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THE RAWLINSON END OF 2015 PICTORIAL REVIEW

Well well, I hope you all had a Merry Crimble? A fine old gorging season was had here at Livesley Towers with copious amounts of festive tuck and grog attacked with alacrity by yours truly and all served with a liberal side order of Bisodol with the stomach pump on standby. So as the final flickering flame of 2015 sputtters its last, and I manfully hoover up as much of the remaining Crimbo goodies as I physically can before midnight strikes and the usual ‘new year new me’ routine begins, thus giving me another stone to lose in the process – ‘gotta get up to get down’ as James Brown once sang – I decided I’d better put the brandy eclairs down for a moment and write up some form of review of this brilliantly chaotic year. Despite employing brevity the following is still quite long – OOER – but how *do* you squeeze an entire year into such a tiny box madam? For the answer to all of this and less you’ll have to read on’t…..

Singing in praise of the late, great Vivian Stanshall at the Bristol Old Vic. January 25th 2015

Me with Stephen Fry singing ‘Sport (The Odd Boy)’ in praise of the late, great Vivian Stanshall at the Bristol Old Vic. January 25th 2015

JANUARY – The year started in spectacular fashion performing ‘Sir Henry at Rawlinson End’ in honour of its late and illustrious author Vivian Stanshall at Bristol’s historic Old Vic Theatre. Joining us were Neil Innes and Bristolian performance artists ‘Desperate Men‘ plus Stephen Fry and Ronnie Golden. You can read a review here. Even as a jaded old sod standing on that historic and ancient stage belting out Viv’s incredible words with Stephen Fry was one of those ‘pinch yourself’ moments that I shall never forget.

Our show was part of Bristol’s 2015 Slapstick Festival, at which next year I shall be giving a talk about Mancunian Studios in January 2016. Is that the time? Best crack on…

Neil Innes, Barry Cryer, me and Graeme Garden after the Bristol Old Vic show

Neil Innes, Barry Cryer, me and Graeme Garden after the Bristol Old Vic show

…twas brillig and also amazing to meet Barry Cryer and Graeme Garden at the aftershow party who had both been in the audience for our show. Pint in hand I was summoned to be presented to ‘Baz’ who held his hands in front of his face and said ‘Gah! Go away! I can’t even look at you! How *do* you remember all those bloody words?!? Frightening’ High praise indeed from one of my biggest comedy heroes. Anyway, enough trumpet blowing but, y’know, sometimes, you do have to blow your own…

FEBRUARY -a lovely clear month which enabled Bill and I to prepare the ground for the CD release of our stage version of Viv’s classic Sir Henry at Rawlinson End, which I am pleased to say that it will be released next year on Rick Wakeman’s new label  – RRAW – but more news on that later….

 

MARCH – After such a luxurious and enjoyable month working from home it was time to hit the road again, this time down to Innes Acres in Suffolk, to begin rehearsing with the eclectically fabulous band of chaps Neil had assembled to perform at Camden’s KOKO in April to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of The Bonzos. Neil had invited me to come and sing in The Bonzos bit – it was a double headline bill of The Bonzos and Neil’s other act the Rutles – and we rehearsed in ‘Cradle of Filth‘s studio space in Ipswich. I can honestly say that singing ‘My Pink Half of the Drainpipe’ whilst staring at a wall littered with ‘Jesus is a C*nt’ stickers is one of the most surreally juxtaposed moments of my life. Now I’m no fan of the Catholic Church, unless you count those 5 years I worked under Pope Benedict in Rome, but even I was shocked by such a statement! Kids eh?

The Bontles

The motley crew assembled by Neil for the Bonzos/Rutles show at Camden’s KOKO. L-R Phil Jackson, Rodney Slater, Mark Griffiths, John ‘The Admiral’ Halsey, Neil Innes, Elliott Randall and me. ‘Rutling’ Ken Thornton was in the toilet. Photo by David Christie

APRIL – saw me and my ‘Austerity Orchestra’ – aka Jonny Hase – back on the road to bring Rawlinson End back to the Laugharne Weekend for another wonderful few days of hedonistic and performance bliss that brought the very thaw to the throte of winter. Magical. That is the only word I can use to describe the place. Despite Jonny and I almost being killed on the road back when this accident, involving the lorry directly in front of us, happened we had a fine old time. It is really very scary to think back to how we only very narrowly avoided being killed that day. Especially when I recall the sight of those big gas cannisters raining down on us. Someone was smiling down on us that day! I told you Jesus wasn’t a…well….y’know…..

KOKO Finale

The view from the stage at the Bonzos 50th Anniversary show at KOKO, Camden, 17th April 2015

Having made it back safe and sound from Laugharne the next morning it was time to head south again for a quick warm up for the KOKO show then on with the motley. It was incredible to perform with so many amazing geezers. After this Elliott still felt the need for more insanity and so signed up to appear with us at our annual Stanshallian celebration at the Bloomsbury in London, this year entitled ‘Radio Stanshall’. The crazy fool!

