Aired: 3 November 2014 at 6.30pm, BBC Radio 4
Curator: Phill Jupitus
Steering Committee: Neil Innes, Dr Bradley Garrett, Isabel Behncke Izquierdo
Musician & Comic
Neil’s career has been totally unplanned. 'What I do I do for fun,' he says. 'I had the piano thrust on me as a child and I ended up really liking it. From the age of seven to 14 I got quite proficient but at that age things happen in your life and you start to rebel. I realised that every time learned a piece they would give me a harder one. So I took up the guitar and started writing my own stuff.'
'But then there was the lure of painting, and I didn’t think much about music and went to art school. Once there, I realized I had only enough money for beer or paint and pretty soon not enough painting was being done.'
Whilst at Goldsmith’s college in South London, Neil met Vivian Stanshall 'He had Billy Bunter check trousers and a Victorian frock coat, pince-nez glasses, carried a euphonium and wore pink rubber ears. And no one took any notice!' Neil joined Vivian’s surreal jazz group The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band.
The Bonzos were all art students. They were originally called the Bonzo Dog Dada Band. They toured the country in an ambulance, along with their props, including an exploding grandfather clock. They did the show, 'swept up the bits, travelled 30 miles, and did it again.'
Their TV debut was on Blue Peter in February 1968, then they were the house band for the cult children’s television programme Do Not Adjust Your Set, which also featured future Pythons Eric Idle, Michael Palin and Terry Jones.
On tour in the States, the Bonzos were stopped by a U.S. sheriff and asked if they were carrying any firearms or drugs. When they denied both, the officer asked how they were going to defend themselves. Vivian piped up from the back of the minibus, 'With good manners!'.
Neil is sometimes known as the 'Seventh Python', as he performed and wrote songs and sketches for the final series in 1974. Only two non-Pythons have ever been credited for writing the TV series, the other one was Douglas Adams. He appeared on stage with the Pythons in New York 1976 and at the Hollywood Bowl in 1982; he wrote the songs for Monty Python And The Holy Grail and had a small role in Terry Gilliam’s Jabberwocky. There’s even a musical film about Neil called The Seventh Python (2008).
The Beatles played an active role in Neil’s career. When Vivian Stanshall, the Bonzo’s front man, complained that their manager was forcing them to record one track every two hours, Paul McCartney offered to produce their next single. Neil: 'There was this wonderful moment when we told our producer/manager that we would make a single, but that he wasn’t producing it. He asked: "Who do you think you are going to get?" There was a lovely pause before we replied: "Paul McCartney".'
Paul produced the single Urban Spaceman under the pseudonym 'Apollo C. Vermouth' in the credits. Urban Spaceman reached number 17 in the UK charts before it was leaked who Vermouth actually was. It then shot straight to number five.
Neil was with the Bonzos at Abbey Road studios in 1966 where the Beatles were recording Revolver. They were awed by how the Beatles were pushing the boundaries of music with the track I Want To Tell You. Humbled, the Bonzos then went back to record My Brother Makes Noises For the Talkies.
The Bonzos appeared and played in the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour. George Harrison loved the Rutles and encouraged Neil. He even acted in Neil and Eric Idle’s Beatles mockumentary All You Need Is Cash, featuring Neil’s fictional Doppelgaenger band, the Rutles.
Despite starring Neil, Eric Idle, Michael Palin, George Harrison, Bianca Jagger, John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, Ronnie Wood, Mick Jagger and Paul Simon, All You Need Is Cash was the lowest-rated prime time show on US television that week and came 65th out of 65. But a few months later it was so successful in the UK that BBC2 immediately repeated it. This was followed by an album release.
Neil Innes has revealed that Oasis gave him a share of their hit Whatever - because it sounds just like his Monty Python song How Sweet To Be An Idiot. He is reckoned to have earned around Pounds 50,000 from the track, which reached No 3 in December 1994.
Meanwhile, his latest comedy cause is to become an Ego Warrior and campaign against the current trend of 'dumbing down'.
One of Neil’s projects is The Idiot B*stard Band, which features Ade Edmondson (Young Ones, Comic Strip) on guitar, mandolin, trumpet and coconuts, Neil on keyboards, guitar, ukulele and harmonica, Phill Jupitus on guitar, bass, kazoo and stylophone, and Rowland Rivron (Raw Sex, Fat Les, Jools Holland Big Band) on drums, congas, bongos and rude shouting.
Neil Innes has become, in the words of The Rutles: 'a living legend, a legend who has lived long after lots of other living legends have died.'
