A Rockapaedia Obituary
Bands: The Bonzo Dog Doodah Band, The Rutles, The Idiot Bastard Band,
Niel Innes died aged seventy-five on 29th December 2019 of a heart attack, near his home in Toulouse, France. He was survived by his wife,
Yvonne and their three sons, Miles, Luke, and Barney.
Niel Innes was born in Danbury in Essex and took piano lessons from age seven to fourteen and taught himself to play guitar. Niel Innes received his formal education at Thorpe Grammar School and the Norwich School of Art and Goldsmiths' College, London, where he studied drama and graduated in 1966 with a Bachelor of Arts in Fine Art from Goldsmiths .
While at College Niel started a band with other students that was originally named The Bonzo Dog Dada Band after the art movement Dada, which they renamed the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. Niel Innes had met Vivian Stanshall at the Central School of Art, where both studied drawing. Together they wrote most of the band's songs, including "I'm the Urban Spaceman", their one-and-only U.K. hit single ), and "Death Cab for Cutie", which featured in the Beatles' film Magical Mystery Tour. Niel Innes won an Ivor Novello Award for Best Novelty Song in 1968 for "I'm the Urban Spaceman".
In 1968, Niel Innes appeared with the Bonzo Dog Band on both seasons of the British children's television series Do Not Adjust Your Set which also featured future Monty Python members Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam.
After the break-up of the Bonzo Dog Band, Niel Innes joined with former Dog Band bassist Dennis Cowan, drummer Ian Wallace and guitarist Roger McKew to form The World, a band hoping for "more commercial" success with music ranging from rock to pure pop, yet still retaining some Doo-Dah flavour and even some of the humour.
In 1973, Niel Innes worked with Andy Roberts, Adrian Henri, Roger McGough, Mike McGear, Brian Patten, John Gorman, David Richards, John Megginson, Ollie Halsall and Gerry Conway in the band GRIMMS, which released its self-titled album and 'Rocking Duck' in 1973 followed by their last album 'Sleepers' in 1976.
In the mid-1970s, Niel Innes became closely associated with the Monty Python team. Having contributed music to their albums Monty Python's Previous Record in 1972 and 'The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief' in 1973, he played a major role in performing and writing songs and sketches for their final TV series in 1974, after John Cleese temporarily left. He wrote a squib of a song called "George III" for the episode "The Golden Age of Ballooning", which was sung by The Flirtations, but billed onscreen as the Ronettes. He also wrote the song "When Does a Dream Begin?", used in "Anything Goes: The Light Entertainment War". He co-wrote the "Most Awful Family in Britain" sketch and played a humorous stilted guitar version of the theme song, "The Liberty Bell" march, during the credits of the last episode, "Party Political Broadcast". He is one of only two non-Python performers to ever be credited writers for the TV series.
Niel appeared on stage with the Pythons in the UK and Canada in 1973, in London in 1974 and in New York City in 1976, performing the Bob Dylanesque "Protest Song" on the album 'Monty Python Live at City Center' where he was introduced as Raymond Scum. After his introduction he told the audience, "I've suffered for my music. Now it's your turn." In 1980 he travelled to the United States with the Pythons again, subsequently appearing in Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl. He performed the songs "How Sweet to Be an Idiot" and "I'm the Urban Spaceman". He also appeared as one of the singing "Bruces" in the Philosopher Sketch and as a Church Policeman in the "Salvation Fuzz" sketch.
Niel Innes wrote original songs for the movie 'Monty Python and the Holy Grail' including "Knights of the Round Table" and "Brave Sir Robin". He appeared in the film as a head-bashing monk, the serf crushed by the giant wooden rabbit, and the leader of Sir Robin's minstrels. He also had small roles in Terry Gilliam's Jabberwocky in 1977 and in Monty Python's Life of Brian in 1979. His collaborations with Monty Python and other artists were documented in the musical film The Seventh Python in 2008, which premiered at the Mods & Rockers Film Festival on 26th June 2008.
