After 12 years of neilinnes.org, we finally did our own interview with Neil Innes! Even more special, his wife Yvonne let us interview her along with him. We've never seen an interview they'd done together, so we think it's pretty special.
also asked the regulars over at the innesboard
if they had any questions, so those are thrown into the mix here as well
(thank you regulars from the board!)
Q: How did you guys meet?
Yvonne: At a dance in Goldsmith’s College. We were both at the same college. It was a really well known college in London and it did everything. It had an art school, a drama department, teaching college, university; it was all together. Neil was in the arts and I was in drama. There was a big dance, a huge dance called the Red Dance. I remember it now. Neil was performing I think because suddenly somebody said oh there’s Neil, you should dance with him. And suddenly we were dancing together and Neil was looking over my shoulder at somebody else he quite fancied and I was looking over his shoulder at somebody else I quite fancied. We had a dance and we separated. It took another two years before we got together. (laughs) Isn't that funny?
Q: Was he already a Bonzo then?
Neil: Not really.
Yvonne: You were performing weren't you? You were on stage, I know.
Neil: No it was the fresher thing. It was the first year. Everyone was just looking around at everyone else. We had a dance and then nothing ever happened until two or three years later.
Yvonne: Two years.
Q: What year did you have that first dance?
Yvonne: It was when we first got there about ’63.
Q: So you were only 18 or 19.
Q: How do you remember that dance if it was so insignificant?
Yvonne: Because I’d just left my parents and I got away from home and it was the first huge great dance. It was a fabulous dance. At that time all the blues artists were going around. The American blues artists.
Neil: Booker T.
Yvonne: Fantastic people coming round. It was like oh! It was like, wow! This is what life’s about! So I remember that time really well because it was just leaving home.
Neil: The Who couldn't have been more than 17 or 18.
Yvonne: Cream played it.
Neil: No they didn't. Who did?
Yvonne: At Goldsmith’s.
Neil: No Cream didn't. They were much later on. But Eric was playing with John Mayall at the time just up the road. John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and whatnot. But the Who were just like... Pete Townsend was also an art school art student at Kingston. So they had their little band. Status Quo were a college band. They played there. But two years later I was suddenly aware of this leggy blond woman with a terrific smile. And we sort of met up again. I used that for that Rutles song I Love You. Every time I see you walk by, there’s a certain look in your eye, and the smile. You know I just remember that smile. A lot of teeth.
Q: Did you think he was oh-my-god gorgeous?
Neil: No. (laughs)
Yvonne: No it wasn't oh my-god-gorgeous-gorgeous but it was something. He was very cheeky. Very funny.
Q: But he was gorgeous!
Yvonne: He was, yes I know, but I mean it was more to do with just being... it was to do with being funny and cheeky and...
Neil: I shaved my head. I used to have those boots.
Yvonne: Yeah and that night we went up in the train, just one of our first dates we went up on a train to London. And he suddenly took off his hat and said, “Look I’m going bald.” And that’s not a come-on is it? (laughs) I thought... (laughs) ??
Neil: When you invited me to go see your parents. I turned up in these tartan trousers—plaid, you say here don't you—but the tartan. And they were military ones and they came up to my chest.
Yvonne: And my mum’s very straight.
Neil: I bought them second hand from a junk shop but they were new military surplus tartan trousers. And I had a long black Victorian frock coat and a railwayman's peaked cap. I had one before John Lennon.
Yvonne: I said, “Hi Mum, this is Neil.”
Neil: They could not conceal their disappointment. (laughs)
Q: Did they come around to him once they got to know him?
Yvonne: Oh yeah. The thing he was very nice and very generous and all those qualities. So in the end that was really the thing. But when I look back now and look at those photographs now I realize you were a really good looking man.
Neil: Oh shut it.
Yvonne: When I see those young photographs I think wow, amazing.
Neil: Everybody looks good when they're young.
Yvonne: Or a lot better don't they? (laughs)
Neil: As I say I used to be eye candy but now I’m more like eye pickle.
Q: How long were you dating before you decided to get married?
Yvonne: We got married almost when we came out of college.
Neil: Well we lived together for a year. We got married because we couldn't stand the tension of your parents finding out. It was a really odd time because people were living together but it was a lot of a shock to the older generation. Not like today; you expect people to live together. But then, oh no, let’s just get married and then we won't have any more problems.
Yvonne: When we got married the Bonzos was our... there was a gig that night. We just went into the registrar with the Bonzos behind us. But they were being really naughty and playing about and it was all I could do to answer the questions the guy was asking us to get married. They were so funny. They were right behind us and we were trying to be serious, and it was just hilarious. I wanted to laugh so much but in the end I wanted to cry actually. It was terribly emotional.
Neil: They weren’t all there. Some were there. We went round the corner to a pub and there were three locals who could sing three part harmony. It was really good. It’s a shame we had to go onto Ilford or something like that and do a gig.
Q: That was your wedding?
Neil: The wedding day, yeah. It was also a Bonzo gig in the evening. Romantic.
Yvonne: My mum and dad, I don't think they were there. I don't think anyone was there.
Neil: We also had to go over to Croydon to meet your aunties and have some cake. My parents flatly refused to make the effort and travel the hundred miles. (laughs)
Yvonne: And mine; it’s a room this size and all my relatives sat round the outside, being too shy to say a word, and we had to sit there. Really we’d had quite a lot to drink in the pub by that time.
