Bros in Berlin


It starts and ends with innocence.

It’s Berlin. The rain falls in grey sheets and it’s cold enough to freeze the balls off a Bros monkey.

Here they come ! Tattered 501s, razor-sharp cheekbones, immaculate Doc Martens, sawn-off biker gloves, Grolsch fashion accessories: Matt Goss (vocals), Luke Goss (drums), Craig Logan (bass). Hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil.

Of course it’s very convenient, but monkeys Bros are not. Bros seem to have jumped off the barrel organ, lost that kind of dumb innocence that makes bands sign any piece of paper placed under them (“just autograph this contract boys.” It’s this that has cost them the credit or recognition for their success. But perhaps they’ve just shed this innocence for another, more profound.

Bros may not be, as one magazine has nominated them, ‘Businessmen Of The Year’ – although they may be next year – but the common view in Britain of Bros as puppets dancing to somebody else’s tune is ill-informed, naïve and just too convenient.

“We’ve cracked 60 per cent of the world wide open,” says Matt. “Three million albums worldwide, one million in Britain. The quickest selling debut album in the history of CBS Records. Faster than The Beatles’ debut. We’re touring in Budapest, Hiroshima, Sydney in Australia, which is as far away as you can get, we arrived for the first time in a triple platinum LP… You don’t do all that if you’re talentless.”

Bros take the NME round Berlin in a white pimp mobile limo, like Bowie’s in ‘The Man Who Fell To Earth’.

About the size of a tennis court, Matt calls it “a rock ‘n’ roll tragedy car”: TV, champagne, telephone, electronic windows, fur-lined roof, carpets, Smokey Robinson crooning on the stereo: “It was just my ‘magination/Running away with me…” Matt sings along until someone mentions Cliff. “Harmless ! He’s not harmless. He’s fucking mindfuck !”

In Berlin, we visit the type of clothes shops that have champagne bars, free cigarettes and mountains of Quality Street.

Matt peruses the Gaultier, Versace, Montana. A trendy 16-year-old runs in, flings her arms around Matt gasping: “Ooooh ! I like you !”

Matt hugs her until she can bear it no longer, running out, visibly shaking. Only a highly moral, sanctimonious snob would not see it as being a very touching thing to happen.

For once, I am not that person.

Cruising the Berlin Wall in the perfectly mild, grey rain, Matt Goss buzzes down the limousine window and snaps the tangled mass of day-glo graffiti, the lonely row of headstones commemorating these who have been shot trying to escape. The last one is dated 1987. He does not make any motion to get out.

Do you feel embarrassed ?
“What, by luxury ? Not at all. It’s fucking hard work, I can tell you. This is one of the few ways we get to relax. We deserve our money. You get paid what you’re worth in this world. We haven’t got that much. We’d have made much more if we’d let Pepsi sponsor this tour as well, but we wanted to do it ourselves.”

Were you old enough to vote at the last election ?
Did you vote ?
What did you vote, Matt ?
“You know I’m not going to tell you. Who is a rock-star or a pop-star to try to influence other people, force their opinions on someone ? People always think if you don’t say anything about politics, you’re a total moron.”

On the way home, as if thinking aloud, he suddenly says: “It’s so strange when you might do something very ordinary and it’s considered a statement of some kind.”

If you think Bros cruising the Berlin Wall in a regal limo, photographing tombstones, drinking champagne, wearing a £1,000 Jean-Paul Gaultier jacket, is a statement, then it’s not a statement of Pop’s or Bros’ insensitivity or ignorance, or of Western decadence gone mad, or even of life’s cruel sting. It’s just innocence. Raw and terrible innocence.

Berlin would not be a happy place for Bros.
Months of touring, travelling, promoting have left observers like NME photographer Lawrence Watson marvelling at the type of stamina and dedication that saw Bros spending their rare days off on a ten-hour coach drive or doing 27-hour video shoots. In Berlin things, and people, start falling apart.

Craig Logan’s virus and exhaustion have worsened until he can no longer walk or stand. He has to sit down on stage and be carried onto the tour bus. Matt and Luke have flu and are increasingly frustrated by leaked tour stories and the continued lack of recognition in Berlin.

My pre-Berlin theory behind Bros was that we have now reached a time where there can be pop groups that, if genuinely teenage (i.e. born in the 1970s), will be too young to remember or be influenced by punk, from a generation weaned on Smash Hits rather than a music paper, on the Smash Hits doctrine: Trivia is Just, Image is All, Pure Pop is Good.

