Vivian Stanshall (RIP)
Band members Related acts
- Vivian Stanshall (RIP 1995) -- vocals, banjo, mandolin, percussion,
recorder, rhythm guitar, talking drums
supporting musicians: (1974)
- Reebop’ Kwaku Baah -- congas
- Madeline Bell -- backing vocals
- Jim Capald -- kit drums, percussion
- Ric Grech -- violin
- Neil Innes -- piano, slide guitar, organ
- Gaspar Lawal -- talking drums, congas, xylophone, kit drum
- Deryk Quinn -- kebasa, Nigerian coffee tables, greater log
- Barry St. John -- backing vocals
- Doris Troy -- backing vocals
- Bubs White -- lead guitar
- Steve Winwood -- bass, lead guitar, organ
- Male Yoruba -- backing vocals
supporting musicians: 1981
- Malcolm Brown -- recorder, clarinet, keyboards
- Jim Cuomo -- sax, keyboards, clarinet
- Roger Gee -- bass
- John Halsey -- drums, percussion
- Ollie Halsall (RIP) -- lead guitar, vibraphone
- John Kirkpatrick -- concertina
- Lenox Langton -- steel drums
- Pete Moss-- keyboards, fiddle, accordion
- Neil Innes -- keyboards
- Roger Ruskin-Spear -- sax, Jew's harp, tuba, mandolele
- Andrew Sheehan -- clogs
- Richard Thompson -- guitar
- Rick Wakeman -- keyboards
- BiG GrunT
- The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band (Vivian Stanshall)
- Bonzo Dog Freaks
- The Sean Head Showband
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: Men with Umbrellas Up Ahead
Company: Warner Brothers
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: UK pressing; embossed cover
Catalog ID: 2022
With the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band coming to an end, the early-'70s found Vivian Stanshall engaging in a number of short-lived projects.
His first solo project was a one-off single credited to Vivian Stanshall and the Sean Head Showband:
- 1970's 'Labio Dental Fricative' b/w 'Paper Round' (Liberty catalog number LBF15309)
Four years later Stanshall released his debut solo album - 1974's "Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead". Co-produced by Stanshall and John Darnley, the collection featured all original material that he'd struggled to complete over the last two years. Technically I guess it was a comedy album, but it was comedy with a deeply personal edge which meant parts of it weren't particularly funny - check out 'Yelp, Bellow, Rasp Et Cetera' and 'Bout of Sobriety'. Musically the album was surprisingly diverse including stabs at the blues ('Truck Track'), Traffic styled, African-influenced jazz-rock ('Prong'), and '50s styled rock ('Bout of Sobriety'). Stanshall certainly owed a significant debt of gratitude to the all-star cast of friends including Ric Grech, Neil Innes, and Steve Winwood and most of Traffic. Lyrically it was equally wild, showcasing diatribes against the music business ('Afoju Ti Ole Riran '), his own mental demons ('Strange Tongues'), and other shortcomings ('Redeye').
Commercially the album and the single were total disasters. Wikipedia sites 5,000 copies were sold. Needless to say, Warner Brothers didn't even bother with an American release and quickly deleted the set from its catalog, making it a rare and rather collectable item.
Umbrellas Up Ahead" track listing:
1.) Afoju Ti Ole Riran (Vivian Stanshall - Gaspar Lawal) - 7:53 rating: **** stars
The first time I heard 'Afoju Ti Ole Riran" I wondered if I'd slapped on a late-inning Traffic album by mistake, or maybe a King Sunny Ade collection ... About 90 second in Stanshall's rasp of a voice (imagine Darth Vader singing), finally entered and things began to make a bit of sense. Well maybe not "sense", but at least you knew this was a Vivian Stanshall album. The title apparently translated as 'dead eyes' and made it clear Stanshall didn't hold most humans in high esteem. At least give him credit for condemning most of mankind with a catchy African beat.
2.) Truck Track (Vivian Stanshall) - 3:57 rating: *** stars
Hum, who would have thought Stanshall would be capable of pulling off a slinky blues number? Certainly not me. The fact it seems to be a tribute to life on the road, and in particular roadies (as apposed to groupies), was even more impressive ...
3.) Yelp, Bellow, Rasp Et Cetera (Vivian Stanshall) - 4:46 rating: ** stars
Hum, captain Beefheart-esque ? One of rock's most disturbing coughs ... Frankly I have no idea what the bluesy, primal scream-ish 'Yelp, Bellow, Rasp Et Cetera ' was about. I suspect Stanshall may not have even known.
4.) Prong (instrumental) (Vivian Stanshall) - 1:02 rating: *** stars
With an African-flavored jazz-rock vibe, 'Prong' sounded like it had been borrowed from a Traffic studio jam.
5.) Redeye (Vivian Stanshall) - 5:20 rating: **** stars
The most conventional rock song (take that with a grain of salt), 'Redeye' may have also been the most self--critical piece he ever wrote. Judging by the lyrics, Stanshall didn't seem to like himself, or most of his rock and roll compatriots, very much. Shame he didn't name names.
