Neil Innes: 1996

On September 9, 1996, on the eve of completing filming for the Rutles Shangri-La video, I met with Neil Innes is his posh Beverly Hills hotel room to talk about the Rutles album, Archaeology, for Good Day Sunshine Magazine. Ron Nasty, one of the original Rutles, also came into the room, and dominated most of the beginning of the interview.

DAVE: I'm sure you know how excited we all are about this time in history, we thought, all us Rutles fans, that the body of Rutles music was it, and to know that there's now going to be new Rutles music is all very exciting for us, so we really appreciate your sharing a little moment of this time with us.

Neil Innes

NEIL: Thank you.

NASTY: Uh huh...

DAVE: We're curious to know, at the time you actually dug up the tapes...

NASTY: We didn't actually dig them up, it was Barry's dog that found them. We'd forgotten about it. In fact, Barry's dog is very annoying with this sharp little bark, you can hear it on the album, and I take a swipe at it. I miss, so I'd like to reassure everybody that no animal was actually harmed in the recording of this album, but you can hear Barry's dog on the album.

DAVE: When you actually heard the tapes again for the first time after all these years, what did you think of them?

NASTY: We'd forgotten about them, and we thought maybe the people should hear them, and that's what we've done, we're very pleased to be back together again, and we're releasing the album now so that people can hear them. 'Cause if we didn't, then they wouldn't hear them, and if we released it a bit later, they'd have to wait longer to hear them.

DAVE: Are they like what you remember?

NASTY: A lot of the stuff is old, some of it is new, some of it is in between. And some of it wasn't actually buried, I found it in me shed, some of these actual rehearsal tapes, and we've used three of them. The main thing is nobody has heard any of these things before. So, it seemed like a good idea to dig it up, empty the cupboards or whatever, and put it all out, because, you know, a lot of other people are doing the same sort of thing.

DAVE: So, basically, you had a lot of tracks that you had to remix to make them into a releasable album.

NASTY: Remix, re-record, work magic, do all sorts of things.

DAVE: When did all the new work on the album take place?

NASTY: It started about a year ago, collecting the songs together, and things like that, and listening to stuff I found in me shed, and then about Halloween we started recutting them around and reworking them and I think it was the first of July that we went into the studios in Ripley, we did the backing tracks there, with some friends, like Malcolm Foster on bass, and Bernie Holland on guitar. Bernie used to play with Ollie Hallsall, and with John Halsey, in various bands, and Dougie Boyle on guitar, and Mickey Simmons on keyboards, and work the computer. And it was Mickey who came up to my house and help me routine these things for the demos, cause I'm not that quick on the computer yet, but it's a great way of working 'cause you can take two bars out, put them back in... and we had the album more or less done with all of that before we went into the studio to do it for real, so everybody could hear what it was supposed to sound like.

DAVE: We were wondering, Archie McCaw, who was your original producer at Parlorphone, is he still involved with your recordings?

NASTY: No, he's moved on to other things. I haven't really kept much contact with all the old crowd, because, you remember, I tried turning my back on the world for a while, but after a while I realized I was facing just as much world as I'd turned my back on. That's the nature of worlds, there's always as much in front of you as there is behind you. This became an obsession after a while, I became obsessed with time, and in particular the present tense, which is like, infinity, because we all live, exist or whatever, on the exact spot where the past and the future meet, and it doesn't last very long, you have to concentrate quite hard to stay in this present tense. So there isn't really time, you see, everything happens all at once. It's a little hobby of mine.

DAVE: Was it just like the old days when you got back together again to redo the tracks?

NASTY: I've got a very poor memory for legal reasons, but everything since 1980's been all a bit of a blur anyway, and it was nice to sort of get together with Stig and Barry again, and even though Leppo is no longer with us, you know, we miss him a lot, he should have been there...

DAVE: Why did Leppo leave the band after Hamburg?

NASTY: Let's say it was an "executive" decision by people who had more power than the musicians. But, we stayed in touch.

