Neil Innes: Farewell Urban Spaceman - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Neil Innes: Farewell Urban Spaceman

Chris Morley doesn't exist!

While all the attention may have been on the more recent & no less sad passing of Terry Jones, a month ago today we also lost the man often seen as the seventh member of Monty Python, a role he performed alongside his Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band duties. Sadly, Neil Innes went the way of the urban spaceman & has not existed as of December 29 2019.

I never let my friends down
I've never made a boob
I'm a glossy magazine, an advert in the tube
I'm the Urban Spaceman, baby, here comes the twist
I don't exist
He had formed the Bonzos alongside the late Viv Stanshall & “Legs” Larry Smith while they were studying art at Goldsmiths College. The group's biggest success came with the 1968 release of the I'm The Urban Spaceman single which Neil would win an Ivor Novello award for. The B-side was a contribution by Stanshall in the form of Canyons Of Your Mind.

Spaceman was produced by one Apollo C Vermouth, who was actually no less than the pairing of Gus Dudgeon and a certain Mr. Paul McCartney, with whom they had appeared in the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour film performing Death Cab For Cutie.

All this after seemingly turning their back on their original jazz roots on 1967's Gorilla with Jazz. Quite the sideways move for a group that had previously also dealt in music hall. Indeed, their first single was a cover of My Brother Makes The Noises For The Talkies backed with I'm Gonna Bring A Watermelon To My Girl Tonight.

Death Cab For Cutie's title comes from a story Innes happened across in an American pulp fiction magazine, Viv given free rein to shape it into an Elvis pastiche with a whiff of the “tragedy song” of the late Fifties/early Sixties - as perhaps best exemplified by the likes of Mark Dinning's Teen Angel.
Michael Palin introduced at least one performance as part of Do Not Adjust Your Set, which also featured Jones & Eric Idle among its contributors. In a possible portent of future collaboration Cutie's subject matter is a killer car!
That night Cutie called a cab, uh-huh-huh.....
Baby don't do it
She left her East Side drum so drab
Baby don't do it
She went out on the town
Knowing it would make her lover frown
Death cab for Cutie
Death cab for Cutie
Someone's going to make you pay your fare.......
As the Seventies dawned Neil would become more involved with Python, contributing music to Monty Python's Previous Record & The Monty Python Matching Tie & Handkerchief. He also made live appearances on Monty Python Live At City Center & Monty Python Live At The Hollywood Bowl.

And when the Python's moved into film, so did Innes. He wrote the likes of Knights Of The Round Table & Brave Sir Robin as well as making several cameos in the tale of Graham Chapman's King Arthur's quest for the Holy Grail as the leader of Idle's Sir Robin's minstrels. Neil also pops up earlier as one of the monks & the peasant crushed by the huge wooden rabbit!

Perhaps his most famous contribution to Life Of Brian is the whistling on Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.

Ex-Beatle George Harrison had actually helped finance the making of Life Of Brian through his Handmade Films production company. Eric Idle later called it the most expensive cinema ticket in history as the man often called the quiet Beatle had mortgaged his house to get the money!

Post-Python, another Beatles connection would occur as Innes teamed up with Idle again on Rutland Weekend Television which would in turn spawn a certain Prefab Four in the shape of the Rutles!

Innes' songs as written for the Rutles were actually such close soundalikes that the then-owners of the Beatles back catalogue, ATV Music, took him to court, where he testified he hadn't actually listened to the original songs themselves at any point during the process of composing the parodies!
Some bootleggers were so taken in that they included Cheese & Onions as what they thought was a lost John Lennon song on a compilation of supposedly rare Fab Four cuts.

Coincidentally enough Neil's Ron Nasty was the Lennon of the group, Idle his McCartney as Dirk McQuickly in 1978's All You Need Is Cash...

The first film spin off from what started as a Rutland Weekend Television sketch also finding room for a cameo from Harrison who said that...
"The Rutles sort of liberated me from the Beatles in a way. It was the only thing I saw of those Beatles television shows they made. It was actually the best, funniest and most scathing. But at the same time, it was done with the most love."
Lennon is also said to have loved it but warned that Get Up & Go was possibly a little too close to Get Back for comfort!

Perhaps the greatest tribute that can be paid to Neil Innes though is that so much of his work, however uncredited some of it may have been, continues to wander through our brains & make itself at home in our minds. As it will no doubt for many years to come.

So in a sense, he will always exist.

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