Tea with the Rutles!

In 1995 I had the great pleasure of interviewing Nasty, Stig and Barry of the Rutles, otherwise known as Neil Innes, Rikki Fataar and John Halsey. Their new album ‘Archeology’ had just come out and I talked to them at the Virgin Records headquarters in London. Here is the article I wrote from that interview – as it first appeared in Off the Beatle Track in 1996.

The Rutles – Mythology

For those who weren’t around in those heady days of the 60s, here is a brief history of the Rutles – as told by Gilda Radner in ‘All You Need is Cash’

‘The Rutles were an English pop quartet of the 60s who set the foot of the world a tapping with their catchy melodies, wacky Liverpool humour and zany off the wall antics, epitomised by their films ‘A Hard Day’s Rut’ and ‘Ouch!’ Dirk and Nasty, the acknowledged leaders of the group were perfectly complemented by Stig, the quiet one, and Barry, the noisy one, to form a heart warming, cheeky, loveable, talented, non-Jewish group who gladdened the hearts of the world. In 1962 they played the Cavern, after that they spent several months in Hamburg. Then in 1962 they released their first single, ‘Twist and Rut”.

The Rutles went on to be a legend in their own lunchtime but things started badly when they started their own business, Rutle Corps. The idea was for people to help themselves. Unfortunately people helped themselves to Rutle Corps’ money for years. In the end things got so bad within the group that Dirk and Nasty got married. Rutle Corps started losing more money than the British Government. At the last meeting of Rutle Corps 134 legal people and accountants filed into a small 8 by 10 room. At the end only 87 came out alive. Savile Row had taken its toll on the best merchant banking brains of a generation. Luckily that’s not too serious. However during the legal wrangling and public bickering ‘Let it Rot’ was released as a film, record and a lawsuit. In December 1970 Dirk sued Stig and Nasty; Barry sued Dirk; Nasty sued Stig and Barry; and Stig sued himself accidentally. It was the end of an era. However, amid squabbles and lawsuits, the band were recording a new album. The project was abandoned and the master tapes were buried. Literally.

As was widely reported at the time, all of the tapes were placed in a time capsule and buried in a secret location. Announcing that action, a spokesman for The Rutles stated that this was “to thwart bootleggers. And tax authorities.” Furthermore, the capsule would “stay buried for a thousand years.” He added that the album wouldn’t be released unless it was “discovered by archaeologists or whoever digs these things up.” This led to Rutles fans dubbing the interred recordings the ‘Archaeology’ tapes.

Asked why the legendary tapes have been dug up by The Rutles themselves, a mere 26 years later, Rutles member Ron Nasty stated simply, “Things change.” All further queries have been referred to the band’s accountants.

The new Archaeology album comes at a time when interest in The Rutles is at an all-time high. Many of today’s hottest bands, including Oasis, Pulp, Blur, Smashing Pumpkins, Gin Blossoms, and Soul Asylum, cite The Rutles as a major influence.

Not addressed in The Rutles announcement is whether the band will reunite to record any new tracks or perform live. Apart from their famous rooftop concert, seen in the ‘All You Need Is Cash ‘ documentary, the band has not given a public performance since 1966.

The Rutles Reunion – the Real Story

In September 1994 there was an official celebration of Monty Python’s 25th anniversary held in Los Angeles. It took the shape of a film and TV festival – and included the presentation of various spin-off projects – including the Rutles film.

As an adjunct to the festival Neil Innes performed a show of Rutles music – in character of Ron Nasty. Teaming up with local Beatles Tribute band, The MopTops, the concert was jokingly billed as a performance by Ron Nasty and the New Rutles. The show, held at the legendary Troubadour club in Los Angeles, was an immediate sell out, and a second show was added – which also sold out.

Critical and public acclaim was glowing – and was a major factor in inspiring this first-ever reunion of the original performing Rutles. (the Los Angeles Times Review of the show described the concert as ‘Fabulous! Beatles music from a parallel universe! Among the stars in attendance at the shows were new Beatles producer Jeff Lynne, Julian Lennon, Seal and Spinal Tap member Harry Shearer. Long time Neil Innes friend and Rutles fan George Harrison was unable to attend the shows – but sent a special greeting to be read to the audiences – and insisted on Innes giving him a first hand account of the shows when he returned to England.

