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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan


The Astoria, London, June 6th 2008

A seriously long queue snakes around the side of the old Pickle Factory (aka London’s doomed Astoria Theatre) into leafy yet carbon monoxide-filled Soho Square. We’ve been waiting for a long time. Since the twenty-second of December, to be precise, when this gig should have taken place.

Inexplicably cancelled, then rescheduled, this gig is a belated launch of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s new (er, 2007) album, Pour l’Amour des Chiens. I’m sure I wasn’t the only person to regard a ‘new’ Bonzos album with some degree of trepidation – in fact, I left it on the shelf for a very long time before plucking up the courage to play it. Truth be told, it’s not bad at all. It probably has the stamp of pianist, singer and songwriter Neil Innes’ solo work stamped on it a little hard but is none the worse for that. Like Innes, there’s a lot of the ‘grumpy old man’ in evidence but thinking about it, the Bonzos were probably always grumpy old men before their time. And there are some genuinely funny moments. But of course, no one has queued for six months to listen to new songs – it’s the old stuff that everyone’s expecting (praying for?) as this unlikely mixture of septuagenarians and sextuagenarians continue their unlikely revival, which began here at the Astoria back in January 2006. And as fate would have it, I’m in almost the same seat surrounded by the most unlikely bunch of grey balding oldsters, young stylish things-about-town, dads and daughters, mothers and sons, you name it – they’re here.
In case you’ve forgotten, this version of the Bonzos is comprised of survivors of various incarnations of the band from the sixties and early seventies: Neil Innes (piano, vocals, guitar); Roger Ruskin Spear (saxophone, trumpet, trouser press, robots); Rodney Slater (saxophones, clarinet, washboard); Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell (vocals, saw, banjo, ukulele); Sam Spoons (er…spoons, drums and flower pots); “Legs” Larry Smith (as himself) and Bob Kerr (trumpets and teapot). In addition, comedians Adrian Edmondson and Phill Jupitus - the latter for only one song late on after he’d performed in a play round the corner - but both now members of the band, apparently. Behind them is musical director Mickey Simmonds, who, along with his bass player and drummer, somehow manages to keep things going in the face of even the greatest adversity. Pretty prime contender is Roger Ruskin Spears - messing up the cues and interrupting from the very first song, he rampages through the two halves of the set in an anarcho-syndicalist world of his own, talking away to himself and the audience, much to the obvious annoyance of Innes, who by comparison almost seems like an obsessive-compulsive. It’s a wonderful spectator sport.
The Bonzos have chosen to be sponsored by a fictitious retail chain - Fiasco – a considered choice as they stumble through songs old and new, and jokes, mostly old. Highlights from the established cannon were the classic ‘Jazz, delicious hot, disgusting cold’, played with a robustly tuneless gusto, Edmondson singing ‘I’m Bored’, ‘Hippocratic oaths’ and ‘My pink half of the drainpipe’, a wonderful ‘Trouser press’ and Jupitus’ encore, ‘Canyons of your mind’. Of the new songs, ‘Hawkeye the Gnu’ (it’s a Scottish thing), ‘Beautiful people’, ‘Stadium love’ and Sam Spoons’ ‘Tiptoe through the tulips’ (with percussive flowerpots) all stood up well. Bohay-Nowell, who should know better for a man of his age, performed show-stealing party pieces ‘Falling in love again’ and ‘Andrew’s engine’, and “Legs” Larry Smith told a joke about flowers on the piano and tulips on the organ, which I promised not to mention. Ah yes – and the robots were fully functional, as was the trouser press.
It’s really just a wonderful few hours of chaotic innocent nonsense, humour largely from another age that still has a deep resonance with those of us who were brought up on it, and obviously those of us who weren’t (the two rather cool twenty-something boys next to us were almost wetting themselves in a most uncool way by the end of the show). And really, as you can see, the pictures tell the story just as well as I can. Except for the fact that, as I write, the old buggers have just announced another tour for nine nights in November, so if you’ll excuse me, I’m just off to buy some tickets... - Nick Morgan

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