Neil Innes is dead.

by Harry on January 1, 2020

Gaurniad Obit here.

My music collection contains a small number of perfect albums. Perfect in the sense that every track is entirely welcome, and all are in the right order, yielding a brilliant effect. Three are by Richard Thompson, one by Joni Mitchell, one by Crosby Stills and Nash, and maybe one by the Beatles. Innes shares responsibility for two of them. The Rutles Archeology is much better than the original Rutles album, full of gentle pastiche and including a couple of songs that have you straining to remember that it really isn’t The Beatles.

But the best is Keynsham. I bought it at Our Price for 99p, remaindered and warped, 40 years ago and have listened to it maybe more than any album not by the Beatles or Dylan (I no longer have a record player, but have replaced it a couple of times since). It is the one Bonzos album on which Stanshall and Innes combine perfectly—Stanshall’s dark madness disciplined and tempered by Innes’s kind optimism, allowing their shared sense of the absurd to shine through—not a collection of songs, but a single album, all the notes in the right order.

{ 7 comments }

1

Phil 01.01.20 at 12:35 pm

It’s hard to put into words just what it was that Innes did so well, or even – ironically – why it was so easy to overlook. That combination of perfectionism, absurdity and quiet ambition (Beatles pastiches, yes, but two albums of note-perfect Beatles pastiches?) is very rare. (Although I am reminded of Andy Partridge.)

I would certainly agree about Keynsham, except that when I first discovered it I played it one too many times in a row and contracted a fearsomely intrusive “Bride Stripped Bare by ‘Bachelors'” earworm. I was compulsively muttering fragments of the lyrics for the best part of a week (“it stank like a rhino house”), and even after that I was stuck with “Busted”. I only return to the album with caution now.

2

Jeff 01.01.20 at 4:58 pm

Ahhh, crap. The Bonzos were a huge factor in my life as I became a budding hippie/musician/wastrel in the ’60s. I got to see them at the Ark in Boston, surrounded by fellows of the faithful. Sublime.

You’re right about Keynsham. It was/is a remarkable work, one that was underrated then and now, at least here in the States. And one that I never replaced when I gave away my vinyl and switched to CD. Idiot, me.

That’s changing today.

Shit, I freaked when Viv Stanshall died. And this, now, really sucks.

3

Mike 01.01.20 at 9:08 pm

Keynsham. Tell me more about Keynsham… -sigh-

4

Bob 01.01.20 at 11:44 pm

I was 15 years old when I saw the Bonzo Dog Band at a two day festival at the Michigan State Fairgrounds in Detroit- other acts included Dr. John the Night Tripper and Sun Ra (both of them just as visually ‘stimulating’ as the costumed Bonzo Dog Band), as well as Chuck Berry, Johnny Winter, the James Gang (Joe Walsh), David Peel, and a bunch of local bands- the MC5, the Stooges, the Frost (Dick Wagner), the Amboy Dukes (Ted Nugent), the Rationals (Scott Morgan), Brownsville Station, etc. I bought Urban Spaceman (the only Bonzo Dog album I could find) and Gris-Gris within a week.
A year or two later I dropped acid for the first time- my best friend’s parents had gone to their cottage ‘up north’ and we were just looking to get some Boone’s Farm wine, which is what we drank on weekends and special occasions- weed was our daily drug of choice. For some reason, the older guy who usually bought for us refused, so we went up to Memorial Park (always crowded with ‘freaks’) and scored some LSD.
After the acid kicked in, we weren’t quite up to changing the records after a single play, so the automatic arm on the old-style stereo would repeat whatever was on the turntable, several times or more. The only three records I remember listening to that night were Volunteers, Deja Vu, and Urban Spaceman.

5

Jim Buck 01.02.20 at 8:46 am

October 1967; in search of sunshine, my girlfriend and me ventured into The Barleycorn–which was a pub, in the centre of Sheffield, frequented by homosexuals and beatniks. The place had a wonderfully eclectic jukebox. Soon, someone dropped a shilling in, and this came on (three times in succession): The Equestrian Statue, a song written by Neil Innes in response to encountering the bad infinities in Satre’s La Nausée ( or so he said). I had heard the Bonzo’s first single, on Top Gear, but the mass clientele of The Barleycorn transmuted its facile whimsy into a roaring anthem– the entire pub, seemingly, in full-throated unison. I was puzzled at the extra emphasis the singing crowd put on the word ‘gay’–a term that I was unfamiliar with at the time.

6

Lee A. Arnold 01.02.20 at 11:01 am

Once a week, for the last fifty years, I have found myself singing either “Piggy Bank Love” or “Mr. Apollo” (co-written with Stanshall).

7

Suzanne 01.02.20 at 11:57 pm

A favorite Innes tune of mine is “When Does a Dream Begin?” a sweet pastiche of mid-century pop that serves as the theme song for a Monty Python episode, in which Innes as a WWII airman warbles the song to a WAAF whose attention keeps wandering from her swain.

I also remember him affectionately as Sir Robin’s mouthy minstrel.

I see by the obits that Innes and wife Yvonne were married for over fifty years. Apparently he hadn’t been ill and so the death may have come as a shock to his loved ones. RIP.

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