Edinburgh Festival: Well, he drives me crazy

Those looks, that voice... Fine Young Cannibal Roland Gift wooed a generation. Now he's back.
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The Independent Culture
Roland Gift wants to come back quietly. No grand announcements, no steam-rolling PR campaign, no flyers, not so much as a peeling billboard poster. At this rate, it will be a miracle if anyone turns up to the gig. But he isn't worried: "You get your apples, take them to market and see what happens. There is just no point getting worked-up about what might go wrong."

Gift speaks with a measured, seen-it-all-before assurance that stands in direct contrast to the hordes of wannabes flooding Edinburgh. Besides, he may not have had a hit record for nearly a decade, but with his exotic good looks he still gets recognised in the street.

To refresh, Roland Gift was the charismatic frontman for the Fine Young Cannibals. They had their first hit back in 1985 with "Johnny Come Home", though their biggest hit was "She Drives Me Crazy", a dance/rock crossover track off their million-selling album The Raw and the Cooked. The band also became famous for attacking the Conservative government. In 1990, the group won two Brit Awards, but felt compelled to return them to the organisers, deeming it inappropriate to engage in "what amounts to a photo opportunity for Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Party".

But even with their strong tunes and semi-political agenda, it was Gift's idiosyncratic voice - a cross between Louis Armstrong and Kermit the Frog - that made the Cannibals a cut above the rest. Which is to suggest that his return to the fray may not prove as embarrassing as that of other Eighties icons such as Culture Club, Duran Duran, ABC and, God help us, Bananarama. Gift was at least gifted.

"The timing is bad," he admits. "And if anything was going to put me off starting music again, it was all those bands doing their cabaret acts. But this is just me and a few other members of the band doing a few new tunes and a few old tunes. It is not the Fine Young Cannibals revival tour."

Gift is playing a series of wilfully low-key gigs, the last of which is on a modest-sized stage in Edinburgh. Despite the presence of three FYC members, they are going by the simple monicker "Roland Gift". If you want a record, you'll have to wait until the end of the year.

"I've written all the material for an album and I just wanted to play it in front of people and let them develop properly before making the record," he explains. So why the interview? "A year ago I wasn't really sure what I wanted to do and I didn't feel I had anything to offer. But now I feel I've got some really good songs and I'm happy to stand by what I'm doing."

If there is an air of hesitation about this project, Gift puts it down to his experiences with the Cannibals and the outside pressures which led to their amicable split. He also points out that with age comes caution. "What you enjoy in your teens isn't necessarily what you enjoy in your twenties and I'm in my thirties now [he's 37]. Part of me was out to prove something, but part of me wanted to go out and do something completely different."

But in some ways, Gift's return to music is doing something completely different. For the past 10 years, he has been flirting with careers in television and film - he played Danny in Sammy and Rosie Get Laid in 1987 and, in 1990, he played Christine Keeler's psychotic boyfriend in Scandal. He appeared alongside Helen Mirren in the television series of The Painted Lady. Less prestigiously, he was in the tacky TV version of Highlander, which he describes as "great fun until they started cutting costs. Then everybody lost their sense of humour." But it was Gift's foray onto the stage - Romeo and Juliet - in 1991 that was the real disaster. Ominously, that was his last appearance in Edinburgh.

"I had this thing where I thought I needed to prove myself on stage - which is crap, I know. It was awful; everybody in the cast fell out and the play was a disaster. I've avoided the stage ever since."

Gift is still open to film offers though, and is embarking a new project in the autumn. But in the meantime, he is directing all his energies in to music. "I feel more like I did when I began now. It has been such a long time since I've done music that I have got nothing to lose and everything to gain. You can't identify too much with your talent and I'm not going to carry other people's anxiety around with me."

Roland Gift plays the Becks Famous Spiegeltent, Venue 87, tonight at 7pm