Monday, January 19, 2009

Conceptual Art: Nautical But Nice

Yes, it's another new regular feature. Feeling spoilt?

Every fortnight Conceptual Art gives a different contributor the chance to play Svengali and manufacture his or her own imaginary band or artist, deciding everything from what they sound like, how they look and what they stand for to how their career pans out - all (hopefully) in the name of entertainment and jest...

First up is, er, me...

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By day twenty-somethings Ross, Jamie, Cameron, Hamish and Barry are hardy trawlermen, working out on the stormy seas off the coast of Orkney, but by night they're the Sanday Singers, moving from church to church and pub to pub performing acapella versions of popular Scottish folk songs. Word gradually spreads to the mainland, and they score a couple of gigs in Kirkwall and Stromness. Present at one such gig happens to be a Sony record exec, recuperating from the mental breakdown during which he signed up Scouting For Girls.

Returning to London with the scent of cash in his nostrils, he pitches the quintet to his bosses as the new Westlife, and they, eager to get their hands on the teenage and blue rinse pound, are easily won over. The bewildered fivesome are persuaded to give up their day jobs and summoned to London, where a five album deal awaits them. Within a week of signing it, they're assigned a manager, a publicist, a stylist, a choreographer, a confidence coach, a translator and a new name: Nautical But Nice.

Three months later and the self-titled debut album is ready for release. A prized spot on 'The National Lottery: In It To Win It' is secured, and they introduce themselves to the British public with 'Caught In A Net', their own take on Elvis Presley's 'Suspicious Minds'. As they wrap up, the audience erupts, the cameras cut to Dale Winton mopping a tear from his cheek and suddenly Nautical But Nice are overnight sensations. 'Caught In A Net' spends four weeks at #1 in the singles chart, while its follow-up, a soulful original called 'Plenty More Fish In The Sea', goes even better, lasting seven weeks at the top spot.

The MOR market duly conquered, their manager and his employers set their sights on a more youthful demographic. At the suggestion of their stylist and choreographer the rough beards, Fair Isle sweaters, Sanday tartan kilts and stools are ditched in favour of naked torsos smeared with cod liver oil, strategically placed sou'westers and raunchy dance moves for sexy disco number 'Sardine Queen'. Teenage girls and housewives swoon (though that may just be the smell); the Daily Mail - hitherto one of the group's most ardent supporters - erupts in a froth of outrage, speculating furiously about the impact their metamorphosis might have on public morals and house prices; and the cash registers just keep on ringing. A remarkable twelve months is crowned with an arena tour supporting Boyzone, Barry's Christmas duet with Leona Lewis and Cameron's guest appearance on Channel 5's 'Extreme Fishing With Robson Green'.

Keen to strike while the iron is hot, Sony corral Nautical But Nice back into the studio early in the new year. After a few false starts and one canned effort, Mark Ronson-produced second album Cod Reggae is finally released in the summer, but in the fast-moving world of pop they discover they're no longer flavour of the month. The covers-free record - featuring 'Morag', an uncomfortably personal ode to Jamie's mum, and 'Winds Of Change', a suitably blustery power ballad in tribute to the shipping forecast - is critically panned and publically unloved.

From there things go rapidly downhill. Sony are hit with a lawsuit from Birds Eye for the unauthorised use of images of fish fingers in the album's artwork. In an interview with Take A Break, with their publicist away in the toilet for a Columbian pick-me-up, the group reveal that 'Plenty More Fish In The Sea' - rather than being the consolatory arm round the shoulder for a lovelorn friend that everyone had imagined - is actually a heartfelt protest song against EU fishing quotas. The ensuing uproar in Brussels leads Radio 1 and Radio 2 to ban the song on political grounds and, at Gordon Brown's insistence, Sony issue a hasty apology in a bid to avert a diplomatic crisis.

Worse is yet to come. Backstage after a shambolic gig at G.A.Y., Ross is handed a "disco biscuit" and, surprised to discover it's rather more potent than a Rich Tea, spends the evening spewing copiously and clinging to the floor of the VIP area for fear of falling overboard. Meanwhile avid bird-watcher Hamish, intrigued by mention of a "shag", is surprised when what transpires turns out to have nothing whatsoever to do with a cormorant. Both are even more surprised when photos are splashed across the front pages of the News Of The World under the heading 'Caught In Our Net'.

The group lose their contract advertising Fishermans Friend, Sony rip up their deal shortly afterwards before releasing a best of entitled So Long And Thanks For All The Fish, and they sink almost without trace, last seen working in the kitchens at Loch Fyne in Twickenham in the hope of scraping enough money together to get back home.

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Next time (Monday 2nd February): Lord Bargain.


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