Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music

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BONZO DOG BAND

London band formed '66, originally Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: Vivian Stanshall (b 21 March '43, Shillingford; d 5 March '95), vocals; Neil Innes (b 9 Dec. '44, Essex), vocals, guitar; 'Legs' Larry Smith (b 18 Jan. '44 Oxford), drums; Roger Ruskin Spear (b 29 June '43 London), saxes, robots; Rodney Slater (b 8 Nov. '44 Lincolnshire), sax, Sam Spoons (b Martin Stafford), percussion, others. Art students provided light relief in pompous rock scene, the early act a mixture of Temperance Seven/trad jazz, Spear's robots running amok, music and lyrics by Stanshall and Innes. Flop singles on Parlophone; switched to Liberty for LP Gorilla '67, a dadaist riposte to Beatles' Sgt Pepper. Dennis Cowan added on bass (b 6 May '47, London); became more rockish on The Doughnut In Granny's Greenhouse '68, incl. digs at blues boom, concept albums, other vogues. Regulars at Brian Epstein's Saville Theatre '67; seen in Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour; Paul McCartney (as Apollo C. Vermouth) prod. their only hit single (written by Innes) 'I'm The Urban Spaceman' '68 (on LP Tadpoles '69). Featured in adventurous TV show Do Not Adjust Your Set along with fledgling Monty Python team. Touring was traumatic; an especially incongruous US tour had them supporting Sly and the Family Stone. Split after LP Keynsham '69, based on Stanshall's experience of a mental home, astringent humour still apparent ('Look At Me I'm Wonderful').

Smith and others joined Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band, still a popular London pub act years later. Stanshall and Innes worked with members of Liverpool Scene and Scaffold in Grimm's satirical review; re-formed Bonzos for LP Let's Make Up And Be Friendly '72, incl. C&W parody 'Bad Blood', Beatles send-up 'Straight From My Heart'; also began Stanshall's long-running Rawlinson End saga of loony aristocrats: dinner followed by billiards on horseback, or catching the javelin (book, feature film, LPs Sir Henry At Rawlinson End '81, Sir Henry At Ndidi's Kraal '84). Stanshall formed other bands (Human Beans, etc), helped with film That'll Be The Day '72, did LP Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead '74, worked with Stevie Winwood on his Arc Of A Diver '82. Smith appeared on US tours with Elton John and Eric Clapton '74; Spear sporadically turned up with his Kinetic Wardrobe; Slater became a civil servant. Innes formed the World; album How Sweet To Be An Idiot '73 was a collection of various pop styles; he followed a Pythonesque trail with Eric Idle in Beatles parody film/album The Rutles, BBC TV show Rutland Weekend Television, LP Rutland Times '76 (named after a county the Tories had abolished in their reorganization of the UK '73); toured with Pythons; maintained band Fatso, incl. Rockpile guitarist Billy Bremner. Two-disc History Of The Bonzos issued '74; the tradition continued with Alberto y Lost Trios Paranoias and in rock spoof This Is Spinal Tap '84. Stanshall's Christmas musical Stinkfoot was praised by The Times late '85. His Rawlinson was based on a real character, Trevor Howard playing the cameo of imperial bombast; the Victorian Sir Henry Rowlinson died on 5 March 1895, and Stanshall died in a fire at his home exactly a century later. His last film The Changeling, based on a Jacobean tragedy, co-starred Ian Dury, Billy Connolly and John Cooper Clarke, premiŠred at Glastonbury Festival '95.