The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (also known as The Bonzo Dog Band) is a band created by a group of British art-school denizens of the 1960s. Combining elements of music hall, trad jazz, psychedelic pop with surreal humour and avant-garde art, the Bonzos came to the attention of a broader British public through a 1968 ITV comedy show, Do Not Adjust Your Set.
- 2 Band members
- 3 Tributes
- 4 Discography
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 Further reading
- 8 External links
Unusually for a band, the actual date of conception for the Bonzos is known: 25 September 1962. It was on that day that Vivian Stanshall (tuba, but later lead vocals along with other wind instruments) and fellow art student Rodney Slater (saxophone) bonded over a transatlantic broadcast of a boxing match between Floyd Patterson and Sonny Liston.
Slater had previously been playing in a trad jazz band at college with Chris Jennings (trombone) and Tom Parkinson (sousaphone). Roger Wilkes (trumpet) was the founder of the original band at the Royal College of Art, along with Trevor Brown (banjo). They slowly turned their style from more orthodox music towards the sound of The Alberts and The Temperance Seven. Stanshall was their next recruit and on that day in 1962, he and Rodney christened them. The Bonzo Dog Dada Band. Bonzo the dog was a popular British cartoon character created by artist George Studdy in the 1920s, and Dada after the early 20th-century art movement.
Not long after Stanshall, Slater and Parkinson were evicted from their shared flat, the band added two more faces to the line-up: Goldsmiths College lecturer Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell and his lodger, songwriter/pianist, Neil Innes. According to Innes' website, the Bohay-Nowell was added to Vernon Dudley's name by Stanshall, although this can be seen to be untrue. Vernon's parents were Walter Nowell and Bessie Bowhay. Unwilling to lose the unusual 'Bowhay' part of the name, they gave their children Vernon Dudley and Peter the name 'Bowhay' as an addendum to the surname 'Nowell'. Hence Vernon always had been Vernon Dudley Bowhay Nowell. It seems unlikely that Vernon ever used this in 'real' life before Stanshall's suggestion. Vernon's son Toby also goes by "Bowhay-Nowell".
The band had been working with drummer Tom Hedge before Rodney found Martin Ash, who later took the stage name of Sam Spoons and shortly afterwards got them their first pub gig, where they were noticed by Roger Ruskin Spear. Ruskin Spear, the son of the British artist Ruskin Spear, claimed, "I couldn't believe anyone was that bad." He eventually changed his mind and, with his interest in the manufacture of early electronic gadgets/objets d'art and sound-making systems soon became an integral part of the band.
The line-up changed again with the departure of Roger Wilkes and John Parry, the trombonist. The two were replaced by, respectively, Bob Kerr and "Big" Sid Nichols. The final 'classic' band member, "Legs" Larry Smith joined in 1963, as a tuba player and tap-dancer (but later as a drummer), on Stanshall's invitation. The band's fortunes began to increase when Reg Tracey secured them a deal with Parlophone in April 1966. Their first single, a cover of the 1920s song, "My Brother Makes The Noises for the Talkies", was backed with "I'm Going To Bring A Watermelon to My Girl Tonight". A second single, "Alley Oop", backed with "Button Up Your Overcoat" followed in October of that year. Neither single sold well. It was around this time that, according to Neil Innes, the band learned a lesson in the pitfalls of show business, although this ultimately helped to move them in a new direction:
- "Our trumpeter then was Bob Kerr, great player, and a fun guy. But he was friends with (producer) Geoff Stephens, who'd made "Winchester Cathedral" with session men. And he knew Bob, so he rang Bob up saying: 'What am I going to do? Winchester Cathedral's a hit, and I've got no band to promote it.' So Bob came, flushed with excitement, to the rest of us at our digs, saying, 'We can be The New Vaudeville Band!' and we said, 'Certainly not, no way!' So, Bob couldn't understand this, so we said, 'Well, go, you go and do it then, if you want to. Go, never darken our towels again!', kind of thing. But the next thing, on Top of the Pops, was the New Vaudeville Band, with the singer looking exactly like Viv, in a sort of lamé suit, all the musicians wearing the kind of suits we were wearing, with two-tone shoes. They'd even nicked the cutout comic speaking balloons, which we made out of hardboard, with a fret saw, and painted white, and then wrote, 'Wow, I'm really expressing myself!' to hold over somebody's head while they did a saxophone solo. There was the entire image, and for the next few weeks people were saying to us, 'Hey, you're like that New Vaudeville Band!' And that's when I think Legs Larry Smith, said "Well look ...' - he'd always been arguing for doing some more modern material, so we all said, 'Right, now we start writing our own stuff.' "
Although the Bonzos had started out playing jazz, they decided to embrace rock in order to counter claims that they were beginning to sound like The Temperance Seven and The New Vaudeville Band. (In fact Geoff Stephens asked the Bonzos to perform as the New Vaudeville Band. They declined. Former Bonzo Bob Kerr joined The New Vaudeville Band and went on to create his own band, Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band.)
