[Bonzo Dog]
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Text of the "Urban Spacemen Do Exist!" Booklet

With thanks to Annie Sattler.

No writer's credits or date given.

The amazing fact about the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band is that it became a household name long before it had a record in the chart. In the two and a half years of its professional existence, the band has blasted, joked and warbled its chaotic way into most people's minds to earn itself the reputation "once seen, never forgotten".

To see them onstage is the be plunged into a rather pleasant nightmare of garish costumes, grotesque electrical machines and six people running around not playing the same instrument for more than a minute at a time.

You sit in agony of waiting for the next explosion.

Roger Ruskin Spear is the little one with the dark floppy hair who does more running around than anyone else. The others acknowledge him as their most talented instrumentalist as he can play all the reed instruments, piano and trumpet. But Roger admits that he seems to play less and less now. His time is taken up coaxing his various electrical inventions into unpredictable and often disastrous action.

Offstage at his home in Kingston, Surrey, Roger is still to be found running around, coping with a medley of cats, longhaired dachshund and his two year old son, Justin. His wife, Susann, stays wisely in the safety of the kitchen as Roger retires to his workshop.

It is here that most of the band's extraordinary electrical devices start. It is a jungle of wires; painted tailor's dummies with huge flashing eyes stare down from shelves. Above a huge tape recorder Roger built for himself stands a glass case containing two doll's heads - the case surmounted by the dummy head of a woman. The case is labeled: "Expectant Auto Mother," below which is printed "Warning - this machine is very boring."

The trouser press which inspired Vivian Stanshall's song Do The Trouser Press, stands uncertainly in the middle of the room, held together by elastic bands and adhesive tape.

All the original Bonzo's - Vivian, Rodney Slater and Neil Innes - went to art school. They were joined later by Roger and Larry Smith, who were also both art students. It is Roger's art training combined with a scholastic flair for maths and physics that have resulted in his inventions. None of them was built at a tremendous cost. They mostly just happened from old bicycle wheels, tailors' dummies, signs and pieces that caught Roger's eye.

In the case of the notorious publicity machine, which was fortunately garaged in Islington at the time of my visit, it was converted from an old washing machine. It has a stock of replies to any question posed to it, and feeds out reams of lavatory paper while a pair of hands type busily on a typewriter.

"At the beginning we all used to bring odd things along when we were playing in pubs to surprise each other," explained Roger, "and then my machines began to happen."

"I suppose they're in lieu of painting, but not really sculpture. I set them up as part of the stage act now without thinking, like tying your shoe laces. I play a bit and then run to a machine. I was going to play bass at one point until we got our new bass player, Dennis, and that would really have chained me down.

"We're afraid of people coming up to us and saying 'oh yes, very nice, but I've seen it all before'. I'm always very worried because I've got so many bits of wire and tape and straps that they might go wrong any minute and I'd have to excuse myself and laugh gingerly."

Invariably they do go wrong, or else some of the things the band had planned to do are banned at the last minute, so they are constantly on the precipice of ad-libbing.

"Our act seems chaotic, but it is ordered and not irresponsible chaos," explained Roger. "Out of chaos comes something creative sometimes. We enjoy the fact that if it does go wrong you really are fighting for your life."

"The audience can see it happening and they enjoy seeing something being done for them on the spot."

"This involves the audience which is what we want, and why our act is basically so theatrical. Once, we handed out whistles and got everyone to play them, and we fed out yards of plastic balloon at the Albert Hall to the audience. Another time, Vivian staged a fight in the gallery of a theatre and then threw a dummy over the edge.

"The difficulty is to keep the division between this sort of thing and actual physical damage to shake the audience out of their apathy. We thought of doing total blackouts, but some people are really afraid of the dark."

Roger rescued Justin before he smashed a lightbulb on to the tape recorder.

"I've thought of including Justin in the act, but I don't know if it would be right. I wanted to put him in a wig and bring him onto the stage at the Albert Hall saying he was Tiny Tim. He loves machinery, but he nearly electrocuted himself in here once, he had to go to hospital."

"We're very lucky to have got so far without a hit," said Roger. "People say to us, 'when you have a hit record we can do something.' Our ambition is to do a theatre show, in fact to have our own theatre somewhere where we could experiment."

"We could get the Mike Sammes Singers to sing about sausages and frying pans and coal bunkers, and get politicians up there. There are so many aspects of our work we haven't explored yet - exhibitions, films, we want to do a brain opera about cerebellums and things. Perhaps we may be able to raise the money ourselves to do what we want."

"If we had our own theatre we'd have to give people bits of paper to sign as they went in to say they'd accept responsibility of themselves."

[Bonzo Dog]
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