Vivian Stanshall

Mar 21, 1943
Mar 05, 1995

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From Wikipedia:

Vivian Stanshall (born Victor Anthony Stanshall; 21 March 1943 – 5 March 1995) was an English singer-songwriter, musician, author, poet and wit, best known for his work with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, for his exploration of the British upper classes in Sir Henry at Rawlinson End (as a radio series for John Peel, as an audio recording, as a book and as a film), and for acting as Master of Ceremonies on Mike Oldfield’s album Tubular Bells. […]

Bonzo years

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band were named after a word game that Stanshall played with co-founder Slater, in which they cut up sentences and juxtaposed fragments to form new ones. ‘Bonzo Dog/Dada’ was one result which they liked. The band initially performed under this name, but grew tired of explaining what Dada meant and so it became the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, ‘doo-dah’ being a quaint expression that both Slater’s mother and Stanshall himself used to describe everyday objects; later the name was shortened to The Bonzo Dog Band, or just The Bonzos.

Much of the band’s original repertoire was based on comedic re-workings of songs from the 1920s and ’30s, found on 78 records, bought for pence from local flea markets.

For a while, the band operated semi-professionally, playing local pubs and the college circuit. After acquiring a manager, they went full-time and were booked on the working men’s club circuit, mainly in the north of England. The band dominated their lives, as they frequently travelled to low-paying gigs in an old van crammed with any number of musical instruments, an assortment of props, and prop robots. In 1967, they appeared in The Beatles’ television film Magical Mystery Tour, where they played Stanshall’s “Death Cab for Cutie” during the strip club scene. The appearance led to a spot as the house band on Do Not Adjust Your Set, a weekly children’s television revue series that was also notable for early appearances by half of what became the Monty Python team.

According to their manager/agent Gerry Bron, after a perhaps ill-advised agreement that the band should be left to their own artistic devices, Stanshall was allowed several weeks in a hired rehearsal space to write songs for the new Bonzo Dog Band album. When Bron arrived at the location to check the progress of these endeavours, he found that Stanshall had not written anything at all and had instead built a variety of hutches for his pet rabbits. Bron mentioned in a television documentary that this occurred in May 1968 in a hall in Acton, West London. The actual location is Askew Road Church Hall, at the start of Bassein Park Road in Shepherd’s Bush.[citation needed] The date would suggest that these were rehearsals for the album The Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse. During recordings for the album proper at Morgan Studios, Stanshall, wearing just a rabbit’s head and underpants, interviewed members of the public in Willesden High Road. On the album track “We Are Normal”, one interviewee can be heard to remark, ‘He’s got a head on him like a rabbit.’

Later in 1968, the Bonzos scored a surprise top-ten hit with “I’m the Urban Spaceman” co-produced by Paul McCartney and Gus Dudgeon under the alias ‘Apollo C. Vermouth’. Meanwhile, the band toured incessantly and recorded a multitude of radio sessions for the BBC, alongside several albums. They also embarked upon two poorly organised but well-received tours of the United States. (Neil Innes remembers that the band were reportedly stopped by a local 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. Stanshall piped up from the back of the minibus, ‘With good manners!’) It was during the particularly disastrously organised second tour that the Bonzos decided to break up, partly because of Stanshall’s growing stage fright—combined with increasing use of valium to help this, but also because of anger with their management, after Spear’s wife suffered a miscarriage while he was away, and no-one informed him. The band subsequently decided to split whilst they were still friends. In March 1970, they played their last show at Loughborough University. […]

In 1968, Paul McCartney produced The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s most successful single, “I’m the Urban Spaceman“, under the pseudonym Apollo C. Vermouth.

I originally met Viv in the London club days, out and about on the town. We used to have drinks and a laugh together and he was a lovely, funny man. He was in The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, which I saw live on stage at the Saville Theatre a couple of times when Brian Epstein promoted shows there. They were very eccentric — sort of modern yet very old-fashioned — following on from bands like the Temperance Seven. Then I phoned Viv and asked if the Bonzos would be in Magical Mystery Tour with us. They did the scene with the stripper that we filmed in Paul Raymond’s Revuebar and I think they had a pretty good time, playing while the woman took off her clothes. So Viv became a very good friend and I used to visit him at his house — I remember that he had an aquarium with turtles, at which we used to sit and wonder! Then he asked me to produce their next single ‘I’m The Urban Spaceman’, which I did at Chappell Studios. I went down there, met the guys, and Viv had a length of brightly-coloured plastic piping which made a noise when he swirled it around his head. That was to be his contribution. We chatted a while and then I produced the record. He suggested that I be credited as “Apollo C Vermouth”, which indeed I am, still, to this day. It turned out to be the Bonzos only hit, although hit singles is not what they were about anyway. I’ll always remember Viv and Keith Moon being a sort of double act, the two of them playing very, very posh English gentleman. They did have their crazy side, of course, but whenever I saw them together they were perfect gentlemen. They did a joint Radio 1 show, which I heard while driving up to Scotland and was the inspiration for Oobu Joobu. Over the following years Viv and I would see each other, on and off, at functions, but I gradually lost touch with him, so it was with particular sadness that I heard he had died. He was a wonderful man and he’ll be much missed.

Paul McCartney, 1995

Last updated on September 28, 2021

Recording sessions Vivian Stanshall participated in

Recording "I'm The Urban Spaceman"

March 1968 ? • Songs recorded during this session appear on I'm The Urban Spaceman / Canyons Of Your Mind

Albums, EPs & singles which Vivian Stanshall contributed to

I'm The Urban Spaceman / Canyons Of Your Mind

By Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band • 7" Single

Contribution: Performed by • 1 songs


By Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band • LP

Contribution: Performed by • 1 songs


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