In Rutles mythology, the ‘Archaeology’ album consists of disinterred tapes of the group’s abandoned last album – which had been buried in a time capsule. In reality the album was freshly created in the spring and summer of 1996. Neil Innes reassembled all of the original team responsible for creating the original Rutles music.

Multi-instrumentalist Ricky Fataar, who in recent years has been the studio and touring drummer for many top musicians, including Bonnie Raitt and Boz Scaggs, returned to reprise his Stig O’Hara role. On the new album, he contributes lead and backing vocals, guitars and drums. Drummer John Halsey returned to perform as the Rutles own Barry Wom -and contributes both drumming and his distinctive Barry Wom vocals. Neil Innes, who again wrote all of the words and music of the 16 new Rutles songs, contributes lead and backing vocals, guitars and keyboards.

Interestingly the ‘Archaeology’ album has a genuine parallel with The Beatles ‘Anthology’ albums it affectionately lampoons. Original ‘4th Rutle’ – guitarist/singer Ollie Halsall, who was the key fourth musician in the recording of the original album, passed away tragically at the age of 43 – in 1992. In preparing material for this new album, Neil Innes uncovered master tapes of the rehearsal sessions he had organised in 1977 to prepare the Rutles for their album. Buried within these tapes he discovered two complete songs which had been fully rehearsed and performed – but which were not subsequently recorded for the album. He also discovered a backing track to a third song – which had not been completed.

Since all the tracks were very in line with the new material he was writing and assembling for the new album – and, with added poignancy, featured the original Rutles line-up – he decided to incorporate the tracks in the new album. The two completed songs – We’ve arrived! (And to Prove it We’re Here) and Now She’s Left You were left intact – including humorous false starts – and were simply restored. The uncompleted backing track was used as the basis for a new song entitled Unfinished Words.

The Archeology LP

The ‘Archaeology’ is a very enjoyable album. Neil Innes’ personal style is a lot more evident on the Archaeology than on the original LP – especially in the lyrics. In fact Neil wrote a number of the songs long before the second Rutles LP was thought of – he even sung a few (i.e. Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Music) on his 1980s TV show ‘Innes Book of Records’. However in those days the songs didn’t have a Beatlesque backing. The LP opens with perhaps the most obvious Beatles ‘copy’ – Major Happy, which is based on Sgt Pepper. It even starts with an orchestra warming up. Major Happy segues into the Barry Wom sang tune called Rendezvous. Not surprisingly it is based on With a Little Help from my Friends but with a few piano bits similar to Good Day Sunshine. The harmonies on Rendezvous are spot on – certainly a feature of the entire album. The call and response section here is funny. When the backing singers start answering Barry sings ‘who invited you to sing along?’ and when they sing ‘We were only trying to help’ Barry sings ‘I don’t want any help!’

The next song Questionnaire strongly resembles I am the Walrus musically – but here is where the similarities end – the song is very Innesesque song -sung from the point of view of a questionnaire.

We’ve Arrived (and to Prove it We’re Here) was one of the outakes from the first LP. It’s based around Back in the USSR (complete with airplane noise). It’s obvious this version wasn’t meant to be the final take as there is a false start and the ‘ooos’ are incredibly out of tune. However if anything the fun the band are having more than makes up for this. The atmosphere on the track is very similar to And Your Bird Can Sing on ‘Anthology 2’.

Lonely Phobia is an acoustic based track and one of my favourite tracks on the ‘Archaeology’. The musical style isn’t so easy to pin down to one Beatles song as others – in fact it sounds almost Wilburyish. The backing tracks for Unfinished Works were recorded by the original Rutles and Neil Innes built this new song around them. It has nonsense lyrics and mentions legendary unreleased Beatles songs like Colliding Circles and Pink Litmus Paper Shirt..Incidently, these song titles were made up by Martin Lewis, a Beatles afficionado who is also great friends with the Rutles.