As the Bonzo Dog band's popularity increased, they were asked by Paul McCartney to appear in the Magical Mystery Tour film at the end of 1967, performing "Death Cab For Cutie". Around the same time, they were hired as the resident band on Do Not Adjust Your Set, an afternoon children's comedy show notable for starring several future members of Monty Python's Flying Circus (Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin), Denise Coffey, and David Jason in the cast. The band performed every week as well as sometimes participating in sketches.
After signing with the US-based Liberty Records label, the Bonzos released their first album, Gorilla (1967), produced by Gerry Bron. The LP included "Jazz, Delicious Hot, Disgusting Cold" which savagely parodied their early "trad" jazz roots and featured some of the most deliberately inept jazz playing ever recorded. The record label allowed two hours of studio time per track, so it was completed in a single take to allow for the far more complex "The Intro and the Outro" in which every member of the band was introduced and played a solo, starting with genuine band members, before including such improbable members as John Wayne on xylophone, Adolf Hitler on vibes, and J. Arthur Rank on gong, Prime Minister Harold Wilson on violin, The Wild Man of Borneo, Val Doonican, Horace Batchelor, and Lord Snooty and His Pals.
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The first album was recorded on a four-track tape recorder, as was typical for 1967. Due to the limited number of tracks, most of the non-band "personnel" were simply faded in and out.
They had a hit single in 1968 with "I'm the Urban Spaceman" produced by Paul McCartney and Gus Dudgeon under the collective pseudonym "Apollo C. Vermouth". The Beatles were fans of the group. The anarchic twelve bar blues"Trouser Press" — featuring a solo by Roger Ruskin Spear on a genuine trouser press he had fitted with a pick-up – gave its name to an American anglophile rock magazine Trouser Press. "Can Blue Men Sing the Whites?" lampooned the British blues boom, and tap dancer/drummer "Legs" Larry Smith was an on-stage hit with his lubricious dancing (he had actually trained as a child in tap dancing). Many of their songs parodied parochial suburban British attitudes, notably "My Pink Half of the Drainpipe" on the album The Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse (a euphemism for an outside toilet, still common in the United Kingdom at the time).
In 1969 they released their third album Tadpoles. Most of the songs on this album were also performed by the group on Do Not Adjust Your Set. The same year they also released their fourth album Keynsham and appeared at the Isle of Wight Festival. Keynsham is a small town near Bristol in south-west England. According to Neil Innes' account, the name of the album derived from an oft-repeated advertisement played on Radio Luxembourg in the 1950s and early 1960s, which promoted a dubious method of forecasting results for football matches (and using these results in football pools). In the advertisement, which was of great length, Horace Batchelor, inventor of 'the amazing Infra Draw method', would repeatedly spell his postal address of K-E-Y-N-S-H-A-M for those listeners who wished to purchase his secret. Batchelor had earlier been name-checked (alongside "Zebra Kid") performing on percussion in "The Intro and the Outro".
The Bonzos toured the United States with The Who and also appeared at the Fillmore East with The Kinks. Introduced as a "warm-up act" for the real show, the Bonzos rushed out and did a series of frenetic calisthenics. True to the dada spirit, Stanshall performed a mock striptease and Roger Ruskin Spear, with a platoon of robots (including one that sang "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles" while actually blowing bubbles), did whatever he did without regard for what the rest of the band was doing. They undertook another American tour at the end of 1969. The band had a meeting and decided to split on their return to the UK. The group played their final gig in January 1970.
