If you haven’t seen The Life of Rock with Brian Pern on BBC4 then do.
It is a glorious spoof documentary from Rhys Thomas and Fast Show alumnus Simon Day who plays Pern, former front man of the fictional prog rock band Thotch, and narrator of this gloriously silly, wry, acerbic and joyous mickey take.
Yes, it clearly owes a debt to Spinal Tap, Christopher Guest’s 1984 masterpiece, but here it is not just Thotch (purveyors of such masterpieces as “Onion Divorce” and “Land of the Crab”) who get the proverbial ripped, it is rock and pop music itself. And it is very much for today. Because, rather smartly, Day and Thomas have realized how many of these history of rock shows are around on TV (and especially on BBC4), meaning that not only is it ripe for satire but that we will get all the jokes.
And given that Thomas’ bona fide film about Freddie Mercury won a Rose d’Or and International Emmy, there is a real eye in this comedy for the tricks and techniques of the rockumentary.
Peter Gabriel seems to be one of the main targets, but rather wonderfully he is in on the joke – appearing in episode three and relishing it all, apparently.
“He loves it,” Day tells me. “When you meet him he is a really nice guy, not a pompous twat.”
Presumably the same could also be said of Rick Wakeman and Phil Collins who also appear and are genuinely funny, perhaps surprisingly so in Collns’ case, one could uncharitably argue. But the real joy is Pern himself, the man who invented world music but whose vanity and absurdity is never too extreme not to feel a tiny bit plausible. I also loved Pat Quid, the guitarist played by Paul Whitehouse who reveals at one point: “I was very unfortunate in that I was born to very loving and rich parents and I never wanted for anything. I think that’s held me back”.
Tony Pebble (with an acute accent on the ‘e’ and pronounced “Peblay”) is also fabulously played by Nigel Havers (and if you want to hear him swear in a very un-Nigel Havers-like way then watch episode two on Monday).
Adding to the fun is Michael Kitchen’s turn as Pern’s fantastically arrogant and unpleasant manager John Farrow who tells everyone (even Glastonbury legend Michael Eavis) to “f*** off”. And Matt Lucas as the producer Ray Thomas who invites to listen to his recording of an egg….well all the excess, absurdity, pretentiousness of pop could be said to be captured in that moment alone.
It is very low budget and was sold to the BBC as essentially a clip show with a bit of comedy tacked on says Day. It is much more than that, of course, but even this apparent shortcoming actually helps because there are occasional moments when you are not sure what is from the archive and what has been shot for the show.
And the good news is that Day wants to make more.
“I’d like to do more – I’d like to do some things with my manager John” he said. “It’s early days but I think that would work.”
I think so too.
* Episode 2 of The Life of Rock with Brian Pern is on BBC4 at 10pm
Ben has worked as a professional journalist specialising in TV and the arts for nearly twenty years. After a two year stint on local newspapers in the mid 1990s, he spent more than 5 years as the broadcast reporter at the Stage newspaper. Following that he enjoyed staff reporting positions at the Sunday Mirror and the Sunday Times breaking stories and writing features before settling as a full time freelance writing for an array of newspapers and magazines - but mainly for the Guardian, Evening Standard, Broadcast, Independent and the New Statesman where he wrote a column.