DAVE: There are rumors that Leppo played anonymously with the band in the later Rutles recordings, is that true?

NASTY: (Sheepishly) ...yes.

DAVE: Is he on Archaeology?

NASTY: Yes, he is, because he was on the things we found in the shed, these rehearsal tapes. He's on the track We've Arrived, Now She's Left You, and a track called Unfinished Words. This was a backing track in the tapes, none of us could remember what this was, it must have been one I was working on and never finished, so I put a tune to it, and I put some unfinished words on it, the way you do, you know, when you can't think of what you want to say, like "yesterday", you sing "scrambled eggs" or something...

DAVE: Nasty, since you're here, perhaps you can dispel, you'll pardon the expression, a nasty rumor for us. Did Chastity break up the Rutles?

NASTY: No, certainly not. Chastity was a very lively girl, but she gave up all that nazi stuff, because everyone does daft things when they're young, and she changed her name to Gwen Taylor and went on to be a brilliant actress.

DAVE: Did she have anything to do with helping you guys get back together to record again?

NASTY: No, she didn't, she's got a career of her own now. I did speak to her last year, possibly about her appearing in the video, although that didn't happen, but we're still the best of friends.

DAVE: Is true that you recorded and never released a 27 minute version of Piggy In The Middle?

NASTY: No, 27 minutes is too long. 25 is alright. 27 is way too long, I'd never done anything 27 minutes long. I think it must have been an early obsession with time even then, probably stopped me from being that indulgent. But Shangri-La goes on for about seven minutes. That's a song I wrote years and years ago, and I sang it once on Saturday Night Live, I also did Cheese and Onions on that show. So, Shangri-La's been in the cupboards for a long time, and now come out. It's three minutes of song, and four minutes of fade.

DAVE: That Saturday Night Live appearance was actually before "All You Need Is Cash" was made, is that right?

NEIL: Yeah, that version of Cheese and Onions turned up on a Beatles bootleg album, and some of the British music press rang me up and said, "Ah, ha! What's this? We heard this song on a Beatles bootleg..." And I said, well, what's it like? And they played it, and it was me! And I said, well, that's me on Saturday Night Live. What it's doing on a Beatles bootleg album I don't know...

NASTY: The Rutles have actually influenced lots of people, all the young bands are sort of coming up with Rutles music.

DAVE: How does that make you feel when the newer bands copy you?

NEIL: Very touched.

NASTY: Exquisite taste.

DAVE: Have you heard the Rutles cover album "Rutles Highway Revisited"?

NASTY: Yeah, that's another way of doing them. (chuckling)

NEIL: Not my cup of tea... I did write some sleeve notes for them...

DAVE: If you can remember back to the early days for us, when you were on the Ed Sullivan Show, what was Ed Sullivan like? Was he really as stiff and un-hip as he looked on TV?

NASTY: Yeah, he was remarkable in that most people are like, in color, you know, but he was in black and white, and if he turned sideways, you couldn't see him. He really was a man of television, and he had lines, going through his whole image, he was like a kind of hologram.

DAVE: That period of coming to the US for the first time, what was that like for you guys, the reaction of the fans must have been quite a surprise...

NASTY: Yeah, I mean, when you hear the song We've Arrived, that sums up our feelings at that time entirely. All of the songs really speak for themselves, anything I say is like getting a painter to talk about his painting, it's very boring, you know... The album is like a nice little puzzle, you can read the clues and you can get the right feel from all of it.

NEIL: This time around, the album is more musical, in that the last album was more of a soundtrack. This is more about songs and song writing, and just playing. And it is a tribute. Whereas before we pretended that there weren't any other bands anywhere like us, but in fact this time we're coming clean and saying yes, there was a band a bit like us, and this would be an homage to them.

NASTY: Weren't they were called the Insects or something like that? Something creepy crawly, but spelt wrong. Stable. There's an anagram. Go figure.

