Bonzo Dog Band Yvonnes Diary 5
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NEW YORK SEPTEMBER 2005

Neil approached by Bob Carruthers- he of the very watchable documentary ‘Inside The Bonzos’ - with the idea of maybe bringing the Bonzos together for one last concert. He had just seen Neil’s ten-minute Bonzo tribute which he does at the beginning of his set - very funny and a great favourite with his audiences. Although Neil was intrigued, memories of why the Bonzos originally split up surfaced, as they must do with every group reuniting after a long gap. Neil said ‘No’ very clearly, ‘the job would be too enormous’, but Bob persisted till in the end Neil said he would ring the Bonzos when he got back to England and if they all wanted the gig to go ahead – maybe …….

Bob had thought that the best way to organise it – knowing that most of the original Bonzos had not played professionally for a while – would be for Neil to get a backing band together. That way the Bonzos could do as much or as little as they wanted to do. Bob had thought Neil should do the first half as The Rutles and the second half as one of The Bonzos. But Neil thought that it was inappropriate having The Rutles with the Bonzos and also that there was easily enough Bonzo material. Initially, though the other Bonzos were all up for the gig, they were worried that they would not be able to fill two hours but fears were soon dispelled with the idea of asking celebrities to fill in the enormous gap left by Vivian Stanshall. Stephen Fry – the obvious choice- plus Ade Edmundson, Paul Merton and Phil Jupitus were all happy to do the gig, so with the arrival of a provisional set list the gig was on.

So here goes – a blow by blow account of the days leading up to and including the Astoria gig – with as many photographs as I can get in. Please bear in mind that because of the size of the rehearsal room I could not use a tripod. Also the light levels were bad and because of the filming, I could not use flash. In spite of all this I think I got some reasonable photographs-grovel grovel excuse excuse etc etc.

SUNDAY 23RD

JJ came at 6pm to help load Neil’s gear into van and then both headed off into the night and icy roads to London – more specifically the Express Inn in Acton –north-west London. For the past month Neil had been transcribing chords copying words and finalising set lists so that everyone could get straight on with rehearsals. His plan was to spend 2 days rehearsing just the band. For the Bonzos concert the band was to consist of Mickey Simmonds (of the Rutles band)- keyboards and ace joke teller. Lovely man and brilliant musician and generally Neil’s right hand man on stage - ie is able to nudge Neil when he starts in wrong key or forgets words or set lists etc etc.

Mickey Simmonds

Then there was Andy Roberts – lead guitar. Andy has a long history of working with Neil and it was great to see him again – another fantastic and reliable musician.

Andy Roberts

JJ Jones - drums and Tom Fry- bass guitar and double bass, were the other two of the band . You already know a lot about these two from previous tour diaries, so I won’t dwell on them, except to say that Tom has self-published yet another new book of ‘poetry’….groan….which will be dipped into, I’m sure, during the next tour diary.

Tom & JJ

After a couple of days with the band, Neil wanted two days rehearsing the Bonzos, and then a day with everyone including the celebrities- of whom more later. However, as with all the best laid plans of mice and men this was’nt to be. An email was sent out –mistakenly- from the office asking everyone to be at all the rehearsals. Then after a phone call from me, another went out saying that Mondays rehearsal had been postponed??? So basically no one knew what was happening. Neil had to push ahead with the music as the band would be onstage the whole time and really did need at least one whole day to themselves.

MONDAY 23RD

So when Monday dawned, Neil and JJ drove the instruments to the studio ‘’Panic Music’ meeting Andy and Mickey and setting themselves up with a bank of amps and instruments in the studio. One other thing Neil had asked for in his ‘wish list’ was to rehearse in a large studio, so they could more or less get the final set up for the Astoria. Second plan bites the dust. Panic music is a lovely place to work – the owner and staff are brilliant - but it was not big enough and instruments and people were crammed in like so many sardines. However, nothing for it but to muddle through. Most of Monday was spent setting up and sorting out. Neil and JJ in bed by ten.

Rehearsal

TUESDAY 24TH

Enter the Bonzos –Vernon Dudley Bohe Nowell looking exactly as he looked in the original Bonzos. He carried a banjo and a saw ingeniously packed in the same case.

