It’s not something he chooses to discuss much these days, but in his younger days Ricky Gervais was a teenage heart-throb in the Philippines.
Now instantly recognisable as the tubby bearded boss-from-hell in The Office, the young Gervais once set hearts a flutter with his eyeliner, mullet hair-do and slim physique.
His cheesy but catchy New Wave pop anthems dealt in heartbreak and hope. They featured lyrics such as: “We thought we had nothing more to lose / We’d tear our hearts with jagged truths.”
Those lines come from a song called More to Lose, which was released by the comedian’s band Seona Dancing in 1983 and became one of the most popular songs of the day among teenage Filipinos.
Gervais formed the group with his friend Bill Macrae in 1982, when they were at University College London.
Macrae played the keyboards and Gervais sang. This was at the tail end of the New Romance era. Think of bands like Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Culture Club and ABC, to name but a few.
Subversion of gender roles
The genre was defined by its pioneering use of electronic synthesisers and a playful subversion of gender roles, from Boy George’s over-the-top makeup to Annie Lennox in her sharp suit in Love is a Stranger.
Seona Dancing never made it to the heights of these artists — the band released only two singles; the surprisingly decent More to Lose and the less memorable Bitter Heart, before breaking up in 1984.
What Macrae did next is not known, but the rise and rise of Ricky Gervais is well documented.
While the memory of the band rapidly faded at home in Britain, on the other side of the world things were just about to take off.
It’s often said that unstable times are when the best music is produced, which I suppose is a matter of opinion. What is more certain, however, is that in dark days people increasingly turn to music to sooth their nerves.
One day in 1985, a DJ at the Manila-based radio station 99.5 RT began playing a track that he called Fade by Medium. Other times, he’d refer to it as Medium by Fade.
It was in fact More to Lose by Seona Dancing, and it immediately did the radio version of “going viral”.
Ricky Gervais the “one-hit wonder”
The reason for the DJ using a fake name is that he thought the song was so good he didn’t want rival stations to track it down and play it themselves.
“It became a favourite of Filipino youth hooked on New Wave music,” Pocholo Concepcion, a music critic at The Inquirer said. “Somehow the song gave kids a reason to feel happy amid the political and economic crises”.
The song has remained a firm fixture on radio playlists for years, and is still heard today.
The cultural importance of the song was highlighted when Gervais was interviewed by The Inquirer in 2014. The newspaper didn’t want to talk about his Hollywood career or his experience of hosting the Golden Globes. It was all about “his past as a one-hit wonder in Manila,” as the headline put it.
“We put a couple of singles out. They failed; that was the end of it,” Gervais said. “Now that I am famous in a different field, people always find that picture of me looking thin and young. It’s terrible, isn’t it? I had a jaw and lovely, thick hair.
“I am almost glad being a pop star didn’t quite work out – I would be dead by now.”