Category Archives: music, books and writing

Buy Three Bonzos and get one Free

As the most influential British purveyors of combined musicianship and humour in the past 50 years, I was somewhat hesitant when I booked to see Three Bonzos and a Piano at the Landmark Theatre, Ilfracombe, North Devon on 25th June. Would they still have that magical spark of genius or would it be better to rely on listening to their recorded glory?

A thorough drenching on the way there – it’s your fault, Glastonbury! – wasn’t an ideal start, but the arrival of Bonzos Roger Ruskin Spear, Rodney Slater and Sam Spoons, plus pianist Dave Glasson and guitarist Andy Roberts, soon had the audience and my clothes steaming.

From the start, classic Bonzo numbers honked out of Rodney’s and Roger’s saxes – Cool Britannia, Jollity Farm, Hunting Tigers – and the compact but enthusiastic audience joined in without prompting.

Roger Ruskin Spear, directing the proceedings in a manic, forgetful but totally entertaining manner, introduced his infamous electrified implements and robots on many of the songs. Reaching out into the audience as far as the mike lead would allow, he asked us the original questions preceding Shirt.

Unbelievably, I got the chance to shout a right answer – I knew memorising those words would be more useful than my degree – and was awarded with a signed certificate, as were other studious participants. This was followed by a solo on the electric shirt collar, while Trouser Press featured the electric trouser press and the theremin leg appeared on Noises for the Leg.

Three Bonzos and a Piano | @robertz

Across the stage Rodney Slater blew a mean sax, played washboard on Mr Slater’s Parrot and performed a mixture of new and old numbers, including Senior Moments and Ginger Geezer, the latter in tribute to the late Vivian Stanshall.

Sam Spoons lived up to his name with several virtuoso performances on the spoons, including electric spoons on Monster Mash. A country and western performance of Purple Sprouting Broccoli also included the audience in a sing-a-long.

As well as the three advertised Bonzos, we also got a free one: Vernon Dudley Bohay-Nowell. Uncle Vernon bewitched us with a stunning cabaret magic trick, held us spellbound with a children’s story and charmed us with an enchanting rendition of Marlene Dietrich’s Falling in Love Again, complete with solo on the musical saw.

The audience got into the full spirit of the show and were in stitches most of the time, whether at Roger and Sam with their human ventriloquist act, when joining in the lyrics of Viv Stanshall’s Tent and Big Shot or from the hilarity of the Music for the Head Ballet.

Organised mayhem ensured the whole show remained refreshingly rough at the edges, so that the evening flashed past in continuous laughter.

Three Bonzos and a Piano (33% extra free) should have packed out the Landmark because they were well worth seeing: I have the certificate to prove it.

Go and see while they still perform – we’re all getting much older!

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Moody Blues’ Octave remastered worth the 31-year wait

Having first heard Nights in White Satin on the radio and then my brother’s LP of To Our Children’s Children’s Children, I discovered the Moody Blues for myself in 1976 when I bought their then 9-year-old Days Of Future Passed. I was hooked, bought the remaining six core albums and was delighted by the news that a new album was in the offing, six years after Seventh Sojourn.

By 1978, when Octave was released, the world had moved on and so had the Moody Blues. Founder member Mike Pinder and producer Tony Clarke left during the recording, so when I first heard a new album by the band there was a question mark over their future direction. The album seemed to lack the intensity of their earlier work and seemed to echo some of the solo albums recorded by each of the five members. And that’s how I viewed Octave for many years.

When I heard that the album had been remastered, I grudgingly added it to my wish list. The recently reissued seven core albums are fantastic, but I doubted whether Octave would be so good.

I was wrong.

The remastering, by Justin Hayward himself, has transformed the album and brought it to life for me. The Moodies have always written well and are fine musicians and singers, both recorded and live. Their performance on Octave doesn’t let them down and I now have some of the songs going round in my head.

Ray Thomas’s I’m Your Man used to be my least favourite track by the band, but now I listen with enjoyment. The extras include a live version of the track, which is even better.

John Lodge’s bass work is also more apparent. My appreciation of him as a player grows year by year and I think he is grossly under-rated, as are all the Moodies.

Driftwood, Survival and One Step into the Light are other favourites from a time when each of the five members would contribute songs to create a true group effort, whereas now songwriting is left to Hayward and Lodge. The five extra live tracks are also a great demonstration of how the band deliver powerful performances in concert.

So, while I usually view reissues and repackaging with some suspicion, I am so glad I have Octave. It was certainly worth the 31-year wait to hear it as it ought to sound.

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