Celebrity stars in their eyes

Fame and riches? Mere bagatelles, as Keanu Reeves and Jamie Oliver will tell you. No, life's empty without the power of rock...
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The Independent Culture

There was a time when everybody knew their place - actors were actors, musicians were musicians and chefs belonged in the kitchen. Nowadays these so-called professions have merged into one. Actors, pop stars, chefs - they are all celebrities, a title that gives them licence to do just about anything they want.

There was a time when everybody knew their place - actors were actors, musicians were musicians and chefs belonged in the kitchen. Nowadays these so-called professions have merged into one. Actors, pop stars, chefs - they are all celebrities, a title that gives them licence to do just about anything they want.

The idea that Naked Chef Jamie Oliver could become a serious musician may once have seemed as ridiculous as Geri Halliwell becoming a UN ambassador... But our Jamie fancies himself as a drummer. His band, Scarlet Division (as seen on TV once when he cooked them a meal), have been together since their early teens, though until now the band has been little more than a hobby. Talks with Sony began after the company asked Oliver to put together a "Music To Cook To" CD. He asked if they could include one of Scarlet Division's tracks; now, one year later, they are recording an album and their first single "Sundial" is being released on Monday. Pukka, as Jamie would say.

The name may suggest some bizarre blend of Scarlet Fantastic (most famous for being graffitied on London's Westway) and Joy Division. In fact, it's more Garbage meets Texas. The youthful vigour of Oliver's cookery shows is all present and correct in "Sundial" though, like his series, it's unremarkable stuff.

Housewives may love his cheeky grin and his capacity to "knock up" a perfect tart, but he may find that his musical audience are not so easily impressed. Gig-goers know a phony when they see one and are a notoriously unforgiving bunch. There's nothing they like more than bringing the rich and famous down a peg or two. But then it's easy to sneer. After all, we like our pop stars to have suffered for their art and spent at least a decade on the dole. We don't want some lippy Essex boy best known for relegating Delia to the number two best-selling-chef spot. I suppose we must thank our lucky stars that the whole band isn't made up of TV chefs. Just imagine the line-up: Jamie on drums, a sneering Anthony Worral Thompson on guitar, an exuberant Ainsley on vocals.

To his credit, Oliver is down-playing his role in the band: the CD sleeve makes no mention of him and the accompanying press release has artfully omitted the words "celebrity" and "chef". And besides, he is the drummer. In the realms of rock mythology, drummers are usually fade-into-the-background types deemed too ugly or too introverted to front the band. Oliver is keen to conform. He recently said: "I'm not sitting there looking pretty. I actually look like a prat when I drum. I dribble."

Oliver's chef-turned-rock musician may be a first, but there is no shortage of celebs out there who quietly yearn for a shot at stadium rock. Russell Crowe, the muscle-bound star of LA Confidential and Gladiator, has managed to avoid ridicule with his folk-rock band, the excellently named Thirty Odd Foot of Grunts. The actor who casually refers to his acting career as his "day job" regards singing as his true vocation.

But actors' forays into the rock world are usually greeted with suspicion, a case in point being Keanu Reeves and his band Dogstar. At last year's Glastonbury Festival, the actor looked even more bewildered than he does on film, if that's possible. As it turned out, the sight of Reeves on stage was the only reason to see Dogstar since their hollow brand of US grunge held no allure whatsoever. As they left the stage they were pelted with plastic cups. Still, Keanu won't give up that easily. He was recently quoted as saying: "We've been trying to show people we are a real band for six years. I'm getting better as a serious musician. I've been experimenting with tones and sonic textures." Quite.

The path of the soap star-turned-musician is equally precarious, even in the pop world of shiny. For every success - Martine McCutcheon, Kylie Minogue, Adam Rickett - there are myriad disaster stories (see Anita Dobson, Letitia Dean et al). But, as the old saying would have it, rock is a harder place. Joe Absolom, better known as Matthew from EastEnders, abandoned Albert Square to concentrate on his mod band Hung Up. It hardly needs pointing out that he hasn't been heard of since. A leather-clad Craig McLachlan may have had brief success with the rock-lite "Mona", but nowadays it is panto that pays the bills. Even the actor John Simm, star of The Lakes and Michael Winterbottom's film Wonderland, passes the odd evening with his band Magical Alex, though he hasn't troubled the charts so far.

Much as Oliver wants to pass himself off as an ordinary Joe trying his hand at rock music, it will be impossible for him to keep a low profile in Scarlet Division. While we shouldn't begrudge him a bash on his drum kit, perhaps he would have been better off keeping it in the garage like everyone else.

'Sundial' is out on Sony on Monday

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