DAVE: After A Hard Day's Rut and Ouch!, was there talk of a different third film other than Tragical History Tour?

NASTY: I wanted to make a film called "Rutlemania: A Nasty Business", but, I don't know, I just got tired of the idea. It's a lot of work you know, making a film.

NEIL: And we all sort of went our own separate ways, because... that's the way it was written. None of us control what happens to us in our lives, it's not much different from anybody else's life, you know, fate, or a script writer's pen. It all more or less amounts to the same thing.

DAVE: Talking about movies and your lives, how did you feel when you all saw yourselves portrayed in cartoon in Yellow Submarine Sandwich?

NEIL: Well, a friend of mine did that, Tony White, and I thought he did a really good job. I'm not a vain person...

DAVE: The Rutles and Monty Python are inextricably linked. Neil, could you tell us how you got started with the Pythons, and how the Rutles all came together?

NASTY: Oh, this old boring story again! I'm going to go get something to eat...

NEIL: It was 1971, the Bonzos were sort of about breaking up when the Pythons were getting going. Eric (Idle) rang me up one day and said "Our warm-up man on the Python show is ill, do you fancy coming up and doing the warm-up?" and I said "I don't do warm-up!" and he said, "It's twenty-five quid," so I said, "Done!" So I went up and met up with everyone again, I hadn't yet met John Cleese at that stage, and we just sort of had a meal and then we started doing albums, you know, Agrarian Reform, and I sort of became attached to them, you know, started doing farewell tours, and we went to Canada and did the show at Drury Lane.

It was when we were doing Drury Lane, the BBC2 came to Eric and talked about doing this program called Rutland Weekend Television, which was about the smallest station in Britain, if not the world, and Eric asked me if I'd like to do it with them, and I said no at first, because I wasn't terribly keen on doing television, because the experience that the Bonzo Dog Band had with television, it was so crazy, they couldn't get it together when something happened there, they'd be looking over there (indicating a different place) with the camera or something like that, I said, ahh, television's useless, it's not my stage, you know. But he said, well, the thing is there's no one to argue with, you do the music thing, you can tell the camera where to point. So I said that's different, and I said yes, please, and so he went off and wrote sketches, we didn't write together in the same room or anything, and I went off and wrote songs, and he came up with visual ideas that went with the songs.

One of the things I did which was cheap, because everything had to be cheap in this whole program, was I thought it would be fun to film something like Dick Lester's Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film*, which is what he used in Hard Day's Night, and write a kind of song that was a happy-go-lucky, running around the playground in black and white type song, which turned into I Must Be In Love. And I was going to call it "Rutland Weekend shows the Beatles in A Hard Day's Night", because the other things that Eric were doing, he'd be doing "War and Peace" as one of the sort of high-profile drama programs at Rutland Weekend Television, but you'd only see like four old age pensioners walking down a country lane retreating from Rome, but with the full costumes on. And you see a hand come in with a match and light a cardboard model of Moscow. So this was all part of that. But Eric had another sketch involving a serious documentary maker who the camera kept running away from. And he wanted to combine the two, and he then wanted to call it the Rutles, and I said, oh, no, I don't like that, don't do that, please! And he said, no, no, no, trust me. So anyway, I said, alright, call it The Rutles, and lo and behold it moves on and he shows it on Saturday Night Live and the Rutles become part the whole story where someone offered three million dollars for the Fabs to get back together, and then Saturday Night Live offered three thousand, and then George (Harrison) came on to take the three thousand and Lorne said no, it's three thousand for all of you, but maybe you don't have to tell Ringo... and jokes like that. Then Eric Idle comes on and says he can do it for three hundred dollars, so Lorne agrees, only he doesn't get the Beatles, he got the Rutles... Then everyone sort of said, yeah, the Rutles, let's hear the whole story, and that's when George got involved because it was a good way of taking the pressure off the real reunion of the fabs. And in many ways, that silly documentary, "All You Need Is Cash", is almost a semi-official biography of the Beatles.