1.) How the Zebra Got His Stripes (Vivian Stanshall) - rating: **** stars
Even though it was set to a breezy, lilting Caribbean melody, if there was ever a song with zero chance of radio play, then it had to be 'How the Zebra Got His Stripes'. To quote a small part of the lyric:
"Playing with me pink banana,
jugglin’ with me lovely bunch,
Secreted in me striped pajamas,
streuth: I’m comin’ on tough.
Bad ting to tell he manana,
him just refuse to lie dong,
Gotta strap him to me leg to go shopping,
trouser-snake he’s so strong."
No matter how big a Stanshall fan they may have been, there was simply no way any station manager was going to play this one on the radio. Funny ode to man's best friend.
2.) Dwarf Succulents (Vivian Stanshall) - 2:14 rating: *** stars
Set to a slinky blues vibe, the post-coital give and take between Stanshall and was mildly funny - probably more so if you were a woman.
3.) Bout of Sobriety (Vivian Stanshall) - 2:47 rating: *** stars
'Bout of Sobriety' was set to a '50s-styled rocker with a lyric that was both mildly funny and quite unsettling given Stanshall's own problems with alcohol. "With a little red wine beneath my belt, I breathe breath that can melt the paint off doors. A tongue to strip the polish off a parquet floor.... smooth. Wake up in the morning with a concertina cough, my coke-encrusted lungs ..." Actually, one of Stanshall's funniest lines came at the end of the song - "I wish I could be different & original like everybody else!"
4.) Prong & Toots Go Steady (instrumental( (Vivian Stanshall) - 1:57 rating: *** stars
Kind of a meandering jazz-rock-world-music instrumental that really didn't go anywhere. Well, the band sounded great. Might have had something to do with the fact half of Traffic seemingly played on the track.
5.) Strange Tongues (Vivian Stanshall) - 6:41 rating: *** stars
Thanks to backing from Traffic and friends (though Ric Grech's grating violin wasn't a real help), 'Strange Tongues' offered up one of the album's more rock-oriented structures. Lyrically it was a bit disturbing, provided a little insight into Stanshall's odd mental state - "Fear follows in the wake of sleepless days, foul yellow fright As thick as mayonnaise."
Curiously, around the same time the album was released, Stanshall issued a non-LP 45 for Warner Brothers:
- 1974's 'Lakonga' b/w 'Baba Tunde' (catalog number K 16424)
In 2010 the English Harkit label reissued the set on CD. The reissue included the 'A" and 'B' sides of the Warner Brothers 45 as bonus tracks. The reissue was done without the knowledge or cooperation of Stanshall's heirs. In fact the company apparently blatantly refused to pay royalties to Stanshall's heirs. In contrast, the 2012 reissue on Poppydisc/Revola was done with the cooperation of the Stanshall family so it's the one to buy.
Rating: 3 stars ***
Title: Teddy Boys Don't Knit
Grade (cover/record): VG+/VG+
Comments: UK pressing
Catalog ID: 952
Even the title to this 1981 release told you the late Vivian Stanshall had little interest in cultivating an American audience (perhaps not even an English one) ... chances are most Americans wouldn't know a teddy boy from a bulldozer.
Produced by Malcolm Brown, Stanshall's third solo album, 1981's "Teddy Boys Don't Knit" found him returning to a conventional Bonzo Dog Band-styled song structure (I'm using the adjective 'conventional' in a broad way) . Recorded aboard his houseboat docked on the Thames River, the album featuring seventeen original compositions that bounced all over the musical and lyrical spectrum. Yeah, Stanshall sounded like an old, drunk uncle who you only brought out on the holidays. His croak of a voice made the late Bobby "Boris" Pickett. sound ravishing. Come to think of it, he sounded a bit like a British version of Pickett. Aptly displaying Stanshall's love of language and the odd pun, material such as 'Gums', 'Ginger Geezer', 'Terry Keeps His Clips On', and 'Bass Macaw & Broken Bottles' was extremely British and quirky; probably far too goofy for most listeners (certainly anyone who had never experienced Stanshall). After all these years, I still don't know what half the songs are about. That said, it wasn't all weird. 'Bewilderbesste', 'The Tube', 'The Cracks Are Showing', and 'Possibly an Armchair & Embodying Fresh Faced Boys' seemed to be highly personal songs reflecting on his life as a husband and father. A tall order for a guy with more than his share of personal demons. That said, surrounded by an all-star cast of friends including the late Ollie Halsall, Richard Thompson, and Bonzo alumni Neil Innes and Rodger Ruskin-Spear, the album had a certain hard-to-describe charm. Not exactly something you'd want to listen to everyday, but if you were in that weird, goofy place .... Probably the best description of the album came from Stanshall's wife Pamela "Ki' Longfellow:
The songs are a hodgepodge of love for Silky [his newborn daughter] and for me, things he couldn’t find room for in Rawlinson End [an earlier book and concept album], reactions to the doings of chums or to overheard exotic phrases, stuff that didn’t make it into a [Steve] Winwood collection - or got chucked out in the interests of ‘commercialism’, thoughts on his father, and on himself... all in all, an eclectic collection of knitted Stanshallia.
