As "The Intro And The Outro" fades, Nicky's voice gently wafts in...
Nicky: Immortal stuff, "The Intro" there
from the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. I am delighted, absolutely honoured, what
a prestigious occasion it is to have with me one of the key members of that
particular band, a troubadour, a minstrel, a polymath, a man of many talents
who is with me tonight. Neil Innes, can I just tell the general public some
of the things you've been involved
Neil: Of course you can, Nicky, of course you can. You forgot the ice hockey by the way.
And the ice hockey as well, and the mud wrestling, and Rutland Weekend Television and 'All You Need Is Cash' of course, the Rutles. As Pete Best was the fifth Beatle, you were I suppose the seventh Python or something like that.
Yes. It's one of those difficult things like poor Donovan was called "The English Dylan". You're never what you think you are, it's what the public or sometimes PR people make you.
So you've had various images foisted upon you.
I have. Reluctantly.
Many of which we'll be hearing again in the next hour. Just looking at you, you haven't changed one iota since I last saw your cherubic little features staring at me on the old Python shows. And you're currently touring with a brand new show.
Yes, called "More Jam Tomorrow". It's sort of, what shall I say, a pastiche of Lewis Carroll's Alice In Wonderland, but not very much about Wonderland, only the bit about jam tomorrow from 'Through The Looking Glass', if you see what I mean, and it's not terribly Lewis Carroll, it's more like Shakespeare only with better songs.
Shakespeare had some lousy songs in his shows, didn't he?
I think the words were all right, but...
So these songs, I mean when you talk about a pastiche, some of it is parodic...
Yeah, well some of it could be a futuretiche as well if there's such a thing.
You've written some memorable parodic songs, do you ever get the urge to write a standard, you know, write a proper sensible song, something that Whitney Houston's gonna sing?
<sarcasm>Well, Whitney, yeah, she and I are like, well...</sarcasm> Yes, I've written a few actually, but I'm never sort of really allowed to do them, because people obviously expect me to be silly and pull faces or wear silly props and leap about. As I was saying earlier, very often you're not allowed to be who you'd like to be...
Who do you want to be then?
Well ... don't really know. Just a normal egocentric I suppose. I just want to be me! I ought to be able to do silly songs as well as straight songs.
Do you do straight songs?
Well I have written them, yeah.
They always have a sort of Neil Innes twist about them, though.
Well actually I've given up. I try to make the straight bits like a rhythm section and the silly bits on top, and you can figure it all out.
Have other people actually covered these serious attempts at songwriting?
Back in the seventies, Kevin Coyne did a song called "Lead Us", in fact, Elton John was actually singing harmonies on that. It was when I was with United Artists. And I wrote this other song that I hoped Frank Sinatra would do called "Said and Done."
Well was that a problem, when you wrote a song which you hoped Frank Sinatra would do, did you not end up writing a Sinatra pastiche?
No, that was real. That could be sung straight. In those days I was told to parody things because people thought that's what I was doing. In fact the Innes Book of Records television series came out of doing Rutland Weekend Television which gave birth to the Rutles, the prefab four...
And that was the ultimate in pastiche and parody wasn't it?
I mean taking those songs and doing them, writing new songs that sounded completely and utterly convincingly like the Beatles.
Yeah, well you never know that you can do these things until you're asked. I mean it wasn't as though I was sort of sitting there, waiting, 'oh if only somebody would ask me to parody the Beatles,' I mean literally it's your job to do it, and you do it.
I'd like to talk about that, just to know how you did it, did you go back to those original records and listen to the nuance, the musical nuance, the chord changes and the style, and really work hard on it?
I certainly worked hard on it! I thought the best thing was not pick up the records and listen to them at that stage. I thought I'd run it through my head, the first songs I remember hearing, and ended up with my version of Hold My Hand, you know, this is really exciting to hold a girl's hand for the first time. So those were in fact the hardest ones to write, and once I'd written them, the early stuff, I felt that I could then progress into the other stuff, the more rambling lyrical things. "Talk about a month of Sundays, toffee-nosed wet weekend as far as I can see".
So you started off the way the Beatles did. You started off with the innocent stuff and then you got worldy-wise and got into all that...
