The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band
After an introductory round of Cool Britannia, Neil Innes kicked off what he termed a 'homecoming' concert (referring to Vivian Stanshall's stint on The Old Profanity Showboat in Bristol, and the title of the famous Bonzos' song Keynsham) with a request for the audience to turn off their mobile phones. This provoked an apology from Roger Ruskin Spear, who opened his Fifties-style mobile phone, complete with 'A' and 'B' buttons. You get the picture.
The Bonzos, albeit in a slightly altered form due to Viv Stanshall and Dennis Cowan neglecting to be alive for the occasion, are in the midst of their 40th Anniversary tour, taking the opportunity, to paraphrase Neil Innes, to do all that nonsense again before they die. Not having been born when the Bonzos were originally confusing audiences in the 1960's, I don't have anything to compare the night's performance to, but if their talent has dimmed over the years, boy, did I miss out. The old boys took us through 2 hours of their greatest hits, but, as always with the Bonzos, it was much more than just a gig; it was more like an extremely good vaudeville performance. Roger Ruskin Spear came up trumps with an awesome assortment of silly costumes, robots and other accessories, helped out by his two sons Tim and Justin, who quite possibly have the best father in the world. Adrian Edmondson and Phil Jupitus also had the priviledge to perform with their childhood heroes, and they did an admirable job replacing the irreplaceable Viv, although Adrian nudged ahead of Phil in the remembering of lines and behaving like a loon stakes. After all, Adrian's had enough practise over the years...
It's hard to believe that the Bonzos are in their sixties, as the energy levels didn't let up for one minute, and they put much younger men to shame in their sheer exuberance and sense of humour. A conspiracy was soon put into place near the start of the gig to prevent Roger Ruskin Spear playing the trumpet at all costs, including a sign with a trumpet crossed out and Roger being taken away by the 'Trumpet Police', who were attired in beautifully augmented fluoresent jackets. Rodney Slater proved that he had enough puff to put in a sprited performance on the trombone, and took centre stage for Mr Slater's Parrot, with Adrian doing his best Vyvian screeching in a parrot costume. 'Legs' Larry Smith also did several wonderful guest appearances, including going all the way upstairs to deal with a 'heckler'. Perhaps the most impressive performances were Bob Kerr doing a ventriloquist act with Sam Spoons as his dummy, and Sam Spoons showing us later just why playing the spoons used to be so popular.
However, it wasn't just the splendid set pieces that made this night so much fun. The constant stream of 'blink and you'll miss 'em' jokes was a delight, especially Sam Spoons using an extendable pointing finger to highlight the presence of the best named man in showbiz, Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell, who was sitting next to him. Vernon gave touching performances on the musical saw, and a first-class impression of Marlene Dietrich.
All in all, the Bonzos were better than I could ever have imagined. Even though listening to their songs has always been a pleasure for me, the live experience tops that beyond measure. There aren't many bands around who take their encore by performing The Head Ballet, with Roger complaining that the last moves were a lot easier to do 40 years ago, and take their final bow by allowing him to run out with his trumpet at last, put it to his lips and...plunge the stage into darkness. John and I nursed our hands, sore from clapping, with the grins that had been fixed to our faces for the entire duration, and wished we could do it all again. It's a tragedy that we probably won't be able to.