Boys Don;' Knit" track listing:
1.) King Kripple (Vivian Stanshall) - 2:52 rating: *** stars
I've listened too the rocking 'King Kripple' dozens of times over the years, though I'm still pretty much clueless what the song's about. Best guess - life as an aging rocker. Who knows.
2.) Slave Value (Vivian Stanshall) - 4:38 rating: *** stars
Complete with the sounds of seagulls and slaves being whipped, its hard to imagine an American artist having the balls to record a song entitled 'Slave Value'. In this case the breezy tune framed a lyric that seemingly had something to do with Roman slaves ... who knows.
3.) Gums (Vivian Stanshall) - 2:06 rating: *** stars
Speaking of being clueless ... It had a bouncy melody and seemed to have something to do with a dead dog, but otherwise I had absolutely no idea what 'Gums' was about.
4.) Bewilderbesste (Vivian Stanshall) - 2:57 rating: *** stars
Opening with a nice Jim Cuomo sax solo, 'Bewilderbesste' showcased one of Stanshall's prettier melodies coupled to a lyric that seemingly focused on the fact wolves mate for life ... not sure if that had any relationship to his personal life. r
5.) Calypso to Colapso (Vivian Stanshall) - 3:00 rating: *** stars
A nice Caribbean lilt made this one of the album's more commercial songs ... no idea what the man was singling about. "Our motto, blotto ..." Guess he didn't own a cell phone. Oh yeah this was 1981.
6.) The Tube (Vivian Stanshall) - 3:26 rating: *** stars
A reflection on fatherhood ? Hard to imagine, but it's been described as Stanshall focusing on feeding his baby daughter Silky and the resulting clean-up processes (get it - filling the tube).
7.) Ginger Geezer (Vivian Stanshall) - 3:04 rating: *** stars
With kind of a music hall feel, 'Ginger Geezer' was another extremely British lyric (Stanshall's thick cockney accent was nearly impenetrable to me), that left me clueless. Something about getting old ? Occasional fart sounds in the mix ...
8.) The Cracks Are Showing (Vivian Stanshall) - 0:46 rating: **** stars
It clocked in at less than a minute, but may have been one of Stanshall's most effecting performances. I could even understand what the man was talking about.
9.) Flung a Dummy (Vivian Stanshall) - 3:10 rating: **** stars
Back to a full rock arrangement with Stanshall exhibiting an almost punk sense of ferocity, 'Flung a Dummy' was apparent British slang for dying. Fellow Bonzo Dog alumni Roger Ruskin-Spear provided the slightly discordant sax solo.
1.) Possibly an Armchair (Vivian Stanshall) rating: *** stars
Geez, Stanshall made retirement sound like soooooooo much fun - not. Guess he wasn't all that impressed with his father's retirement lifestyle.
2,) Embodying Fresh Faced Boys (Vivian Stanshall) - 5:15 rating: *** stars
Technically 'Embodying Fresh Faced Boys' was embedded in the previous track. I'm guessing this was one of his most personal compositions, basically serving as a seething retort against his father's vision of how he should have lived his life.
3.) Terry Keeps His Clips On (Vivian Stanshall) - 3:34 rating: *** stars
Another one that sounded like a British Bobby Boris Picket. Seriously, what in the world is this one about ?
4.) Bass Macaw & Broken Bottles (Vivian Stanshall) - 2:55 rating: *** stars
Supposedly inspired by a young woman with self-destructive tendencies Stanshall met while in a mental facility ... makes sense when I listen to the weird lyrics.
5.) Nose Hymn (Vivian Stanshall) - 2:21 rating: **** stars
Huh ??? Well, it had a country-tinged melody complete with Stanshall playing banjo.
6.) Everyday, I Have the Blows (Vivian Stanshall) - 5:01 rating: **** stars
Hum, who else could have merged a wonderful, breezy melody like this with a lyric that seemed to be about various types of bodily fluids ? Ollie Halsall tuned in a wonderful guitar solo and the harmony vocals were too-die-for. Neil Innes would have been proud to have penned this one.
7.) Smoke Signals at Night (Vivian Stanshall) - 3:12 rating: *** stars
With Rick Wakeman on piano, 'Smoke Signals at Night' seemed to be a reflection on the soul killing nature of office jobs ? Okay, I at least gave it a stab. Pretty melody.
8.) Nouveau Riffe (Vivian Stanshall) - 3:33 rating: **** stars
The album closed out with another surprisingly funny, if dark and biting, diatribe seemingly aimed at former wives and business acquaintances who were looking for a quick payday.
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