Easy Listening is a classic Ringo/Barry Wom song -a bit like Act Naturally. It’s an incredibly catchy song and you’ll be singing the chorus for days after hearing it.

Now She’s Left You was the second complete song from the original sessions -it’s an early period Beatles pastiche and very catchy. Knicker Elastic King has a classic Neil Innes lyric with a backing similar to Penny Lane, and I Love You is early period Beatles. Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Music is an old Innes song which he sang at the Liverpool Beatles Convention a few years ago – as is Joe Public. Here Eine Kleine sounds like Come Together and Joe Public like Tomorrow Never Knows. Shangri-La is the first single from the LP and an obvious one at that. An incredibly catchy song with a backing that is almost a condensed version of the whole of the ‘Sgt Pepper’ LP. The long singalong fadeout at the end is a cross between Hey Jude and All You Need is Love (or should that be Love Life. This song deserves to be a hit but whether it will get the necessary airplay remains to be seen.

The last two tracks I Don’t Know Why and Back in 64 are a bit of an anti-climax but overall the LP is great and highly recommended. The Pre-Fab Four are back with a vengeance.

Tea With the Rutles

It was a great honour to meet the ‘prefab three’ over tea and biscuits at Virgin Records recently. Stig, Nasty and Barry (alias Neil Innes, John Halsey and Rikki Faatar) chatted about the old days of the Rutles and the new ‘Archeaology’ LP. It was a very amusing half hour with the three guys and with them regularly going in and out of character it was like interviewing six people.

I first asked the Rutles how they got together. Nasty said ‘according to Eric Idle we bumped into each other at a quayside and discussed haircuts’
‘We still do’ added Barry, ‘especially from my salon days’
‘We spend too much time talking about hair which is why we’ve taken so long to put out another album’ said Nasty.
I asked them whether they had something to say to Brian Thigh, the guy that turned down the Rutles.
‘Yeh, thanks for the pizza – keep the change’ said Nasty.
‘Don’t forget to set your runner bean flowers in cold weather’ said Barry.

I then asked the Rutles about what they’d been doing since the Rutles. Barry said ‘I had a hair dressing Empire, the Hackney Empire. However after a berserk lady customer run amok with hot curling tongs and I suffered a terrible injury I sold the empire.

Stig said ‘I’ve been with lots of airlines since ‘Air India’ When asked whether he was still with Arthur Sultan, the Surrey Mystic, Barry butted in ‘No, he’s mainly under the influence of red wine!’

Nasty is no longer with Chastity but they became firm friends after she gave up the Nazi stuff. She changed he name to Gwen Taylor and went on to become a famous and very talented actress.

Neil Innes (as himself) told me that George Harrison was a big influence on the original Rutles film. ‘He was in on it up to his neck!’ said Neil. ‘George thought of all the Fabs it would be great idea to have a jokey biography because pressures on them at that time to get back together were emormous and unbearable – it wasn’t a very pleasant time for them. The others also saw the fun of it and agreed to let us have footage’. George also arranged them to see the original ‘Long and Winding Road’ film. ‘It was a great help’, said Neil, ‘ because the true story makes you very depressed – so that’s why it needed a silly band to tell the story’.

George has also been supported of the Rutles comeback. ‘Like all The Beatles’,said Neil, ‘they want to get everything out of the cupboard and say ‘that’s it,that’s us!’ We we said to him about the Rutles, because lots people were asking me about us doing something, he said ‘It’s all part of the soup’.

Of course it is no coincidence the ‘Archaeology’ is coming out close to the Beatles ‘Anthology’. However as Neil remembers, ‘The last Rutles LP came out the same day as Paul’s ‘London Town’. At the press conference he gave they were just asking him about the Rutles. I did apologise to him about it. This time it doesn’t matter though as we’re all cleaning out our cupboards’.

