Rutlin Neil Innes rattles around the 60s
- Rob Cullivan
- Portland Tribune - Features
From Monty Python to the Rutles, composer left his comedic mark
In June 1966, Neil Innes of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band was recording the 1920s vaudeville tune 'My Brother Makes the Noises for the Talkies' at Abbey Road Studios in London.
Taking a break for tea, Innes wandered down a hallway and heard music emanating from behind a closed door.
'It was that wonderful piano banging the F over the E,' he recalls.
It was the Beatles recording George Harrison's 'I Want To Tell You.' Eleven years later, Innes visited Harrison at his home, told him about the day he first heard the song, then proceeded to bang out the tune on a piano. Harrison picked up a guitar.
'Do-dee-da-do-do, do-da-do, do-da-do/Do-dee-da-do-do, do-da-do, do-da-do,' Innes sings, mimicking the guitar line during a phone interview from Great Britain.
Not bad for a guy who calls himself 'the luckiest man to have ever lived.' And it's pretty hard to argue with him since he seems to have been at the right place at the right time throughout his career.
Innes brings his 'A People's Guide to World Domination' show to the Doug Fir Lounge Sunday, April 25, and will share the stage with innovative cellist Gideon Freudmann.
A London art student in the early '60s, Innes says the Bonzo band was formed with no intent other than he and his mates having a good time.
'We'd play this silly old stuff from the '20s and '30s … terrible rubbish,' he says. 'It turned out to be fantastic drinking music … people warmed to us.'
The group's humor garnered it such fans as the Beatles, who gave Innes and company a scene in the film 'Magical Mystery Tour.' During the scene, set in a burlesque club, Innes and company played the Elvis-inspired 'Death Cab for Cutie.' He's well aware of the Bellingham-spawned indie rock band named for the song - 'those neighbors of yours' - but adds the Bonzo boys almost wrote a different song for the movie - 'It was a Great Party till Somebody Found a Hammer.'
'It's a good thing we played 'Death Cab for Cutie' instead of that,' he says with a laugh.
The Full Rutle
In the 1970s, Innes worked with The Grimms and then wrote songs for the TV show Monty Python's Flying Circus, as well as such films as 'The Holy Grail.' He fondly remembers his days with the comedy troupe, laughing as he recalls Michael Palin working on a song about medieval agrarian reform.
'I said, 'Great! Get in there before Motown,' ' he says.
In addition to writing and performing, Innes played bit parts in Python movies, including the head of Sir Robin's minstrels in 'Monty Python and The Holy Grail.'In one of the movie's most famous scenes, a catapulted wooden rabbit crushes him, a humiliating fate he blames on professional jealousy, since writers plagued by 'insecurity' always envy musicians' talent.
'I say bring it on! Wooden cows, rabbits, I can take it!'
His most famous role, however, was that of Ron Nasty, a send-up of John Lennon, in The Rutles, which he created with Eric Idle on 'Rutland Television.' With a little help from Harrison, he and Idle also created the Rutles mockumentary 'All You Need Is Cash.'
Innes reveres the Fab Four's musical legacy and tried to emulate it even as he mocked it. He sent up 'Penny Lane' in the Rutles 'Double Back Alley,' and Paul McCartney, reportedly frosty to the Rutles at first, came around in the end.
'He knew I wasn't taking the piss, and we're still on good terms,' Innes says.
Innes has continued to write songs, and was the writer for 'Raggy Dolls,' a popular 1980s and '90s British TV children's series. Just about to release a new album, he says he's finally found the right mix of music and comedy in his work.
'I always knew I was a late developer,' he says with a laugh.