Sport & Auto
- About Future
- Digital Future
- Cookies Policy
- Terms & Conditions
- Investor Relations
- Contact Future
How did Vivian Stanshall become involved, and how did that change things?
"He used to live with Rog, and then he sort of became a merchant sailor, and so they separated for a bit. Then he went to Edinburgh and worked with Linsey Kemp. It was when he came back from Edinburgh – I mean he was huge, he was a big bloke with a big red beard - and he decided to go all slim. He did it one summer by huffing boxes of fish. Then he came back, and so when we had The Bird In Hand he joined in because there was a bit of money. But he was the first person to start putting on a show as it were. He started being the frontman, and he was brilliant at it.
"I think more and more people came to see him. Because when you saw Vivian, in the early days, it was dangerous. It was just brilliant, but we tried to keep him off the instruments as much as possible. We ended up playing five or six pubs a week. Then there were about nine of us in the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, then about seven, and then six."
The Bonzos had this kind of improvisational, anarchic sensibility, but it had steel in the walls - you were serious musicians as well. It made for a very interesting mix.
"It was a mix. Some of us could really, really play, and some were more enthusiastic! But it was fun driven. There was one chap who used to play a thing called a helicon, which is like a sousaphone light – it wrapped round him. All of a sudden one evening he decided he was going to do a magic trick, so he rolled a newspaper into a cone and then poured a pint of beer into it. And it went all over the floor. It made us laugh! And it didn't matter. That was the atmosphere we were in.
"The pubs were full of trad bands who were trying to play proper trad jazz. But they weren't looking for stupid songs. We looked over the junk shops for stupid titles, like 'I'm Gonna Bring A Water Melon To My Girl Tonight, Hunting Tigers Out In India, Ali Baba's Camel. So we were finding novelty songs and having a laugh. Then we developed the idea of having comedy speaking balloons cut out of hard board which we would hold over people's heads.
The Bonzos bring their brand of anarchy to the television, performing Hunting Tigers Out In India on Do Not Adjust Your Set.
"It was a very visual thing we did. So we became very notorious. By the time we finished college, it was a no-brainer. We were offered some work up north and we decided to take it. We set off in Vernon's Daimler Ambulance, with no back seat – we had ordinary chairs in the back! - and off we went, exploding grandfather clock and all."
It's a noticeable theme of your career, you always seem to have followed the fun. There doesn't appear to have been any cold, calculated approach to finding success.
"No, it's never planned. We used to surprise each other, pull tricks on each other, and it was like that on stage. We did a bit of work to get a good forty five minutes, but it was all based around that from then on! If anyone wanted to do anything new they did it, and it it got a laugh it stayed in. Then because we had to make albums, we had to write new songs, but most of the stuff we recorded we couldn't actually do live, so we did different kinds of things. We didn't have the stuff you have nowadays. When we do The Rutles, Mickey's virtually a symphony orchestra with the keyboards. So we did what we could and mucked about, and it was good fun."
But it was pretty successful too. Was it a surprise that it got so bit?
"Yeah, but we weren't counting! It was just happening. We worked for five years all together, without a holiday, and we bought off three managers. So we must have been doing quite well! Rick Wakeman pointed out the other day that the Bonzos were the first band to go over £200 a night without being in the charts. We were one of the top paid bands in the country. It was on reputation alone. Of course when we did have a hit record, it was even more – in a way, we became the kind of thing we were sending up."
But it's an enduring success with the Bonzos – they seem to gather fans as the years go by.
"There was a reunion in 2006, and that was forty years since the first single, My Brother Makes The Noises For The Talkies. I was against it at first – how are you going to replace Vivian? You can't. But they said 'some people would like to try,' and I said 'who?' Well, Stephen Fry, Adrian Edmondson, they all came and they were word perfect. We can't do Vivian, but we can enjoy the songs."