While the group formally disbanded in 1970, their record company compelled them to reunite in late 1971 to fulfil a contractual obligation and record a final album. Titled Let's Make Up And Be Friendly, the album was released in 1972. The edition of the Bonzo Dog Band that made the "Friendly" LP featured only Stanshall, Innes and bassist Dennis Cowan from the "classic" earlier line-ups, although Roger Ruskin Spear appears on one track, and "Legs" Larry Smith on two. Rodney Slater is also listed as appearing "in spirit" in the album's credits.
The band also did live appearances in the UK in 1974, appearing at least at the University of Kent, Rutherford College, and University of York, Goodricke College.
Various members of The Bonzos (including Stanshall and Innes) reconvened in 1988 to record a new single, "No Matter Who You Vote For the Government Always Gets In (Heigh Ho)". The recording was meant to tie in with a current British election, but was not released at the time; instead, the single came out just prior to the next British general election in 1992.
Coincidentally, one of the Bonzos' song titles, "Cool Britannia", was revived as a media label for late 1990s United Kingdom under Tony Blair.
The "No Matter Who You Vote For" single was Stanshall's final recording with the band; he died in a house fire in 1995.
On 28 January 2006 most of the surviving members of the band played a concert at the London Astoria, to celebrate the band's official 40th anniversary. Neil Innes, "Legs" Larry Smith, Roger Ruskin Spear, Rodney Slater, Bob Kerr, Sam Spoons and Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell appeared. There were also a number of special guests attempting with various degrees of success to be Vivian Stanshall, one of two members of the band not still living (the other being bass player Dennis Cowan). The various Stanshall impersonators included Stephen Fry, Ade Edmondson, Phill Jupitus and Paul Merton (who needed to read the words to "Monster Mash" from cue cards at the show). The classic Bonzo stage antics were in evidence, including performances on the Theremin Leg and Trouser Press. The show was filmed and was broadcast on BBC Four and also released on DVD in May 2006.
A countrywide tour, with Ade Edmondson and Phill Jupitus, followed during November 2006, starting in Ipswich and ending with two nights at the Shepherds Bush Empire, where Paul Merton and Bill Bailey joined in for a handful of songs. David Catlin-Birch (lead guitar and vocals) joined the band for the tour; Catlin-Birch has also been a member of World Party and The Bootleg Beatles.
Officially calling themselves The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band again, the group released a live double CD of the Astoria concert titled Wrestle Poodles... And Win! on 13 November 2006.
On 10 December 2007, the band released their first new studio album in 35 years, a 28-track album titled Pour l'Amour des Chiens.
The reunited line-up were due to perform again in 'The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band Christmas Show' on Friday 21 December and Saturday 22 December 2007 at the Shepherds Bush Empire in London, but the shows were postponed without explanation. The shows were later played in 2008.
An ultimatum with Innes around this time forced his hand and he stepped down as band leader, leaving the rest of the Bonzos 'in charge'. Whilst Vernon and Larry drifted away to play as 'Bonzomania', Roger, Rodney and Sam remained together and joined up with pianist David Glasson (ex Whoopee Band) and tweaked the name slightly to Three Bonzos and a Piano. Since October 2008, they have undertaken regular gigs. They have included appearances from "Legs" Larry Smith and Vernon Dudley Bohay Nowell and thus now constitute the largest number of surviving Bonzos playing together. Three Bonzos and a Piano launched a new CD Hair of the Dog at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London on 6 February 2010, featuring new numbers from all band members and some re-workings of older favourites. Larry and Vernon were at the Bloomsbury gig. In 2012 they released another CD, Bum Notes.
Innes toured the United States in 2009 and 2010, having performed a number of shows in 2009 in the UK. He currently plays with the Idiot Bastard Band, along with Phill Jupitus, Adrian Edmondson, and Raw Sex drummer Rowland Rivron. They play a mixture of original comedy songs and covers, including some Bonzos numbers.
