Adrian Edmondson, Phill Jupitus and Neil Innes discuss the Idiot Bastard Band
The comedy-music hybrid is all set to tour the UK
I’m sure you’ve wondered, on a slow evening, what exactly is the collective name for a quartet of cultish musical-comedy types who’ve banded together to keep the comic song fires burning. Here's your answer: ‘I’ve always liked the combination of the two words,’ reflects Adrian Edmondson, '“Idiot Bastards”.'
It was shared love for the retro comedy song that drove these particular idiot bastards together. The group -- Edmondson along with Phill Jupitus, Rowland Rivron and Neil Innes -- are taking their 'live rehearsals', once a regular gig at Clerkenwell's Wilmington Arms, on a jaunt around the country. Borne of Edmondson and Jupitus' time spent with 60s Dadaist art rockers the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band during their 40th anniversary celebrations ('Edmondson and I spent most of that tour giggling in the wings and whispering "We're in the Bonzos!" to each other', Jupitus reveals), the gentle moulding of IBB began soon after.
Innes, founder Bonzo member, elaborates: 'At a sedate high tea in the Langham Hotel it was agreed that Ade's suggestion of forming a band to celebrate silly songs wasn't at all half bad -- provided we steered clear of understatements and organic spin-offs.'
Although obviously best known as one of the forerunners of the 80s alternative comedy explosion, Edmondson balks at the suggestion of a radical difference between his work with The Young Ones and Bottom and the apparent gentle silliness of the comic song: 'They [the TV shows] were inspired directly by the Bonzos -- in our early days Rik [Mayall] and I would get back from the pub, switch on the cassette recorder and try to write stuff exactly like theirs.'
Indeed, the generic term 'novelty record' or 'comic song' may be misleading when it comes to the quirkier side of rock'n'roll embodied by the Idiot Bastard Band -- a comedian's 'Comic Relief' number one this ain't. Edmondson's influences span from Val Doonican ('Delaney's Donkey’, ‘Paddy McGinty's Goat’ and ‘McRafferty's Motorcar') to Spike Milligan, and on through Syd Barrett's early work, They Might Be Giants and Half Man Half Biscuit. Meanwhile Jupitus explains, 'I've always been drawn to a well-crafted funny song,' citing Billy Bragg, Ian Dury, Tom Lehrer and Innes himself as favourites.
Given these muses and the nuances afforded by music to flirt with innuendo or to use humour as a means of bringing to light social history or political statements, the chasm between the notion of funny songs and the alternative comedy genre grows ever narrower. ‘The Bonzos used to root around the street markets for Shellac '78s with silly titles,’ Innes says, before explaining that many of his newer ideas for songs stem from ‘the internet, Twitter, junk mail, you name it.’
So it comes to pass that this old tradition continues, as the Idiot Bastard Band repertoire comprises a delicate amalgamation of the old records given a fresh twist, and new pieces contributed by each member. In fact, notes Edmondson, while in residency at the Wilmington Arms, 'the only rule was that we had to bring a new song each time. It worked a treat.'
As noted by Innes, covers include records from incidental sources, such as 'She Got a Nose Job', a tongue-in-cheek doo-wop job, first distributed with Mad Magazine, performed by the IBB to give an indictment of a modern-day search for perfection. 'It's about a girl getting a nose job,' concedes Edmondson, 'but I've added verses to it about other parts of her anatomy that she's had enhanced.'
There's also 'Transfusion', a Nervous Norvus rockabilly jive number about a man hellbent on speeding, despite the number of blood transfusions his actions result in. 'We've worked it up into a really good number for Rowland [on drums],' says Jupitus. But the song's original double entendre is not ignored as the IBB play with the lyric to create a new situation. 'It's a vaguely dark and humorous song, but we've added a twist to it by having an onstage discussion about whether it's actually about blood transfusions or gay sex – “Pour a gallon in me, Alan …”' Jupitus admits it’s often difficult to describe comedy songs.
As for new numbers, there's a hefty dose of Innes, wordsmith extraordinaire, who admits it doesn't always come easily. 'I have a new one called “Come Dancing”, a classic love triangle set in Tierra del Fuego, and it's taken me three years to complete. I kept putting it aside because it was not quite right.' The solution, naturally, was to create a Mexican-style corrido. 'There's something wonderful about throwing your head back and belting out a three-part harmony with some chums.'
This relaxed ambience, a group of mates getting together in the pub for a session, is backed up by YouTube footage of the Idiots. Onstage joking, gentle piss-taking and mugging abound, backed up by a musical confidence undiminished by the bloopers Innes maintains dogs him: ‘If I can trip over a lead or drop my plectrum, I do. If my guitar strap comes loose or the leg falls off the piano, it will. The inevitability is relentless and so I just go with it.’ No doubt they’ll have scrubbed up a bit for the tour, but it would be a shame if smoothness reigned over chaos. As Edmondson reflects: ‘Idiot Bastards -- it sounds like fun to me.’
Idiot Bastard Band play HMV Picture House, Edinburgh, Sat 10 Nov and Old Fruitmarket, Glasgow, Sun 11 Nov.