Guide to British Music of the 1960s

 

Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band

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Vocals- Vivian Stanshall, vocals/guitar/piano - Neil Innes, vocals/drums - "Legs" Larry Smith, saxophone - Rodney Slater, saxophone/leg, etc - Roger Ruskin-Spear, rhythm pole - Sam Spoons (Martin Stafford), bass - Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell

The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, later known as simply the Bonzo Dog Band, was a mix of traditional jazz band with comedy revue. They produced four great albums during the 1960s as well as the distinctive hit single I'm The Urban Spaceman. The members were still at Goldsmith's College when they formed the band in 1965. Bob Kerr was an early member before he left to join the New Vaudeville Band. Originally known as the Bonzo Dog Dada Band, they moved away from the surreal with a minor name change. Bonzo Dog came from a cartoon dog that had appeared in the Daily Sketch newspaper.

The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band built up a following in the pubs and clubs of London. Roger Ruskin-Spear brought along a large number of props while much of the performance was revue as much as music. The first two singles came out on Parlophone in 1966. My Brother Makes the Noises for the Talkies and Alley Oop were quite unlike anything else that was around at the time. Both are available with their excellent b-sides on Cornology and By Jingo It's British Rubbish.

In 1967, the group started a Sunday night residency at the Marquee Club. The first album Gorilla followed a switch to the Liberty label in 1967. The outstanding track is The Intro and the Outro while Cool Britannia gained fame in the late 1990s as the Labour government tried to align itself with British success. In 1967, the band appeared in the Beatles' critically-panned Magical Mystery Tour film performing Death Cab for Cutie. This was not the only connection with the Fab Four. The band's only hit single, reaching number 5 in the UK, was the aforementioned I'm the Urban Spaceman. This was produced by Paul McCartney under the pseudonym Apollo C Vermouth.

The second and third albums, The Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse and Tadpoles continued in the same vein although there was a shift away from the jazz style. Tadpoles was particularly strong musically, containing the Urban Spaceman and Mr Apollo singles. The fourth album, Keynsham, marked more of a departure with a variety of styles. Incidentally, the title refers to the town, then in Somerset, made famous by Horace Batchelor of Radio Luxembourg fame and the place where this author grew up! The latter albums also demonstrated how good the Bonzos were musically. They should not be dismissed as a jazz pastiche group or a comedy revue and they contributed immensely to British 1960s music as well as to the satire movement. They appeared in a number of TV shows including the satirical Do Not Adjust Your Set, a forerunner of Monty Python's Flying Circus. By now Dennis Cowan had replaced Nowall on bass. Sam Spoons also left the band around this time.

The Bonzos were the opening act at the Isle of Wight Festival. This featured Jim Capaldi on drums as "Legs" was delayed in a pub with Keith Moon. He did return, however, about half-way through the set. Later in 1969, the group opened for Led Zeppelin in San Francisco.

The band split in 1969. However, an additional album was made in the early 1970s. Let's Make Up and Be Friendly had its moments, most notably Innes' pre-Rutles Fresh Wound. Smith went on to join Bohay-Nowall and Spoons in Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band. Roger Ruskin-Spear became a novelty act.

There have been two releases of the Bonzos' BBC Radio (John Peel) sessions. These included such "unreleased" tracks as Give Booze a Chance, a take-off of the Plastic Ono Band's Give Peace a Chance.

Neil Innes has been, arguably, the most successful commercial with a series of successful solo albums, the TV series The Innes Book of Records in 1979 and a singing minstrel role in Monty Python & the Holy Grail. He also bears an uncanny likeness to the great Ron Nasty of the Rutles. Vivian Stanshall produced a series of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End albums. He has also been regular voiceover for commercials including reprising Mr Slater's Parrott from Keynsham for Cadbury's Creme Eggs. Other projects included working with Steve Winwood, most notably on Arc of a Diver, the rock opera Stinkfoot and returning to the stage shortly before his death in a house fire in 1995. Roger Ruskin-Spear has continued to perform with his Giant Kinetic Wardrobe of homemade robots. Both Ruskin-Spear and Rodney Slater joined Stanshall on stage for his final gigs at London's Bloomsbury Theatre.

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