DAVE: Did "All You Need Is Cash" use any of the same locations as the original Beatles events?

NEIL: We ended up using the same airfield for Piggy In The Middle as I Am The Walrus, although probably not the same bits.

DAVE: The thing that impressed the fans was how accurate the film was.

NEIL: Well, we had a lot of help from George, all the others agreed to genuine footage we could cut in from their archives. George arranged for us to see what Neil Aspinall had been cutting together.

Neil Innes and George Harrison

DAVE: That was the documentary that never came to be, that was called The Long And Winding Road?

NEIL: Yeah, we saw the assemblage of that, and we had a lot of help. There was a good collaboration between the Beatle camp and the Python camp in Eric Idle, and when they said let's do the whole story, they said to me, can you do another twenty-odd Rutles songs by next Thursday lunchtime? I went, oh, God, you know! So I had a go and we did it.

Two of the songs on the new album were actually written at that time for the original project, We've Arrived and Now She's Left You, but they were never included. There was also a backing track of Baby Let Me Be which we put a french vocal on, and we say it was performed live in front of an audience of surrealists in a club in Belgium. The entire audience was nude, covered in oil, and squashed together in a giant metal tank, pretending to be sardines. This is why you can't hear them, but everyone enjoyed themselves. The only thing that anyone will have heard before is a version of It's Looking Good which is much, much faster than the one that's out on the Rhino album. Again, any chance we had to feature Ollie (Hallsall) on the new album we took, 'cause we miss him.

When you hear We've Arrived you can hear these are rehearsal tapes, they failed to make it to the final show. But we rehearsed all of the album the same way, the four of us in this silly little house in Hendon. I didn't listen to any Beatles music when I was writing the songs, I figured I've just got to go and do it, I've just got to go off and write some songs that are like those periods, because the documentary needed songs from each period like sign posts, in chronological order. I had a hell of a pressure to do these things real quick, but when I felt happy enough with the songs, I was always tinkering with the lyrics right up until the last minute. In fact, I think they printed different lyrics (for Piggy In The Middle) on the album cover because I changed them. The process of then listening to the Beatles came after the songs were written, and then we started listening to production techniques. And you know, normally you just listen and enjoy it, but you think, hang on, there's bongos there. We haven't gone quite so zealously this time, we just wanted to sound good.

DAVE: Did you use the same engineer as the first album?

NEIL: Yeah, Steve James, he was a very good engineer. The job to do it was to make it sound as much as possible (like the original songs), in fact recording it on 24 track then, it sounded a bit too good so we compressed it again when we mastered it. This time around we, oof, on Shangri-La we used 56 tracks.

On the new album, the first song is musically not like Sgt. Pepper's, but in structure it's somebody announcing another band called Major Happy's Up And Coming Once Upon A Goodtime Band. Major Happy is the sort of way you say it, it's either "Major", the military thing, or it's "made ya" as in made you happy. That's why I say the songs really speak for themselves, and quite frankly I think Barry Wom is going to be nominated as Vocalist of the Year this time around, he's going to get his recognition. He sings on two of the tracks.

But again, this is the Rutles, the people who did the story beforehand, and we're not pretending to be anything more than the people who did the thing in the first place.

DAVE: So this new album is now like your personal end to that original story.

NEIL: Yeah, it's a fond farewell and a thank you to everybody who's, you know... There's a lot of affection towards the project and we were all genuinely touched, we're all really having a good time being together again. I managed to see John (Halsey, Barry Wom) from time to time as he lives quite near me but I haven't seen Ricky (Fataar, Stig O'Hara) in years, and it's like no time has gone by, it's wonderful. He lives in San Francisco, but he works a lot, he was in Australia for a long time, he produces Boz Scaggs, plays drums with Bonnie Raite, like Ollie he's one of those people who can play anything.

DAVE: Have you heard from Beatles regarding the new project?

