Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009


Neil Innes: The Bonzos, The Rutles and world domination / R.I.P

By TOM D'ANTONI // Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Band and the Rutles plus Monty Python passed away on Sunday, December 29 at 75. He was as silly as he was talented musically. Here's an OMN interview from 2010.

Neil Innes was about to tour the US with a Portland stop. I HAD to talk with him. Here's the result. It ran on April 23, 2010 -- Tom D'Antoni

There are people walking around for whom the Bonzo Dog (Doo Dah) Band was a life transforming experience.

Those people are silly.

Here's why. Note the guitar player, his name is Neil Innes, he was a key member of that band and he's the subject of this story.

Watch "Canyons of Your Mind" The Bonzo Dog Band with Neil Innes on guitar.

Like I said, silly.

Singer Vivian Stanshall is no longer with us, but Neil is. He will bring his "A People's guide to World Domination Crosses the Pond" show to the The Doug Fir Lounge.

“I've suffered for my music,” he tells America. “Now it's your turn.”

Innes was also a member of "The Rutles," the Beatles' send up. He worked on many Monty Python shows.

With The Bonzos, the closest thing to a hit they ever had was Innes's "I'm the Urban Spaceman" with Neil on lead vocals (below).

He called, one morning, from the UK:

Been a while since you've been here?

I haven't been to Portland since 2004.

I heard about that. There are, as you know, Bonzo fans...

Yes, I know. They're dotted about.

...closeted generally until they run into each other.

When I was there last people had a lot on their minds. I think George Bush had just got in again.

That'll put a damper on things, won't it?

It did a bit. People were suicidal.

I'm not dwelling on The Bonzos at the expense of the rest of your career but I did look at the DVD of your 40th Anniversary show the other day. It was quite chaotic.

It was a crash you could walk away from. Everybody in the audience seemed to enjoy it...grinning from ear to ear. Whoever did the lights liked red and so we all looked like beets. Somebody ran around screaming "Stop the red lights!" Any other time that venue is a gay disco. We didn't know till we got there.

It was a lot of fun. I didn't expect it to be as much fun...my main objection was...I mean how can you do it without Vivian? But with people like Stephen Fry...they said, "We can't be Vivian." I said, "No, for heaven's sake, you shouldn't try, but we can enjoy the songs" and that's what they did and it went quite well.

And we appreciated the chaos. I don't think we would have wanted it any other way.

Exactly. We wouldn't have lasted a week in Las Vegas, although you never know.

Are you surprised at all that grown men, to this day have conversations which many times include lines from Bonzo songs?

It's quite endearing, really. I still have fond memories of it because it was a great time and we had a good time doing it. We just got burnt out because we didn’t have a holiday in five years and we paid off five managers. We stopped arguing and we realized it was time to stop.

You're doing a one-man show?

It's the easiest thing to tour with because it doesn't include lining up other people and whatnot. It's been working very well. I've just been to Slovenia of all places, and they picked up on the language and everything. So I have a future in Slovenia...haha.

(Pause) There's a concept.

Taken you aback, has it? What's this old fool at 65 doing going all over the world doing a thing defending individualism...I don't know, I feel called to do it. We blow raspberries...we thumb our noses at the world...or the powers that be anyway.

We wouldn't have expected anything less. What is the nature of your one-man show and is it tiring?

I'm really enjoying it. Last year I was in Atlanta and I bought a really lovely Taylor...a ukulele and I just can't wait to pick it up again. I'm really enjoying myself.

The nature of the one-man show is really a cop...it's got this terrifying title, "A People's Guide to World Domination," but in fact, it turns out to be word-play and everyone is in on the joke by the end. It all feels very good. It's nice having that theme because some of the old songs fit into it. There'll be plenty of Bonzos, plenty of Python and plenty of Rutles, but also the new stuff...and it's woven together in such a way that surprises people and at the same time makes them laugh and think and feel.

Shakespeare does comedy and drama, that's what I do, only with better songs.

You'll have keyboards?

