The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band - a History
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
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.
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  carries on the early Bonzo tradition.
Subsequent comments such as "you're just like the New Vaudeville Band" pushed
the Bonzos towards rock music.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
(the flip side being the Chum's Suspicion).
Since the mid-70s Vivian pursued a variety of projects,
mostly based around Rawlinson End.
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.
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,
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
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...
- Contributed by Graham Hinton:
I saw a Bonzo Reunion in 1975/6 (?) at the New Theatre in Oxford and
part of OU's first (and probably only, disasterous) rag week. It was sadly
supported by a few dozen people, but the response to "have you got a light,
Mack?" was deafening!
On the bill were:
Vivian Stanshall (who opened wearing a 2 foot strap on penis & "clacker"
balls which he propped up on the mic stand, posed with his hands behind his
head and pronounced the whole gig as "a load of this") with special guest
tap dance by Legs Larry Smith;
Roger Ruskin Spear with "Thunderclap" Newman (plus a few robots);
Bob Kerr's Whoopee Band [no Neil Innes though].
The Bird In The Hand in Forest Hill,
The Tiger's Head in Catford
and The Deuragon in Hackney.
- We Are Normal
Spotted by Bob Kruse in a record shop: a Kinks 1989 CD called Shangri-La,
a tribute to the Kinks, mentions that they were working on
We Are Normal And We Dig Bert Weedon: A Tribute To The Bonzos.
The shop found a listing of a title
We're All Normal And We Want ... in a catalogue of Indie releases.
This CD is probably We're All Normal And We Want Our Freedom,
a tribute to Arthur Lee and Love and presumably relates to the line in
We Are Normal.
John Hogan pointed out that "We are normal and we want our freedom"
appears in Peter Weiss's "Marat/Sade" (written 1965 or so; translation by Peter Brooks, he thinks);
it's spoken by the asylum inmates who are playing French revolutionaries
in the Marquis de Sade's play about the murder of Marat. He THINKS that was its first appearance.
- Bert Weedon
A well-known guitarist in the 60s and also known for a teach-yourself-guitar course.
He was the early inspiration for Mike Oldfield.
Whilst browsing through Andy's Records 2nd-hand section
(the 60s, "B"s - looking for Bonzos - Andy's files by first letter!),
I saw they had 5 or 6 Bert Weedon records: these seemed to be broadly easy listening.
Specially for trivia freaks (Charts credit):
- UK-Charted albums
- King Size Guitar 1960 Top Rank BUY 026
Reached no. 18; in charts for 1 week
- 22 Golden Guitar Greats 1976 Warwick WW 5019
Reached no. 1; in charts for 25 weeks
- UK-Charted singles
- Guitar Boogie Shuffle 1959 Top Rank JAR 117
No. 10; 9 weeks
- Nashville Boogie 1959 Top Rank JAR 221
No. 29; 2 weeks
- Big Beat Boogie 1960 Top Rank JAR 300
No. 37; 4 weeks
- Twelfth Street Rag 1960 Top Rank JAR 360
No. 47; 2 weeks
- Apache 1960 Top Rank JAR 415
No. 24; 4 weeks
- Sorry Robbie 1960 Top Rank JAR 517
No. 28; 11 weeks
- Ginchy 1961 Top Rank JAR 537
No. 35; 5 weeks
- Mr. Guitar 1961 Top Rank JAR 559
No. 47; 1 week
- Vivian Stanshall and Neil Innes
I have long thought there are striking parallels between the three
pairs of well-known poet/songsmiths in the late 60s:
They were known to each other, either then or subsequently.
- UFO Club
Also known as "UFO - Night Tripper" and co-founded by Joe Boyd.
One of the resident bands was The Pink Floyd.
Unsurprisingly, some of the Bonzos is reminiscent of
Syd Barrett's work,
such as We Are Normal on
The Doughnut In Granny's Greenhouse.
A closer look at London Live;
- Isle of Wight Festival
Not the subsequent year's one (31st August 1970), which is reckoned to be the
last of the great tribal gatherings of that era (half a million people). Jimi Hendrix's
performance at that one is regarded as one of his finest (he died 18 days later).
- The Final Gig
I can clearly remember heading South down the M1 in the early hours of the
morning after the Bonzo Dog Band's last gig.
It had been a riotous evening
with all sorts of `famous guests' joining in, most memorably, chief roadie
Fred Munt's throat-ripping Long Tall Sally. It was bloody good!
It was the end of an era - or possibly ear ache - and I was full
of conflicting thoughts, mostly sad, and emotionally drained.
No one said much in the car, a bulbous, gas-guzzling American Ford Galaxy.
This was how far we'd come in material terms.
We had all slipped into a silence of exquisite fatigue with no wit to
woo us. It was a special silence. No lambs, just owls.
Five fun years of unabashed silliness, endless travel, buying out
confused managers, and no holidays, had left us mentally and physically
exhausted and we had all agreed it had to end - while it was still
- Eric Clapton
Vivian met Eric at art college and
the Bonzos had appeared with Cream at the Saville
Theatre in London on Oct. 29th 1969.
Eric was at Kingston College of Art around 1961-62
but failed and started playing in folk pubs and clubs at night
(being a building site worker during the day).
- McGuinness Flint
Contributed by Bob Kruse
- 1970 McGuinness Flint
- 1971 Happy Birthday, Ruby Baby
with guest keyboardist Nicky Hopkins
- 1972 Lo And Behold : Songs Of Bob Dylan
by Coulson, Dean, McGuinness and Flint
- 1973 Rainbow
- 1974 C'est La Vie
- Legs & George Harrison
Contributed by Afroray@aol.com:
George Harrison had the closing song
Ladies and Gents (His Name Is Legs)
on his 1975 album called Extra Texture (Read All About It).
It was released on Apple and reissued on Fame (EMI budget imprint, mid-80s)
and may be available on CD now. It features Legs talking about nothing in
particular at a fairly incomprehensible speed.
Legs also released (1981?) a flexi single of
Springtime For Hitler - available in blue and orange and
free with Richard Branson's flop Event magazine.
- Bonzo video?
Contributed by Giles Booth - extracts from a Rutles chat session on
Firefly in early 1997:
"There are plans to make a video called "The Bonzo Dog Band Film and TV Scrapbook."
We're pretty close but it has to go on the back burner at the moment."