MAY – Where was I? Oh yes, Radio Stanshall. This was the last of a trilogy of shows we put on to remind people of the genius of Vivian Stanshall. For the first one in 2013 – Viv’s 70th Birthday Party – we had a 60s theme for the show, so it was Bonzos heavy with a blistering encore of Ginger Geezer thrown in for good measure. Year 2 – entitled ‘One Night Stanshall’ – focused on Viv’s solo years and this year’s final one covered the work the great man recorded for BBC Radio 1’s John Peel show from the 70s to the 90s. Hence the name ‘Radio Stanshall’.

Radio Stanshall Poster Dun
Gracing the Bloomsbury stage with us once again were Rick, Neil, Rod and The Admiral plus new boys Elliott Randall and peerless comedy actor and Viv fan Kevin Eldon. Also joining us was the ever wonderful Susie Honeyman who I am delighted to say has become quite the permanent fixture of our band line up and has played with us at every show since ‘One Night Stanshall’ in 2014. These shows would have been impossible without the incredible people in the show and the ceaseless support of Viv’s son Rupert. Job done!
Radio Stanshall Finale

The Radio Stanshall line up – L-R Ged Fox, Kevin Eldon, Bill Leach (MD), Chris ‘ukulele’ Uff, John ‘no jokes please’ Lewis. Susie Honeyman, me, my concussionist Jonny Hase, Rick Wakeman, Elliott Randall, Rod Slater, John ‘the admiral’ Halsey and Neil Innes

JUNE & JULY – were spent doing lots of DIY, editing, writing, recording, lots of DIY, chilling out, farting, lots of DIY and generally getting pissed, enjoying myself and doing LOTS of DIY. Ace. It’s what summers were made for!

AUGUST – back on the road for a wonderful show at Buxton Opera House. An incredible venue to bring Rawlinson End to and a most beautiful part of the world in general. A delight from start to finish

Me Bill Buxton

‘Well. I’ve played some fuckin’ toilets in ma time…’ Me and my MD and indefatiguable ‘leader of the band’ Bill Leach soaking up the opulence of our beautiful home for the night. Buxton Opera House. Photo by Warren Millar

SEPTEMBER – saw us taking Rawlinson End to the Rye Arts Festival – another delightful place reeking of smugglers coves and the static generated by Jonny Hase’s balloons(!) Very Daftie du Maurier

Pre Rye

Preparing for the show at the Rye Arts Festival. L-R Bill Leach (MD), trumpeteer Ged Fox, the back of Chris ‘ukulele’ Uff, concussionist extraordinaire Jonny Hase – and his balloons – and me

OCTOBER – we assembled from all points of the compass to record the CD version of ‘Sir Henry at Rawlinson End‘ which will be the first release on the aforementioned Mr Wakeman and Mr Ayling’s new RRAW label. The CD features guest turns from Rick, Mr Innes and Susie Honeyman and is being produced by Wizard of Twiddly and all round good chap Andy Frizell. It will be released next March

NOVEMBER – I met up with renowned comedy blogger John Fleming for another interview at the Soho theatre, recording continued on the Sir Henry CD and rehearsals began for a further 2 nights of Bonzos and Rutles madness in a Christmas Spiegeltent in Bristol and at the Minnellium Dome, yes the Minnellium Dome, in London. It were really grand to perform with such heroes. I do hope we shall all do it again SOON!!

Bonzo Dec 2015 060

The Bonzos crew pre the Minnellium Dome show. L-R David Glasson, ‘Legs’ Larry Smith, Bob Kerr, Neil Innes, Rod Slater, Sam Spoons, Vernon Dudley, Malcolm Sked and me. Photo by Nigel van Beek

DECEMBER – due to a ‘brainstorm’ I had in October plans were made for one final performance of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End of the year at the wonderful Rose & Crown Theatre pub in Viv’s home town of Walthamstow. I can’t recommend this venue highly enough and it proved to be a very special evening indeed.

Vivmas Final Soc

We were joined by Viv’s son Rupert who compered the evening and charmed the audience with his memories of his incredible Pa. It was a fitting way to end this the 20th year since the world parted company with Viv’s genius and one interesting footnote to the evening was that the top drawer guv’nor to the place – a certain Mr Bun Constantinou – turned out to be Rupert’s old Maths teacher. As you can imagine their reunion stirred some incredibly ‘interesting’ memories….

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Lord Rupert of Stanshall shining light on the life of his top pop at Merry Vivmas! Photo by Lee Wilkinson

…so that’s shallot! 2015, what a wonderful year! I do hope 2016 is even half as good! If you’ve read this far then gawd bless you a gentleman and may I wish you and yours a Happy and Healthy 2016!!! Thankyou all for your support throughout the year – let’s make 2016 even better!!

Until the next time…..cheers!

 
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Slap my Stick! Stephen Fry joining us for our Bristol Old Vic show!!

ONS Finale

The finale from 2014’s ‘One Night Stanshall’ night at the Bloomsbury Theatre where we were joined by Neil Innes, Rick Wakeman, Danny Thompson, Rod Slater, John Halsey, Susie Honeyman, Time Team’s Phil Harding and Frances Pryor, Jim Cuomo, Mr B the Gentleman Rhymer and Vivian’s son Rupert.