Vernon Dudley Bohey Nowell

Music for the saw maybe?

Then Rodney with sax and clarinet and washboard– looking even better than he did in the Bonzos – a really good advert for the vegan diet he sticks to since a heart problem knocked him for six a couple of years ago.

Rodney Slater

In came an immaculately dressed Legs Larry Smith offering to tap dance ‘only if there was a medical team standing by’. Enthusiastic, stylish, funny and full of energy he had to do a lot of sitting and waiting while the musicians got their intros and outros together.

Legs Larry Smith

Bob Kerr, an ex- Bonzo who left to form The New Vaudeville band and then The Whoopee Band, with whom he continues to tour twice a year, bought his trumpet and cornet to the fray.

Bob Kerr

Sam Spoons, still teaching graphics at a London art school, arrived with his array of drums and things that rattle….oh and a tiger suit.

Sam Spoons

Then there was Roger, setting up his Rowmonium, 7ft tall, a sort of noise machine – anything from a thunder clap to a sigh of steam.

Roger Ruskin Spear

So what with that and the leads criss- crossing the room, cases piled like coffins from floor to ceiling - Bonzo parafanalia everywhere, there was not an inch to spare. When everything was unpacked set up and discussed in detail, the rehearsal of the first half began.

Bonzos

Roger, Bob and Rodney play together for the first time in years- lovely to watch!

WEDNESDAY 25th

More first half today with slight changes of the set list suggested, tried and thought about. I arrived in the evening with song lists, Neil’s stage clothes, cameras etc expecting to go out for a meal and a chat, but that was not to be. Bed by 10 – hungry. Found a gnarled old apple in the bottom of a bag, so had that.

Bonzos

THURSDAY 26TH

My first day at rehearsals armed with cameras, to find bad lighting and no room to swing even a cat’s paw, so had to shrink myself to the size of a sweet wrapper to fit between the Rowmonium and the grand piano. This was the day of the second half –for Neil and the band, frustrating and difficult, though it has to be said that Neil was enjoying sorting out the chaos, firing on more cylinders than I have yet seen. No point in talking about anything other than the set list or the gig in general - the cat’s boil would have to wait- but managed to find set list hugely interesting.

Bonzos

FRIDAY 27th

What a day. Needed to get the second half together as well as give Stephen Fry, Ade Edmundson, Paul Merton and Phil Jupitus a chance to go over their numbers. I was dispatched to type and print final final set lists so was in and out all day but managed to catch Ade singing The Strain – word perfect. Missed Paul Merton but everyone said he too was word perfect. Then Phil Jupitus played the arrived with guitar and gave a rendition of ‘Can Blue men sing the Whites’ to die for. Wild cheering.

Phil Jupitus



Phil Jupitus getting into the groove

 

Lastly Stephen Fry did a faultless Rhinocratic Oaths, which is no mean feat. The timing of it is hugely difficult, but he is such a Viv fan that he did it beautifully. He stayed around to listen to the next few numbers enjoying it immensely, singing along with all the words.

Rehearsal

Somehow the enthusiasm and vivacity of the celebrities gave the band a huge lift, so that the rehearsal that day finished on a high note, so to speak.

Tonight we decide to have a meal with alcohol – something Neil has avoided for about a month. We found a Thai restaurant in a nearby hotel - this must be one of the few areas in London without a restaurant within walking distance. One toast to the gig. Two toasts to the gig. Three toasts - but that was all.

Sam Spoons

Sam Spoons – something about ‘aboriginals’..

 

SATURDAY 28TH

Had to be back at Panic Music to remove all instruments by 10 am. That done we could not get into the Astoria till 12.30 so a quiet chat, calm before the storm, in the blue ‘green’ room.

Sitting around

Neil, JJ, Tom and Andy quietly contemplate the gig.

Then to the gig Neil, leading the way. He really is half pigeon- finds directions by the moon or the sun or any other planet that meanders into our solar system.

