Wednesday, June 25, 2008

LA CityBeat runs Neil Innes interview on the eve of The Seventh Python premiere

LA CityBeat
published 06.25.08


By Ron Garmon

In a town full of fame junkies and discarded icons, the affection held for the unglamorous likes of Neil Innes is heartening. A nimble musical satirist in the jolly company of W.S. Gilbert and Spike Jones, Innes spent the latter half of the ’60s as the musical mainspring behind the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, a raucous meld of English music hall, psychedelic rock and Goon Show buffoonery. The seven-man gallumfry (which housed such eminent lunatics as “Legs” Larry Smith and the late Vivian Stanshall) released five albums, toured relentlessly, and appeared with Michael Palin, Eric Idle and Terry Jones on the pre-Monty Python TV series Do Not Adjust Your Set. Innes pressed on with Python, his writing chores including the songs in Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975). The low-key and eccentric Innes is the subject of the documentary The Seventh Python, premiering Thursday at the venerable “Mods & Rockers” festival at the Egyptian Theater, and performs a solo concert there on Friday. Here, the puckish rocker trades wheezes with our resident rock critic, and answers a musical question first posed on the 1970 Bonzos album Keynsham.
–Ron Garmon

CityBeat: Hello and how do you find yourself this morning?

Neil Innes: Well, I just rolled back the sheets and there I was!

Does ex-Bonzos saxophonist Rodney Slater still have his bird?
No, I don’t think he does. It was an African Grey and we always would pick Rodney up last before a gig so we could spend a half-hour to 45 minutes marveling at the parrot. I’d like to get it down on record that it never belonged to Hitler. That was a bit of whimsy.

Tell us about The Seventh Python. It sounds a bit like Harry Reems meets Ray Harryhausen.
Bonnie Rose and Laurie Stevens started this Web site a couple of years ago in L.A. and they decided to get in contact with me and asked if I’d come play there. I was coming through in 2003 on my way to a comedy festival in Melbourne, and said if they can find a couple of rooms, we’d play. A little band was put together and, in typical fashion, the Iraq war and the Oscars happened that weekend, so L.A. was pretty much gridlocked. But nevertheless, the filming took place and the movie began to take shape, and it soon turned out they were making a movie about someone who didn’t really want to become rich and famous! [wheeze] So they had to work hard to make it interesting, and they have the rest of the Pythons on there talking through their trousers. I haven’t seen the finished thing, but it’s quite sweet and fun for me to hear people go on about my songwriting in a grown up way, since I muck about so. It’s not a career move, but hopefully an interesting thing, as it was born out of love.

Have you written any good parodies lately or is Amy Winehouse too easy?
No, but I will share this. We have this game in England called cricket and people sometimes go to matches dressed up. I was watching this local match and there were seven or eight Amy Winehouses in the crowd.

Oh, my God ...
No, no! It looked quite good. Some of them even had beards! At one point, one of the Winehouses was deep in conversation with some straight-looking serious old man, and I thought that was a great moment. I wish the very best of cricket upon America!

Your first two trips to these shores were when the Bonzos toured America in the late ’60s.

It was 1969, it must’ve been. Every English band going was in America at that time, and managers were slashing each other’s tires to get them gigs, and we would be in hotels waiting to do them and Bill Graham, bless him, booked us for first the Fillmore East and then West. He said he couldn’t pay us, but did pay our fares and expenses and we had a wonderful time, playing with Joe Cocker, Jefferson Airplane and Pacific Gas & Electric. We were so daft! We were doing “we are normal and we want our freedom,” and there were all these people on the floor, and by the end it was “Bring ’em back, Bill!”

It was a wonderful time to be alive. America at this time was in its infantility...

As opposed to today’s senility...

[Quickly] I won’t go there.

[Laughs] I will. You’re an atypical rock ’n’ roller, but compare la vie rock now to ages past...
It was like children in a village who’d never heard music and, all of a sudden, a brass band comes through, going pom-pa-pom-pa-pom-rumpity-pom-pa-pa. I think my generation heard rock ’n’ roll that way – we’d never heard anything like it and we took to it as the message of the future. I think as time’s gone by, people have gotten bored with beats and tempos and gotten all Noël Coward dry-around-the-edges in sentiment. We have too much music; we have too much sound. I don’t know the way out of it, but Duke Ellington said there’s two types of music – good and bad.

How did you become involved with Monty Python?

It was while the Bonzos were still going. We had a show called Do Not Adjust Your Set with most of the Pythons, apart from Graham [Chapman] and John [Cleese]. We did 26 programs and after those were up, we left for America. By the time we came back, they’d formed Monty Python with John and Graham. After the second tour of America, we came back, paid off three managers and said enough was enough. It’s been five years straight with no holiday and it was time to take a step back. During that step back, Eric Idle rang me up and I became involved with them.

You were something of their de facto music director at times.

Well, that’s a bit pompous, since there was no musical direction! [laughs] Confidant and fellow drunk are more like it.

From internal evidence of Bonzos LPs, you certainly had an ample boozing résumé...

It was absolutely the perfect thing for me to come out of the Bonzos and into the Pythons. It was another trip and absolutely the same sort of giggles. It was the same matrix, if you like, as Pythons – a kind of anarchic presence.

What is the one thing to remember about humor and music?

[Wheeze] Being able to laugh and whistle a tune. Which are two things. [giggles and makes faint whistling sounds] Sorry. Can’t do it. [cackles]

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