All acting, all singing

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Indy Lifestyle Online
Pop stars on film, starting with Elvis in Hawaii, tend to be a showbiz disaster. But that's not stopping a new breed of young actors who are determined to sing their little hearts out. Anne Mullee reports

MUSICIANS have always dabbled in acting, generally with much embarrassment to all concerned (step forward Sting, Phil Collins and David Bowie), but few serious actors have endeavoured to reverse the trend. In the US Johnny Depp toys with his band Urban Decay and Keanu Reeves mopes about with Dog Star, but the UK, lest we forget, it has always been the domain of the soap star turned pop singer. It began with Kylie Minogue, but embraced on these shores, the trend quickly spread to our own home-grown soaps and popular drama, resulting in chart successes that laughed in the face of credibility. Who could have predicted that Emmerdale's Woolpackers would single-handedly create a country-wide fad for line dancing or that Robson and Jerome would do more for The Righteous Brothers than their record company ever could?

These chancers get nothing but derision from the music press, yet low- calibre thesps rely on the sentimental market secure in the knowledge that the audience for both disciplines is one and the same. Take poor old Nick Berry. He knew he could never attain the adoration of smart teens and media savvy twentysomethings. But his MOR-fate was quickly sealed, not by the music press, but by the immortal words of perhaps Steve Coogan's finest creation, Paul Calf's Granny, when she slavered, "I like that Nick Berry. He's very clean". Granny may know what she likes, but clean doesn't cut it when it comes to rock, pop or hip hop. Neil Mason of Melody Maker cites Will Mellor (Jambo in C4's Hollyoaks), who released a record inspired by the death of his character's girlfriend, as a major offender. Unsurprisingly, the single failed to hit a raw Verve.

Where Nick Berry has trod, few care to follow. But a few brave souls are overturning a showbiz cliche and braving the contempt of the press by adding a musical string to their thespian bow. It helps, of course, that they have a track record in gritty urban drama. Llyr Evans, star with his twin brother Rhys of cultish Welsh movie Twin Town, happens also to be a member of the Acid Casuals. The band is a project Evans became involved in to "fill in time" between filming the Welsh language series Pengelli. A low-key approach is typical of this strand of young actors dabbling in something different. They are too sophisticated to be groomed and coached by cynical image-makers in preparation for a "best-ever snog" revelation in the pages of Smash Hits. "First and foremost I'm an actor," insists Llyr Evans. "I'm not after big fame with the music really, it's just something I want to do." Even so, as Acid Casuals also includes Cian Ciaran of Welsh indie rockers Super Furry Animals, the difficulty of conflicting schedules indicates that his interest is somewhat more than an idle commitment. Apart from the band, Acid Casuals is also a record label and a Cardiff- based shop selling their own casual-wear clothing, with ambitions beyond pressing the occasional piece of vinyl. To date they have two acts currently in development, plan to release their first EP in a few months and want to provide a platform for Welsh dance music. Committed to the Welsh dance scene with its weekend parties in various forests, Evans hopes to up the ante for local acts. "Everybody's heard of Catatonia or Manic Street Preachers, but there aren't many techno bands from Wales." If he has his way, there soon will be.

John Simm is the ugly-handsome star of The Lakes and also lead guitarist with Magic Alex, as yet unsigned but tipped for the top by Neil Mason, who admires the passion of their sound ("very baggy, big jangly guitar, quite epic"). Simm himself is confident that whatever he does will be decided on merit. "I don't want to jump to the top of the queue, I'd rather keep my head down at the back, play guitar and let the band be judged."

For Simm the band is more than a passing fad; it allows him to tap into something that treading the boards can't provide. Perversely, stage fright is part of the appeal. "I get really shy on-stage with the band being myself but it gives me a buzz that acting doesn't." A direct involvement with the creative process satiates a desire for more input into his work, particularly for an actor who admits to becoming bored during long periods of filming. "It's a whole, we write a song and then we play it. I'm not standing where somebody told me to stand saying my lines like a kind of performing monkey."

Not everyone, however, is impressed by these cred actors turned even more cred musicians. Over at London's Shepherd's Bush Empire on a damp spring evening, a crowd with an average age of twelve scream for the latest boy-band sensation Damage. This being the R&B night of the MTV-organised Five Night Stand, Damage share the bill with eight other hopefuls, including an act called Make. Being traditional rhythm and blues rather than the ubiquitous swingbeat, Make have little impact on the Kappa-clad kiddies, even after the perky compere has urged them to guess who the guitarist is - none other than Ewan Bremner, aka Spud from Trainspotting.

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