both controversy and phenomenal commercial success during their heyday in 1983 and 1984.

Johnson left FGTH in 1987 due to disagreements regarding their musical direction. He became the subject of an injunction from the group's record company, ZTT Records, and its sister publishing company, Perfect Songs, which cited a breach of his prior recording and publishing contracts, thus barring him from pursuing a solo career with any other new label. He embarked on a two-year legal battle with ZTT, the case being settled in Johnson's favour on 10 February 1988, the judge ruling that the original contracts had constituted an unreasonable restraint of trade, remarking that "Mr. Johnson could be 70 years old and still be bound to this contract". ZTT unsuccessfully appealed against the decision, the Appeal Court concluding on 26 July 1989 that the original recording and publishing contracts were "not a fair bargain". The result represented a landmark legal outcome, contemporary press reports stating that the result "set a legal precedent which rocked the music business", adding that ZTT had by this time released most of its artists from their original contracts. Johnson's relationship with ZTT owners Trevor Horn and Jill Sinclair broke down irretrievably due to the court case: "They [Horn and Sinclair] have never really forgiven me for winning my freedom in the law courts", the singer said in 2001, adding that the worst part of being in FGTH was "the contract we signed with ZTT."

In 1989 Johnson finally made his first solo debut with the album Blast, for MCA Records. Singles "Love Train", "Americanos" and "Atomic City" met with warm reception, the former two both charting in UK's top 5. Johnson took part in a charity project for the Hillsborough disaster fund and recorded a popular single "Ferry Cross the Mersey" with Paul McCartney, The Christians and others. The single reached number 1 in the UK and Ireland.

After the 1990 remix album Hollelujah, Johnson released his second solo album in 1991. Dreams That Money Can't Buy was a commercial failure and didn't chart in the UK, while the singles "Where Has Love Gone?" and "Across the Universe" performed very poorly on UK singles chart. In November 1991, Johnson learned he was HIV positive. This triggered a temporary withdrawal from the music business and public life in general, with one of his last TV performances around the time being at the Diamond Record Awards, Antwerp, where he performed "Americanos" and "Where Has Love Gone?". His condition was made public during an interview with The Times in April 1993. In March 1994, his critically acclaimed autobiography, A Bone in My Flute, was published. The same year, he recorded a new single, "Legendary Children (All of Them Queer)", whose lyrics referred to famous LGBT people throughout history. During 1994, he performed live at London's Gay Pride show, where he performed "Relax", "Legendary Children" and "The Power of Love". In April 1998, he performed "The Power of Love" live at the Easter Gay Happening in Krefeld, Germany at Club Königsburg.

Since the mid 1990s, Johnson has worked primarily as a painter. His works have been exhibited at the Tate Liverpool, and the Royal Academy. He has contributed to Modern Painters and the Paul Smith-sponsored Carlos magazine. He made a musical comeback in 1999, with an album called Soulstream, preceded by the 1998 single "Hallelujah!". The video for his next single "Disco Heaven" featured a cameo performance from Boy George. However, the album passed fairly unnoticed and didn't chart. The only charting single from Soulstream was the new version of "The Power of Love". For the release of Soulstream, Johnson appeared on the Jools Holland show performing "The Power of Love" and performed the song again in 2004 for ZDF Love Songs.

In August 2009, Johnson presented an hour long show In the Beginning on BBC Radio 2 about The Beatles, whilst he also appeared in the new video for Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" as the DJ. Since then, he has performed The Power of Love twice in Germany, also performing the song at the opening of Life Ball 2011 in Vienna. In an interview at the Q Awards, Johnson announced plans for an album of new material. In 2010, Johnson performed "Americanos" on German TV, and "Relax" on French TV. During February 2011, Johnson joined Jools Holland and his band for a version of The Animals' "The House of the Rising Sun" song, a track that Johnson covered on his Soulstream album. In August 2011, he performed a full set live at the Rewind Festival, using a mix of Frankie Goes to Hollywood hits with "Americanos", "Heaven's Here" and "Love Train".


Further Readings:

A Bone in My Flute by Holly Johnson
Paperback: 288 pages
Publisher: Arrow Books Ltd; New Ed edition (1995)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0099393417
ISBN-13: 978-0099393412
Amazon: A Bone in My Flute

More LGBT History at my website:, My Ramblings/Persistent Voices


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