Neil has written and appeared many children’s TV shows, writing for and appearing in The Raggy Dolls and Puddle Lane.
Ladies and gentlemen, I've suffered for my music, now it's your turn.
Bradley is a writer, explorer, filmmaker, photographer and researcher in Technological Natures at the University of Oxford. With degrees in archaeology and geography in the States and Australia , he went at the Royal Holloway University of London. For his PhD, he immersed himself for his PhD into the culture of urban explorers (urbexers) for an ethnographic study.
Bradley has written a book about this experience: Explore Everything: Place Hacking The City.
Bradley’s curiosity about what lurks above and beneath our cities has taken him and his cohorts to hundreds of dangerous, hidden and forbidden places: the drains of Las Vegas, St Sulpice church in Paris, the roof of Oxford New Court, the 'ghost' stations of London’s Tube and the headquarters of the Rothschild Bank in London.
'We’re reacting to increased surveillance and control over urban space,' he writes. 'Essentially, we’re trespassing, so in some ways what we’re doing is always illegal.'
Between 2008 and 2012, Bradley hung out with two gangs named London Team B and the London Consolidation Crew whose members climbed the Shard, wandered around the ruins of Chernobyl and nearly come a cropper trying to get to a Soviet submarine moored on the Thames.
Bradley has been arrested on the tarmac at Heathrow, had his flat raided, and recalls hairy situations where he staggered around with a broken rib, and once tried to avoid being arrested by pouring beer over himself and pretending to be homeless.
Bradley and his friends have 'topped out' several London skyline landmarks: the Shard, the Cheesegrater, the Lloyd’s Building and the Walkie Talkie.
Garrett grew up in California. In 2001, aged 19, he co-founded a skateboard shop in the city of Riverside. He moved back to northern California and began work for the US Bureau of Land Management, specializing in the archaeological heritage of Native American groups.
Taken to court, Bradley has pleaded guilty to five counts of criminal damage to railway property. The judge gave him a three-year discharge and ordered him to pay £2,000 costs.
In one instance Bradley and friends were caught coming down a skyscraper, but when they showed the guard the photos they’d taken from the crane, he just laughed and gave them a ride to the gate.
'I see it as being about taking back rights to the city from which we have been wrongfully restricted through subversions that erode security and threaten clean narratives about what one can and can’t do.'
'Despite our better judgment, some of us start standing up on the beams, crawling on all fours like bonobos, speeding down the last cantilever structure before the beams got too wet to hold on to.'
Bradley was also one of a team who 'yarnbombed' The Angel of the North by wrapping it in a knitted scarf against the winter chill. Bradley’s CV states that he is an intermediate web designer, has Basic 32 firefighter training and an International Powerboat Boat License.
Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.
Isabel is a scientist who grew up in the wild mountains of Chile. She studied conservation biology at University College in London and then went back to Chile to help set nature reserves in the temperate rainforest there, before coming back here to study human evolution in Cambridge, Oxford and for a year with Bonobos in the jungles of the Congo.
Isabel’s research interests also include: Systems Science, Poetry, Music, Primatology, Poetry, Biodiversity, Neuroscience, Paleoanthropology, Ethology, Social Interaction, Ecology, Complexity Theory and Behavioural Ecology.
Isabel grew up on a ranch in Chile with sheep, horses, dogs and abundant wildlife. Isabel’s dad had anything from eagles-in-rehabilitation roaming inside the house to a South American rhea running outside, but it was her mum who encouraged her to read, and that sparked her intellectual curiosity.
When she was 8 years old, her father gave her an angry untamed parrot, and she spent the summer determined to make him her friend. After that, they were inseparable for 15 years. During her late teens and early 20s, Isabel regularly smuggled the parrot onto planes inside her sweater. Once Isabel was on a plane when a disabled girl had a panic attack, and Isabel managed to calm her down by showing her the parrot. Isabel and her parrot were then invited to the flight deck, and the parrot pooed all over the flight instruments.
Currently Isabel lives in Oxford with her partner and (according to Google Translate) 'Akila the thieving wolf-dog'. Isabel has been studying the importance of play in Bonobos and humans. She is particularly interested in role-play in social evolution. She says: 'The animals who have the largest brains (and who live for a long time and have complex cognition and social systems) are the ones who tend to play as adults. I do not think this is a coincidence. I believe play is at the root of both complex intelligence and complex sociality.'
Isabel studies a group of wild Bonobos that have been habituated to human observation. Asked what Bonobos can teach us to improve our own lives, Isabel says:
I just came back from a community that holds the secret to human survival. It’s a place where women run the show, have sex to say hello, and play rules the day.