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Home arrow News arrow Music News arrow The Life of Rock on BBC 4
The Life of Rock on BBC 4 Print E-mail
Written by RogorMortis   
Saturday, 15 February 2014
The Life of Rock with Brian Pern, BBC Four The Life of Rock with Brian Pern, BBC Four

It’s a brave comic who steps into the spandex zucchini-stuffed loon pants of Spinal Tap. The – if you will – rockumentary will never be done better. But it is 30 years since Marty DiBergi went in search of the sights, the sounds, the smells of a hard-working rock band on the road. So the time is no doubt right for another set of industry jokes to be put into circulation. For the three parts of The Life of Rock, Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno should probably have their lawyers on speed dial.

Our guide through the history of rock’n’roll is the allegedly legendary Brian Pern. Pern is the signally bald middle-aged former frontman of Thotch. You may not have heard of them or him or their prog anthems “Onion Divorce” and “Land of the Crab”, often performed by Pern from under one form or animal mask or another. He claims among many other feathers in his cap to have invented world music.

In this first episode, he investigated the origins of rock. Dan Cruickshank was first in the queue to send himself up, guiding us to Middle Eastern cave paintings featuring a Stone Age rock band (mocked up in a studio, it turned out in the end-credit extras). Among the actual gerontosaurs of rock, the usual suspects are also game for a laugh. Roger Taylor recalled how Queen’s instruments were mainly fashioned from bits of old fireplace. Rick Wakeman was keen to remind everyone quite how many songs he played piano on in the early Seventies. “Julian” Holland of Hootenanny – the captions are all deftly off-kilter – demonstrated how all those solos would have sounded better with a more boogie-woogie sensibility. Annie Nightingale also cropped up as an age-ravaged Fearne Cotton.

Where leathery old fossils cannot be found to play themselves, they have been invented. Thotch’s other public-school alumni include Paul Whitehouse as Pat Quid and a goateed Nigel Havers as Tony Pebble (pronounced, he half-insisted, Peblé). Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer roared and howled as a pair of raucous viola-hugging folkies and Matt Lucas plays a profoundly deaf producer whose mixing desk includes the silent sound of an egg. Michael Kitchen does a lovely turn as a lawyer-manager who tells all-comers to fuck off, from Michael Eavis downwards.

As with the guests, so with the narrative, which seamlessly quilts fact and fiction. Thotch’s live performances fit around actual clips of Bowie and other glamrockers. The pleasing result is a deft spoof of the BBC Four staple, the rock documentary. All its daft tics and tropes have been faithfully mimicked: rapid cuts between talking heads, wacky info-graphics, rough-and-ready archive. Simon Day and his co-writer and director Rhys Thomas also have razor-sharp eyes and ears for music history's absurd detail – costumes poached from London zoo, lovingly listed offshoots of skiffle, absurd mutations of old groups (including the merger at the heart of UB42).

This pitch-perfect two-way parody of rock and its documentarists has been cooked up in a spirit of love laced with venom. Pity the next person in line to make a programme on prog. The Life of Rock has their number. At the heart of it all is Day, who in a pseudo-Chinese silk jacket plays Pern as that spoof staple, the baffled and delusional old fart hogging the camera. Maybe Messrs Yentob (heard overleaf on the trailer) and Bragg should call their lawyers too.
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