Monday, January 29, 2007

Do Not Adjust Your Set, Adjust Your Ears


If you're a Monty Python fan, you have to get thee hither to Daedelus Books & Music and pick up the deeply discounted DVDs of DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SET ($9.98 for the 2-disc set at Daedelus, $27 on Amazon) and AT LAST THE 1948 SHOW ($6.98 at Daedelus, $27 on Amazon). These two British TV series featured the two comedy camps that would eventually merge into Monty Python, THE 1948 SHOW featuring John Cleese and Graham Chapman (not to mention Marty Feldman!) and DO NOT ADUST YOUR SET featuring Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Eric Idle.

More importantly, DO NOT ADJUST YOUR SET launched the career of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, who were the house band of this children's program that aired on Britain's ITV channel from 1967-1969 (5 months after the last show in 1969, Monty Python was formed). So if you're a fan of the Bonzos, a 60s dada artschool ensemble, who described themselves as a cross between the jazzy vaudeville musicality of The Temperance Seven and the stage insanity of The Alberts, this is an essential purchase. Other than a brief Bonzos performance of "Death Cab for Cutie" in the Beatles' MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR, this is the only place you're likely to see live performances of this very visual comedy rock group.

As it's Monday morning and the coffee hasn't kicked in yet, I don't have the energy or mental fortitude to give a detailed history of the Bonzos, which I'll leave to the know-it-alls at Wikipedia, but here are some essential facts:

The Core Members:
* Vivian Stanshall (1943 - 1995): trumpet, lead vocals
* Neil Innes (b. 1944): piano, guitar, lead vocals
* Rodney "Rhino" Desborough Slater (b. 1944): saxophone
* Roger Ruskin Spear: tenor sax and various contraptions
* "Legs" Larry Smith: drums

The Name(s):
They were originally christened The Bonzo Dog Dada Band, after Bonzo the dog, a popular British cartoon character created by artist George Studdy in the 1920s and Dada, the early 20th century art movement. They later became known as the The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, The Bonzo Dog Bnd and, colloquially, as "The Bonzos."

And yes, the American indie rock band Death Cab For Cutie, from Bellingham, Washington, took their name from the Bonzo's song of that title, which originally appeared on their 1967 debut album Gorilla.

The Beatles Connection:
And speaking of "Death Cab for Cutie," here's the clip of the song from the Beatles' MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR TV special:

There was only one, "I'm the Urban Spaceman," written by Neil Innes and produced by fan-of-the-band Paul McCartney under the name Apollo C. Vermouth (another Beatles connection!).

McCartney later convinced John Lennon to add the Bonzos to the MAGICAL MYSTERY TOUR film.

Here's the promotional film for "Urban Spaceman":

Famous Alums:
Neil Innes and Vivian Stanshall were the two main songwriters of the Bonzos and their most illustrious alumni.

Neil Innes went on to become basically "the 7th Python," providing musical bits for and touring frequently with the Pythons stage act. He also wrote the music for the Beatles parody group The Rutles, playing the John Lennon character Ron Nasty (yet another Beatles connection!).

Vivian Stanshall was a cohort of Eric Clapton, Keith Moon of The Who (the two notoriously used to walk about London's East End dressed up as Nazi SS officers and Stanshall's influence may be why The Who Sell Out is so much fun) and Steve Winwood of Traffic (no doubt the reason why Traffic's first album is so fun and unlike anything else they ever did). Stanshall later co-wrote songs with Traffic ("Dream Gerard" from When the Eagle Flies) and Steve Winwood during Winwood's solo career, such as Arc of a Diver. (Other Traffic-Bonzo connections include Jim Capaldi filling in occasionally at gigs for "Legs" Larry Smith and members of Traffic backing Stanshall on his solo album Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead.) And Stanshall's mellifluous voice was featured as the narrator of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells. Stanshall's biggest post-Bonzos project was his spoof of the British Upper Class, Sir Henry At Rawlinson End, which spawned a theatrical show, an album, a radio program and even a 1980 film (starring Trevor Howard). Friends commented that Stanshall could have been another John Cleese had he not succumbed to his Triple-D demons of drink, drugs and depression.

