The appearance of the Beatles was absolutely a “Year Zero” moment for the small boy that was me. A line in the sand was drawn, All that had passed for popular music, “light entertainment”, was shown to be useless, as obsolete as bread that you had to slice yourself ! As I listened & watched I had suspected this but until “Love Me Do” & the rest there seemed to be no alternative. In that Pre-Fab Four age there was, among students, a predilection for Jazz. Not that cool drug-fuelled Miles/Ornette/Mingus business but for “Trad”, a bastardized, backward looking, British take on Dixieland. These people had hit records & were all over our TVs. An extension of this jazzy retromancy was the Temperance Seven, a nine piece band who played 20’s style cabaret music. They had a couple of Top 10 hits with their ingeniously humourous music (produced by George Martin). Now I know ingeniously humourous jazz when I hear it & this was no Spike Jones & His City Slickers. Thank goodness the Mersey tsunami came along to wash this all away.
Except that it didn’t & in 1966 songwriter Geoff Stephens recorded a similarly twee piece of flimflammery which went to #1 in the USA. “Winchester Cathedral” was by the non-existent New Vaudeville Band. The only group playing in a corresponding style was approached to become the N.V.B. Thankfully they refused the offer. It was no surprise because the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band were no-one’s stooges and found their “Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold”.
The assortment of anarchists, inventors, eccentrics & visionaries who made up the Bonzos left their jazz roots behind with this track. Within the year they had released a debut LP, “Gorilla”, (dedicated to” Kong who must have been a great bloke”) & aligned themselves with 2 of the most creative influences on British popular culture of the late 1960s. On 26th of December 1967 they performed their song “Death Cab For Cutie” (sounds familiar) in the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour”. The next day was the TV debut of a children’s comedy show “Do Not Adjust Your Set”. The bulk of the scripts were written & performed by future Monty Pythons, Eric Idle, Terry Jones & Michael Palin. The Bonzos provided the music & thrived on being given the freedom to do as they pleased. Man, this was better than old songs sung through a megaphone ! I was just 15 years old, “D.N.A.Y.S.” was a rush home from school, insist my younger brothers be quiet & sit entranced in front of the idiot box occasion. Everyone is nostalgic about the TV of their childhood but this was the programmme that was exactly what my friends & I wanted to see.
“Do Not Adjust Your Set” had a deliberately amateurish enthusiasm. For their 2nd LP the Bonzo Dog Band (the Doo-Dah split… musical differences!) were a rock band. They had more studio time & “The Doughnut In Granny’s Greenhouse” is a psychedelic phantasmagoria of perfect pop parody from idiot soul singers (“Do the Trouser Press baby!) to the pointless prog-rockers (” The fresh-plucked eye of a favourite cat, pulped & mixed with a white hen’s fat”) by way of “Can Blue Men Sing the Whites”. Flamboyant singer Vivian Stanshall, a man who’s way with words places him alongside the best of British absurdists, contributed some wonderful satires on semi-detached suburban British life. Here is “My Pink Half of the Drainpipe”
♫ I’m a wobbly jelly, you’re a pink blancmange ♫ Hooray ! The Beatles connection helped the band into the charts when Paul McCartney (as Apollo C Vermouth) produced the ” I’m The Urban Spaceman” single.”Doughnut” is the finest fusion of comedy & music I have ever heard. It combines the anarchic irreverence of the Mothers of Invention, an acerbic disdain for musical cliche & that which makes us the envy of the world, British humour. Any recorded work by the Bonzos places the spotlight on Stanshall & on Neil Innes, the other main songwriter. There were other varied talents in the group & they were never be as successfully integrated as they are on this LP.
Roger Ruskin Spear (saxophone solo as promised) wanted to build his kinetic sculptures which (and I have seen him perform) always seemed a little shambolic. Drummer “Legs” Larry Smith was to tap dance on Elton John’s world tours. There are other Bonzo Dog Band LPs with some wonderful songs but they never reached the heights of “Doughnut In Granny’s Greenhouse” again. Post-Bonzos Vivian Stanshall partied very hard with Keith Moon,narrated “Tubular Bells” & developed “Rawlinson End” from a monologue into an LP & then a brilliant 1980 film. Neil Innes worked on the Monty Python films. With Eric Idle, Neil’s gift for musical mockery was turned towards the Beatles for the “legends in their own lunchtime” the Rutles. There is little live footage of “Doughnut” so here is “The Canyons Of Your Mind”, the B-side of “Urban Spaceman. The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band …God love ’em !
I’ve just noticed that this clip is from Benny Kelly, who is around my computer, click for his Y-tube channel where there is some great stuff.
After the Bonzos both Innes & Stanshall were involved with an itinerant band of musicians, poets & comedians called Grimms. I saw this group a couple of times & it was a treat to see Neil Innes perform songs by the Bonzos. One of those nights I called into the university bar before the gig & found myself standing only yards away from Viv Stanshall who was dressed in a cape & a wizard’s hat. I did not speak to him. What would you say to such a surreal character ? I just enjoyed the fact that I was sharing the same oxygen as such a talent. I know…it’s not the greatest anecdote but I stood near Viv Stanshall !