Roger Ruskin Spear’s unusual and electric shocks from the ex-Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band member
18th May 2016
Titles: Unusual / Electric Shocks
I find it a little sad that both Neil Innes and Vivian Stanshall were hailed and lauded as the creative forces behind the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band but Spear, who was a founder-member of the band, seemed – or, at least to me seemed – rather relegated to the pack. At least in relative terms. He could, of course, give as good as he got. He was a multi-instrumentalist (although the sax was his main squeeze) and an artist in his own right (witness some of the stage props utilised by the band).
Two of his older works are featured here as worthy reissues. Electric Shocks (1972) provides a gamut of ideas, some of which are funnier than others, it has to be said. Spear, on this album, appears to be in a bit of a rush, though. There are almost too many ideas here to process properly and many that Spear himself has not bothered to fully finish or polish up properly.
As a related aside, this element of the Spear’s personality showed that his undoubted talent was a two-edged sword. Although not the greatest artistic quality required when trying to hone a solo album, this fragmentary nature of Spear, also enabled him to bounce ideas off other artists while they would also step in to add essential details that would connect many of his lonesome dots. In other words, he was an ideal band member and benefitted from the contributions of others.
You can hear the familiar Bonzo themes on this album as it utilises a range of sound effects and uses lyrical whimsey in combination with music hall arrangements to create a sort of controlled chaos. This edition includes four bonus tracks from the Rebel Trouser EP.
The second available CD album here is Unusual (1973) which betrays the fact that Spear, at one time, opened for The Who. Hence his unique cover of Pete Townshend’s Pinball Wizard, performed in a totally dotty, eccentric manner. Spear’s affection for trousers continues here with the almost Python-esque sketch routine in a menswear shop in which Spear takes charge of a pair of submersible trousers from a particularly obsequious sales assistant. Other highlights included Frank The Ripper which was, said Spear, “A jolly jape about a Geezer who nicks things and finally ends up pinching this record. Silly, really.”
Which is all true but that’s the point of both of these CDs. Some listeners will be totally confused but Bonzo fans will lap it up.