The Only Place Ricky Gervais’ 80’s Pop Career Did Not Fail
Ricky Gervais is in the news for upsetting people again, only this time, he’s not roasting the sanctimonious Hollywood elite. Instead of attacking the powerful and oblivious, he’s chosen to punch down at transgender people in his most recent Netflix special SuperNature with the same unoriginal jokes we’re growing tired of hearing over and over again from our comedy icons.
So we’re not here today to talk about Ricky Gervais’ jokes in 2022 – more on that tomorrow - we’re here to revisit a randy young Ricky Gervais from 1982 and a pop duo called “Seona Dancing.” Ricky’s short-lived musical career flopped in the west, but – somehow – became a dance pop sensation in the Philippines, of all places.
How in the world did Ricky Gervais create, in one critic’s words, "the theme song of angst-ridden New Wave youths in the Philippines"?
Seona Dancing began as a campus band at University College London where aspiring vocalist Ricky Gervais studied with his keyboardist counterpart Bill Macrae. The duo recorded a sixteen track demo tape during their senior year in 1982 and sent it to London Records, who plucked their tape from the pile and chose Seona Dancing to be their next New Order-y, “Let’s Dance” era David Bowie-ish New Wave pop thing.
Gervais and Macrae released just two singles with London Records, “More to Lose” and “Bitter Heart”, and Seona Dancing made a couple uninspiring television appearances in an attempt to create buzz for the synth pop band that was totally different from all the other synth pop bands in the early ‘80s.
Here is one such appearance from the children’s show Razzmatazz:
Sadly, a bunch of people never taught their kids how to clap on the 2 and 4, and these promotional spots weren’t enough to drum up interest in the UK. “Bitter Heart” and “More to Lose” charted at 79 and 117 respectively on the UK Singles Chart, which wasn’t enough to convince London Records to produce any more songs.
The band sputtered out in 1984, with Ricky Gervais and Bill Macrae going their separate ways. Ricky, of course, would pursue a career in comedy, while Bill faded into obscurity. To this day, it is unclear which direction Bill went with his career post-music. In 2014, Gervais had this to say about his estranged friend: “I hope he got fat too.”
Seona Dancing failed because there wasn’t anything particularly unique about their music – they floated around in the same sound as groups like Wham! and Duran Duran, but they didn’t have anything to differentiate themselves from the pack.
While Ricky Gervais was busy flaming out of the music industry, there was a nation in unrest halfway across the globe that was in desperate need of dreamy ballads and synth fueled listlessness.
In 1985, President Ferdinand Marcos was nearing the end of his two decade reign as the tyrannical leader of the Philippines. The era of Filipino history between 1965 and 1986 is known simply as the Marcos era, as the despot ran a regime tainted by corruption, nepotism, and brutal human rights abuses against the captive population.
Naturally, whenever a dictatorship is on the precipice of being toppled, the youth of that nation need a synth pop anthem to serve as the soundtrack of their civilian-military uprising. For some strange reason, they chose Seona Dancing’s “More to Lose.”
One day in 1985, the Manila radio station 99.5 RT played a song incorrectly titled “Fade” by Medium. Of course the song was actually “More to Lose”, but the radio station deliberately mistitled the track so that competing stations would not be able to track down the record. They even inserted a station ID mid song so that other DJ’s wouldn’t be able to record the broadcast and replay it on their own station. Imagine working that hard to corner the market on Ricky Gervais’ crappy David Bowie impression.
Inevitably, the people of Manila tracked down the true source of their New Wave sensation, and “More to Lose” by Seona Dancing apparently “became an '80s anthem as ubiquitous as Peter Gabriel's ‘In Your Eyes’... Its opening piano riff -- conveying the sound of falling teardrops -- became the soundtrack of countless high-school dances in Manila, Philippines during the '80s and even beyond.”
Seona Dancing accidentally became a pivotal piece in the history of music in the Philippines as they ushered in the New Wave sound at the dawn of a new republic.
To this day, the Filipino people still remember the emotional impact “More to Lose” had on the youth of a changing nation almost forty years ago. When Ricky Gervais was interviewed by the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2014, he couldn’t wait to talk about Seona Dancing. He said about his time as an accidental international pop sensation, “I am almost glad didn’t quite work out. If I was a rock star when I was 20, I would be dead now… My mistake was that I wanted to be a pop star. I should have wanted to be a musician. I never made that mistake again.”
The pictures of a slender, androgynous Ricky Gervais will probably follow Ricky around for as long as he continues to appear on talk shows and make Netflix specials about how provocative he is. But while his music career was just an amusing little footnote in his own life story, the impact it had on an entire nation of people halfway across the world will last much longer than that slim physique ever could.
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Top image: London Records