Recording "I'm The Urban Spaceman"

March 1968 ? • For Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band

Album Songs recorded during this session officially appear on the I'm The Urban Spaceman / Canyons Of Your Mind 7" Single.
Studio:
Chappell Recording Studios, London UK

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About

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

The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band had been created by a group of British art-school students in the early 1960s. Their music combined elements of music hall, jazz, pop with surreal humour and avant-garde art. In late 1967, they were asked by Paul McCartney to appear in the Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour“.

The site jpgr.co.uk mentions that “I’m the Urban Spaceman” was recorded “after their appearance in The Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour“, which is kind of consistent with Wikipedia mentioning March 1968 as the recording date. The site Writing on Music indicates Autumn 1968 as the recording date, which is inconsistent with the fact Paul “played ‘Hey Jude’, which he’d just finished writing” during that session.

From Natural Exuberance: The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s “I’m the Urban Spaceman” | Writing on Music:

[…] As it happened, when the band went into the studio in autumn ’68, Innes brought along a catchy ditty he had titled ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’. Innes’ inspiration for the song came from two sources. One was the “urban spaces” of post-war rebuilding in Manchester: “They call them ‘brownfield sites’ nowadays. I just thought ‘well, if there’s urban space, why isn’t there an urban spaceman?’” The other was the vacuous consumerism of ‘60s advertising: “shiny, smiley-faced people eating happy meals and things like this. And so the ‘Urban Spaceman’ was a composite of the sort of an ideal figure in an advert. He doesn’t exist in real life.” With a simple melody inspired by the wailing “na-na-na-na” siren of a passing ambulance, ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’ was very different from the Bonzos’ usual wild pastiche of musical styles and ideas.

If the Bonzos had to have a single, ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’ seemed a likely candidate. But the Bonzos’ attempts to record the song were hampered by Bron, whose idea of effective record producing was to keep a strict schedule. If the band tried to work on anything for more than three hours, Bron’s verdict was, “Right, that’s it, we’ve got to move on to the next track.” One night when Stanshall was out on the town with his friend Paul McCartney, he complained bitterly to McCartney about Bron’s draconian production methods – and McCartney responded by offering to produce ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’. The Bonzos accepted McCartney’s offer because, in Innes’ words, “that was the only way we were going to get Gerry off the control desk, to have somebody like Paul, who wasn’t known as a record producer, but he was known.”

When McCartney arrived at Chappell Studios, where the Bonzos were recording, he immediately sat down at the piano and played ‘Hey Jude’, which he’d just finished writing. This delighted the band, not only because they were likely the first audience ever to hear the song, but because they knew that such antics would greatly annoy the clock-watching Bron. McCartney then got the band to play through ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’ several times, and went around and showed each musician a different way of playing their part that Innes says “made the whole thing take off”. The Bonzos played their own instruments on the record, but McCartney allowed them to keep his ukulele track on the final version of the song. While McCartney was practicing his strumming, Bron’s wife Lillian wandered by and asked, “What’s that you’ve got there, a poor man’s violin?” McCartney retorted, “No, it’s a rich man’s ukulele.”

After an eight-hour recording session, both McCartney and the Bonzos were satisfied with how ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’ sounded. But the song still had to be mixed, and at that point the band’s recording budget was nearly exhausted. So engineer Gus Dudgeon sneaked into Decca Studios, where he used to work, and surreptitiously mixed ‘I’m The Urban Spaceman’ during a break in a Moody Blues recording session. Drummer ‘Legs’ Larry Smith explained, “He was kind enough to note all the fader positions and reset them afterwards so the Moodies weren’t put out, or any the wiser.”

Innes told McCartney biographer Howard Sounes, “I’d like to go on record as saying that the record would have been nothing like [as successful] without Paul’s touch”. And with McCartney’s consent, the Bonzos took one final jibe at Bron’s push for commercial success. They demanded that the production of the single be credited to one Apollo C. Vermouth. […]

Fiona McQuarrie – From Natural Exuberance: The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band’s “I’m the Urban Spaceman” | Writing on Music

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

Songs recorded


1.

I'm the Urban Spaceman

Written by Neil Innes

Recording

Album Officially released on I'm The Urban Spaceman / Canyons Of Your Mind

Staff

Musicians

Neil Innes:
Performed by
Vivian Stanshall:
Performed by
Rodney Slater:
Performed by
Roger Ruskin Spear:
Performed by
Larry Smith:
Performed by

Production staff

Paul McCartney:
Producer
Apollo C. Vermouth:
Producer
Gus Dudgeon:
Producer

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