By Nick Garrard.
Dear old Vivian Stanshall – a mess of the loveliest sort. Intelligent, avuncular and effortlessly funny, his rich-as-chocolate-cake tones graced some of the strangest records ever produced. He made his name in the 60s as lead singer of the Bonzo Dog Band, an explosive live act best described as a British Mothers of Invention, albeit with tunes you could actually hum.
When the Bonzos split in the early 70s, having released five albums and scored a solitary hit with the Paul McCartney produced ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman,’ Vivian flitted from project to project, all the while battling panic attacks and increasing alcohol dependency. Perhaps the best known of these was the Gormenghast-meets-Wodehouse madness of ‘Sir Henry at Rawlinson End’ which became, variously, a radio serial, record, film, stage play and book.
The 80s were less kind to him and this, here, is the first song from ‘Crank,’ a half hour return to form broadcast on the BBC back in 1991. Typical of Stanshall, the puns come thick and fast and through a jumble of music and monologue, the silly and sublime mix with an increasing sense of disappointment. Tragically, Vivian died in a house fire in 1995, prompting the repeat of the ‘Crank’ special, this time featuring an obituary by long time friend and supporter, John Peel.
[Ed. adds: here’s Neil Innes doing ‘I’m The Urban Spaceman’ on Rutland Weekend Television.]