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Ripe old rockers are not just Strange Fruit

By Jeremy Austin, This is Buckinghamshire.

Jeremy Austin speaks to the cast of new Brit film Still Crazy.

ACTOR Bill Nighy has one enduring memory of his time playing aged rocker Ray Simms in the Pinewood-shot comedy Still Crazy.

"They were the strangest trousers to wear at my time of life..." he admits. "There were times when I was sat in my trailer in three inch heels and velvet trousers thinking it was all a conspiracy."

Nighy, who gained notoriety on television as the heartless womaniser in the BBC series The Men's Room, plays the lead singer of 1970s rock band Strange Fruit, who reform in the 1990s to play at the Wisbech rock festival. Although the years and illegal substances have taken their toll, the band still feels it has what it takes (including the costumes) and unleashes itself on the bemused gig-going public of today.

Nighy was out to make a fool of himself right from the start it seems.

"I auditioned for the part and used a banana. This intrigued him [director Brian Gibson] and we then had a really great time auditioning after which I thought 'I would really like this part'. I think I got the bug. There's something really enjoyable about living out your fantasies. It's my time as a rock and roll star."

It's Bill's co-star Hans Matheson's time, too. The young actor, who plays the band's stand-in guitarist Luke Shand, also stars in the epic Les Miserables with Liam Neeson and Claire Danes due out later this year. Although he says he isn't attracted by the glittering lights of Hollywood, life on the road with a band appeals.

"Yes, I would consider it," he says. "A Strange Fruit show would be very, very funny. We could break up on stage."
But he kept his feet on the ground when they filmed the performance scenes - some on the James Bond stage at the Iver studios.

"During the performances of our songs the thought that the audience was being paid to scream played on your mind," he laughs. Although there was spontaneous applause after the first take.

Hans does play guitar as does fellow performer Jimmy Nail. Timothy Spall learnt the drums for the part while Stephen Rea had to fake his keyboard playing. The big surprise, however, was Bill's vocals. He hadn't really sung before. He had, he admits, pretended in front of the mirror. Well, haven't we all?

"I didn't have a tennis raquet but I used to throw a few moves in the privacy of my own bedroom and sometimes I used to quite like the look of it," he says, wryly.
He researched heavily for the part of Ray and all the actors were given on-stage tips by former Spandau Ballet pin-up Gary Kemp.
"I watched a lot of videos to find out how not to look like a lemon on stage," Bill says. "My concern was being able to jump up and down on stage without looking like a prat. I had major problems about what to do during a guitar solo."

But it was the physical nature of fronting a band that really took its toll on Bill.
"The big insight was how hard it is physically to front a song - the thought that someone like Mick Jagger does three hours a night of something I was required to do for three minute portions throughout the day. It is gruelling," he says.
So Bill won't be digging out his old platforms and flares.
"I never wore the first three buttons of my shirt undone. I don't like my sparse chest hair."

October 31st 1998

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