Air on a guitar string

Psst ... ever wanted to be a rock star? A new drama series promises to show you how it's done
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These days rock stars appear on our screens with such regularity you wonder when they ever get time to record. After the recent big-screen rockumentaries Velvet Goldmine and Still Crazy, we are now being treated to a new six-part series on Channel 4, the imaginatively titled Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Rock Star. But why are we so besotted with these strutting egomaniacs with an unhealthy appetite for sex and drugs and rock'n'roll? Is it because, in our heart of hearts, we'd like to be like that too?

Brian Elsley, the Scottish writer of the series, explains. "Some things are fundamental. Any film about a rock star is going to have lots of good- looking boys and girls having sex and taking drugs. I hope we've fulfilled all those criteria." These dramas also pander to our most deeply-held fantasies. The opening montage of YPGBRS shows several different youngsters practising in their bedrooms for the day when they will be playing in front of 75,000 at Wembley Stadium. "Getting to the top - how's it done?" asks the ironic narration voiced by the wannabe rock star, Jez (Ciaran McMenamin). "I mean, when you're a kid, everybody wants to be famous, to be in a band, make millions, shag themselves senseless and grab a place in history." What else could explain Tony Blair's youthful exploits as a rock singer?

"Everyone has jumped around in the bedroom with a cylindrical object pretending it's a microphone," says Elsley. "All kids want to be in a rock band, and for the lucky few those dreams become an adrenaline-fuelled reality. Usually the dreams get shuffled aside, but no one ever outgrows them. I've just been in Tunisia and I spent a lot of time there watching people do karaoke. As they approach the microphone with a gleam in their eyes, they all think they can do it."

Peter Norris, the producer of YPGBRS, is singing from the same song-sheet. "The youthful dream of becoming a footballer can go very quickly - as soon as you realise you can't play. But people still secretly harbour the dream of becoming a rock star. We all yearn for impossible fame. If you're a good accountant, it's because you've passed an exam. But in front of a bedroom mirror, anyone can believe they're Mick Jagger. You can lead your life saying, `It could have been me if I'd had the right band or got the right breaks'. Everyone can identify with that."

The rock-star lifestyle certainly has glamour, of a sort. "When I was first writing the series in the early 1990s, it was a busy time for Scottish rock," Elsley recalls. "We had bands like Wet, Wet, Wet, Deacon Blue, The Proclaimers and Runrig. They were lunatics; they were just enjoying the fact of being rock stars so much. I interviewed one band who shall remain nameless. That very day, the lead singer had gone out and bought a red Porsche. His brother was making him take it back, but the lead singer's line was, `I'm a rock star, why can't I have a Porsche?' " Put like that, it seems a fair question.

As it follows the not-always-smooth progress of Jez towards becoming a rock star, the C4 serial strikes a humorous chord. "How do you survive when you're setting out on the road to transglobal adulation?" Jez asks. He answers his own question by bullying a little boy on the top of a bus into giving him his sausage and chips. He goes on to stress the most important criteria when selecting a friend for your world-beating band: "He should love you, trust you, have blind faith in your talent and no' be as good- looking as you." Chronically short of funds, the band, Jocks Wa Hey, take to rehearsing in a squalid white-goods recycling warehouse, or as Jez puts it: "A mecca for the discerning purchaser of pre-owned kitchen equipment."

This chirpy tone is, Elsley claims, a reaction against the encircling gloom that prevailed in Scottish writing during the early part of this decade. "I contributed to it with Govan Ghost Story, a uniquely miserable piece," he laughs. "Drama in Scotland at that time was serious and political. It was all about positioning ourselves in the world. The miserablist school was supreme, but I'd become bored with that and wanted to do something more optimistic."

Now, of course, in the wake of Trainspotting, Scottish drama is all the rage, with columnists even suggesting there may be such a thing as "Cool Hibernia". "People do tend to think that because you're Scottish, you have a wonderful sense of rhythm," Elsley says. "We seem like a breath of fresh air in the depressed atmosphere of media London. We try to be cheerful. And we can drink anyone under the table - although politically correct sensibilities don't allow you to say that anymore. I went on some serious Radio 4 discussion about why the Scots are so oppressed, and I couldn't construct a scenario wherein I'd been oppressed. I've found being Scottish nothing but an advantage."

Except perhaps during the early 1980s when he was Harry Enfield's partner in an ill-fated double-act called Dusty and Dick. "To be blunt, it didn't work because he was good and I wasn't," Elsley now admits. "It was the definition of alternative comedy: he'd say something that was funny, and then I'd say something that wasn't."

There was a positive outcome for Elsley when he and Enfield split up, however. He turned to writing and came up with the award-winning BBC2 adaptation of Iain Banks's The Crow Road. If The Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Rock Star goes as well as he hopes, Norris is thinking of turning it into a long-running drama brand. "What will we do next?" the producer asks. "Maybe The Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Joiner."

`The Young Person's Guide to Becoming a Rock Star' is on Channel 4 on Tuesday at 10pm

James Rampton

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