David Brent is a former manager at Wernham-Hogg paper merchants (although he described his role there as more of a “chilled out entertainer”), and gave us glimpses of his musical talent during an office training day, when his place of work was the subject of what turned out to be a rather controversial documentary back in 2001.
"It was a stitch-up," Brent has since said of the whole ordeal, claiming that he was deliberately put across in a negative light, and that they 'left out all the good bits'. And he's carried that weight ever since.
However, 15 years on, Brent is back, and has gone a step further: he's put version two of his band, Foregone Conclusion, back together, and he's self-funded a tour spanning almost half of Berkshire, performing songs from his debut album, Life on the Road. And better still, he's documented it all in a touching (and at times jaw dropping) rockumentary of the same name, which showcases many of the tracks from the record, as well as backstage footage of the band on the road, an insight into Brent's personal life, and an awkward moment with a dead bee.
In Life on the Road, Brent brings us a collection of thought provoking, listenable rock music. But is it worthy of helping the man leave the 9-5 behind? The answer is a resounding yes, and not least because of Brent's willingness to tackle many controversial issues head on.
Although Brent's current day job as a travelling salesman at Lavichem mostly involves repping ladies hygiene products in and around the Reading area, don't be fooled into thinking this artist isn't a well travelled rock and roller. The opening lines of the album [from Ooh La La] confirm this: 'Sold my shack in Memphis, bought me a Chevrolet / six-string in the back and a bottle of Jack, and I headed down to Mexico way'. Who'd have thought it?
Next up is Native American, where Brent does what few musicians would have the courage to do: put themselves in the shoes of a much maligned people. When he sings, 'oooh, don’t call us Indians / we’re more like west Eurasians mixed with Siberians', it’s clear that he has taken the time to get to grips with a very complex issue, albeit with a little help from Wikipedia.
Lonely Cowboy is the first track on the album to feature Brent’s bandmate and rapper Dom Johnson, who proves he shares his frontman’s sense of poetry when he raps, 'damage a hyena, vultures and all / don’t think I won’t kick a wolf in the balls'.
Freelove Freeway is one of the songs we got a preview of in singer-songwriter format in Brent’s first documentary – and Headliner is pleased to inform you that it has blossomed into a full and brilliant rock song with tasteful country influences. Just a handful of songs in, and it's becoming clear that Brent’s Slough heritage doesn’t hold him back from utilising genres from across the Atlantic.
Brent has already been heard in his television appearance defending Slough against John Betjeman’s poem about the town in which the poet wrote, 'come friendly bombs, and fall on Slough!' Here, he goes one further and dedicates a moving ballad, simply titled Slough, to the town that is 'equidistant between London and Reading'. We haven’t been to Slough, but the power of this music has left us wanting to pay a visit as soon as possible.
Titular track, Life On the Road, gives the humble listener a chance to experience what the rock and roll touring lifestyle is like through Brent’s music: 'then to Gloucester, I get a Costa / hard shoulder, coffee holder'. These are the kind of raw and real lyrics that separate Foregone Conclusion from other bands.
The album becomes increasingly vital as Brent uses his bravery to stand up against two more contemporary issues – in Please Don’t Make Fun Of the Disableds, we’re warned we could be fired from our jobs if we don’t heed his worldly advice; and then on Equality Street, where Dom Johnson lends his talents as a wordsmith once more, proclaiming, 'I’m like John Lennon, except I do imagine there’s a heaven', Brent makes the switch to reggae seamlessly; you momentarily forget he’s a white, middle-aged man from Berkshire.
Life On the Road ends with Electricity, which features Chris Martin of Coldplay. It’s little wonder that the Fix You singer would want to be involved in this project, which could be a pivotal moment for contemporary music. But it goes beyond being a great album – it serves as inspiration for office employees the world over. If we could all just adopt Brent’s philosophy of being a friend first, a boss second, and probably an entertainer third, then perhaps we could finally eradicate evils like racism and mistreatment of the disableds at long last.
Foregone Conclusion will play two sell-out shows at Hammersmith Apollo in September; if you've managed to secure a ticket, count yourself very, very lucky. #BrentsBack