Well. It’s been a funny wonderful old year for our show ‘Sir Henry at Rawlinson End’. One that has seen us once again working with greats like Neil Innes, Rick Wakeman and Danny Thompson, and also performing across the land at some of the loveliest venues with some of the nicest people in the biz – and next year is also shaping up to be rather special too. We kick off 2015 in fine style by performing at the Bristol Slapstick Festival on January 25th at the Bristol Old Vic. Yes. The Bristol Old Vic! In actual fact, we shall be the closing act of the 2015 Bristol Slapstick Festival and, on this incredible evening of Stanshallian celebration we shall be joined by none other than Stephen Fry!! Yep! That’s right! Stephen Fry! ‘Shut the front door!’ as the youth of today might say!

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With that in mind, and seeing as the show has recently gained quite a lot of new fans, it’s probably a good time to answer that age old question David Byrne once almost sang – ‘Well…How did we get here?’ It all began in 2006 when my good friend and percussionist Jonny Hase played me a CD that would prove to shape much of my life in the coming few years. The CD was ‘Sir Henry at Rawlinson End’ by the late, great  Vivian Stanshall, ex-Bonzos lead singer, and owner of one of the finest creative minds that this country has ever produced. For the next hour I was captivated by its majesty, brilliance and humour and knew that I was hearing something very special.

Sir H LP

The original meisterwerk by the great Vivian Stanshall

However it wasn’t until 3 years later, during yet another one of my periodic attempts to get fit, that I was really ‘hooked’ by Sir Henry. As I was cycling along the Liverpool waterfront I became aware that I was listening to one LP much more than any other. Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. Such was my admiration for the piece that I developed a very strong desire to see it performed live. To me it seemed like it would make the ultimate edition of Jackanory, (one of my faves being a bookworm kid), but I could not find anything on the internet to suggest that anybody was doing it anywhere in the world. If that wasn’t troubling enough, most of the people that I mentioned Vivian Stanshall to had no idea who he was, and my comments were often met with a reply of ‘Vivian Who?’ One of the greatest artists of the 20th Century? And he was being forgotten? This would not do! At about that time, as I lay in bed one night, after a very lively and enthusiastic session on some lovely Belgian white beer, a sudden realisation hit me like a bucket of iced cold water in the face. If nobody was performing this piece, and I was the one so desperate to see it done, then I would have to be the one to do it. After all, I reasoned, ‘I’m an actor and a singer. So why not?’ It appeared that my desire to consign the phrase ‘Vivian Who?’ to the memory hole was beginning to take hold. It was a travesty that people were forgetting Vivian, so now was my chance to do something about it.

Sir Henry premiere, Liverpool Unity theatre, June 22nd 2010

Sir Henry premiere, Liverpool Unity theatre, June 22nd 2010

To cut an incredibly long story incredibly short, a few months later the foundations were laid and I had found a director, Paul Carmichael, and a musical director, Bill Leach, who put together an incredibly talented team of musicians to make my dream become a reality. Rehearsals began and we were off. I scraped together all my cash to book the Unity Theatre in Liverpool for June 22nd 2010, and then there really was NO turning back. As I sat with the receipt in my hand I thought ‘what the hell have I done?’ The run up to that show, memorising every word of that incredible piece, the nerves at making a balls of it, getting the music right, it was all terrifying, but we did it! The first performances sold out and the reviews were so good that the very next morning the theatre manager rang me to offer us 3 more nights to perform the piece there later in the year. Validation, and no hiring this time, in fact the only time I have had to hire a theatre since was in London, the 40 seat Lion and Unicorn in Kentish Town, on October 14th 2011. This was the easiest decision I have ever made. By 2011 we had done Sir Henry all over the place, but never in London. Vivian was a London boy and many people were travelling from London to see the piece. The demand was there, so that is where it needed to be. Again it was an incredibly terrifying time leading up to that show. Via Twitter I knew that the great Neil Innes, (Vivian’s oppo in the Bonzos), was going to be there, and also another great hero of mine Ade Edmondson. No pressure then. During the show I had a massive panic attack due to my fear, which, like the director Paul, you can enjoy for yourself here

The Gang

With Ade Edmondson and Neil Innes after the London Premiere

However, panic attack aside, the show went very well thankfully, and our illustrious guests, plus the audience in general, loved it. Thanks to their approval, and a glowing review by Andrew Male in MOJO magazine, that night proved to be the turning point for the show. Since then more amazing shows have followed, each getting bigger and better than the last, and it is truly rewarding to watch your own dreams and intentions flourish. For the last 2 years Vivian’s son Rupert and I have also put on an evening of celebration of Vivian’s life at the Bloomsbury Theatre in London. These shows have featured many of Vivian’s friends and admirers getting up onstage with us, with the centrepiece always being our show ‘Sir Henry at Rawlinson End’. As Neil Innes himself said of our show, it is ‘..a tour de force and a work of art, that is the jewel in the crown of the evening’ – and it is that self-same evening that we are bringing to The Old Vic Theatre in Bristol on January 25th at the kind invitation of the Slapstick Festival. It is wonderful that we shall be a part of this event next year, especially as the intention of the organiser, (Chris Daniels), like our own, is to keep the legacy of the great Vivian Stanshall and his work alive.

