The Life Of Brian: Faux Prog Hero Brian Pern Dissected
Meet the brains behind The Life Of Rock With Brian Pern, the best music ‘mockumentary’ since This Is Spinal Tap, a love letter to prog’s greatest characters, and the only place you’ll ever see
Rhys Thomas, writer, actor and creator of the fictional prog rock star Brian Pern, is struggling to remember the title of his favourite Yes song. Thomas and his co-writer, the face of Pern, ex-Fast Show actor Simon Day, are in the bar of the Saint George Hotel, a short stagger from the BBC’s central London HQ. Day can’t help; he’s more of a Paul Weller fan. But he’s amused by his partner’s frustration.
“Siberian!” shouts Thomas suddenly, as if a light bulb has just gone on in his head. “Siberian… carrot!”
Khatru? “Yeah, Siberian Khatru. But Rick Wakeman calls it Siberian Carrot because the rest of Yes were vegetarians.”
Thomas looks delighted. “Oh, I love that song.”
Rhys Thomas and Simon Day have achieved the impossible: they’ve turned the base metal of progressive rock into comedy gold. The Life Of Rock With Brian Pern has run for three BBC series, and is out now on DVD and Blu-ray.
Pern, the estranged lead singer of the make-believe 70s rock group Thotch (sample songtitles: Eggless Planet, Onion Divorce) is a wincingly accurate hybrid of every prog rock star in the Roger Dean-designed musical universe.
Pern isn’t the usual route-one rock star parody, hoovering up cocaine and tossing TV sets out of hotel windows.
No, he’s the deep-thinking version; still with all his brain cells, but at the mercy of his musical pretentions, his painful shyness – and his overbearing manager and domineering wife. Pern is the creation of writers who know and love their subject. And for many, that subject is Peter Gabriel. Or is it? Rhys Thomas insists there’s more to Brian Pern than that.
“I don’t want people to think that Brian is just Peter Gabriel. We need to set the record straight. It’s not.”
However, Gabriel was the catalyst. Rhys Thomas’ comedy career began with a job on Reeves and Mortimer’s spoof quiz show Shooting Stars, touring with The Fast Show in the 90s and appearing in numerous BBC comedies. In 2008 the Beeb asked him for ideas for their new comedy website.
“I’d been watching Peter Gabriel doing these video blogs and it was a direct parody of that,” Thomas admits, laughing.