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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
NEIL INNES Half Moon Putney, London, April 9th 2006
Readers of these pages will not be too surprised to know that I’ve been pinching myself since that freezing cold night at the Pickle Factory when I came audience to stage with the remnants of teen heroes and masters of musical mirth, the Bonzo Dog Band. Suffice to say that time has not stood still for everyone else, and the word on the web, and here in Putney, is that the Bonzos are about to yield to the lure of lucre and the fickle mistress of fame, and sign up for a tour in November. Not necessarily the right move, in my very humble opinion, but time, as they say, will tell. And in the mean of time we are here at the Half Moon to see Neil Innes, the only surviving Bonzo to have maintained a successful career since those heady days of the seventies.
He’s the one, you may remember, who had a minor hit with the album How Sweet to be an Idiot, collaborated with the Scouse poets collective Grimms, became troubadour to a Flying Circus (and as I’m sure obsessive enthusiasts will know, played Boris Feinburg in Life of Brian) and then created the long-lasting Beatles spoof the Rutles with Python Eric Idle. This in turn led to a sustained spell of BBC2 type TV work, and more latterly scriptwriting and performing for BBC Radio 4.
And all the while he’s been writing and performing music in a trademark whimsical style, following his own path from Doodahland. His most recent album is last year’s Works in Progress, and it’s a tribute to Innes’ confidence in his own material that he plays all (well I think he does, but you know how it is, Serge, someone spilt beer over my notebook) of the album. It’s funny, but a bit despondent too. Because Innes clearly shares all those frustrations with the Modern World that have come to symptomise Grumpy Old Man syndrome. So he shares his irritation at the perceived lack of intimacy afforded to this modern world by the dominant forms of technology (‘Facemail in the meat zone’) and the way it dominates people’s lives (‘Eye candy’). I didn’t quite get ‘Hero of the motorway’, but reckon it must have been about the nutters who race on our roads at absurdly high speeds with only one visible destination in sight.
‘Charlie Big Potatoes’ (I wrote ‘Meat and Potatoes’ so must have been getting beer-hungry by then) is a wonderful piece of nonsense that might have something to do with the shallow state of modern male masculinity (well, to be honest, fucking shallow state). Then, ‘Friends at the end’ albeit perhaps partly back on the theme of the impersonal nature of the modern world (which I might have confused with ‘All alone’ and ‘You’re never alone …’ - get the picture?) is also a sorrowful song by a man who sees Old Mortality beckoning, and like most of us, doesn’t really like it.
Rory Motion and the Drainpipes
But all of these songs are performed with great sore-throated gusto by Innes, who dashes between his glorious Gretsch, several acoustic guitars and keyboards, and bassist Tom Fry and drummer J J Jones (who incidentally comes from Suffolk – I wonder if he’s ever met that culinary old sage Al Diggins?). Occasionally they are replaced on stage by the rip-roaring Rory Motion and the Drainpipes, sponsored by Fiasco Stores, who are promoting a number of new and ‘tasty’ products, notably the Cockadoodleato (well, that’s what it says in my notebook, Serge, but it could be another beer stain) a potato with a chicken inside. Now what would Al Diggins say to that?
It’s a well-structured set. Innes begins with ‘a medley of hit’ - a short snatch of ‘I’m the urban spaceman’ - and follows with warm and affectionate reminiscences about the Bonzos (“Viv was wonderful but could be a nightmare to work with”), how it started, how it ended, what happened in the middle, and a very funny story about meeting the Fab Four at the famous Abbey Road Studios. ‘My brother makes the noises for the movies’, ‘Sir Robin’ (written by Innes for the Pythons) and Eine kleine (a Eurovision tribute, Serge, you’d love it) amongst others were mixed in with the new songs in the first set. The second began with ‘How sweet to be an idiot’, which was followed by memories of Monty Python (“the Bonzos liked hot curries and beer but they would only eat Chinese and drink tea, which we thought was very wishy-washy – hang on, did I really say that ….?”), and more tunes from Work in Progress with ‘Godfrey Daniel (eat your heart out, Elton), a Rutles medley, and as encores the complete ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’ and finally the Rutles ‘64’.
I suppose, thinking about it, that Innes has spent much of his life thumbing his nose, or as I prefer, cocking a snook (do you have a phrase for this in your French, Serge? Someone suggested ‘pied au nez’ but I think they were almost putting their foot in their mouth) at the modern world, life and its mores and pretensions. And that reminds me, he’s got an almost secret society called the Ego Warriors, dedicated to fighting these mediocrities wherever they may be found. In fact, I seem to recall swearing their secret oath at some point during the evening (all I can remember is the “so help me Rhonda, help help me Rhonda” bit at the end) so maybe I’m one now.
I’m sure grumpy Whiskyfun readers would like to sign up as well, and if you can’t you might at least go and see Neil Innes (who’ll sign you up himself) or buy his very enjoyable records. - Nick Morgan (all photographs by Kate)



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