Graham Reid | | 8 min read
In the Sixties they changed the world
-- in 1970 they changed their mind and broke up. They were the
Rutles, lovable legends from Liverpool who launched their career with
innocent hits such as Hold My Hand. Within two years the cynical Ron
Nasty and cheery Dirk McQuickly had penned dozens of enduring
As they matured through films A Hard
Days Rut and Ouch!, their music became more complex. Then they took
to drinking tea and despite warnings it would lead to stronger
things, and hooked up with peculiar characters such as Arthur Sultan,
a table-tapping spiritualist.
Finally, during sessions for their Let
It Rot album they broke up.
Nasty took up with a performance artist and part-time Nazi Chastity, McQuickly married “a large-breasted biologically accommodating American girl,” Stig O’Hara- - after a longtime fascination with all things Indian -- became an airline stewardess with Air India and drummer Barry Wom (always known as the quiet dumb one, started a chain of hair salons).
They all sued each other.
Their passing was mourned by young and
old alike; Noel Gallagher of Oasis is a huge fan and some years ago
Shonen Knife, King Missile, Daniel Johnston, Galaxie 500 and others
lined up for the Rutles Highway Revisited tribute album.
Their remarkable story was told in the
television documentary All You Need is Cash, a kind of This is Spinal
Tap with a Britpop bent. And in the case of Rutles manager Leggy
Mountbatten, very bent.
In their final days, however, they
buried tapes of the album they were working on. The lost recordings
became know as the Archeology Tapes by fans.
But today - or more correctly, in late
'96 – those tapes plus three new songs were finally released,
curiously the same day as their old rivals, the Beatles, release the
final volume of their own Anthology series.
But then again, there were always a lot
of parallels between their two careers.
And the man who could tell their story
was Ron Nasty – and a lovely fellow called Neil Innes . .
“Yeah, it has been a long time,”
says the distinctively nasal and cynical Ron Nasty when we talk about
the newly released old songs. “But then again, time is just a
construct and without it everything would happen at once.
“After the split I spent 10 years
sulking, which was actually a very good time for me. But things
change and essentially what happened was Barry’s dog uncovered the
tapes and one thing lead to another.
“Dirk sadly couldn’t join us, he’s
gone back into comedy. But I’d always kept in touch with Barry. He
had to give up his hairdressing after a freak accident with tongs --
but to be more brutal, the beehive hairstyle and teasing in general
went out of style so he ended up running a pub, The Cheese and Onion.
“I hadn’t seen Stig for 15 years.
He got a lust for travel and never stopped playing the music.
“But we’re proud of the album, it`s
not all material from 1970. We recorded three new songs and some of
the material featured [guitarist] Ollie Halsey – the fourth Rutle,
if you like -- who died in 92 and we wanted to keep as much of his
playing on as possible."
At this point Nasty breaks into an
unexpected laugh and suddenly Neil Innes -- the man who wrote all
those parodies of Beatles’ songs as the Rutles and played Nasty in
All You Need is Cash – is speaking.
“It’s very hard to keep in
character, I’m only an amateur schizophrenic."
Innes - formerly of the Bonzo Dog Doo
Dah Band, one-time Rutle and these past 20 years a presenter and
writer of award-winning children’s television programmes -- is a
more interesting character that his Nasty alter-ego anyway.
After he's got the Archeology album
promotion out of the way -- “six weeks, I give it!" -- he’s
thinking of writing a book about it all. “It’ll be Rutlemania; A
The Rutles - a one-off joke by former
Monty Python Eric Idle (Dirk McQuickly) and himself – genuinely did
spawn a tribute album to a band that never existed and an album of
the television documentary, or if you will “mockumentary”.
And he made almost nothing from it.
Despite being a parody and leaning
heavily on Beatles riffs (George Harrison not only appeared in the
doco but assisted with genuine Beatles footage), the Fab Four‘s
publishers didn’t see the joke and threatened to litigate. Innes
didn’t have the money to fight it and had to sign over all his
royalties. In a twist of global economics, Michael Jackson owned the
Rutles’ publishing rights.
Little wonder Innes says “I think the
music industry stinks. The fun part is making the music -- but after
that you’re dealing with the kind of people that developed mad cow
disease. `Let’s make it and feed it to cattle]', that kind of
And that rather awful tribute album?
“Sort of a tribute. I’m a tune man myself and you've got to work
really hard to take all the tunes out, but they managed.”
Innes, who lives on “an ex-farm 90
miles outside London", laughs at the suggestion the Rutles’
“reformation" and Archeology album at the time of the Beatles
Anthology series is naked opportunism.
"Not quite, thinly veiled I think.
But it was really nice meeting up with [former Beach Boy, producer
and Rutle Stig O’Hara] Rikki Fataar and [drummer, Ringo surrogate
Barry Wom] John Halsey again.
“But it was refreshing to hear the
Beatles were emptying their cupboards -- plus you’ve got all these
50-year-old farts going back on the road, plus all these younger
tarts out there claiming to be influenced by the Beatles and the
Rutles. And they were."
He tells of Noel Gallagher borrowing heavily -- as only Noel can do -- from one of his Lennonesque non-Rutle hit How Sweet To Be An Idiot and how he made a brief comment in a local paper that he was now reclaiming his tune for the start of Shangri-La, a new Rutles song on Archeology which -- at more than seven minutes -- is a parody of Hey Jude (sing “shangri-la la-la-la”).
That comment hit headlines in The Sun
which claimed “Innes (51) makes Oasis pay" and produced a
figure of £50,000 out of the air. Not a word of truth in any of it.
“I have every sympathy for anyone
who's up there for real. The Rutles are really anti-stars. Women
loved us because we did our own ironing.”
This time out there are -- in another
eerie Beatles parallel -- only three Rutles. Eric Idle hasn't climbed
back on board. Too busy, Neil?
"No, he was genuinely grumpy. He
was invited thrice, thrice he refused the crown. I agree with him
that a video sequel is not appropriate, but if people are asking for
Rutles songs because of the music then I’m only too happy to
And that‘s what he has done; 16
Beatlesque songs from the Sgt Peppers sound of Major Happy’s Up and
Coming Once Upon a Good Time Band through sneering Lennon-styled
rockers [Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Musik) and country-edged Ringo
tuneless pop hits like Easy Listening written for John Halsey “who
makes phrasing and pitching his own!”
“It was funny telling the Rutles
story in '78 and pretending the Beatles didn't exist but since 1980
[the year Lennon was shot] I don't want to carry on that pretense. I
think we can say, 'yeah, we were part of that but we really are
Rutles now’ and we clearly acknowledge the Beatles. It would be too
tacky to pretend.
“I found it was liberating to choose
songs that speak for themselves and acknowledge the inspiration of
Beatles. They are my songs in fancy dress really.”
And not a little sentimental. The
lyrics to Don't Know Why (“we did the best we could, the acid test
of fame we withstood") seems to nod affectionately?
No, just a happy ambiguity in song that
started life about Charles and Di, it seems. A couple of others on
the album came from his one-man show, one dates back to Bonzo days
and Unfinished Words -- a kind of Rutles self-referential song in the
manner of Lennon’s Glass Onion with psychedelic lyrics . . .
“It think a lot of people get fun out
of it and I don’t mind pretending a bit, one more time. But really
I'm perfectly happy with the bucolic lifestyle I have now. I like
talking to children. Human beings go downhill after four, people have
their sense of fairness curiosity and wonder worn away.
“I’ve tried to resist it -- and
find myself more attuned to four-year olds."
And those of us with a very juvenile
sense of humour.