l-r Ade at London Premiere, Neil and I at Liverpool Epstein and the grand finale of Viv's 70th at the Bloomsbury

l-r Ade at the London Premiere, Neil and I performing at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre and the grand finale of Viv’s 70th at the Bloomsbury

I hope you enjoyed that very condensed history of the show, as you can see it’s been a long road to the Old Vic next January, but all worth it as we look forward to sharing the same stage as Stephen Fry and also Neil Innes, Rod Slater and Susie Honeyman too! Wow! To think that an idea that formed in my head actually became a show is mad enough. The fact that it has elicited such great reviews is mind blowing. But for it to feature one of the greatest cultural icons of our times for one very special night only at the Bristol Old Vic is, well, quite staggering really, and can only help remind people of the genius of the piece’s author. So there you go, a very condensed version of the history of this show. I do hope that you can all join us at 8pm on January 25th at the Bristol Old Vic. For it will surely be a splendid evening’s entertainment for everyone! Now, think on’t dot, dot, dot, dot, dot

Oh, and whilst you’re here, why not follow us on Twitter and Facebook? To see more of our show and our various adventures then please visit our YouTube channel

Laugharne all weekend long!

‘…now a piece of sun comes out again. I am happy… in another half hour the ‘Three Mariners’ will have undone their waistcoats. I shall drink beer with the portreeve, & no scrimping pussyfoot shall say me nay.’ –
Dylan Thomas, Laugharne, 1934

laugharne castle

Laugharne from the air – Portmeirion eat your heart out!

Well. What a weekend! For the 7.125 billion out there who don’t follow this blog, let me tell you that last weekend was the most wonderfully edifying, life-affirming and ale soaked experience for many a year. To save me explaining what the Laugharne weekend is, take a look at the website here. Since I was booked to perform at this wonderful event by co-organiser and music promoter Richard Thomas, I admit to not sleeping much. This was due to the fact that it was my first performance of my show Sir Henry at Rawlinson End without my trusted band, save for one member, spoons and cymbals man Jonny Hase. The drive down there seemed never-ending and, bar a few wrong turns, was quite uneventful. It was very late when we arrived on the Friday, but even as we entered this small town under cover of its starless and bible-black sky, it was clear that Laugharne was somewhere quite special.

laugharne chapel

The English Congregational Church in Laugharne, referred to as ‘the chapel’ by the locals

After an evening of sober reflection, and even a good 15 minutes of sleep, Jonny and I made our way some 50 yards from our digs at the wonderful Three Mariners pub with its top notch staff and patrons, to the chill, squat chapel that was the venue for our performance that Saturday afternoon. I decided to get the stage set and get me costume on straight away, before the nerves made my hands shake so much that it would be impossible. After a very nervous run-through with our new best mate Ed the technician, we were ready. I had heard from Robin Ince on Twitter that he was going to get an especially early train in order to come along to the show, and Robin arrived just before we went on. To our delight he then got up and gave us a very warm introduction. This settled the nerves a lot. Then 1, 2, 3, 4 the strains of Aunt Florrie’s Waltz kicked in and we were off!

sir h laugharne

Me, hymning in bonnet and brooch

It was very odd to do the show in a chapel in broad daylight. More firsts, and as I looked out at the audience I picked out the face of Robin and sitting beside him I noticed Kevin Eldon and Graeme Garden!  Now, under most circumstances, having my work observed by 3 such accomplished chaps would lead to more blind panic, but this is work, and at all times when I am up on that stage, I have a responsibility to the audience to give my all and do my very best. That is one of the basic tenets of my working class upbringing. When people have parted with their hard earned brass for a show in good faith, they deserve value for money. Luckily I managed to keep my composure and did just that, and Jonny was marvellous too. Afterwards everybody seemed very pleased and said that they enjoyed it. WHEW! DONE! I chatted for a while with Graeme, Kevin and Robin after the show, and it was most gratifying to hear that they too enjoyed it. Indeed, Robin described the show in his blog thus – ‘interpretations of grotesque gragoyles of Britishness presented with bellowing & manic chutzpah.’ As you can see the chaps look most pleased with their Sir Henry badges and programmes. If you like the sound of all that then do follow the show on Twitter

Kevin and Robin

I returned to my hotel room at about 5.30, feeling lighter than air as the pressure was now lifted and I could enjoy the rest of the fabulous Laugharne line up. This was meant to be for a shower and a ‘little lie down’. When I woke up it was 9.30 at night, I was so gutted as I’d missed both Richard Herring and Mitch Benn, however I hastily ran out and managed to catch a cracking discussion on horror with Robin and the master of macabre comedy Jeremy Dyson. Afterwards I ended up back in the Mariners talking to Laugharne’s ‘Portreeve‘ Phil, who informed me that he was the ‘top man’ in the town. As the great Dylan Thomas had written of drinking beer with the Portreeve, (obviously not the same one), this seemed rather fitting. We got chatting and my interest in history and tradition must have been obvious to him, as 5 minutes later he had been home to fetch the keys for the town’s Town Hall and the next thing we were in there. It was a bizarre experience to be clambering up the crumbling, web-strewn ladders of an ancient bell tower at half one in the morning, arseholed on Felinfoel Double Dragon ale, but it is one that I shall never forget! Fred Dibnah would be proud! Cheers Phil!

