Interview: Aldridge-born brothers who feature in Ricky Gervais' new film Life On The Road
'Ricky would always be trying out material on us – it was surreal to see David Brent come to life in front of your eyes'.
Musical brothers Michael and Steven Clarke grew up in Aldridge, moved to Amsterdam at a young age and returned to Walsall as teenagers before going their separate ways to Birmingham and Devon, so it is fair to say they know a little bit about life on the road.
However, over the last three years the pair have learned what that really entails – thanks to comedy icon Ricky Gervais and his alter ego David Brent, the cringe-inducing, guitar wielding sales rep and star of The Office. Michael was chosen to play keyboards in Brent's band, Foregone Conclusion, alongside his brother Steven on bass, when Ricky first took the group public back in 2013. Both are session musicians.
The band's first two shows at London's Bloomsbury Theatre sold out in less than a minute.
Since then, the group have gone on to record a full album and will now take to the big screen in Life On The Road, a feature-length film where Brent travels up and down the country chasing his dream of being a rock star.
Michael, 35, who recently moved from Walsall to Small Heath, said: "One of my latest jobs was working with Andy Burrows, the former Razorlight drummer, on his solo projects.
"After a couple of years with Andy, it transpired he had been speaking with Ricky about potentially getting a band together to play these Brent songs.
"When they decided to give it a try, Andy brought us along. It just felt like it was going to work straight away, Ricky is an amazing professional with an incredible work ethic.
"Everything since then has just been a natural progression, obviously leading up to this film.
"At first, I just thought if I had one session with Ricky playing these songs, it would be a good one to tell the grandchildren.
"Now I can just show them the proof."
Getting in front of the camera was a new experience for Michael and Steven, who admitted to being a bit nervous at first over the prospect of ruining takes with uncontrollable laughter.
Being a long-time fan of The Office and Ricky Gervais, Michael said he was unsure as to how he would be able to control himself, saying: "I have been a fan of Ricky for years now, back to when he was on The 11 O'Clock Show.
"In rehearsals he would just become Brent for a few minutes at a time, you knew he was trying out material and he would have everyone laughing.
"Some of those bits became fully formed jokes for the movie. When it came to filming, I was a bit nervous about controlling myself, but as soon as I saw Ricky was the worst out of all of us that helped me relax.
"I wouldn't call what I do acting in the film, but I tried to get myself into the mindset of my character.
"I thought, how would I react if I was in this band with some guy called David Brent and he was doing all of these silly things?"
Since joining Foregone Conclusion, Michael's life has taken on a surreal quality, culminating in a performance in Leicester Square last Wednesday ahead of the world premiere.
He called joining the band a 'golden opportunity' after years of trials and tribulations in bands.
It was Steven, 37, who was the original musician in the family, with his band the Dum Dums achieving a clutch of top 20 singles between 2000 and 2001.
He now works as a tour manager, alongside his job as a session musician, as well as performing alongside brother Michael in the pair's band the Sad Professors. Steven, who recently moved to Devon with his wife and her son, said: "Over the years it has become easier for me and Michael to work together.
"That competitive spirit kind of fades away and you just focus on what you can do together. This has been an unbelievable experience for us both and I am glad we got to work together on such a special project."
Speaking about Brent's musical stylings, Steven said it was 'great fun' to be able to play music and not be too concerned about being perceived as 'cool' or have to double guess what an audience would want.
He said: "In terms of publicity and attention, this is by far the most high profile project we have worked on.
"You see the posters everywhere, catch the trailers on TV and it just doesn't go away how huge it all is.
"I will speak to people and when they ask what I have been up to, I tell them that I have been working in David Brent's band. They always say it sounds like the best job in the world.
"On the other side of the coin, when I think about this musically, we have just got to indulge every musical cliche we would be too afraid to do in our original bands.
"That has been a joy and, of course, it helps us work quicker, because Ricky can just point to a Bruce Springsteen or David Bowie song and we know exactly what he wants."
Life on the Road is released today, accompanied by a soundtrack album and a songbook.
By Jordan Harris