In this world, the likes of The Doors, Velvets, Beatles, Dylan will be regarded as relics. The influence of Bolan, Bowie, Roxy, Mott (all vitally Top 10-based inspirations) is on a perpetual wane. Nothing as exotic or dangerous now makes the Top 20. It’s all very well performing ‘New Sonic Architecture’ to 200 people at the Fulham Greyhound, but it’s hardly corrupting the nation’s youth.

This leaves a generation brought up on the likes of ‘True’, ‘Karma Chameleon’, ‘Save A Prayer’ and ‘Club Tropicana.’

Without punk, that quaint idea of pop-as-subversion will be ignored. Acid House just doesn’t cut it. ‘God Save The Queen’ would have been banned in any year this decade. Not a single Acid House record could have been banned back in 1977.

The failure of the ‘80s subversive pop-dream has been confirmed by the stunted progress of The Scars, Win, Heaven 17, Kevin Rowland, Age of Chance, Billy Mackenzie, and Scarlet Fantastic. Scritti Politti, Malcolm McLaren and ABC have simply given up the ghost.

What Bros bring into focus is that groups like these, the middle-aged (22 onwards) bands like Transvision Vamp, Darling Buds, Primitives, are not only hideously old-fashioned but ridiculously old.

Likewise the critics (24 onwards) who support them. Witness music press interviews full of twee, wanky references to people like Amy Turtle, Harry Worth, Frannie Lee, Edie Sedgwick, Mud.

The new generation’s pop groups will be 17 – 19. The critics, like NME’s Sarah Champion, will be a knowing 18. Of course, endangered ‘serious’ critics (chortle) will look down on this generation, playing the part of Daily Mail fuddy-duddies or surrogate parents telling smart 16-year-olds that what they like is frivolous nonsense. Maybe the Bros kids are rebelling against the middle-aged idea of pop/rock being about sex and drugs because it’s just too old-fashioned.

Unlike Johnny Hates Jazz, Brother Beyond, Wet Wet Wet, Curiosity, Go West etc., Bros (only just turning 20) are taking pop back to youth, to the time when the likes of Lydon, Simonon (Paul, not Tim), Jobson, Mark E. Smith, Paul Weller, were almost embarrassingly young, as pop-stars should be. Must be.

The generation after that of course will be brought up on SAW, Brother Beyond and Bros. They will regard the likes of Jackson, Collins, Ferry, Sting only as ageing MOR solo sets. Lennon will rightly be remembered as an execrable solo artist. 1980s’ Bowie as purely mediocre.

Kids of nine, 10, now starting to learn the guitar or synthesizer will have been raised entirely under the Thatch regime. I’m not sure what the significance of this is but the decline of the charts over the last decade (and football, TV, etc.) is surely not just a coincidence.

The first of the New Generation of pop – pure pop – was supposed to be Bros. But it’s not. Luke remembers LBT (Life Before Thatch), and Jim Callaghan and Dennis Healey, although Matt makes a late attempt asking me: ‘It was Andy Warhol wasn’t it ?’

But no. Bros were raised on the NME. They’ve been in bands since they were 11. They’re really into the Jackson 5 and T-Rex.
“A lot of people don’t think Bros really know what’s going on,” says Luke. “Bros know exactly what they’re doing. We’re very aware of what’s happening to us. We’re not puppets at all. Bros are a band.”

It’s a shock. If ‘real bands’ are people who go on and on about ‘that chord’ or ‘that chorus’ or ‘that bit where I go…’ as if it was life-savingly important, then Bros are a real band.

Matt and Luke Goss are fiercely likeable: lively, stroppy, loquacious, full of vigorous confidence, hard self-belief talking in bullet-fire South London accents.

Luke is the tough-nut; Matt dreamier, introspective, maybe more dazed. He tells a great story and does sharp Curiosity/’Blubber Beyond’ parodies. When one twin turns in for the night they hug each other, pledging “Love you mate.”

When Matt is up, he is very up – gushing about the gadgets he bought in Japan – like remote control cars that do 90mph. “You have to run them in !”

He spends his free time in a Berlin arcade, where he can be found at 3.30am shocking the punks, Goths and low-lifes with screaming obscenities as he loses to his tour manager.

Born in September ’68, weighing just 4 pounds each, their father left home when they were five and with their mother and stepfather they moved 10 times during their childhood.

Bros may not be geniuses. But then they wouldn’t be pop stars if they were. They are not fools though and have quickly picked up a very sharp understanding of the pop industry’s mechanics. Like many working-class families their Mum and Dad saved up to buy them their first drum kit and keyboard when they were 11 and let them work – labouring, valeting cars – to keep their bands going.