Laugharne town hall

Laugharne’s Town Hall

Amazingly I slept again that night and the Sunday passed by in a whirl of more Felinfoel Double Dragon ale and elation, (ale-ation?), as I had the good fortune to hear Stuart Maconie, Graeme Garden, Kevin Eldon and Robin Ince entertain again. Stuart told me that his Dad was from my home town of Haydock and had spent a lot of time there when he was a kid. I wonder if our Grandads knew each other? More delights came in the form of Kevin’s ‘Perfect Cousin’ character – poet Paul Hamilton – a truly surreal, intriguing, and very funny, Eldonian comedy creation that blurs the lines between comedy, tragedy and literature. Most entertaining, as was the Sunday evening spent supping in the historic Brown’s Hotel with Kevin, Graeme, A L Kennedy, Robin and Dr Alice Roberts.

Fountain Inn

The Fountain Inn is referred to as The Rugby Club by the locals

At about 1am Jonny and I staggered back to our digs at the Mariners and just as I was putting the key in the door, the author John Williams, the other festival organiser, called Jonny and I over and told us we must come and do a number at Keith Allen’s gig at the Fountains Inn before the festival ended. It took us a nano-second to agree, and the next thing I knew I was onstage next to him, desperately attempting to remain upright on the piano stool, play the piano and sing. I did the best I could in the circumstances after a day of quaffing that Dylan Thomas himself might have been proud of, and the crowd went nuts and loved it. Keith too was fulsome in his praise and told me he was ‘blown away’. Result!

dylan_thomas_18_poems

The great Dylan Thomas

So that was it, aside from me n Jonny wandering around the castle and the beach eating chips, that was my Laugharne, a place that has the friendliest locals you could ever wish to meet. I want to go back there already! I shall give the last word to Dylan Thomas, the man who is the inspiration for this entire shindig, who said of the place….

‘…it is the strangest town in Wales… a mild beguiling island of a town… there is nowhere like it anywhere at all.’

Me n Stu

Stuart Maconie with his Sir Henry at Rawlinson End programme

ONE NIGHT STANSHALL – OVER N’ OUT!

Mince, mince, mince!

Mince, mince, mince!

Well, I think I have finally recovered from the incredible extravagantic, (Is that a word?), evening of celebration of the life and work of the great Vivian Stanshall that was ‘One Night Stanshall’ at the Bloomsbury Theatre last Tuesday, April 8th. It was quite a ride lemme tell you! For reasons of cost, (we do this show on a budget of 0p), we decided to travel by train to the show. But believe me, transporting 6 lunatics and their costumes, 2 banjos, 2 guitars, 4 ukeleles, a trumpet, a tube trumpet, a stroh-violin, (ask Bill), a clarinet, a fiddle, a recorder, a glockenspiel, a conga, a snare, cymbals, various percussion, 2 suitcases of props, 3 camcorders plus tripods, a sword, a hunting horn, 4 hats and a horned gramophone on a train was sheer insanity! As we boarded the packed train, (it being the first day of half term), with all this gubbins at Runcorn Station, the scouse woman running the shop yelled out ‘Oh! YOU are ‘avin a laugh!’ To which I replied ‘No, but thanks to all this gear, hopefully 500 folks in London will be ‘avin one tomorrow night.’ Not a flicker of amusement passed across her face, not even for a top flight retort such as that!

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John ‘no jokes please’ Lewis, me and Jonny ‘Bongo’ Hase, ponder whether we should have taken those ‘nice jobs at the bank’ after all…

In the end we got it all there safe and sound, the nice train driver even helped, by telling us to stack it by the doors which wouldn’t open until Euston. As we left the train, the driver made an announcement over the tannoy thing, to remind all passengers to ensure they didn’t leave their ‘bags or banjos’ behind…..made me laugh anyway. As we got off the train we loaded 2 of those trolley things up with this mountain of gear, and pushed them out of Euston Station, right across Euston Road, up Gordon Street, then up the ramp into the Bloomsbury. Which is where they stayed until we left – a snip at 2 quid – which we got back when we returned em on our way home anyway! One of my better ideas I thought, and anyway, the trolleys had ‘St Pancras’ printed on em, so, if it’s good enough for Network Rail……besides we didn’t steal them, merely borrowed them. I mean, who do you think we are? Politicians? Speaking of which, I never got me quid back! That bloody Jonny Hase MP must’ve had it off!!

Clockwise L-R Rick and Neil rehearsing 'My Pink Half of the Drainpipe', twin sax greats Rodney Slater and Jim Cuomo rehearsing 'Armchair' and the whole gang of us, including bass supremo Danny Thompson in the background rehearsing 'Ginger Geezer' - even my prosthetic gut looks realistic on this one!

Clockwise L-R Rick and Neil rehearsing ‘My Pink Half of the Drainpipe’, twin sax greats Rodney Slater and Jim Cuomo rehearsing ‘Armchair’ and the whole gang of us, including bass supremo Danny Thompson in the background rehearsing ‘Ginger Geezer’ – even my prosthetic gut looks realistic on this one!