Yeah except that I did it over a weekend, and they took 5 years. Then we did listen very seriously to how the production was done, and they were very very inventive. George Martin was in there. Listening to the early records, suddenly it was, There's a tambourine on there! There's bongos on there! Never heard them before, you know you just heard the main melody line and things like that. So it then became a labour of love for all the people on the album to sort of tell the story via the Rutles.
Writing the lyrics must have been great fun, "I feel good I feel bad I feel happy I feel sad..."
That's the song that started it all off, really, because when we did Rutland Weekend television, Eric used to go off to write the skits and I'd write some songs and think of ways that we could film them, and I thought this'll get into the producer's good books, you see, a little bit of black & white Hard Day's Night parody. So I suppose it was my fault because I did actually try to parody the Beatles on that one only thing. But that then became the whole story, because Eric at that time was very pally with Lorne Michaels from Saturday Night Live in New York, and I think the country was going through a recession then. So we had a telethon for Britain on New York television, NBC, Saturday Night Live, and Jeanette Charles, the Queen lookalike came over and a few of us could pledge 200 dollars to see the Queen knee a mountie in the groin, that sort of thing. From that, NBC did the whole story of the Rutles.
And it was spectacularly successful, it must have made you a lot of money.
Mmmmmnnno, I've never done anything that's made me a lot of money, no. Partly because some bigger boys took the money away.
Tell me about that, because the Beatles themselves...
Oh, no, not the lads, no. George was a terrific supporter of the whole project. Because in a way, looking at the real footage, it was such a sad story. People didn't want it to end, it was such a wonderful up, going up all the time. Doing the Rutles was a much more painless way of telling the story. Paul was 100% behind it as well. Although he was miffed because his album London Towne came out at the same time the Rutles came out and people were saying"what about the Rutles, Paul?" And all the others allowed us to have footage of Shea Stadium.
Obliged the big boys to take the money away.
Well yes, I mean the people who took the money away from the Beatles thought it was much easier to take money away from me.
On what grounds?
Well they said I copied the Beatles. Good spotting lads! But the thing was ATV music on the West Coast of America... even when the album had been laminated for a pommy, or nominated for a grammy, or whatever it is they do, you know, the Los Angeles Academy nominated it along with Steve Martin's record as a comedy record. It was a nice gesture. But ATV Music, let's name names! who had their own company in Los Angeles, they decided that it was well worth having a go to see if they couldn't get the copyright. My publishers here said we know we'll win, because the musicologist report says that nothing is the same, which it isn't, the lyrics are different...
I still don't understand the basis on which they won, then, because...
They didn't win! They ju...
...the notes aren't the same, the lyrics aren't the same,
the music is different, I mean why not take a Searchers song, they copied the Beatles as well!!
I know but you see if you're honest in this business it doesn't do you much good. The thing was they didn't go to court in the end because they were worried about not getting costs. And as George tells it, you know he was in court with his guitar explaining how he wrote "My Sweet Lord", and just didn't think about the other thing. And American law can be funny because the decided that George didn't deliberately plagiarise He's So Fine, but to be on the safe side you better give them the money.
So how much did it cost you then?
I think in excess of twenty grande in missing royalties then...
A lot of money in those days.
A lot of money in those days! Yeah.
We discussed the Beatles but you actually appeared in their famed and very very brilliant Magical Mystery Tour when you were with the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band.
That's right, yeah. There's a sort of connection in those days because Urban Spaceman, what was our hit, the medly of which I do play in More Jam Tomorrow, Paul McCartney came in and virtually produced that in a day.
He called himself Appalonius C. Something Or Other
No, WE called him Apollo C. Vermouth.
This is such
an anti-showbiz band, the Bonzos, we didn't sort of want to have any sneaky
ways to get into the charts, so it was the best kept secret for a long long
time until it got to about number 25, then our publishers couldn't stand
it anymore and they leaked it and it rocketed up to number 5, and I think
stayed there for about three months. But it was Paul's brother Mike, who
was working with Scaffold, who Andy worked with along with Grimms and...
Well Magical Mystery Tour itself is not really an oscar winner, is it? I mean were you as stoned out on drugs as they all seemed to be when they made it?
(stunned silence )
I mean was everybody smoking and doing everything...