“We never had money to buy records so we were influenced by our family, War’s ‘Low Rider’ album, the Jackson 5, Luke loved Genesis, Ian Dury’s ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’. I got into the ‘Talking Book’ album very early. A lot of Parliament, Stevie Wonder.”

They are the type of boys who talk about Level 42 as having sold out. Their first group Caviar was “mushy soul.” Craig joined them when he was 12, leaving his metal band Stone and probably relinquishing his Saxon patches.

“We had NME, MM, Smash Hits, everything. It really gives us a boost when we get a review in NME like last month’s, which was probably the most realistic one we’ve had. We probably are a closet rock ‘n’ roll band.”

Both boys break into Led Zep’s ‘TOTP theme tune’ when Matt recalls the happiest moment of his life, “no. 39 in the chart I had been watching my entire life.”

At 14, they thought they were going to be “really famous.”
They had three managers by the time they were 17. One of these introduced them to Nicky Graham (an ex-CBS scout who had produced the Nolans, Andy Williams and Barbara Dickson) who in turn took them to ‘Massive’ manager Tom Watkins (director of art-design companies, Pet Shop Boys’ manager and former Frankie Goes To Hollywood marketing man).

At the time they were 17/18, had long hair and suits, were heavily into Duran, but were already called Bros. For Graham and Watkins, the boys’ looks and the “exceptional” quality of Matt’s voice was enough.

‘Push’ and the 5 hit singles are written by ‘The Brothers’ (Graham & Watkins), programmed, produced and published by Graham.

The first single peaked at 75. ‘When Will I Be Famous’ then suffered a Radio One ban in a sporadic anti-hype crackdown but still charted, and made no. 2. It was January 1988 and Mania.

The Goss’ Peckham home was under siege, their address painted on walls, their phone number on sale in schools. Kids would chant until neighbours complained and the boys would end up signing autographs until 2 in the morning.

How are Bros any different from SAW, Brother Beyond, Curiosity, King, The Bay City Rollers – pap-product, I ask.

The Bros defence is a stroppy, aggressive bombardment: criticism stings; to dismiss them is a red rag to a bull.

“We’re in a different league. We’re sick and tired of being put in with SAW. For the next LP, we won’t have bigger control, we’ll have total control. Two thirds of the music and lyrics will be us (Massive Management are reputedly less than thrilled about this). There’s no way people like Brother Beyond could do a show like ours. SAW are just shit.”

And Bros are not ?
“Look, if you think we’re shit, come and see our live show,” says Luke. “If you still think we’re shit, that’s your opinion, that’s fine, but we are musicians. Matt can sing. Forget being pop stars and successful, we could play a show at The Marquee, in a pub, and people would come away thinking ‘That’s a wicked live band’ and we are !”

Do you accept why people have seen your records as typical 80s, record company designed/controlled product ?
“Maybe we were naïve. We were given a song like ‘When Will I Be Famous’. It went like this. (Sings a suave, wacky chorus.) Matt totally rearranged the vocal and I wrote the drum pattern. We’re not due any writing credits because strictly speaking we didn’t write the music or the words.”

Both boys temper their (hurt) pride with modesty.
Luke: “I think with 3 or 4 years’ more practice, I can be near the Top 50 drummers in the world. I can play a gig to 20,000 people so I can’t be that bad. When we’re on stage, controlling 20,000 people, it’s us three – me, Matt and Craig – doing that, no-one else.”

Matt says that even after a cappella b-sides people have stated his voice is a female or black session singer’s. They defensively bombard me with proof of their show being purely live (Luke can be as boring about “tuning my toms” as every drummer in a band), and make it plain they know what their share of everything is, when and where they are owed it.
“We have the second biggest-selling album in Greece this year… We designed the stage set and we said ‘no’ to doing a remix album.”

Why is the music so lightweight ?
“We want to get heavily involved in the production this time. We want someone like Bootsy Collins doing remixes. We want the music to get harder, definitely. Sparser and more groovy. If it was totally self-indulgent it would be 70s soul with some rock, but we’re not ready for that yet, we want to keep our fan-base but progress with them. Every band – the Jacksons, those Motown bands – didn’t write their first LP.”