So, job one, transportation – done – but now for the ‘main business of the evening’. To get everybody drilled and readied for the evening’s show – no mean feat, as the show ran at 2 and a half hours and comprised a compleat performance of ‘Sir Henry at Rawlinson End’, Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer singing ‘A Bout of Sobriety’ and Rick Wakeman, Neil Innes and David Caitlin-Birch, (the ‘Mock Macca’ in The Bootleg Beatles), performing ‘My Pink Half of the Drainpipe’ and ‘I’m Bored’. Plus myself, Brainwashing House and Rick, Neil, Danny Thompson, Rod Slater, Susie Honeyman, Jim Cuomo and John Halsey performing a mini-tribute to that other lost classic of Viv’s – ‘Teddy Boys Don’t Knit’, to whit ‘The Cracks are Showing’, ‘Terry Keeps His Clips On’, ‘Possibly an Armchair’ and ‘Ginger Geezer’. Yes, a lot of that does involve me doesn’t it? this is what happens when guest vocalists drop out. As per usual, old dickhead here jumps up and says ‘I’ll do it!’ WITH the guys Vivian Stanshall referred to as his ‘dream band’ you say? Aye! Why not! No pressure then…..

Clockwise L-R. Stage manager, and producer of 'English as Tuppence', Laura Baron attempts to manage Neil and Rod. Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer rehearses 'A Bout of Sobriety' with the supergroup. Me, working my arse off, rehearsing 'Armchair' with the supergroup and Vivian's son Rupert, (standing by the gramophone), and Francis Pryor and Phil Harding run through that all-important opening to the evening!

Clockwise L-R. ‘One Night Stanshall’ stage manager, and producer of ‘English as Tuppence’, Laura Baron attempts to manage Neil and Rod. Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer rehearses ‘A Bout of Sobriety’ with the supergroup. Me, working my arse off, plus the supergroup, rehearsing ‘Armchair’ with Vivian’s son Rupert, (standing by the gramophone), and Francis Pryor and Phil Harding rehearsing that all-important opening to the evening!

As it happens our MD, the incomparable Bill Leach, pulled this huge show and this incredible array of talent into shape between 10am and 7pm on the day. If it hadn’t been for his skill and expertise, there would have been no show. WHEW! Thank Clapton for Bill! Once me and the musos were all drilled and ready for action, it was time for one last chap to rehearse – Vivian’s son Rupert. As you’d expect, Rupert took to reprising his role in the original recording of ‘Possibly an Armchair’ with great alacrity, and the theatre went silent as we put the final polish on the song.  A real ‘goosebumps’ moment! So, with the music now sorted, only one final, but critical, element was required to complete the show. Paradoxically, this last piece of the jigsaw, was the intro to the show, starring ‘Time Team’ stalwarts Francis Pryor and Phil Harding. To say that meeting these two chaps was a thrill would be greatly understating the matter. Both Phil and Francis were just as charming, barmy and hilarious as you’d imagine, and so with a few runs of their ‘bit’ (a piece I wrote for them about the theatre being built on an old Iron Age monument), we were off!!

Clockwise L-R. Neil and Rick join Phil and Francis to open the show. Me 'capering' with Brainwashing House during 'Socks'. Mr B joins the throng for 'A Bout of Sobriety'. and I shout me way thru another rousing chorus of 'Ginger Geezer'.

Clockwise L-R. Neil and Rick join Phil and Francis to open the show. Me ‘capering’ with Brainwashing House during ‘Socks’. Mr B joins the throng for ‘A Bout of Sobriety’. and I shout me way thru another rousing rendish of ‘Ginger Geezer’

Aside from the inevitable cock-ups that you will always get with such an ambitious, crazy and huge live show, all of which were dealt with admirably by our stage manager for the night Laura, the show ran like clockwork, and by the interval we were reasonably content that we had done a great first half. So, in true Stanshall style, we decided to spend the interval in a suitably fitting manner, telling jokes and relaxing with a beer or two. The idea being to totally prepare for giving the second half of the show even more gusto and energy than the first!

L-R Me and Rick Wakeman gab in the green room during the half-time interval. Danny Thompson checks his phone for the lastest score at Stamford Bridge, to his right, our trumpeteer Ged Fox, chats to John Halsey aka Rutles drummer 'Barrington 'Barry' Wom' whilst John 'no jokes please' Lewis listens in.

The Green Room at half-time. Me and Rick Wakeman gab about Donovan’s ill-fated support slot on the US leg of Yes’s 1978 World Tour, and Danny Thompson checks his phone for the lastest score at Stamford Bridge whilst, to his right, our trumpeteer Ged Fox, chats to John Halsey aka Rutles drummer ‘Barrington ‘Barry’ Wom’ and John ‘no jokes please’ Lewis listens in.

Incredibly, the second half DID go even more swimmingly than the first, and we all had an absolute ball performing for the Bloomsbury crowd that night! I shall never, ever forget such an incredible and amazing experience! The press release had promised ‘an evening of jaw-dropping entertainment’ and we all worked our arses orf, and did our utmost, to provide it! Judging by the flurry of positive comments which filled Twitter afterwards, our audience agreed. HURRAH! Job’s a good un! Below are just a selection of the Tweets. Thankyou all, it really made all the hard work so worthwhile!

