Monty Python, The Bonzo Dog Band and The Rutles – an impressive career remembered.
Neil Innes, who suddenly died on December 29th, was often referred to as ‘the seventh Python’, a title also bestowed onto actress Carol Cleveland by the media. In the case of Innes, it was more deserved – he not only had writing credits on the final Monty Python TV series, but was a part of their world from the start, appearing in a significant role in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and a bit part on the Life of Brian, and joining thr comedy troupe on tour – he appears on both the Live at City Center LP (where he appears as the dreadful folk singer Raymond Scum) and the Live at the Hollywood Bowl movie. Until Eric Idle picked up the baton, Innes was the principle Python songwriter.
But he had a notable career outside Python, the two highlights being the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, the beloved British band who defied definition – not quite a serious rock band, not quite a comedy act, they created songs that were satirical and weird, usually written by Innes and fellow Bonzo Vivian Stanshall. They had a hit single with I’m the Urban Spaceman, and remain one of the most interesting experimental outfits to emerge from the 1960s. If you are somehow unfamiliar with their output, I urge you to seek it out immediately.
Innes’s other extraordinary musical creation was The Rutles, a deliciously on-the-nose Beatlessatire that began life in Eric Idles’s Rutland Weekend Television and then became a phenomenon, spawning an album and a TV movie. The Rutles were a perfect pastiche and the movie is one of the great underrated comedy classics of the 1970s.
Beyond the Rutles and the Bonzos, Innes starred in his own BBC series, The Innes Book of Records, and was a mainstay of British TV and radio. He occupied a curious place in pop culture, between rock ‘n’ roll and comedy, and the world is a less eccentric place without him.