So Lowestoft, are you ready to rock?

18th November 2005 at 00:00
Viewers will see a rock band built up from pupils chosen partly for their lack of musical ability, reports Nick Hilborne

This year it was the Gothic spires of Christ's Hospital. Next year, viewers of Channel 4's Rock School will be travelling to a comprehensive in a struggling Suffolk port for the second series.

Gene Simmons, lead singer of American heavy-metal band Kiss, renowned for his devil-style face paint, six-inch tongue and claim to have slept with 4,600 women, will again be the teacher, in charge of creating a band from scratch in a matter of weeks.

Unlike the first series, where band members were all talented classical musicians, teenagers at Lowestoft's Kirkley high school were selected partly for their lack of musical ability.

The first series showed Simmons coaching a small groupof bright, impeccably-behaved, yellow-stockinged Year 9 students at Christ's Hospital, Sussex, where fees range from nothing to pound;18,400 a year.

The band, known as The Class, performed triumphantly in front of thousands of heavy-metal fans at a Motorhead concert in Hammersmith, west London.

At Kirkley high school, programme makers RDF Media interviewed the school's 800 Year 10 and 11 students before selecting a dozen to be coached by the singer. "We have some amazing rock bands here," Hazel Johnston, former deputy head and consultant, said. "They could have had some fantastic musicians. Instead, they chose young people who either couldn't play, or lacked the confidence to perform in front of other people."

Ms Johnston, who led the project for the school, said she intervened only when pupils needed help putting things in perspective.

"They handled things very well," she said. "If you put anyone under intensive pressure, with TV cameras following them around all day, you have all the ingredients for quite a lot of tension and friction."

The dozen Rock School students went to lessons as usual during the day, and were coached by Simmons for two or three hours after school and at weekends. Tony Iommi, guitarist from Seventies heavy-metal band Black Sabbath and glam-rock star Suzi Quatro also dropped in to offer advice.

The series ends with the Kirkley high school band, known as Hoax UK, performing their song "Is there anybody out there?" in front of 50,000 rock fans at a Judas Priest concert at the Long Beach stadium, south of Los Angeles. Leading American band Anthrax also played.

Technology teacher Johnmark Power, who helped to look after band members, said: "Rock School students included the very quiet and the very loud.

"There was plenty of blood, sweat and tears on the way, and some traumas,"

he said. "Some students can't cope with a whole day of lessons and rehearsals until 8pm.

"The group contained all sorts of characters, opinions and behaviours. I found it tiring from an emotional point of view trying to hold together a group of students who had never worked together before, and would probably not choose to."

Mr Power said much would depend on how the programme makers used the video diaries the teenagers had made.

"There was a lot of jealousy at the start among the students who were not involved, and worrying, particularly by sixth-formers, that people would compare us to Christ's Hospital and belittle us," he said.

However, Mr Power said he did not believe the reality TV show would end up muddying the school's name.

"It's been a tremendous opportunity for us," he said. "We have far more kids here who actually know about and like rock music than at Christ's Hospital. When the band heard they were flying to America to play alongside Anthrax, they were jumping up and down."

Kirkley high school has already produced one world-famous rock band. Justin and Dan Hawkins and Ed Graham, from The Darkness, all went to the school.

In the summer of 2004, they performed at the opening of its new music suite.


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