Bogshed, Rapeman, Napalm Death…
Matt: “God, I tell you, I could sing any Indie song on stage within 10 seconds of hearing it. Why is it that indie bands are always assumed to be arty or intellectual ? If they’re so clever why don’t they sell more records ? Every band in the world has some form of marketing.”
Luke: “I adore The The, wicked drums ! But that’s about as non-commercial as I get – The The, The Clash. We don’t ever slag indie bands off personally, the way they slag us. What are they trying to prove ?”

So you think you’ve got some control over your career, your life ?
“We have total artistic control. Total. We screen all our merchandise and marketing and we have very high quality. We’ve been asked to do things, sure, and we’ve said no. If we’re not sure, we take advice. We’re playing seven dates at Wembley, six NECs, we need management. We’re the artists. They’ll do a better job. It’s us three that pay all these people – lighting crew, band, fifty people. It’s our company.”

Matt: “This year we’ve had six hits, two British tours, a world tour, a massive-selling album, video. The biggest-selling video of all time is ‘The Making of Thriller’ – 205,000. Our video’s done 170,000 in a week. It’s only in Britain that people say: ‘How long’s it going to last ?’”

Are New Order saying very much more than Bros ? If Cameo and ABC wear Gaultier, why can’t Bros ? Isn’t it disgusting marketing when Ben Elton has an extra 15 minutes on his new CD ? Nobody says why does Prince use session musicians. And why were Frankie, Bow Wow Wow, T. Vamp “sneakily subversive” in the way they were packaged and marketed ? How is the Primitives’ marketing (bubble-bath) in any way “ironic”, and don’t give me any of that old-fashioned post-modernist nonsense. Bros exist to remind us of the ludicrous lie that is Credibility. Only the English fall for it. Matt confidently predicts Bros will follow Wham.

“After two years everyone will be admitting they like Bros. Teenage kids aren’t fickle, they just know what they like. If you don’t give them the goods, they’ll find someone else. People screamed at the Jackson 5 and The Beatles. Mention the difficulty of surviving mania and quick as a flash they’ll say together “George Michael”. The Osmonds and Cassidy left because they thought they could survive without music, plus they couldn’t handle it. We’re adult enough to know the hysteria won’t last forever, but some popularity and recognition will.”

Dismissing teen-bands is intrinsically sexist and patronising and the Berlin show attracts Goths, students, lots of House boys and girls. The show’s a naïve, basic mix of energy, colour, spectacle and beat.

Although Bros may not have George Michael’s talent, ‘I Owe You Nothing’ (“Ooooer”) is as good a pop single as ‘I Wanna Dance With Somebody’ or ‘Into The Groove’.

AIDS-related ‘Shocked’ sits rather uncomfortably in a show that is camp, fast and occasionally adventurous – like a House a cappella version of ‘Drop The Boy’. It’s noticeable that songs like ‘Ten Out Of Ten’, ‘Liar’, ‘Love To Hate You’ bear the stamp of cynicism in their lyrics that is unmistakably not The Goss boys’.

In the dressing-room, Luke is getting stroppier about carrying on with Craig sitting down.
“It’s not what the fans want or how Bros should be seen,” he complains.

But any doubts about Craig’s health are cast away by the merciless severity of the jokes coming his way.
“You can earn money, Craig, winning wheelchair contests” (from management). “You need a nodding dog, a pair of dice round your neck and a sticker on the back saying: “My other wheelchair’s a Porsche” (from the band). The last time I see Craig, he’s looking grey and feeling sick, literally being dragged up in the aisle of the tour bus. Three shows were then cancelled and perhaps surprisingly, Bros management took ruthlessly efficient precautions to ensure no photos appeared in the British press of Craig arriving home in a wheelchair.

Outside in the rain, clusters of kids stand, the colour washed out of their faces, jumping up and down, hugging each other when they get a wave or a word or a wink. The mood is black until someone gets Matt to tell the story again. Post-Jack Daniels binge, band, management and parents are in the limo. So is vaguely-important A&R man Gordon Charlton, the man who signed King to CBS.

“I heard this splutter, right ? And then something cold and wet on me neck, I thought ‘Christ ! Gordon’s flobbed at me.’ Then he started to cough… Then he did it. Gordon pukes up over me. Me ! And my Mum’s going ‘That’s it Gordon, cough it all up.’ He had this porridge all down his front. He was just dazed. He didn’t say a word… You know, I can see the future, he’ll say “Yeah, I signed Bros to CBS” and people will say ‘Yeah, but weren’t you sick over them as well ?’”

Bros seem to deal with the scale of their fame by assuming that this is just a start, just a small part of a long career. Matt is painfully committed to their fans. He seems to have nothing else to his life.