ONS TweetsAnd that was that! Months of preparation, emails, tweets, phonecalls, scoring music, line-learning, beer drinking, poster designing, disc burning, hair-tearing and rehearsal by myself, Rupert, Bill, Chris, Ged, John ‘no jokes please’ Lewis and Jonny ‘Bongo’ Hase was all over! But, as Rick Wakeman posits in his tweet above, it should be an annual event. But will it? Will there be another show next year? Well, as our Press Release also promised, it was a ‘not to be repeated’ event, and this, again, is totally true. With this original line-up of Brainwashing House, only one more show, at Liverpool’s Unity Theatre on June 18th remains. After that, Brainwashing House shall sadly be no more. The chaps shall be hanging up their cobwebs, and sailing on to pastures new, (a mixed metaphor, but you get the picture), and I wish each and every one of them the very best of luck, thank them for 4 years of amazing fun and brilliant times, and cross my fat fingers that our professional paths may one day cross again. Still, they’ve not split yet, so here is a cracking pic of the whole company the morning after One Night Stanshall.

L-R MD Bill Leach, Trumpeteer Ged Fox, Chris 'ukelele' Huff, me, Jonny 'bongo' Hase, John 'no jokes' Lewis and our carer Richard enjoy a pint outside the Bree Louise, Euston Street, afore getting those borrowed trolleys back to Euston, and pouring us all onto the train back home.

L-R MD Bill Leach, Trumpeteer Ged Fox, Chris ‘ukelele’ Huff, me, Jonny ‘Bongo’ Hase, John ‘no jokes please’ Lewis and our carer Richard enjoy a pint outside the Bree Louise, Cobourg Street, afore getting those borrowed trolleys back to Euston, and pouring us all onto the train back home.

However, let us not be down’earted bruvvers, there is still one more show to go! Afore ye go, here is a little snippet taken from the mixing desk recording of ‘One Night Stanshall’. ‘Possibly an Armchair’, which features me on vox, Bill on guitars, Ukelele Huff on uke, John ‘no jokes please’ Lewis on clarinet, Ged Fox on trumpet, Jonny ‘Bongo’ Hase on percussion, Neil Innes and Rick Wakeman side-by-side on piano, Danny Thompson on bass, Rodney Slater on bass clarinet, Jim Cuomo on soprano sax and Susie Honeyman on violin. The track also features a special guest appearance by Rupert Stanshall, reprising his role from the original recording!

So, what does the future hold for Sir Henry at Rawlinson End? For the answer read on’t dot, dot, dot, dot, dot

 

VIVIAN STANSHALL’S DREAM BAND FINALLY TOGETHER FOR ONE NIGHT STANSHALL

Well, only 4 days to go now until our Stanshallian Spectacular at the Bloomsbury Theatre aka ‘One Night Stanshall’. Strange to think that in 5 days time it will all be over, after 12 solid months of preparation. You see, Rupert, Vivian’s son, and I started to plan this show straight after last year’s 70th Birthday Party event, with a very clear mandate. We wanted to do our best to get together what, Rupert has told me many times, his Dad referred to has his ‘Dream Band’ to play his music in and around our performance of his meisterwerk ‘Sir Henry at Rawlinson End’. No mean feat as these are a supremely talented group of performers who are rarely, if ever, not working, and who are scattered around the globe. However, we managed it. We also wanted to ensure that we held the event at the place that Vivian referred to as his ‘performing home’ in the capital – The Bloomsbury Theatre – and we managed that too.

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Poster for ‘Rawlinson Dog Ends’ at the Bloomsbury, 9th-14th April 1991

So, next Tuesday, April 8th, we shall be privileged to welcome to the Bloomsbury, Vivian’s dream band, all of whom last played with the great man in 1991, at the Rawlinson Dog-Ends shows, for what will truly be a one-off event. The roll-call of top-flight, A-list performers we have got together reads like the fantasy band of any Classic Rock and Pop fan. Neil Innes, Rodney Slater, Danny Thompson, Jim Cuomo, Susie Honeyman and ‘Admiral’ John Halsey for ONE NIGHT ONLY, and for one reason alone. To celebrate the life and music of their late, great friend Vivian Stanshall.

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Vivian himself in the Bloomsbury foyer on the opening night of the sold out ‘Rawlinson Dog Ends’ show

There was one musician on Vivian’s ‘dream band’ list however who could not play at the ‘Rawlinson Dog Ends’ shows at the Bloomsbury in 1991, and that is keyboard supremo and prog rock superstar Rick Wakeman. You may or may not know this, but Rick plays on Viv’s classic 1974 LP ‘Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead’. Amazingly however, next Tuesday at ‘One Night Stanshall’ Rick WILL be playing in that band. Thereby finally getting together Viv’s dream band at long last.