The similarity between the Rutles and The Beatles is no coincidence, but led to a strange thing happening. ‘A guy from NME rang me up one day and said, ‘Mr Innes, we’ve got in our possession a Beatles bootleg and there’s a Rutles song on it. What have you got to say?’ I said ‘What’s it like?’ They played it to me over the phone and it was the version of Cheese and Onions I did for ‘Saturday Night Live’

Both John Halsey and Neil Innes had encounters with the Fabs before the Rutles. ‘I met Paul McCartney once in a Wimpey Bar in Piccadilly in 1964’ remembered Barry. ‘I was a teenager then. It was a Sunday night and the bar was packed. Paul walked in and was looking around for somewhere to sit and saw 2 chairs at our table at came over. We chatted for a while and he said it was nice to meet us and paid for our burgers and shakes. When we left we got as many funny looks has he did. As soon as we walked out a stranger came up to us and said ‘I’ve got two tickets to the London Paladium for tonight to see Sammy Davis, would you like them?’ So I saw met Paul McCartney and saw Sammy Davis in the same night. I’ve been up to Piccadilly every week since but nothing’s happened!’

Neil Innes was part of the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band. He remembers how they got to appear in ‘Magical Mystery Tour’. ‘It was through Mike McCartney’ said Neil, ‘The Bonzos and Mike’s group ‘The Scaffold’ used to bump in to each other a lot at gigs and became friends. Mike suggested to Paul that this silly band would be good for the film so we went along. Viv used to hang out with John Lennon a lot in clubs. It was at a club that Viv was moaning to Paul that our producer only let us spend two hours on each track and they weren’t finished. So Paul came down and produced ‘I’m the Urban Spaceman’ for us and did a great job.’

We finally got around to talking about the ‘Archeaology’ LP. Neil said the main inspiration to do it was from Rutles fans. ‘It was nice that people kept the Rutles music alive’ he said. ‘Because the Fabs were putting out the Anthology people asked us if we were going to do anything. This time around though we have have to acknowldege The Beatles did exist – the first time we didn’t to tell the story’.

Some of the tracks on the ‘Archeaology’ were written some time ago. ‘Shangri-la is as old as Cheese and Onions ‘ said Neil. Knicker Elastic King. was in ‘The Innes Book of Records’ and part of Rendevous was written when I was in the Bonzos – but I didn’t finish it then.’ This time the songs are more in Neil’s style than before. ‘You’ve got to remember that the first time we had to be accurate to the story. There were obvious musical signposts in the Beatles career. This time we had more freedom and we didn’t spent so much time trying to sound like old fashioned recordings.’

‘We really missed Ollie Halsall who sang on the first one, but we’ve got him on the archive tracks. We’ve done the best we can singing wise between us but he had the best singing voice of all of us. Though it’s widely tipped that Barry Wom is going to be made male vocalist of 1997’ ‘I’ve been nominated for a Granny!’ Inturrupts Barry.

When asked about the possibility of live performances Neil said ‘It depends on how the LP goes – but we could certainly do the songs live’. ‘Its been 20 years since the last LP’ said John, ‘If we wait any longer we’ll be making dead appearances! Here they are – the Rutles dead on stage!’

The video for Shangri-la was recently done in the US. However Neil said ‘Its a bit of a mess but hopefully there’s something there in the edit. Lots of people said they’d like to be in the video and we thought it would be nice to have some lookalikes too. We had Columbo, Madonna, Woopie Goldberg, Rod Stewart, Pat Boone…’ ‘No he was real!’ added John. There is a possibility of Rutles TV appearances in the UK and US.

All too soon it was time to say goodbye. While the interview was going on Rikki Faatar (alias Stig) was living up to his ‘quiet one’ image by laying on a sofa. he was suffering from jet lag. When I asked for some pictures, rather than Rikki having to get up John and Neil joined him on the sofa!

Neil’s final message was ‘We’re very happy to be together again’ while John said ‘This LP is dedicated to John, Paul, George and Ringo’.

The Rutles after a long tea session
The Rutles after a long tea session

Blogger Richard Porter is a professional London Beatles Tour Guide. For more info on his tours, see http://www.beatlesinlondon.com

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