In the limo I ask him if he’s got a girlfriend.
“No I haven’t,” he says, looking faintly surprised. “I’d like one. It gets lonely. Sometimes I draw, mainly I’m working.”

Luke’s attitude is more direct.
“When it begins to take off, you have to look ahead at the consequences and if you want to go on, you accept them, no matter what they are.”

Maybe they underestimated the press.
Stories like ‘Bros To Split Because Of Craig’s Acne’, or that they pray before they go on stage (chortles all around), that Luke and Matt are not brothers but just heavily made-up. They’re suing over the ‘Heroin in Bros Home’ story.

Last April, when their sister Carolyn died in a car-smash, The Sun pirated the address of the funeral.
Luke: “Not a single fan turned up, because they respect us. I object to the way people think the fans don’t have minds. The paparazzi were all there – hoping for a ‘Hysteria At Bros Funeral’ story.”

The next day’s paper showed a photo of a visibly upset Luke shouting abuse.
‘Bros Star’s 4-letter Fury At Funeral’ blazed The Sun, claiming he “screamed fuck off at a group of onlookers,” the onlookers of course being the photographers.

“She was 18,” murmurs Matt. “Never saw us at Number One.”
Luke: “We accept what the press did. We don’t think they did it on purpose. They’ve all got a job to do. They’re probably alright as people. We don’t feel they were doing it to hurt us personally.”

That’s a very generous way of looking at it.
“You can’t have hatred and resentment,” Luke continues. “There’s nothing but pessimism and bitterness in this business, especially in England. What Bros stand for is good – don’t smoke, don’t take drugs. OK, we like Jack Daniels and Tequila, we’re not into being sweet and sugary.”

What about walking around now ?
“We don’t walk around.”
“Craig can go shopping. We’re too identifiable, though Matt’s got his disguise. Driving on my own’s a bit scary now. I lock my doors. I’ve got black windows, don’t stop at zebra crossings. It’s like being on the run. One bloke the other day walked past my car, then walked back and spat on it.”

Matt: “I was at a traffic light, this guy comes over starts punching my car window, he’s yelling ‘I’m in a band. I’m in a band…’ Only in Britain this happens. Why are people like that ? They’re not in Australia.”

I try to explain something about class competitiveness, that Thatcher’s exploited and worsened it, that people work hard at shit jobs and get nothing, then see some pop star and think that luck has fallen on their lap.

But both boys have the innocence and logic of someone who gets burgled and then says: ‘But I’m poor, why don’t they steal from someone rich ?’ They say: “They should see our show. They shouldn’t punch my car window if they don’t even know we can play live !”

This is desperate innocence when Luke says: “The class distinction means nothing to me. We were so poor my mum had to make our trousers. I’m not involved in class distinction. I USED TO LOOK AT POP STARS AND THEY USED TO MAKE ME FEEL HAPPY !”

Matt: “What we do is not mindless crap – we’ve made so many people happy; we’ve had so many letters about people saying they felt suicidal and now they don’t. Or that they’ve never had so many friends, because when one Bros fan sees another, in the street, it’s all ‘How’s it going ?’ That’s why they come to the hotel, to meet up and talk.”

Bros share this with Metal fans or Smiths’ fans.
Luke: “It is worth it all – just for the fans. What other band would have a member sitting down on stage and not pulling the gig ? Things like being able to buy my mum a car for Christmas. That was a dream for me. That gave me more happiness than anything in the world.”

It’s this raw and terrible innocence that hammers away at me. Matt and Luke Goss have everything possible done for them by a management team, band, crew, that seem unswervingly protective towards them.

The brothers hug each one of them – the crew, dancers, band – goodbye or good night. When I leave, they hug me too.

I feel like saying to them, screaming to them: ‘I am a terrible person: cynical, hypocritical, dishonest, unscrupulous. I have not a moral left to my name. I am vicious and untrustworthy. I am a journalist for God’s sake !’ Because it just does not seem to have occurred to them.

They seem utterly open, like seals to the slaughter or moths to the flame.
This kind of naked innocence, that had Matt mouthing ‘I love you’ from a hotel window to fans below, seems like a kind of cruelty wrapped in almost inevitable, terrible sadness, because surely it can’t last.

But then maybe, like Matt’s idol Michael Jackson, perhaps Luke and Matt can preserve their innocence. But then isn’t that sadder still ?

If the Bros bubble seems to be getting so big, it’s set to burst, the Goss boys’ innocence and optimism would surely burst with it.

You should hope that doesn’t happen.