We get there early, so check in to hotel just across the road from the Astoria. Later load gear into the Astoria to the tumultuously loud sounds of a Russian band – loud enough to make your heart feel out of time and maybe stop– had to get out quickly.

outside

Once unloaded had to park van in a 24 hour car park on the south bank – not normally a long journey, but there was a demonstration in Trafalgar Square and just about every road I tried to use was closed. Ended up zig zagging through London, finally getting to the car park an hour later. Bob Kerr was following in his van. We took a taxi back but needn’t have rushed – the complexity of the stage layout – huge in comparison to the rehearsal space, and the technical challenges meant that not a note was played till about 3.30pm. They had a 6 o’clock curfew, so although the band did get a quick sound check they didn’t get much of a rehearsal.

Bonzos
Roger, Bob and Rodney at The Astoria

 

Phil & Neil
Phil Jupitus and Neil

 

Rodney, Phil & Neil
Rodney, Phil and Neil

 

Ade Edmundson
Ade Edmundson

 

Meanwhile I took two more trips to the south bank as Tom discovered he had left a huge red mock guitar and Roger a big sheet of metal - the thunder maker, in the vans. The later caused an old fashioned look from the taxi driver. Good job the gig wasn’t in NY – would never have got it in a NY cab.

Paul Merton
Paul Merton gets into the swing

 

The dressing rooms were thoughtfully up about six flights of stairs so lots of exercise was had. Neil sat in side room working out introductions – he needs a quiet half hour before a show, but everyone was in jolly moods.

Bonzos

Unfortunately things started to be difficult again when the guest list was temporarily lost, so one of our sons and JJ’s wife, Tess, could not get in. The guards were adamant they had to have a pass. Back up the stairs to find Rachael to discover that there were no more passes, so no guest list and no passes. By this time other performers were being phoned by guests standing out in the cold. I borrowed a couple of passes and got Miles and Tess in and then gave the passes to other people so they could do the same. The guests, having got in, could not then get to the places which had been assigned to them – all total chaos. Suddenly the guest list appeared again and, although there was a lot of milling around in a small standing area, things settled down. The atmosphere was electric – the audience, unable to contain their excitement at being about to see the Bonzos brought to life again, were noisy, and boisterous.

Bonzos

It was decided to do more of the songs from the early years in the first half. From pub gigs through turning professional to recording ‘Gorilla’. The Deuragon Arms was an early Bonzos venue a ‘pass- the- hat round’ type of pub. These gigs were interspersed with trips up and down the motorway to working men’s clubs, staying in gaudy B+Bs, tying knots in each others sheets and outdoing each other in motorway cafes, the game being who could order the most disgusting assortment of food on a plate and eat it. In later years, the game continued when Grimms was on the road, easily won by John Megginson with four glasses of coke – a fried egg in one, baked beans in the other, chips in the third and tomatoes in the fourth. I think they let him off the ‘eating it’ part that night. Neil’s contribution was one baked bean, a chip and an egg. Other ‘foodie’ amusements included Viv ordering a large meal, eating it and ordering the same again…and eating it. Strangely enough the people serving got right into the spirit of the thing – it was always late at night and they probably needed a laugh as much as we did. Other memories –Viv getting down on one knee and serenading a little old lady pulling a shopping bag on wheels with ‘One Alone’. She stood and listened to it all the way through and then said ‘Thanks very much Love. I really enjoyed that,’ before walking away, as though this sort of thing happened to her every day. The second half of the programme was reserved for the later Bonzo years from ‘Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse’ recorded at the Morgan studios, to ‘Let’s Make Up And Be Friendly’ recorded at Richard Branson’s Manor Studios in Oxford – probably his first excursion into tycoonship. Here the Bonzos were waited on by beautiful women cooking fabulous meals. Watching archery during breaks in recording, or boating down the river. The period from ‘Doughnuts’ to ‘LMUABF’ was probably Viv’s most creative time writing Rhinocratic Oaths, Rawlinson End etc. It was the late 60s when the Bonzos met The Who, and The Beatles to name but two. Parties that went on for ever, champagne towers six feet high. Viv is an icon to thousands of people. He was the most extraordinarily original and eccentric man and this evening at The

Astoria was as much to remember him as the other Bonzos. Stephen Fry, Ade Edmundson, Paul Merton and Phil Jupitus sang and played their hearts out – almost bringing him back – as if it were possible. He would have loved it.