In 2009, Angry Penguin Ltd published the first history of the band, Jollity Farm, written by Bob Carruthers and edited by David Christie, with comprehensive interviews with all the core members of the group. The first release also included a limited edition DVD featuring the band's 2007 reunion performance at the Shepherds Bush Empire, which included several performances from that show which had not been previously released.
On 30 April 2012, Poppydisc Records re-issued a vinyl version of Stanshall's Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead. This is an official Stanshall family sanctioned release, remastered with new liner notes from his widow and daughter.
The core members of the group for most of the band's career were:
- 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 (b. 1943): tenor sax and various contraptions
- "Legs" Larry Smith (b. 1944): drums
The band's onstage line-up varied, sometimes on a weekly basis, and they also invited a number of guest musicians into the recording studio. Additional members of various duration include: Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell, Martin "Sam Spoons" Ash, "Happy" Wally Wilks, Tom Parkinson, Chris Jennings, Claude Abbo, Trevor Brown, Tom Hedge, Eric Idle, Eric Clapton, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Leon Williams, John Parry, Raymond Lewitt,Sydney "Big Sid" Nicholls, James "Jim Strobes" Chambers, Bob Kerr, Dave Clague, Joel Druckman, "Borneo" Fred Munt, Chalky Chalkey, Dennis Cowan, Aynsley Dunbar, Jim Capaldi, Anthony 'Bubs' White, Andy Roberts, Dave Richards, Pete Currie, Dick Parry, Hughie Flint, Tony Kaye, and Glen Colson.
Stanshall and Innes were the band's principal songwriters, with occasional contributions from Spear, Slater and Smith. After the band's demise, both Innes and Stanshall became founding members of Grimms along with the members ofThe Scaffold and The Liverpool Scene.
Indie-rock band Death Cab for Cutie took their name from the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band song of the same name, and the psychedelic rock band Poisoned Electrick Head took their name from the last three words of the Bonzo's song, "My Pink Half of the Drainpipe".
- 1967 Gorilla (as The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band)
- 1968 The Doughnut in Granny's Greenhouse (chart #40) (released as Urban Spaceman in the US.) (as Bonzo Dog Band)
- 1969 Tadpoles (chart #36) (as Bonzo Dog Band)
- 1969 Keynsham (as Bonzo Dog Band)
- 1972 Let's Make Up and Be Friendly (as Bonzo Dog Band)
- 2007 Pour l'Amour des Chiens (as The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band)
- 1966 "My Brother Makes the Noises for the Talkies" / "I'm Going to Bring a Watermelon to My Girl Tonight" (Parlophone R5430)
- 1966 "Alley Oop" / "Button Up Your Overcoat" (Parlophone R5499)
- 1967 "Equestrian Statue" (Liberty LBF 15040)
- 1968 "I'm the Urban Spaceman" (UK Singles Chart: #5) (Liberty LBF 15144)
- 1969 "Mr. Apollo" (Liberty LBF 15201)
- 1969 "I Want to Be with You" (Liberty LBF 15273)
- 1969 "You Done My Brain In" (Liberty LBF 15314)
- 1972 "King of Scurf" (U.S.) / "Slush" (UK)
- 1992 "No Matter Who You Vote For, The Government Always Gets In (Heigh Ho)"
- 1970 The Best of the Bonzos
- 1971 The Alberts, The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, The Temperance Seven
- 1971 Beast of the Bonzos
- 1974 The History of the Bonzos
- 1983 Some of the Best of the Bonzo Dog Band
- 1984 The Very Best of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band
- 1990 The Bestiality of the Bonzos
- 1990 The Best of the Bonzo Dog Band
- 1990 The Peel Sessions
- 1992 Cornology (3-CD set)
- 1995 Unpeeled
- 1999 Anthropology: The Beast Within
- 2000 New Tricks
- 2002 The Complete BBC Recordings (revised re-release of Unpeeled)
- 2006 Wrestle Poodles... And Win! (live album)
- 2007 Expanded EMI remasters of all five original studio LPs
- 2011 A Dog's Life (3-CD set - revised re-release of Cornology using the 2007 remasters)
- 2013 Two Original Classic Albums (budget re-release of Gorilla and Doughnut remasters)