Dick’s Picks: Wonderful slice of mid-’70s eccentricity (it’s Vivian Stanshall, whaddya’ expect?) from the ‘ginger geezer’ himself…..
For those not familiar with the self-styled ‘ginger geezer’ here’s a bluffers guide to…born in 1943, grew up in Essex, went to Walthamstow College Of Art along with fellow alumni Ian Dury and Peter Greenaway (what were they putting in the water back then?). After enrolling at Central School Of Art & Design he quickly formed a group with like-minded eccentrics Rodney Slater, Roger Ruskin Spear and Neil Innes – before long the newly christened Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band (or Bonzo Dog Band or even Bonzos if that’s your wont) were (quite literally) hitting the stage.
Although emerging simultaneously with psychedelia and that whole summer of love thing the band were never really part of that scene (maan), no chance, they were proper weird! From live sets that comprised of cover versions of early ’78s that the band would find being sold off cheap in thrift stores – ‘I’m Gonna’ Bring A Watermelon To My Girl Tonight’ and ‘I Lift Up My Finger And Say Tweet Tweet’ are particular faves – to a gloriously wayward attitude to live performances that saw them incorporate bizarre costumes, comedy routines plus an assortment of hand-made robots, mannequins and gadgets made by band member Roger Ruskin Spear – yikes!
Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead
The album was only officially released on CD back in 2012 making this 1974 solo album a seldom-heard jewel in Viv’s crown, which is a damn shame as from the first track ‘Afoju Ti Ole Riran’ you know you’re in for something special – with a crack team of backing musicians drawn largely from the ranks of Traffic plus assorted backing vocalists like Doris Troy (Nick Drake, Pink Floyd), you get a rock-solid afro-beat-esque rhythm track whilst thin wirey guitar curlicues wind in an out before the ‘ginger geezer’ himself steps forward to deliver an anti-music industry rant as only he can – ‘when the only thing that counts is how much bounce to the ounce”….indeed!
The afro influence continues on the single ‘Lakonga’, which is of special interest, not just because it’s supremely funky (check the conga breakdown at the one minute mark), or that it bears a certain similarity to ‘Black Skinned Blue Eyed Boys by The Equals (an equally brilliant slice of rock/funk) but that it also manages to rhyme Lakonga with ‘I feel like playing conkers’ – ‘nuff said.
Conker gags aside, by mixing elements of afro-beat, world music, spoken word, avant-garde all into one strange and heady brew – did Viv have a portal to the future? In 2017 we take this ‘cross-pollination’ of music for granted (almost expect it in fact) but in 1972 this was brave new ground surely? Something that can get lost if you only see Vivian Stanshall as the perennial joker in the pack, look a little deeper and there’s something more meaningful going on – how about ‘Yelp, Bellow, Rasp Et Cetera’ (and that IS a song title btw) in which ‘the blues’ get de-constructed, in Viv’s world the blues can be reduced to a single line “I got nothing to say but…..boo, boo, boo”, which when you think about is the basis for all blues no?
On a last note (a particular fave), ‘Dwarf Succulents’, a loping Serge Gainsbourg-esque styled groover in which our hero gets low down and dirty in a post-coital afterglow (you can almost see the cigarette smoke), however, the pay-off is at the end of the song when Viv asks a breathy female backing vocalist “how was it for you?”……..Oh, they reply….”so-so”!