After Python finished its original run on UK television, Niel Innes joined with Python's Eric Idle on the series 'Rutland Weekend Television'. This was a Python-esque sketch show based in a fictional low-budget regional television station. It ran for two series in 1975–76. Songs and sketches from the series appeared on a 1976 BBC LP called The Rutland Weekend Songbook. This show spawned The Rutles (the "prefab four"), an affectionate pastiche of the Beatles. In it Niel Innes played the character of Ron Nasty, who was based on John Lennon. Niel Innes played Nasty in an American-made spin-off TV movie 'All You Need Is Cash', with Eric Idle. The project also yielded the soundtrack album 'The Rutles', released by Warner Bros.
The songs written by Niel Innes so closely parodied the original source material that he was taken to court by the owners of the Beatles' catalogue. Niel Innes had to testify under oath that he had not listened to the songs at all while composing the Rutles' songs, but had created them completely originally based on what he remembered various songs by the Beatles sounding like at different times. Niel Innes's music publisher later demanded from Beatles-influenced band Oasis a co-writing credit for Niel Innes for their 1994 song "Whatever", as it directly lifted parts of its melody from Niel Innes's 1973 song "How Sweet to Be an Idiot". This event was subsequently referenced in The Rutles song "Shangri-La" in their 1996 re-union album 'The Rutles Archaeology', itself a parody of The Beatles Anthology.
After Rutland Weekend Television, Idle moved to the United States, and Niel Innes went on to make a solo series in 1979 on BBC television, The Niel Innes Book of Records, which ran for three series and contained a few of Niel Innes's previous music compositions along with new ones written for the show.
During the 1980s, Niel Innes delved into children's entertainment. He played the role of the Magician in the live-action children's television series Puddle Lane, made by Yorkshire Television for the ITV network. He voiced the 1980s children's cartoon adventures of The Raggy Dolls, a motley collection of "rejects" from a toy factory. The 65 episodes for Yorkshire Television included the characters Sad Sack, Hi-Fi, Lucy, Dotty, Back-to-Front, Princess and Claude.
He also composed the music for children's television including Puddle Lane, The Raggy Dolls, The Riddlers and Tumbledown Farm. In the case of The Raggy Dolls, he also sang the theme tune. He brought Monty Python's Terry Jones's book Fairy Tales to television as East of the Moon. He contributed all the stories and music on this production. He was involved with the popular children's show Tiswas.
At the time of The Beatles Anthology CDs, there was a revival of interest in The Rutles and a new album was released in 1996 entitled Archaeology.
In 1998, Niel Innes hosted a thirteen-episode television series for Anglia Television, called 'Away with Words', in which he travelled to different areas of Britain to explore the origins of well-known words and phrases.
Niel Innes took part, along with the remaining Monty Python members, in the 2002 Concert for George, in memory of George Harrison.
Niel Innes was occasionally heard (often as the butt of jokes) standing in as the pianist for the BBC Radio 4 panel game I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue.
Niel Innes toured the UK in 2006 and produced a new Bonzo CD as part of the Bonzo Dog Band's 40th Anniversary tour. In 2008 he undertook the Neil Innes and Fatso 30th Anniversary tour, playing predominantly Rutles numbers with a few Bonzos and Python items.
In late 2010, Niel Innes announced the formation of The Idiot Bastard Band, a comedy musical collective featuring himself, Adrian Edmondson, Phill Jupitus, Simon Brint and Rowland Rivron. The band debuted at The Wilmington Arms in London in December, playing a range of comedy songs old and new, with deliberately little rehearsal.
New concerts were scheduled in 2011 but Jupitus was unable to attend due to prior commitments and was replaced by several special guests, including Paul Whitehouse, Barry Cryer and Nigel Planer. Following the death of Simon Brint, the band performed a further tour in 2012.