December 30, 2019


Songwriter extraordinaire, Neil Innes, has passed away. Innes was best known for his musical contributions to Monty Python (remember Bravely Bold Sir Robin Ran Away?), the Bonzo Dog Band, and the brilliant Beatles mockumentary band, The Rutles. Innes began his career with fellow art school pals in the mid-1960s with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, which became a feature act on Do Not Adjust Your Set (1967-1969). The show's cast included future Pythons, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, and Eric Idle. The Bonzos also made an appearance singing Innes' tune "Deathcab For Cutie" in The Beatles film, Magical Mystery Tour (1967) and recorded their hit, Urban Space Man (produced by Paul McCartney) in 1968. Their work was collected in a CD compilation called Dog's Life: 1967-1972. Innes continued to work closely with the Pythons in the 1970s, writing songs and appearing in Monty Python and the Holy Grail and The Life of Brian, and collaborating on the troupe's extensive live shows. In a brief period when Cleese left the group, Innes became one of the only non-Pythons credited as a Python writer (an honor he shared with Hitchhiker's Guide author Douglas Adams). Innes also joined the Pythons on stage in the 2002 tribute to George Harrison, who famously financed The Life of Brian and was a great supporter of The Rutles projects. More below.

In recent years the Bonzos spent some precious energy reclaiming their name from a legal entanglement. And Neil Innes kept busy, producing new CDs and playing limited tours and engagements. Collaborators and fans have reached out to social media this morning. Michael Palin wrote: "Neil was one of the best. A terrifically accomplished musician, writer and performer who could make people laugh, cry and dance, all at the same time. He had an eye and ear for the surreal and a gentleness at the heart of all his work which made him the most delightful of companions." John Cleese shared this on Twitter: "Utterly dismayed to hear about Neil Innes. Right out of the blue... A very sweet man, much too nice for his own good. Lovely writer and performer. When he worked with Python on our stage show, I listened every night to "How sweet to be an Idiot" on the tannoy." Mark Gatiss (Sherlock, Doctor Who): "Neil Innes has gone. As a Python-obsessed teen I saw him at Darlington Arts Centre & missed my bus home to catch his brilliance. I used to record ‘The Innes Book of Records’ on C-60s & marvel at his talent. I still hum ‘I like Cezanne, says Anne’. Sweet dreams, sweet idiot." Close collaborator throughout Do Not Adjust Your Set, Python and The Rutles, Eric Idle, seemed to allude to his distance from Innes in more recent years with this statement on Twitter: "Writer, reader, husband, father, Dogfather, dog owner, guitarist, humorist, humanist, satirist, cricket fan. Have finger will block." I think Spy Vibers will enjoy Neil's musical cocktail of humor and heart. Some of my favorite moments include: The Bonzos performing "Look Out, There's A Monster Coming" (Do Not Adjust You're Set), "Brave Sir Robin Ran Away" (Holy Grail), "A Short Blues" (Python Live at the Civic Center), and every second of The Rutles: All You Need is Cash (1978). Innes had a great ability to blend humor and surrealism with moments of great emotional comment and poignancy. Two Rutles songs come to mind: "Cheese and Onions" (a Yellow Submarine-style sequence ala John Lennon) and "Questionnaire" (a Lennon-style number that sneaks in a sombre statement about gun violence). Spend some time today with Neil Innes on Youtube and you'll see what I mean. Bonzo. Python. Rutle. Gone Sunday at 75. Below: Neil Innes with the Bonzos, The Rutles, The Pythons (Giliam, Idle, Jones), with Eric Idle in 2008, and "Questionnaire". Sending my condolences to his family and friends.

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