[Bonzo Dog]

The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - a History

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The Intro and the Outro

The Bonzo Dog Dada Band was formed in the period 1962-1965, named after George Studdy's famous 1920s/30s postcard puppy Bonzo Dog and the Dada anti-art movement.

Vivian Stanshall and Rodney Slater (who shared digs) had rehearsal sessions in the Royal College of Art canteen, forming the Band, later changing the name to The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. By 1965 there were enough people for the group to venture out to pub gigs.

Their early success occurred in a number of London pubs and the club circuit of North-East England. They drew from the comedy and novelty songs of 1900-1930, wore 1920s garb and followed the eccentric music hall tradition in their antics and comic sketches, leading to comparisons with The Temperance Seven, Spike Jones and His City Slickers and Sid Millward's Nitwits.

Vivian cited another source:

If there was any influence at all, it would be The Alberts or the Commedia del Arte.

Neil Innes said:

We're not doing a Temperance Seven, we're murdering them.

His blurb on By Jingo, It's British Rubbish points out they wanted to be somewhere between The Alberts and The Temps.

A press release described their act as:

A ballet for the vulgar.

Viv Stanshall and Larry Smith were at Central London Art College, Roger Ruskin-Spear was at Ealing College with Pete Townshend, Neil Innes at Goldsmith's and Rodney Slater at St. Martin's. Neil lived in the same house as Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell. When they completed their art courses in July 1966 they turned professional.

Look Out, There's A Monster Coming

In late 1966 Geoff Stephens offered them the job of being the New Vaudeville Band following the success of Winchester Cathedral, recorded by session musicians. Only Bob Kerr wanted to do it and he left the Bonzos, later forming Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band which still [1994] carries on the early Bonzo tradition. Subsequent comments such as "you're just like the New Vaudeville Band" pushed the Bonzos towards rock music.

We Are Normal and We Dig Bert Weedon

[1967 photo] By 1967 they had moved on from the pub circuit to night clubs such as The Flamingo and Paul Raymonde's Revue Bar and had evolved a style based largely on Neil and Vivian's own compositions. Their anarchic, highly visual shows appealed to the underground music audience then evolving from places like the UFO Club in Tottenham Court Road.

Vivian's Death Cab For Cutie from the Gorilla album was featured in the Beatles' film Magical Mystery Tour, Paul McCartney having been to some Bonzo gigs and having managed to persuade John Lennon that it was a good idea. This lead to Rodney appearing in many publicity photos with a Lump It John T-shirt.

Gorilla was delayed for a month as Quintin Hogg MP (later Lord Hailsham) objected to his mention on The Intro And The Outro: "and now just arriving, Quintin Hogg on piggy-grunt". The band had to re-record the track without the reference.

Wrestle Poodles and Win!

They shortened their name to The Bonzo Dog Band by the time of their second album, The Doughnut In Granny's Greenhouse.

Their first UK Top 5 hit I'm The Urban Spaceman (Oct. '68) was produced by Paul McCartney and Gus Dudgeon under the pseudonym Apollo C. Vermouth. The song had been unveiled on the TV series Do Not Adjust Your Set, on which they performed many songs which appeared on their third album Tadpoles and the earlier albums.

By now their live act had become highly polished, with Roger's robots and other props plus antics by `Legs' Larry, Vivian and others.

We Were Wrong

After recording the 1968 Christmas TV special Do Not Adjust Your Stocking they were exhausted but things improved when Tony Stratton-Smith of Charisma Records took over as personal manager, Gerry Bron and Liberty Records retaining other rights.

Two U.S. tours followed, with cult success (including a concert at Fillmore West with Joe Cocker and the Byrds) but the record company failed to distribute records properly to back them up and financial problems forced the Bonzos to go home early from the second tour.

On the day that Neil Armstrong first walked on the Moon, they were due to play at Cork sports stadium in Ireland with The Nice and Yes but the stage was incomplete and the only power supply was a single socket in the ticket hut. There was no sign of organisers or audience. They ended up chasing their manager and his accountant across the pitch crying "debag the rotters!".

The Bonzos appeared at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival, with Jim Capaldi from Traffic taking over from Larry on drums who was now out in front taking part in the antics.

Bad Blood

After their fourth album Keynsham, Vivian and Arthur Brown worked on a project for the Bonzos called Brain Opera, part of which (Excerpt From The Brain Opera) was recorded for John Peel's Top Gear. The Bonzo's management was unhappy with The Brain Opera ("They likened it to an end-of-term revue by medical students" - Roger Ruskin-Spear) and there was pressure for another hit.

Vivian announced the breakup of the Bonzos at a gig at the Lyceum Ballroom in January 1970 - this had been decided collectively in New York at the end of their disastrous second U.S. tour. The Bonzos played their final gig at Loughborough University in March 1970, though their contract required one more album: Let's Make Up And Be Friendly. There was a reunion single No Matter Who You Vote For, The Government Always Gets In for the 1987 General Election but it wasn't released until 1992.

Labio Dental Fricative

[biG GRunt] Vivian Stanshall formed the short-lived Sean Head Showband with Dennis Cowan, Eric Clapton and Rema Kabaka. Next he formed Vivian Stanshall & His Gargantuan Chums and the biG GRunt with Dennis, Roger Ruskin Spear and Bonzo roadie `Borneo' Fred Munt. Their one single Blind Date was produced by Keith Moon (the flip side being the Chum's Suspicion). Since the mid-70s Vivian pursued a variety of projects, mostly based around Rawlinson End.

A Hard Day's Rut

Neil Innes formed The World with Dennis Cowan, Roger McKew and Ian Wallace. They made one album, Lucky Planet, but they split up before it was due to come out. Dennis went on to the biG GRunt and Ian to King Crimson. Neil and Vivian guested on The Scaffold's Do The Albert. Neil recorded solo for United Artists, producing the album How Sweet To Be An Idiot and also worked with groups such as McGuinness Flint and Grimms and with the Monty Python team, appearing in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. He teamed up with Eric Idle for Rutland Weekend Television and the spin-off The Rutles and then got his own TV series The Innes Book of Records.

Trouser Freak

Roger Ruskin Spear toured with Roger Ruskin Spear & His Giant Orchestral Wardrobe (a.k.a. Roger Ruskin Spear & His Giant Kinetic Wardrobe). He then formed the groups Tatty Ollity with Sam Spoons and then The Slightly Dangerous Brothers with Dave Glasson. Later he appeared with Sam Spoons's Bill Posters Will Be band but is now an art lecturer.

`Legs' Larry Smith recorded Witchi Tai To (as Topo D. Bil), featuring members of Yes and Roger Ruskin Spear. He went on to make cameo appearances with John Cale, George Harrison, and Elton John, amongst others, before recording a version of Springtime For Hitler for Mel Brooks' film The Producers.

Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell had a cameo role in the film of Rawlinson End and sometimes plays with Tatty Ollity. He also plays in Les Onions (with John Parker, Pete Shade, Dave Newton and Mike Piggot) and Les Anglais (with Dave Newton and Pete Shade).

Rodney Slater appeared with various groups such as the Infamous New Titanic Band, Fortran 5 and White's Scandals and is now a social worker, though still keeping up performing. He made occasional appearances with Vivian and performs with the Bill Posters Will Be band.

There's a Bonzos tribute album in development, featuring contributions from many famous musicians, and possibly a video.

Eric Idle (in Sgt. Rutter in PythOnline) quotes George Harrison as saying "What should have happened is that the Bonzos and the Beatles should have turned into one great Rutle band with all the Pythons and had a laugh..." And if the The Scaffold/Grimms had been included too...


[Bonzo Dog]
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