But it is apposite: this year marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death and it’s entirely right that we should do our own little bit to celebrate that fact. Let’s kill him off all over again, to a ‘5am in Ibiza’ beat. There’s the rub, the rub, the rub, the rhuuuuubbbb!
Richard E Grant, star of the ultimate slacker movie Withnail and I, recorded To Be Or Not To Be in 1997 – around the same time that he was filming Spice Girls: the Movie. The single finds Richard reciting the well-known soliloquy from Hamlet over a house track from Orpheus, as well as singing during the choruses. To Be Or Not To Be was intended to launch a whole album of Shakespeare readings, featuring a number of actors including Kenneth Branagh, Ralph Fiennes and Alan Rickman – although that project seems not to have seen the light of day. Presumably because this turned out to be such a dead duck.
‘I told them I couldn’t sing!’, Grant told the Melody Maker. ‘It just shows that anything goes, anything can happen if somebody thinks it’s daft enough to buy. I don’t expect anybody to take it any more seriously than I did.’
The ‘them’ in this case is anonymous musical collective Orpheus. Ken Gibson (who co-wrote and produced the song) is better known for his work with John Dankworth and Cleo Laine, although he has also worked as an arranger with Alison Moyet, Craig David and Neil Hannon. He is also the producer for the singer Nancy Nova, backing vocalist on To Be Or Not To Be.
‘They said, “Do it straight and then we can do stuff, muck about with it.” Then they asked me to sing this chorus and I did it full-pelt, but they didn’t want that. They wanted it to be as melancholic as possible. And they made a dance track out of it.
‘This all happened by accident. It was not my intention at all to set myself up as a serious pop star. I’m not trying to give Oasis sleepless nights about this. My eight-year-old daughter thought it was danceable…. I just laughed. I thought, “Oh my God, I’ll never get a job as a serious Shakespearean actor at the RSC having done this!”’
He was even more revealing in the NME, admitting that ‘I suppose I should bullshit you that I’m a great singer, but I approached this with a large, leviathan tongue in my left cheek. I can’t be serious about it. But if this could constitute me as some aging Spice Boy, then great.’ A video, featuring Virgin Radio DJ’s Russ & Jono dressed as Shakespearian fools, was filmed but has yet to finds its’ way to YouTube.
The CD single contained four versions of this nonsense. Here are two of them.