Stanshall was found dead on 6 March 1995, after a fire at his Muswell Hill flat. According to Wikipedia, "Though Stanshall often smoked and drank in bed and even set fire to his long ginger beard, to the frequent concern of his friends, the coroner found that the fire was caused by faulty wiring near his bed."

A one-hour television documentary, Vivian Stanshall: The Canyons of his Mind (2003), was broadcast on BBC Four in June 2004.

"Legs" Larry Smith toured with Clapton and Elton John and can be heard tap dancing on John's "I Think I'm Going to Kill Myself." He also released a picture-sleeve single that featured a great cover of "Springtime For Hitler" (a song originally on the soundtrack of Mel Brooks' THE PRODUCERS) backed with the thematic "I've Got a Braun New Girl."

Richie Unterberger's Urban Spacemen and Other Wayfaring Strangers dedicates a chapter to the band he describes as "British music hall and vaudeville revivalists who became the prince clowns of the rock underground, with exploding robots, urban spacemen, and a priceless sense of humor that inspired Monty Python."

The Kinks Connection:
According to a Web fansite, someone in a record shop who spotted a Kinks 1989 CD called Shangri-La: A Tribute to the Kinks noticed that the liner notes said something about how they (The Kinks or the record company who put out the compilation) were working on We Are Normal And We Dig Bert Weedon: A Tribute To The Bonzos. I'd like to think it was Ray Davies behind this effort. After all, The Kinks had a similar sense of humor and appreciation for the Bonzo's music hall/vaudeville roots and, well, Viv Stanshall did live in Muswill Hills, home of the Muswill Hillbillies.


The Region 2 Connection:
If you're lucky enough to have an all-region DVD player, there's a British DVD of the Bonzos called Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band - The Complete Nutter History Of the Bonzo available from Amazon.UK.

It was 40 Years Ago Today:
If you can handle the absence of Vivian Stanshall (Stephen Fry and Adrian Edmondson fill in on vocals), Stateside there's the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band 40th Anniversity (2006) DVD, which is a recording of a reunion concert.

Videos (YouTube):

Equestrian Statute (2:43)

Look Out, There's a Monster Coming

I'm the Urban Spaceman (Beat Club 1969, 2:09)

Beautiful Zelda (2:43)

By A Waterfall (2:48)

Hunting Tigers Out In India (3:37)

Urban Spaceman/Canyons of Your Mind (4:42)

On the NEW FACES Show 1966 (5:59)

Big Shot (Jazz Bilden - Pt 1, German TV, 8:12)

Urban Spaceman/Quite Talks and Summer Walks (Jazz Bilden - Pt 2, 8:04)

Canyons Of Your Mind/Trouser Press (Jazz Bilden - Pt 3, 5:31)

Interview (Jazz Bilden - Pt 4, 4:04)
An interview with Neil Innes from a concert film of the Bonzo Dog Band in Germany. Neil tries to talk about the Bonzos in serious terms. An apparently drunk Vivian Stanshall and Roger Ruskin-Spear show up at the end.

Mixed Pathe Outtakes (8:11)
Mixed Pathe outtakes with karaoke "Cool Britania", the unreleased "It was a great party till somebody found a hammer" and a 1920's recording of "Jolity Farm"

Little Sir Echo (2:03)

Related Links:
Bonzo Dog Band (Wikipedia)
The Rutles (Wikipedia)
Do Not Adjust Your Set (BBC Guide To Comedy)
Do Not Adjust Your Set (Wikipedia)
Vivian Stanshall (Wikipedia)
Viv Archive (Vivian Stanshall Fan Website)
George Studdy (Wikipedia)
Bonzo the Dog (
Bonzo Dog UK Website
Ian Kitching's Bonzo Dog Website
Ginger Geezer (Fan Website)
Bonzos On YouTube
Dave Thompson Article on the Bonzos
Neil Innes Website
Bonzos on Myspace


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