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ROCK SCHOOL The Complete First Series EMI 3436809 (2005)
Kiss frontman goes back to school...

Rock School

Beware. An ageing rock mega-star in a long leather coat could be visiting a school near you. Rock School has been given a second series.

In the meantime, we can catch up on all six episodes of the first series that took 10 kids from an English boarding school, and shaped them into a rock band fit to support Motorhead in front of several thousand heavy-metallers.

The series takes the Jack Black/School of Rock blueprint and brings in Kiss frontman, the legendary Gene Simmons, as the teacher.

The choice of Simmons is inspired, if slightly obscure. He's a larger than life character from a band that always achieved greater recognition in their homeland, and via clever merchandising, than in the UK. Therefore to many, including the kids, he is a complete unknown. Part of the problem, too, is that Simmons' iconic persona in Kiss is always hidden in a 'demon' mask spitting blood.

If you missed the series first time round, you'll almost certainly be hooked in from Episode 1 and want to watch it in its entirety, probably in one sitting. It hasn't quite got the emotional, addictive, hook of 'The Apprentice' TV show but it is pretty close.

If you can set aside, 'School of Rock' clone accusations, 'Rock School' becomes an essay on how kids can be pushed to achieve and overcome a lack of self-confidence and esteem. Witness little Josh who is a bit of a mis-fit, and the object of ridicule, who - thanks to Simmons' role-casting - rises to become 'Emperor', the punkish lead singer of the band.

Viewers will either love or loathe Josh and, as 'Episode 7' shows, his Leo Sayer perm does nothing to increase his street-cred. But admittedly the school uniform regulation yellow hose don't really do it for him either.

Rock School

Aspiring teenagers who want to play in a band might not learn much from this: the transformation of classically-trained musicians who know little about rock is never properly developed and you can't help thinking you've not been fully privy to the necessary intense coaching sessions.

When 'The Class' end up playing the Motorhead gig the song sounds remarkably polished, the build-up and inevitable hardship of rehearsal is not really covered in any depth but, then, it probably doesn't make for exciting television either.

The series does emphasise the importance of stagecraft, style and presentation. And, moreover, rock attitude which is frequently a triumph of style over substance. As Simmons comments 'You don't have to play your instruments well at all.'

The extras on the DVD are the usual video diaries, extended clips and some more personal views from Simmons. But it is an exchange between the Deputy Head and the Kiss man that is particularly revealing. 97 per cent of the kids at this boarding school are supported through charity and 80 per cent are from families whose income is below the national average. If more had been made of this aspect at the start of the series we may have all shown more empathy for the key characters and become more emotionally involved. As it is, the students and the surroundings appear privileged, archaic and, frankly, a little bit snotty.

The star of this show, though, is inevitably Gene Simmons whose deadpan American drawl and rock worldly-wise quips may be construed as somewhat non-PC, but definitely very rock. And one of the enjoyable aspects of this series is seeing 'Mr Simmons' change from 'arrogant rock star' to a sensitive, inspiring soul winning over the confidence of his classroom and the somewhat alien school culture. Much like Jack Black, really.


Review by David Randall


***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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