The set opened with ‘Cool Brittania’ with a bang and showers of stars at the end – was waiting for a bang of the original Bonzo proportions which could send a dustbin flying across the room, but this was a very civilised bang. Straight into a band number –‘ Hunting Tigers.’ You will see all in the DVD produced by Classic Rock which will be on sale within a couple of months.

The audience were word perfect singing along with every song- the applause thunderous. The band wore a motley selection of clothes – could not take photos during show but managed to get some in the dressing rooms. The band were brilliant backing every song with gusto enabling Sam, Rodney, Vernon, Roger and Larry to do their Bonzo gags in front. Sam riding an equestrian statue, Rodney playing washboard, Vernon singing and accompanying himself on saw,

Roger hitting everything in sight and Larry doing a little tap dance and a lot of dressing up and waving ‘Look at me I’m Wonderful, shoo be doo be wah etc’ Wonderful stuff. Neil directing the music, singing, playing, accompanying, announcing etc

 

What a night!!!!!!!

The Band
Bob, the promoter, Ade, Stephen, Paul, Neil, JJ and Tom in silly mood after the show

Later at the party at Grouchos, there was a mood of celebration and not a little triumph in having pulled it off. Neil has not thought of anything else for the past two months, immersed in lyrics and music and organization. The band, professionals that they are, picking up the music from CDs, and the other Bonzos remembering, relearning and finding long- ago props. Bob Kerr who, with his son Matt, runs a T- shirt printing business, ran up some souvenir T- shirts for sale on the night so at least those who were there could prove it !!

For Neil, getting together again with the other Bonzos, and feeling the support and enthusiasm of the band and the guests, was really quite special, although as he said at the end of the first half, ‘Maybe once every 40 years is enough.’

And don't forget you can see the whole thing for yourselves in the DVD of the show soon to be released by Classic Rock Productions.

 

BONZO - ASTORIA - SET LIST

 

Part One
Cool Britannia All
Hunting Tigers Out In Indiah Neil
:"Good Evening"/Rowmonium Neil/Roger
My Brother Makes The Noises For The Talkies Neil
Doorstep Neil
Little Sir Echo Bob/Sam
Ali Baba's Camel Neil
Leg 1 (3 Legs) Roger
Falling In Love Again Vernon
I'm Going To Bring A Watermelon To My Girl Tonight Roger
Look Out There's A Monster Coming Neil
Leg 2 (theramin) Roger
By A Waterfall Neil
Sheik of Araby Neil
Hello Mabel Neil
Jollity Farm Neil
Equestrian Statue Neil
   
Part Two
Cool Britannia All
We Are Normal Ade/All
The Strain Ade
Sound Of Music Stephen/All
Exodus Larry
Trouser Press Roger/Stephen
My Pink Half Of The Drainpipe Ade/Rodney/Larry
I'm Bored Ade
Sport Neil/Stephen/All
Mr Apollo Neil/Phil
Humanoid Boogie Neil
Tent Ade
Can Blue Men Sing The Whites Phil
Look At Me I'm Wonderful Larry/All
San Francisco Larry/All
Rhinocratic Oaths Stephen
Mr Slater's Parrot Rodney/Ade
Monster Mash Paul
Urban Spaceman Neil
Canyons Of Your Mind Phil
The Intro And The Outro CD
Slush CD
   
   
Apologies that there is no Bonzo group shot . I had really intended to get one but the theatre was hosting another show half an hour later and so we had very little time to clear the theatre . Every one, including me, was scrabbling about finding and packing instruments. Later, at Grouchos exhausted but happy, most of the Bonzos were there with their wives, and in the bonhomie of the moment I did not feel like using the flash- and had no tripod. So there you go, but hopefully the photos i did get of the Bonzos will excuse me. Cheers, Yvonne

 

Yvonne's diary #1 UK trip 2005

Yvonne's diary #2 Rutles Farewell Tour

Yvonne's diary #3 August 2005

Yvonne's diary #4 New York 2005

Yvonne's diary #5 Bonzo Reunion Tour

Yvonne's diary #6 Canada/US 2006

Yvonne's diary #7 May/June 2006

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