Before his comedy breakthrough, the ‘Office’ star had pop star aspirations. But how they did pan out?
Ricky Gervais is massive in the Philippines. But not because of ‘The Office’, ‘Extras’, or even ‘Ghost Town’ (the film in which he plays a haunted dentist if you’d forgotten).
No, the reason the comedian is big in Manila is because of the song ‘More To Lose’. What, you may ask? Well it’s the 1983 debut single of a hot New Wave band called Seona Dancing comprised of a svelte, young Reading native called Ricky and his friend Bill Macrae.
Formed by the star during his final year at University College London (UCL), the duo were signed to London Records with hopes of being the next big synth pop hope. Unfortunately, despite an appearance on an ITV kids show, ‘More To Lose’ charted at number 117 and its follow-up ‘Bitter Heart’ didn’t fare much better, only reaching the heady heights of #79.
Watching the video for the latter, it’s not difficult to see why Gervais was so keen to get David Bowie on ‘Extras’ – his singing is clearly (heavily) influenced by the late genius, as is his look.
In terms of the video itself, it actually shares visual DNA with the joke one which showed up years later in ‘The Office Christmas Special’.
That featured naff looks to camera and pointless doves alongside David Brent desperately trying to hold onto a woman as they break up to the strains of ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now’, best known as a song cheesily covered Simply Red.
‘Bitter Heart’ has a more upbeat tempo and is obviously very Eighties, but has a woman upset about her partner (presumably Gervais), smashing stuff up with a crowbar because, you know, she has a bitter heart.
But although Seona Dancing were a flop in the UK, the same wasn’t true in the land of Imelda Marcos. After being spun anonymously on one of the Philippines’ coolest pop stations in 1985, a year after the band had already broken up, the song became a gigantic hit, a young person’s anthem during a time of conflict and confusion.
Reflecting on his time in Seona Dancing, it’s clear it influenced a lot of Gervais’s future attitude towards fame. “It’s every kid’s dream,” he said of his music career. “My mistake was that I wanted to be a pop star. I should have wanted to be a musician. I never made that mistake again.”
But when the band broke up, it wasn’t the end of the actor’s participation in the rock world. Brett Anderson, aka the frontman of iconic Britpoppers Suede, also attended UCL and met Gervais in the early days of the group when the latter was working as an events manager at the University of London Union.
Gervais helped Suede book some initial gigs and connected them with their drummer Simon Gilbert who he worked alongside. He was also instrumental in getting them a record deal when he sent their demo tape to the head of Nude Records who subsequently signed them. However, Suede and Gervais parted ways soon afterwards though they remained friends.
Gervais got a job at XFM, met Stephen Merchant and the rest is history, but it’s obvious he’s never given up his dreams of musical stardom.
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Singing as Brent, Gervais has toured stadiums and performed Freelove Freeway in front of millions of viewers at the 2007 Concert For Diana. In other words, as “Brent”, he finally got to be the rock star he always wanted to be.
“I am living the pretend dream, through David Brent,” he said in 2014. “That’s even more fun. I think rock is quite tongue-in-cheek, anyway. I am almost glad [being a pop star] didn’t quite work out. If I was a rock star when I was 20, I would be dead now.”
Image credits: Getty Images, BBC, Press Association