At the risk of patronising several accomplished acts, there have been some quality Beatles copyists treading the boards or taking to the studio to emulate the Fab Four over the past five decades, and I’ve a lot of respect for many carrying on that missionary work.
From The Byrds and The Monkees to Badfinger and the Electric Light Orchestra, and from Squeeze and XTC to Crowded House then Oasis and Ocean Colour Scene, all added extra colour from the original palette.
We don’t even need to talk tribute acts here, gifted as past WriteWyattUK interviewees The Bootleg Beatles have proved to be. Because for me just one act truly honoured Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr’s creative legacy then took that premise on, even if their co-creator, Neil Innes, suggests the whole concept was merely ‘a good idea at the time’.
If you’ve seen The Rutles live you’ll know they still have that ‘Something’ about them, 44 years after initial small screen retrospective recognition in a Rutland Weekend Television sketch. And while that link goes back to 1975, the band’s history suggests it all really began 60 years ago at 43 Egg Lane, Liverpool, when Ron Nasty and Dirk McQuickly first bumped into each other, Ron inviting Dirk to help him up, the pair soon joined by ‘guitarist of no fixed hairstyle’ Stig O’Hara and drummer Barrington Womble, the others persuading the latter to shorten his name to save time and his haircut to save Brylcreem.
It can get a tad confusing with so many overlapping moments in the timeline, not least as Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band maestro Innes, aka Ron Nasty in this guise, pays tribute to legendary fifth Rutle, George Harrison, during their live show, recalling how the youngest Beatle was so impressed with their work that he formed his own Rutles tribute act, the Traveling Wilburys.
But he repaid that compliment by covering ‘Handle With Care’, and we later experienced an emotional take on Harrison’s gorgerous ‘All Things Must Pass’, the original band pastiche long since replaced by something far more durable and inspired.
Innes’ own Beatles links go back some distance, Paul McCartney producing ‘I’m an Urban Spaceman’ and the Bonzos guesting on Magical Mystery Tour. Meanwhile, newest recruit David Catlin-Birch, once with World Party, was the original Paul in The Bootleg Beatles and also featured with the Bonzos (as well as with WriteWyattUK Slade hero Jim Lea), while John Halsey, aka Barry Wom, has his own impressive history, drumming credits including Lou Reed’s Transformer and past tour credits including those with Joe Cocker (as was the case with Catlin-Birch) and The Scaffold (yep, both with Beatles links).
I won’t go too deep into the back-story, but apparently the first album was made in 20 minutes and the second took even longer. You probably know that already though. And if not, read up or sit back and marvel at 1978’s All You Need is Cash, for whom George was executive producer, wondering why you’ve not seen it before. For me, it leaves This Is Spinal Tap standing there (whoo).
While Monty Python’s Eric Idle, who played Dirk, wasn’t part of the touring band, Innes (vocals, guitar, banjo, ukulele, keyboards) and Halsey (drums, vocals) were from day one, and with Catlin-Birch (bass/vocals), Rutling Ken Thornton (guitar, vocals), and Phil Jackson (keyboards, vocals), there’s amazing musical pedigree here.
This ‘occasional supergroup’ of sorts were certainly on toppermost of the toppermost form for this Get Up and Go Again tour outing, the Prefab Four launching straight into the hits, classic Parlourphone single ’I Must Be in Love’ – the song most of us knew first – just as fresh all those decades on.
‘It’s Looking Good’, memorably part of the Che Stadium set and a cornerstone of the influential Rutle Soul album, and the Twist and Rut EP’s ‘Baby Let Me Be’ saw the band step up a gear, while ‘Major Happy’s Up and Coming Once Upon a Good Time Band’ gave us a first taste of the benchmark Sergeant Rutter’s One and Only Darts Club Band, Bob Dylan having by then introduced them to a substance that would have a huge impact on their work, tea, that track neatly segueing into ‘Rendezvous’, Barry leading from the rear.
‘Questionnaire’ and ‘Piggy in the Middle’ reminded us of the jewels within the major flop that was Tragical History Tour, the music outshining the critically-slammed concept of four Oxford history professors on a walking tour of English tea shops, while ‘Ouch!’ saw the band revisit happier cinematic times, the follow-up to A Hard Day’s Rut – this time shot in colour – another hit for zany Rutland director Dick Leicestershire.
Shabby Road’s ‘Eine Kleine Middle Klasse Musik’ saw Catlin-Birch take lead vocals, while ‘Nevertheless’ and ‘Joe Public’ again showed the true depth of this band’s influential Rutolver era, before Meet the Rutles’ ‘Between Us’ took us back to simpler days and ‘Living in Hope’ saw Barry back on lead vocals, that song playing in my head for the next couple of days, searching the house for my dog-eared copy of Rutles for Sale.
After Sergeant Rutter’s evocative ‘The Knicker Elastic King’ we were back to the early days via ‘Number One’ and ‘Hold My Hand’, reminders of a spell when Rutlemania was taking the world by storm. And while ‘Love Life’ perfectly encapsulated the band’s hippie era, ‘Let’s be Natural’ again proved the might of Innes’ songcraft beneath the parody. A classic in his own write, you could say.
After the first of two great sets, it seemed that many of the better-known numbers had already been ticked off. But there were many more highlights to come, the band returning with ‘Doubleback Alley’, ‘Good Times Roll’ and early ballad ‘A Girl Like You’ on the lead-up to Barry’s ‘Easy Listening’ (‘Why don’t we do it in the middle of the road?’), the Conti‘s main room soon awash in a sea of lit-up mobile phones for a modern twist on the anthemic ‘Shangri-La’. Altogether now, ‘Lah-de-doo-dah, lah-de-dah, here we are in Shangri-La’.
Talking of anthemic … do I have to spell it out? Yep, ‘Cheese and Onions’ made me wonder if I’d supped too much tea on the build-up, the iconic Yellow Submarine Sandwich honoured. And they were building momentum again, later Innes masterpiece, ‘Imitation Song’ painting that bigger picture, the main-man admitting pride at his own wordplay with ‘Blue Suede Schubert’, a number I seem to recall they were belting out in those seminal Rat Keller days in Hamburg (when Leppo was still in the band, before Bolton retail chemist Leggy Mountbatten took them on, attracted by the tight trousers).
Next came a timely dedication to newly-homeless Theresa May on ‘Goose-step Mama’, a track first laid down on the Silver Rutles’ demos, and soon the set reached its dramatic finale, Rutles Corps-era rooftop wonder ‘Get up and Go’, melding into Lennon/McCartney masterpiece ‘The End’, Barry once more taking a tour around his kit, while Catlin-Birch, Thornton and Jackson took their own instrumental lap of honour.
And there was none of this shuffling off stage and back on again business. Instead they hung around, Halsey leaning on his stick and heading to the side of the stage to accompany fellow 74-year-old Innes and their bandmates on ‘Back in ’64’, a lower-key, contemplative end to another special night in The Rutles’ company. Pure genius.
With respect to Rob Talbot, for managing to book The Rutles, who next turn up at the Brudenell Club, Leeds (Saturday, June 1st), The Gorilla, Manchester (Sunday, June 2nd), Robin 2 ,Bilston (Tuesday, June 4th), The Lemon Grove, Exeter (Thursday, June 6th), Komedia, Bath (Friday, June 7th), The Assembly, Leamington Spa (Saturday, June 8th), Norwich Arts Centre (Sunday, June 9th), and Colchester Arts Centre (Monday, June 10th). For tickets and details of all those shows and more Rutles happenings, head to their Facebook events page. And for further info about the band, head to this website.