I've asked for a particular one, a Roland RD-170 because it has a voice button on it and on variation #4 it samples Brian Wilson and you get this wonderful doo-wop chorus. I just take it as it comes. I just take it from night to night. What is nice is trying to meet a hundred people or two hundred people and be able to still have a chat afterwards. It's really what it's about as far as I'm concerned, I've never been considered for half-time at the Super Bowl. I'd need a very very very big red nose for it to show up from a long way away.

Will you be bringing the ukulele? There's been a ukulele revival in the United States.

I know, I know, but those of us who have never left it think it's great. If enough people bring theirs we can have a mass ukulele band.

I've seen those, but there has not been a parallel George Formby revival here.

No. I don't think he was very big over there.

No, no one knows who he is.

I'm actively encouraging people to bring instruments to my shows.

Are you still in contact with the remaining Beatles?

I haven't seen Ringo for a while. I haven't seen Paul for a while. Same with the Pythons, we don't call each other every week, you know. "What's haaaaappening?" When we bump into each other, we bump into each other.

Watch "Back In '64" by The Rutles:

You must be well aware of the damage the Bonzos caused to the conciousness of many people in the United States.


Irreparable damage, Neil.

We called it enlightenment, Tom. Levity is what we want, not gravity, we want levity.

For the short run the Bonzos had, they influenced a lot of people in mysterious and sometimes unhealthy ways.

Naming a band after one of our songs is a bit odd...Death Cab for Cutie...just up the road from you in Seattle.

Watch "Death Cab for Cutie," the song not the band:

Perhaps you can explain the band's obsession with songs about clothing.

Shirts? I can tell you about the shirts. People don't know that bands, when they're on the road, for ever and ever, like six weeks at a time...laundry is an issue and having your shirts clean...normally we did a week in a town and then moved on to another for a week. We happened to drive into Manchester and passed a shop that said, "59 Minute Cleaners." We screeched to a halt, grabbed as many shirts as we could. We all rushed in and handed them over to the woman and got our tickets and said, "Well when will they be ready?" And she said, "Thursday." And we said, "What? The sign outside said '59 Minute Cleaners!'" And she said "That's just the name of the shop, love." We put that on the record. Shirts, trouser presses, it all has to do with travelling and laundry issues. We were always in the moment.

What projects are you working on now?

I'm going to be doing some podcasts and I've made a new CD with a track that was actually recorded in Nashville. I've been under the radar for the past ten years because I've been determined to get out of the clutches of the international publishing mafia. And now that I've got my catalog back, I'm going to be kind of a fame slut now.

Do you find that the surrealness of life seems to creep up on you awfully quickly and what you thought was surreal five years ago...

I know exactly what you're saying. It's getting funnier than you can ever imagine. How did Kafka know? The machine, the faceless controlling powers have gone mad. The forces of mass-mediocrity are too much. The naked emperor. Enough is enough.

It's dafter than you can imagine. I talked with John Cleese about this, we were trapped on the QE2. He said that when he was younger he thought the world was mostly sane but that there were pockets of insanity that you could influence with really good comedy and pull it round. But now he realizes that the majority of the world is insane with pockets of sanity that don't need comedy at all.

What are you looking forward to about being in the U.S. this time?

The same as before, meeting really good people...people who care about things and think about things and who like a good laugh...there's comfort in it. It's a big struggle because mass media looks at people as numbers not as individuals.

What will you be doing from the Bonzos and the Rutles?

We'll be telling stories about how we used to collect the old 78's and there will be some of the 78 things. Might do "Urban Spaceman." It's relevant to the show. It wasn't, as Frank Zappa suggested, about speed and drugs. It was really that building sites were called "urban spaces," at the time. I thought if there were urban spaces there should be urban spacemen. I thought he could be like those impossible people in TV commercials, all so happy and well-groomed and clean. They don't exist.

I thought, I'll sit at the piano and do a Rutles medley. There's a new Rutles show. All connected to the show. This is not all thrown together, Tom.


Here's an example of the other work of Mr. Innes: "How Sweet To Be an Idiot"

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