GEOFFREY: You actually met the Beatles at Abbey Road during the Bonzo's first session there, didn't you?
NEIL INNES: Not to talk to. It was those days when they looked like the Blues Brothers - they all had dark glasses on, dark suits, and they're coming through the wall grinning ... "Did you see that? That was the Beatles!" "Oh yeah, that was the Beatles," blah blah blah.
GEOFFREY: What do you remember about the filming of Magical Mystery Tour?
INNES: I remember Ringo was filming his own version, he called it The Weybridge Version, and George was saying that we ought to release "Death Cab For Cutie" as a single. I said, "They'd never play it, George, come on, what are you talking about?" Paul was very nice about the album - he particularly liked the "Music from the Head Ballet." John was a bit quiet that day, I seem to remember. I don't think John was very keen on the film ... as it turns up in The Rutles, which was "not the best idea four a film - four Oxford University professors on a hitchhiking tour of tea shops in Great Britain," or whatever. But I thought it was a good idea. It had some terrific songs in it - I've always loved "Fool on the Hill."
GEOFFREY: It stands as one of the very few appearances of the Bonzos on film.
INNES: I know, the irony of it. The Bonzos were such a visual act, and there's little evidence of that and a whole new generation has grown up, it seems, listening to the records, never having seen them.
GEOFFREY: Tell me about Paul's involvement in producing "Urban Spaceman."
INNES: Viv [Stanshall] met Paul McCartney at a club one night - Viv was always one for clubs and things - and was bemoaning our sorry plight in the record business. Everyone in the business had rather enjoyed "Gorilla," people like Hendrix and Clapton, and all those folks we'd rubbed shoulders with over the years. Paul offered to produce "Urban Spaceman," so we said, "You're on." So the great day came, the magic man arrived and was quick at putting everyone at ease - he sat down at the piano and said, "I've written a song," and was going (sings) "Hey Jude, don't make it bad." And I'm looking at my watch, saying, "Come on, Paul, who needs a ballad at a time like this, can't we get on with it?" Only when the record came out did I realize, "Hey, that's what he played us in the studio that day, isn't it funny how you don't really listen?" But it was perfect, because when we got to make the thing, Paul just got on the controls ...
GEOFFREY: You mean Mr. Vermouth?
INNES: Apollo C. Vermouth. Paul was playing Viv's ukelele on the rhythm track, and afterwards our manager's wife said, "What's that you've got there, a poor man's violin?" He said, "No, a rich man's ukelele." Anyway ... when Viv wanted to do his garden hose plastic funnel trumpet sound at the end, the engineer was aying, "Well, I don't really know how you can record a thing like that." Paul said, "Yes, you can, you just put a microphone at each corner of the studio." So it went down. We wanted to keep it a secret that Paul had produced it because we wanted to see what record would do on its own merits. It did grab a few peoples' attention, got quite a lot of airplay, and it sort of crept up the charts. We were in Holland somewhere and we heard it was number 36, came back and it was number 32; then it got to number 24 or something then the powers that be couldn't resist it and leaked the fact that Apollo C. Vermouth was Paul McCartney and it immediately shot up to number 4. But it was in the charts for a long, long time - in England I think it sold over 250,000. But that was it, that was our hit, the one that got away.
GEOFFREY: Tell me how the Rutles project came about and specifically how you did the sound track music?
INNES: By the time we'd formulated the idea of doing the Rutles, I'd made a couple of inroads in the songwriting brief. We needed about fourteen Beatle-style songs which ran the whole gamut of the Beatles' stuff, from "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" to the psychedelic stuff - the whole bit. A curse in a way, because I've been labeled a parodist ever since. But it was a real labor of love, because I listened to nothing - I just thought, "Ah, I remember that kind of song," and I just started writing them up ... the group, the Rutles, got together and I thought this is one of the few astute things I've done in my career; to insist that we rehearse together for a fortnight ina group in a grotty little place in Hendon, so we more or less went through the experience ... the rags-to-riches thing. By the time we left the rehearsal place, we felt like a group, it was really good, because we had none of the inhibitions about desperately having to make it ... we knew we were going to make it, one was very up - we made the record in two weeks - in fact, the only part of the project that came in under budget was the album!
GEOFFREY: Cetainly George being involved in the production validated it, didn't it?
INNES: George liked the idea of it, I think, because ...
GEOFFREY: It burst the bubble of the myth?
INNES: In many ways, the story needed to be told. There's lots of things that are too heavy about the real story to make it entertaining at the end of the day. So the Rutles, the Pre-Fab Four in All You Need Is Cash was a pretty good way of saying from their side what it was like, but without making it too heavy. It was quite grueling, because you've made some popular records and you're a rock 'n' roll band that people will bring in wheelchairs up to you so you can touch them and make them better, you know. On the whole it doesn't make for a very healthy ego, but I think all the Beatles survived the madness of it really quite well. You can't do it with any other group - people were saying, "I suppose you'll do the Rutland Stones next." We said, "Nope." "What about a live gig at Shea Stadium?" "Nope." Peope couldn't understand why we weren't going to rip this thing off. Because the Beatles hold a very special plateau in the history of the sixties.