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Wonderful Radio Bonzo!

July 4, 2019

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band At The BBC 1966 – 1968

Available from 1960s Records

Side A

  1. Radio Bonzo Jingle
  2. Rockaliser Baby (Neil Innes, Viv Stanshall)
  3. The Monster Mash (Bobby Pickett, Lenny Capizzi)
  4. I’ve Found The Answer
  5. John Peel March (Hugh Nique & The Originals)
  6. Beautiful Zelda (Neil Innes)
  7. Captain Cool (Neil Innes, Viv Stanshall)
  8. Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home (Hughie Cannon)
  9. Viv Stanshall Interview with Brian Mathews

Side B

  1. My Pink Half Of The Drainpipe (Neil Innes, Viv Stanshall)
  2. Eleven Mustachioed Daughters (Viv Stanshall)
  3. Shirt (Roger Ruskin Spear)
  4. The Bride Stripped Bare by ‘The Bachelors’ (Neil Innes, Viv Stanshall)
  5. Excerpt From ‘The Brain Opera (Part 1)’
  6. Readymades (E’s Mad Dreg) (Neil Innes, Viv Stanshall)
  7. Jelly Jingle

 

Recording details

1 – 3, 9. Recorded for Top Gear 05.12.67, broadcast 17.12.67

4 & 5. Recorded for Top Gear 29.4.68, broadcast 5.5.68

6, 7, 10, 11,16. Recorded for Top Gear 18.7.68, broadcast 21.7.68

12 – 15. Recorded for Top Gear 8.10.68, broadcast 20.10.68

8. Recorded for Blue Peter TV show, February 1966

 

Personnel

Viv Stanshall – Vocals, trumpet, euphonium, tuba, guitar

Neil Innes – Vocals, piano, guitar

Roger Ruskin Spear – Vocals, cornet, tenor saxophone, xylophone

Rodney Slater – Saxophones, clarinets, trombone, tuba

‘Legs’ Larry Smith – Vocals, tap dancing, drums, tuba

Martin ‘Sam Spoons’ Smith – Drums, percussion

Vernon Dudley Bowhay-Nowell – Banjo, bass (Track 8)

David Clague – Bass (Tracks 2 & 3)

Joel Druckman – Bass (Tracks 4 & 5)

Dennis Cowan – Bass (Tracks 6, 7, 10-16)

 

Sleevenotes

The songwriters at the heart of the Bonzos were students Viv Stanshall (Central School of Art) and Neil Innes (Goldsmiths) who first met in 1963. Innes remembers that “the naming of the band came from pieces of paper in a hat. Three emerged as clear winners: ’Bonzo The Dog’ (a jolly, mischievous little canine character painted by George E Studdy in the 1920s), ‘Dada’ (the shocking anti-art movement founded during World War One) and the somewhat frivolous suggestion of Band. ‘Dada’ was quickly changed to ‘Doo Dah’. The unspeakably tedious job of attempting to define anti-art movements to a wider public soon became akin to stuffing a whale into an egg. Not long after, violent semi-controlled theatrical explosions augmented the repertoire.“

The now nine-piece band were soon terrorising London pubs and working-men’s clubs in the North East. John Peel was attracted to the Bonzos, perhaps because their humour was similar to his own. In his International Times column of 27 October 1967 he wrote: “On Liberty Records the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band have a very droll LP. My favourite track is a beautiful cliché teenage mutilation fun 1955 hiccup song called “Death Cab For Cutie”. That should drive Mick Farren into spasms of faintly unattractive excitement…” Death Cab For Cutie attracted further publicity when the Bonzos performed the song on the Beatles Magical Mystery Tour television special, watched by 15 million people on Boxing Day 1967.

The Bonzos career encompassed five studio albums recorded between 1967 and 1972. A parallell history of the band exists in the many tracks recorded for BBC radio, many never recorded elsewhere. Quoted in Ken Garner’s ‘In Session Tonight’ Viv Stanshall reminisced that “we’d always do short playlets, made up specially for the session. They would be worked out in the BBC studios for the first time. I remember I lived around the corner from (Peel producer) Bernie Andrews in Muswell Hill and I used to phone him up the day before a session, asking can we have such-and-such effects? Those sessions quickly took the format of three songs and one piece of recitative.” Bernie Andrews remembers that “they were some of the most creative sessions I ever did, because the numbers were created in the studio, with tape editing, effects and so on. As the first ones also ran until 1am, then unheard of, and the BBC commissionaires complained, they also started my undeserved reputation of running all these weird sessions all through the night.”

Bill Bailey, Won’t You Please Come Home shows the Bonzo’s first incarnation, still in thrall to The Temperance Seven and The Alberts and covering ancient jazz novelties picked up for pennies in fleamarkets. The version here emanates from childrens’ TV programme Blue Peter where they are introduced by a clearly bemused John Noakes. New manager Gerry Bron encouraged them to follow a more rock-orientated direction and write their own material, of which Rockaliser Baby is a fine example. Opening with the Dixon of Dock Green theme played on accordion this moving tale of teenage rebellion ends with a spoken Stanshall warning about “dangerous trousers”. Monster Mash is an inspired cover version, with manic piano and call-and-response vocals and another crazed Stanshall voice-over. In contrast I’ve Found The Answer is a country and western ballad, sung languidly by Innes. Beautiful Zelda is a beat-group number, a cautionary tale about falling in love with an alien. Captain Cool is a deceptively MOR croon from Innes, with flute and vibes accompaniment. It would later be reworked as Postcard.

My Pink Half Of The Drainpipe lampoons suburbia, a recurrent Stanshall theme. Eleven Mustachioed Daughters is dedicated to “Long John Peel” and is apparently Stanshall’s homage to Screamin’ Jay Hawkins Feast Of The Mau Mau. Roger Ruskin Spear gets a rare songwriting credit for Shirt, a protest song about dry cleaners featuring a solo allegedly played on an electric shirt collar and a coda of more spoken Stanshall madness.

Now it gets really weird. The Bride Stripped Bare by ‘The Bachelors’ references Marcel Duchamp and is a song of two halves, angelic harmonies alternating with fuzzed-out rock in a bizarre tale of life on the road. The large “Wow I’m Really Expressing Myself” thought bubble used by the band onstage would work well here. Co-written with Arthur Brown the excerpt from Brain Opera takes place in a German University where a demented tea dance develops into a Faustian pact, culminating in a sitar-infused advert for the Swami Kebab Restaurant. The Bonzo’s management were unhappy with The Brain Opera likening it to “an end-of-term revue by medical students” according to Roger Ruskin Spear and accordingly it never appeared on an LP. Readymades is a melancholic ballad from Innes that brings our set to a gentle close. The Bonzos also brought themselves to a gentle close, ceasing live performances whilst they were all still on reasonably good terms. Their final gig was at Loughborough University in March 1970.

Many of the tracks recorded by the Bonzos for the BBC have already been released, firstly on Unpeeled (Strange Fruit CD 1995) and more recently on The Complete BBC Recordings (Strange Fruit CD 2002). The 2007 Liberty re-releases of Gorilla, Let’s Make Up And Be Friendly and Tadpoles all contain further excellent BBC tracks, described so accurately by Stanshall in his interview with Brian Mathews as “insane spewings of our collective genius”.

Sounds about right.

Sleevenotes: Apollo C. Vermouth

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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