Had to be back at Panic Music to remove all instruments by 10 am. That done we could not get into the Astoria till 12.30 so a quiet chat, calm before the storm, in the blue ‘green’ room.
Neil, JJ, Tom and Andy quietly contemplate the gig.
Then to the gig Neil, leading the way. He really is half pigeon- finds directions by the moon or the sun or any other planet that meanders into our solar system.
We get there early, so check in to hotel just across the road from the Astoria. Later load gear into the Astoria to the tumultuously loud sounds of a Russian band – loud enough to make your heart feel out of time and maybe stop– had to get out quickly.
Once unloaded had to park van in a 24 hour car park on the south bank – not normally a long journey, but there was a demonstration in Trafalgar Square and just about every road I tried to use was closed. Ended up zig zagging through London, finally getting to the car park an hour later. Bob Kerr was following in his van. We took a taxi back but needn’t have rushed – the complexity of the stage layout – huge in comparison to the rehearsal space, and the technical challenges meant that not a note was played till about 3.30pm. They had a 6 o’clock curfew, so although the band did get a quick sound check they didn’t get much of a rehearsal.
Meanwhile I took two more trips to the south bank as Tom discovered he had left a huge red mock guitar and Roger a big sheet of metal – the thunder maker, in the vans. The later caused an old fashioned look from the taxi driver. Good job the gig wasn’t in NY – would never have got it in a NY cab.
The dressing rooms were thoughtfully up about six flights of stairs so lots of exercise was had. Neil sat in side room working out introductions – he needs a quiet half hour before a show, but everyone was in jolly moods.
Unfortunately things started to be difficult again when the guest list was temporarily lost, so one of our sons and JJ’s wife, Tess, could not get in. The guards were adamant they had to have a pass. Back up the stairs to find Rachael to discover that there were no more passes, so no guest list and no passes. By this time other performers were being phoned by guests standing out in the cold. I borrowed a couple of passes and got Miles and Tess in and then gave the passes to other people so they could do the same. The guests, having got in, could not then get to the places which had been assigned to them – all total chaos. Suddenly the guest list appeared again and, although there was a lot of milling around in a small standing area, things settled down. The atmosphere was electric – the audience, unable to contain their excitement at being about to see the Bonzos brought to life again, were noisy, and boisterous.
It was decided to do more of the songs from the early years in the first half. From pub gigs through turning professional to recording ‘Gorilla’. The Deuragon Arms was an early Bonzos venue a ‘pass- the- hat round’ type of pub. These gigs were interspersed with trips up and down the motorway to working men’s clubs, staying in gaudy B+Bs, tying knots in each others sheets and outdoing each other in motorway cafes, the game being who could order the most disgusting assortment of food on a plate and eat it. In later years, the game continued when Grimms was on the road, easily won by John Megginson with four glasses of coke – a fried egg in one, baked beans in the other, chips in the third and tomatoes in the fourth. I think they let him off the ‘eating it’ part that night. Neil’s contribution was one baked bean, a chip and an egg. Other ‘foodie’ amusements included Viv ordering a large meal, eating it and ordering the same again…and eating it. Strangely enough the people serving got right into the spirit of the thing – it was always late at night and they probably needed a laugh as much as we did. Other memories –Viv getting down on one knee and serenading a little old lady pulling a shopping bag on wheels with ‘One Alone’. She stood and listened to it all the way through and then said ‘Thanks very much Love. I really enjoyed that,’ before walking away, as though this sort of thing happened to her every day. The second half of the programme was reserved for the later Bonzo years from ‘Doughnut in Granny’s Greenhouse’ recorded at the Morgan studios, to ‘Let’s Make Up And Be Friendly’ recorded at Richard Branson’s Manor Studios in Oxford – probably his first excursion into tycoonship. Here the Bonzos were waited on by beautiful women cooking fabulous meals. Watching archery during breaks in recording, or boating down the river. The period from ‘Doughnuts’ to ‘LMUABF’ was probably Viv’s most creative time writing Rhinocratic Oaths, Rawlinson End etc. It was the late 60s when the Bonzos met The Who, and The Beatles to name but two. Parties that went on for ever, champagne towers six feet high. Viv is an icon to thousands of people. He was the most extraordinarily original and eccentric man and this evening at The
Astoria was as much to remember him as the other Bonzos. Stephen Fry, Ade Edmundson, Paul Merton and Phil Jupitus sang and played their hearts out – almost bringing him back – as if it were possible. He would have loved it.
The set opened with ‘Cool Brittania’ with a bang and showers of stars at the end – was waiting for a bang of the original Bonzo proportions which could send a dustbin flying across the room, but this was a very civilised bang. Straight into a band number –‘ Hunting Tigers.’ You will see all in the DVD produced by Classic Rock which will be on sale within a couple of months.
The audience were word perfect singing along with every song- the applause thunderous. The band wore a motley selection of clothes – could not take photos during show but managed to get some in the dressing rooms. The band were brilliant backing every song with gusto enabling Sam, Rodney, Vernon, Roger and Larry to do their Bonzo gags in front. Sam riding an equestrian statue, Rodney playing washboard, Vernon singing and accompanying himself on saw,
Roger hitting everything in sight and Larry doing a little tap dance and a lot of dressing up and waving ‘Look at me I’m Wonderful, shoo be doo be wah etc’ Wonderful stuff. Neil directing the music, singing, playing, accompanying, announcing etc
Later at the party at Grouchos, there was a mood of celebration and not a little triumph in having pulled it off. Neil has not thought of anything else for the past two months, immersed in lyrics and music and organization. The band, professionals that they are, picking up the music from CDs, and the other Bonzos remembering, relearning and finding long- ago props. Bob Kerr who, with his son Matt, runs a T- shirt printing business, ran up some souvenir T- shirts for sale on the night so at least those who were there could prove it !!
For Neil, getting together again with the other Bonzos, and feeling the support and enthusiasm of the band and the guests, was really quite special, although as he said at the end of the first half, ‘Maybe once every 40 years is enough.’
And don’t forget you can see the whole thing for yourselves in the DVD of the show soon to be released by Classic Rock Productions.