In May 1983, when I was assistant editor of Record Mirror, my good friend (the late) Gill Smith asked if I would interview a new band she was trying to generate some press for. Odd name, Seona Dancing. Not easy to pronounce – never a great career move.
I quite liked their debut single, More To Lose. It wasn’t particularly distinctive and hampered, as I recall, by a glaring Bowie influence, but I agreed to speak to the band as a favour to her. That’s the way things worked with record company press officers in those days: you mention my tiddlers, and I might catch your magazine a bigger fish some time.
When I met the duo I found them both engaging. Bill Macrae was tall, shy and quietly spoken and his partner was small, dark and beyond chatty. His name? Ricky Gervais.
The pair had met the year before while studying philosophy at University College, London. Bill heard Ricky could sing, and asked him to put words to his music.
After a cabaret-style residency at a cafe in Brussels, they made a demo and got a deal with Decca. This was pre-Pet Shop Boys but there were several notable duos around – Soft Cell, Yazoo and Blancmange being three of them.
When I interviewed them, Ricky was certainly entertaining but I saw little evidence of the comedy genius to come, when he would again pair up with a tall bloke. But then, maybe…
“We’re a duo, we’re young, we write songs, we’ve got a disco beat, piano, synth, and you could draw comparisons with anyone,” Ricky told me. “You could say we’re like Blancmange, because I’m short and he’s tall, but it’s not really relevant… We’re definitely more passionate than the average duo.”
Passionate and sensitive, it seems. Said Ricky: “I just think generally it’s more sensitive… But that’s pretentious! The technical side comes easily, so we concentrate more on songwriting. That sounds pretentious too!”
When I asked the inevitable, if lazy, pop writer’s fallback question, “What are your influences?” he said: “Well, I really like our music, actually. I quite enjoy listening to it. I’ve never bought a record in my life, so I haven’t got any others.”
Aha – the first sign of irony twinned with arrogance…
“I went through a phase when I was 14, 15, when things had to mean something and be deep, and my favourites were always Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel, deeper music that wasn’t very commercial.”
(Cat Stevens and Simon and Garfunkel in “not very commercial” shock…)
Ricky returned to the theme of sensitivity. “Even hard disco bands write songs about dancing, meeting a foxy woman. That’s fine, there’s no doubt it’s going to be a disco record, but as soon as they come up with anything sensitive, they can’t conceive of it also being a disco record. They slow it down, start it with a piano and violins.
“I see no reason why you can’t dance to a love song, or something you’re putting as much passion into as if you were sitting at a bar at 3am in New York and crying.”
I concluded the interview (in which there were quotes from Bill, but not many) by suggesting they were a pair of romantics – although not New Romantics, clearly.
“What else is there?” asked Ricky. “We were going to write songs about spinach but we thought love was probably a safer bet…”
And there, right at the end, I caught a glimpse of the Gervais to come…
Many years later, when The Office was becoming the water cooler topic of choice, Gill said to me: “You know who that is, don’t you – the guy that plays David Brent?”
“No, I don’t think so,” I replied.
“That’s Ricky from Seona Dancing!” she said, howling with laughter.
“No way!” I said. “But he used to be so cute!”