NEIL: I asked George what he thought about me doing some more Rutles things, and he said, "Why not, it's all part of the soup," which I think is a nice way of putting it. But you can't keep having these come backs.... as Barry says, if we do another album in eighteen years time, we'll be 69.

DAVE: Someone recently reminded me that if you look at the BMI page on the Internet, under Lennon/McCartney you can see all the original Rutles tracks listed.

NEIL: Yes, they are there. It's like, big boys take sweets of the little boys on the playground, that's what happened.

DAVE: But you worked with Neil Aspinall, and with George...

NEIL: It's not the Beatles, it's the people who own the Beatles' songs. It's not the guys! George has been trying to get me my share that they've had to pay the Beatles, but it's like real complicated. I keep telling them, don't worry, it's water under the bridge. It was ATV music then, and they've since sold it to Michael Jackson.

DAVE: Well, people write songs that sound like other things all the time, we were all distressed when we heard about that whole lawsuit deal.

NEIL: Yeah, me too, but I was lucky at the same time, another door o pened for me and I got myself into children's television and writing children's stories and things like that, which was cool because I was able to write from home, not missing seeing my family grow up. A lot of my older ones, I hardly saw them at the early stage. So I was happy to leave the music business.

DAVE: Was there one particular song which made their original case?

NEIL: No, because everything the musicologists put down showed the different lines. He said there was a similarity between an instrumental riff in Good Times Roll which was a bit like Lucy In The Sky. But a certain number of notes, the same notes are in there whether they're in a different order or not, and there was a similarity there, but he said in the overall thing the main melody wasn't, and other things like this throughout. Like they were saying that Hold My Hand was like Back In The USSR and Dear Prudence, Martha My Dear, Twist and Shout, which they didn't even write! You know, the whole thing was a greedy snatching of something, and another company didn't want to risk losing some lawyers fees in case they didn't win costs... But, life is too short to be small... people behaving like that, it's got to stop somewhere, can't have everybody behaving like that, it'd be appalling.

DAVE: Well, we're happy to know that now there will be a whole new body of work which you can get proper credit for without getting cheated out of it...

NEIL: I might still this time around, who knows... but I think last time it was a very, very unfair thing to do, I think most fair-minded people would say it was too. It was unnecessary. But I think they have to come out with some pretty funny arguments to do it this time, and I'm going to make sure I have somebody who stands up to them this time.

I hope that all the Rutles fans, all the Beatles fans will enjoy listening to the new songs, because they are going out there with love from us, to everybody else who's given us all this affection as well. You know, it completes the picture. "All You Need Is Cash" was great, but you see, everything has changed since 1980, and I can't stress that enough. I don't want us to be perceived as doing it the same way, because we know we're in a fantasy world, but as the Rutles we're doing it as part of a winding up of the whole thing. And the songs in themselves almost explain the reasons why we're doing it. We don't want to be seen as three guys who don't know real from unreal. We're happy to put on the silly wigs, there's one over there (points to the dresser) and the silly suits because it's meant to be a bit of fun, the Rutles were always a fun element of the Beatles story, and they're still a fun element of the story, and now it's us coming on from the wings and taking a little bow as well. If anyone wants more fun out of it, saying this and inventing things, that's great, because it's a game everyone can play, and I think this whole new album, it's a people thing, it's not about stars. It's about people who admire things they admire. And anybody who's been influenced by anybody else like all these Oasis or Blah and Plop and whoever, you know, whoever says they're influenced by the Beatles or the Rutles, the Beatles themselves were influenced by people, that's the way music is, and so every 18 or 20 years you can have a bit of fun with the music, this is one of those times. I'm trying to persuade Virgin to put out a sticker on the CD saying "Warning: This product may contain fun." People should expect from this album, I hope, to think twice and smile more than once.

*The Running, Jumping and Standing Still Film by Dick Lester can be seen in its entirety on the Voyager A Hard Day's Night CD-ROM.

This page was created November 1, 1997.

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