Sunday, 20 January 2019

Rutling

Bewigged

In 1996 Blair’s Britain couldn’t get enough of Britpop. With TFI Friday regularly outgunning News at Ten's viewing figures1, saturation point had yet to be reached and so, what Oasis and Blur had unwittingly started less than two years earlier, was now operating with an open house policy to all and sundry.

But quite how a Fab Four parody troupe who hadn’t been seen since 1979 fitted into the scene was, at first, a little unclear. But fit they did, perfectly.

The Rutles were essentially a ragtag bunch of bewigged men old enough to know better. A post-fab guitar band (in the guise of Neil Innes2 – or was it the other way round?) who had openly lifted3 more Beatles riffs, harmonies and melodies than a flock of thieving Noel Gallaghers. Maybe, just (definitely) maybe, this resurgence was down to their mighty Archaeology album in which Innes lovingly tipped his John Lennon cap to the Beatles’ recently released Anthology series. Innes had mined his huge pop sensibility songbook and came up with something far and away greater than a regular tribute to Four Lads From Liverpool Who Shook the World™.

Laid out before us were 16 tunes, each of them a stand alone classic, yet when listened to back to back in, shall we say, the context of a lost Beatles album, then the ensemble piece was staggering. Staggeringly good, staggeringly incisive. Although context is usually everything, Innes proved with Archaeology it isn't always.
At the back end of last year when Neil Innes, via his Twitter feed, agreed to answer a few quick-fire Rutle related questions I jumped at the chance. I kicked off our brief 140 character limited chit-chat with:
He went on to tell me that "Questionnaire was the song that persuaded me to go ahead." And what a great song that is - dipping, as it does, in and out of Fool on the Hill, I am the Walrus and Imagine, but never giving up its own identity; unlike the first album where the line between Beatles/Rutles, real/parody was so blurred it all became one.


When I asked Neil if he could condense Archaeology into a 4 track EP4, along with Questionnaire he name-checked Major Happy, Rendezvous and Shangri-La.
Shangri-La is so clever (but not in a smart arse way) in that it turns pastiche on its head. Not long before Archaeology Noel Gallagher had ripped off Innes' How Sweet To Be An Idiot (when Oasis recorded Whatever). Innes couldn't resist dropping that motif straight in at the start. I guess all's fair in love and plagiarism.

However, unlike George (a huge supporter of all things Rutle) and, to a lesser extent, John, Paul McCartney never liked the Rutles (no shit Sherlock). He hated them. Indeed because of Macca, Innes spent many an awkward day in the High Court defending both the band and his own songwriting.
So treasure Archaeology. And treasure the Rutles. They may not troubled the charts, or indeed the tabloids, in quite the way that Damon Albarn or the Gallagher brothers did in those heady days of Britpop, but if its songs you're after (and, at the end of the day, aren't we all?), former Bonzo and Python Neil Innes is definitely worth taking a detour for.

1 I may be playing fast and loose with the ratings here.
2 Eric Idle had left the band some years earlier. He couldn't get into his stage pants anymore.
3 Interestingly Innes was accused of stealing Cheese and Onions from the Beatles (it once appeared on a 1980 Fabs bootleg - credited to John Lennon!) It was, in fact, Innes' original demo of his own song.
4 I often condense great works of art into miniature.

6 comments:

  1. What a great blog post - I'm pretty sure the Rutles came to our student Union around the turn of the '70s/'80s. These are fine songs and a real homage. Shame Paul was so iffy about them.

    You are very good at approaching artists and posing (humorous) questions - Great answers here from Neil. Well done.

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    1. Not a bad turn to come and play at your Uni.

      Love your last paragraph - can I have a gold star?

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  2. All being well, I'll be renewing my acquaintance with the nicest man in showbiz, along with his Rutle chums, in early June.
    https://unthoughtofthoughsomehow.blogspot.com/2018/05/lah-dee-doo-dah-lah-dee-dah.html

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    1. Yes, he's a nice fella. Did you hear him recently on the 'Word In Your Ear podcast'? I could listen to him all night.

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  3. Great fun, John. Obviously, George was the Beatle with a sense of humor. Long live the Rutles.

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    1. The funniest. The youngest. The Darkest Horse. And the Wilbury most travelled.

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