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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan


Bloomsbury Theatre, London
February 6th 2010

It’s never been quite clear why the Bonzo Dog Band reunion, which began in triumphant (if somewhat chaotic) form in January 2006, petered out after its second Astoria gig in June two years later; a promised tour crumbled into dust (rather like the poor old Astoria which is now a hole in the ground), leaving only a website that still happily takes money for merchandise that is never delivered. 

But it might not be too hard to guess.  One of the things that made the revival gigs such a wonderful, although possibly cruel, spectator sport, was the apparent tension between Neil Innes and Roger Ruskin Spear; the former driven by cues, tight arrangements, musical professionalism and some degree of discipline, the latter by a spontaneous explosion of unbridled anarchy.  Something, or somebody obviously had to give.  And there was also a growing sense of discomfort about the role of the celebrity comedians who were brought in, initially with some degree of success, to try to fill the unfillable void left by the late Vivian Stanshall, and perhaps drag the band into the twenty-first century.  It was almost as if it was becoming their gig.

“There was a general feeling within the management at the close of the last Reunion tour”, wrote Ruskin Spear recently in his blog, “that there was no future for us (the remaining Bonzos) without the help of a team of  session men and a hands-free 'star' vocalist and front man (by definition a non-Bonzo person) to carry the show”.  Clearly that was no longer what the majority of the various ex-Bonzos were looking for, so the tour having been ditched, Ruskin Spear, Rodney Slater and Sam Spoons reformed themselves as Three Bonzos and a Piano, the piano being long-time Ruskin Spear collaborator Dave Glasson.  


We missed them at the 100 Club last year, but tonight they are at the Bloomsbury Theatre with an extended line-up for a special London show.

The tone of the evening is set from the start.  The band and their guests, or those of them that can manage the walk, had a planned entrance from the foyer, through the theatre, up to the stage, but as they began their procession the auditorium doors slammed shut in their faces.  “Never knowingly over-rehearsed” declares the band’s website.  We were warned.  The performance combines a loving romp through the back catalogue of the Bonzos with songs from the band’s new album ‘Hair of the Dog’.  This material, it has to be said, mostly falls into the ‘grumpy old men’ school of rock compositions, with songs like ‘Old geezer rock’ (“a double triple bypass in 12/8 time”) and ‘Senior moments’, the titles of which speak for themselves, and the truth of which was summed up by Bohay-Nowell’s three-minute search for his Marlene Dietrich wig, which, it turned out, he was sitting on. 


But like the whole evening, it’s harmless enough stuff.  Joining the Three Bonzos were Andy Roberts, Liverpool Scene veteran and a member of the backing band for the first Astoria reunion gig (who, I read on a bulletin board, had allegedly fallen out with Innes), and former Bonzo ‘Legs’ Larry Smith, and the very-veteran Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell.  The theatre is pretty full with an audience ageing from around fifteen to seventy plus, although I have the feeling that the majority have either just drawn their pension or are about to.  On stage, average age must be sixty-five, although the energy displayed, whether from Bohay-Nowell’s twinkling eyes when he read a rather suggestive children’s bedtime story, Sam Spoons’ wild (acoustic and electric) spoon playing (in between numerous costume changes), Rodney Slater’s glowing hair and Ruskin Spears’ frenetic fiddling and fussing caused one to doubt that assumption.  Only languid, laid-back and slightly louche ‘Legs’ Larry Smith acted his age.

Bonzo 4

And of course, the devoted and highly-forgiving crowd is raring to get involved too, which is just as well.  I suppose there’s a sort of complicity between artist and audience.  Jokes are carefully deconstructed; the introduction to ‘Shirt’, possibly the best of all the Bonzo jokes, is turned into a quiz.  We all know the punch lines, and in many instances the punters get to them before the band.  No-one expects that Ruskin Spear’s many props, e.g. robots, trouser press, electric leg, will work quite as they should (“if anyone was in Andover they’ll know I’ve got a lot of mending to do”, he said, working through a spaghettini of wires).  We don’t mind if, despite the efforts of Glasson and Roberts, the music’s not really very good (although Ruskin Spear’s clarinet on ‘Ginger Geezer’ was a revelation).  And it doesn’t matter if they screw up cues or forget the words.  That’s not the point. 


This is like watching all your favourite uncles put on a show after dinner.  We’re all on their side so it can only be a hit, from ‘Jollity Farm’ (“meow meow”) to ‘The Monster Mash’.  Using as a gauge the Photographer, laughing so much from start to finish that she could barely keep her camera straight, then I have to assume it was. – Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)

Watch the Three Bonzos and a piano on Youtube

Nick, Kate, I'm sorry, I may have ballsed up the layout a bit. Too much Bonzo (and British humour) influence I guess. Apologies. - Serge

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