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Rick Wakeman and Neil Innes rehearsing for our 70th Birthday Party show, last year at the Bloomsbury

Speaking personally, as a fan of all of these incredible musicians and performers, I cannot express to you how excited I am to get to meet and work with these people next week. It really will be like a dream come true! So, please take us seriously when we say ‘One Night Stanshall’ really is a ONE NIGHT ONLY event! to get such talent together – Vivian’s own ‘dream band’ – to celebrate the great Vivian Stanshall IS a dream come true, and lucky you get to sit in the audience and let these giants entertain you!! Can we swap?

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Me being regaled by my boyhood hero Rick Wakeman, during last years’ rehearsals for the 70th show at the Bloomsbury

On second thoughts, having looked at the photo of me n Rick above, I’ve changed me mind! Terrified or not, I’m not swapping – though I do wish I could sit in the audience and enjoy this historical event with you all! This is truly an event that you cannot afford to miss! I mean, it will haunt you for the rest of your days if you wasted the opportunity to come and see Vivian’s Dream Band perform wouldn’t it? TICKETS are still available form the Bloomsbury website here; ONE NIGHT STANSHALL TICKETS

ONE NIGHT STANSHALL………FIVE DAYS TO GO!!!!

 

ImageWell, here I sit typing, a stone lighter and ready to tread the boards of the Bloomsbury Theatre in London. Well, I say ready, bloody petrified is more appropriate tbh! Getting on stage is a scary prospect, believe me, I know! I recall my London theatre debut, at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre, Camden, in pin-sharp, vivid detail precisely because I was so frightened. So much so that toward the end of the first act, the panic attack that had been bubbling away nicely all day suddenly turned HUGE! Of course, in this technological age we live in, the moment was captured for posterity, and you too can see my panic attack here – ULP! – note the huge intake of breath at the start, then the ROAR of terror, closely followed by me catching myself and, thank gawd, finally remembering my lines and moving on. Properly scary! As regular readers of this blog, well my one reader, will know, I’ve always suffered from panic attacks. I hope I don’t have one during next Tuesday’s ‘One Night Stanshall’ show, but if you do happen to see a fat bloke in one green and one red sock, wearing a checked jacket, tearing down Gordon Street and heading for Euston Station next Tuesday night, then you know who it is!

 

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me wearing Neil’s hat, (and ecstatic that that panicky London Premiere was over), flanked by Ade Edmondson and Neil Innes. Bill is on the far right, not politically of course!

That was almost 3 years ago, (SHIT!), and since that dark October night at the 40 seater Lion and Unicorn, things have changed a little, as we prepare to once again inhabit the 535 seat Bloomsbury Theatre. One vital factor in this transformation is that one of the audience members that first night was the legend that is Neil Innes. I can’t really put into words the help, advice and time that Neil has given since that night, not only to the show, but also myself. Since then I have had the opportunity to perform with him and also perform as support act to the first Rutles reunion show, last year at the Borderline Club, Soho. Bucket-list stuff! BTW in case there are any Rutles fans reading this unaware of the fact that the prefab four are touring the UK from May, here is the link to visit to learn more and get your tickets Rutles Tour

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Me supporting The Rutles at their first reunion show at the Borderline Club, Soho, with the ever-present ‘Jonny Hase’ on drums!

So, where was I? Soho! No, that’s wrong – for many reasons! Oh aye, that’s reet! One Night Stanshall, next Tuesday, April 8th, at the Bloomsbury Theatre, London folks! TICKETS HERE! As I mentioned last time, prep is going brilliantly, and both myself and my co-producer, Vivian’s son Rupert, are both very pleased with the way things have developed. Our MD, Bill Leach, has gone above and beyond even his own high work-rate and commitment for this show, and the results will speak for themselves. His job is not only to score all the music, but also to marshal me and my band of loonies on Tuesday AND integrate it with the aforementioned Neil Innes and other greats such as Rod Slater, Rick Wakeman, Danny Thompson, John Halsey, Susie Honeyman, Jim Cuomo and Mr B The Gentleman Rhymer. That is no mean feat! Without Bill there would be no show. Pure and simple. He is the metronomic heartbeat of the whole enterprise.

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Bill at his work

We’ve had some nice bits n bobs in the press leading up to the show, (and we need more if there are any press reading!), one of which is this lovely preview piece, written by well-known Times and Guardian comedy reviewer Bruce Dessau, which you can read at his brilliant website here. So, 5 days to go to another incredible life experience and I am, as usual, not feeling ready. But whether I like it or not, on Tuesday I will be up on that stage with my pals, recreating Vivian’s meisterwerk ‘Sir Henry at Rawlinson End’. There is much, MUCH more yet to do, so I spose I’d best stop boring you and get on and do it! However, afore I go, one last pearl of wisdom imparted to me by Neil Innes. ‘don’t rehearse! Then NOTHING can possibly go wrong!’ A very wise man! And with that, I shall bid you adieu and I shall see you at the Bloomsbury next Tuesday! Mine’s a large Southampton Red Rum!! Oh, and don’t forget, you can follow the show on Twitter @SirHenryShow and I am on there too @MichaelLivesley – but on my feed you will only find more shite like the stuff I write on here although, due to the 140 character limit, it is mercifully MUCH briefer!

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The seminal LP played to me by Jonny Hase that started this whole thing off!!

Tata for now!! xxxx