We were not "On the buus." We were never anywhere near "the Dewsbury Road." We came into Paul Raymond's Review Bar and did our bit and then left.
Oh, I see.
We had some nice open sandwiches. But I mean, that was it. And Ringo had his 16 mil camera and said he was doing the Weybridge version, and John was very nice, and George had bought the Gorilla album and said that "Death Cab For Cutie" ought to be a single. And it was very nice.
Have you seen it recently, Magical Mystery Tour? It doesn't really do...
No, no, but it's sort of 16 mil and lots of, I mean, what can I say, I enjoyed it for the music. I mean the plot doesn't really matter. When you compare it to some videos these days, you know, sort of women in basques, and four horsemen of the apocalypse looking through smoke and dry ice in the woods, there's not a lot more plot there either.
I suppose it did have the music going for it.
I think so, there were some good songs on it. Fool on the Pill has always been one of my favorites.
What was your exact involvement with the Pythons? Just explain to the uninitiated.
Well, you see, long, long ago, the Bonzos were on the road, doing all these cabaret clubs and universities and various places, and we got a telephone call saying would you like to meet up to do this television show along with these other people. We met, and it was Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam along with David Jason and Denise Coffey. And it became with the Bonzo Dog Band, or Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band, the program called Do Not Adjust Your Set.
I think when I was very very small I remember seeing that.
Sigh. You swine! I was very small as well, on the television. People say I'm smaller on television. Anyway, that's how we got to know the Pythons. And after the Bonzos split up, Eric rang me up out of the blue and said, cutting a long story short, and said do you fancy coming up and doing a warm up for us over at the television centre? And I said "I don't do warm ups". He said "It's 25 quid" and I said "Done." So I went up there and in fact I think I sang Urban Spaceman. We all went out for a meal afterwards and they said do you fancy doing some music for the albums and little by little I found myself...
What music did you do then for them?
Its the agrarian reform songs, "Eric the Half a Bee", there's an awful lot of them, and the fairy tale music, and all those early albums I did the music for.
And you did stuff for films.
Well yes, Holy Grail was a bit disappointing for me, in that we only had a tiny budget, and we thought well as it's people banging coconut shells instead of having horses, it might also be funny to have just a few musicians, so I was trying to write all these great Arthurian themes, you know with just two french horns, so them going "papapapapapapa", you know all that stuff, it didn't sound big enough, so we had to junk it and put library stuff on with 140 people playing it.
I remember in the film you being a wandering minstrel.
Oh, yeah, that was all right, all that other stuff was simple enough, but the real sort of film music you can't do, can you Andy? You need at least 140 people playing. So all producers and film score bookers, please note, no skimping!
That must have been quite a jaunt, nipping up to the Scottish highlands to make that film.
That's true, I think I learned how to do crosswords then. Halfway up a Scottish mountain in string chain mail, there's a giveaway folks, it's not the real stuff, it's made out of string and sprayed-on silver. But either way you get soggy feet, and while a bit of the camera's been forgotten, somebody with a red face and wellington boots has to run all the way back down again to get something. We had to do this, "mangled stoat for breakfast", five letters, oh yes, that's TOAST. It was Chapman, dear old Graham, he taught me how to do crosswords. And also I suggested at one stage we do a little game called declining the verb to sheep worry. "I am sheep worried," "you are sheep worried," and Cleese came up with the best one, I think it's a future pluperfect tense, "I am about to have been sheep worried."
Andy, I know you want to talk about the single, because you get royalties for that.
Well if we don't talk about it in the next three weeks we're not going to talk about it, because it's an election single.
It's also in the show More Jam Tomorrow which is in the assembly rooms in Edinburgh and also on tour in the UK.
What sort of percentage are you on for it, Andy?
Well, it doesn't work in percents, really, it works on points, cause we only get, you know,
You don't have to...
...we're not talking about money again, are we? He's right about you. No, it's an election single, it's called "No Matter Who You Vote For, The Government Always Gets In".
I'm delighted you're gonna do one more song which is also from the show, does it tie in in any way with anything electoral?
I think it does, the song is called Joe Public, just listen to the words folks.
Well Andy anduh Neil Innes, it's been a pleasure having you in. Thank you.
Thank you Nicky, and if I ever have any problems with my money I know who to come to!