Neil: Speak for yourself!
Yvonne: (laughs) Terrible. But yeah that was our wedding, yes. And when you go back to Greenwich it’s the worst building it could possibly be. Nothing romantic about that.
Neil: Greenwich Town Hall. Google it. It stinks.
Yvonne: And I wore a black dress.
Neil: And eye makeup to match.
Yvonne: Great, black eyes. Yeah, that was it.
Q: Here's a question for Neil from the board. Bubbe5000 asks If you’d never been a Bonzo, what would you have done with your art degree?
Neil: In a cold winter I might have set fire to it. (laughs)
Yvonne: No but just before he sold some work he’d done to David Sylvester who was a big art dealer in London at the time. And I think it could have gone either way. But because the Bonzos were there, he went into music. But I think if the Bonzos hadn't been there it’s quite likely that David Sylvester, he would have gone into the art world in a quite big way.
Neil: I was at a fork in the road. I could have gone onto the Slade. I could have gone the art way. A painter. Hopefully not just a teacher of painting. But the Bonzos was too much fun not to do.
Q: So it was an actual decision. Life didn't just slide you that way.
Neil: No. After this art critic bought the thing, I was invited to supper with the head of the art department and David Sylvester, this international art critic who was very influential in building up Henry Moore as well. And Jim Dine, who’s a well known American painter, is invited. So there’s Jim Dine, myself, Andrew Forge, the head of the art department and David Sylvester. And they keep steering the conversation towards art and I hate talking about art. I was going to the restroom and Jim was coming back. We met in the corridor and I said, “Jim, I just can't stand talking about art.” And he went, “Oh god Neil, thank God for that 'cause neither can I!” So the rest of the evening we were having great fun. Jim talking about coming over from the United States on like a Queen Elizabeth, and he said the weather was rough and they wetted the tea cloths so the plates wouldn't slide about. We were talking about everything and anything but art. These two are trying to say, “Yes but surely Rembrandt was a sort of blah blah blah.” And we’re going, “Oh yeah but the great way to stop the plates slipping is to wet the tea cloths.” It was that kind of evening. And we became firm friends. I invited him down to see the Bonzos and he came down with Robert Frazier, who’s one of the big gallery owners in London, to see the Bonzos in an east London pub. I said to Jim, “What would you like to drink?” He said, “I’ll have a pint of your English bitter.” And so Robert Frazier was there and I said, “Would you like a drink?” He said, “I’ll have a large gin & tonic. And you better get a brown ale for the chauffer," because he’d come in his great big Bentley. And I thought at that time actually show business seems a little less horrible than the art world. So I chose the Bonzos.
Q: Here's a question for Yvonne from the board. Beautiful Zelda asks I have always thought about the Song for Yvonne lyrics, and that extended period of time when she would have been stuck at home with little ones while Neil was on the road. How did she manage?
Yvonne: Oh how did I manage?
Neil: Because she’s a W-O-M-A-N.
Yvonne: The thing is that when guys are on the road you build up a great framework of friends who are also having babies. We would phone and meet up so it wasn't too hard. The only hard thing was bringing up those babies; we were so young we hadn't a clue about that.
Q: Nobody does.
Yvonne: But even less of a clue. We were so young. So I mean it was just one of those things you network a lot. That’s how I managed.
Q: But there were times you were upset because that’s what the lyrics of the song were about.
Yvonne: Of course things went wrong. Like Miles our oldest child went through a period of not sleeping. I was nearly demented because I couldn't sleep either. At the time it felt hard. And also the guys were going to these wonderful places and we were stuck at home. There's a great story where Neil's in the Virgin Islands with fantastic weather when it was really bad in England. It was snowing real deep. We were living in this cottage in the middle of nowhere - the snowdrifts were higher than me, the phones were dead and we ran out of food. So we had to get down to the village. We had hardly started when two year old Barney on my back began to scream. Then Luke disappeared into one of the drifts and even Miles at 10 was having a hard time being brave. We finally got to the village, bought food and somehow got back before dark, chilled and exhausted. The phone rang, it was Neil saying “God I’m really bored. It’s so hot and I’m sitting on the beach.” (laughs) I think, hmm.
Neil: I emphasize how boring it was! No I mean the song is really about the pressures of housework. It’s long been unrecognized as part of the economy.
Q: Not just musician’s wives but everybody.
Yvonne: It was to do with that and to do with the fact that it really wasn't so bad considering what some people have to put up with. It made me look outside myself and enjoy what Iwas doing and, of course, I felt very loved which also helps.
Q: If you studied drama in school, why weren't you ever in "Innes Book of Records" or "Rutland Weekend Television" or any of Neil's shows besides "All You Need is Cash?" Speaking of which, why do you look so bored during "Love Life?"
Yvonne: Acting, I was never into that - was always bossy and liked backstage directing etc. I did co-direct a musical of Neil's called "Alias Normal Man" at the Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre in London when we had just come out of college. I was around all the time during the filming of all of Bonzos, Pythons, Rutles, and did take some good pics of the Rutles especially but was never really into pushing myself forward. I was having a great time just being there, and more stoned than bored during "All You Need is Cash." Not great answers but the truth. If I had the time again - I wonder - would definitely have kept my eyes open in "All You need is Cash."
Q: Neil's Bonzo song "I Want To Be With You" is obviously about you.
Yvonne: I was having such a good time in the 60s and 70s but I did have babies and therefore could not travel as much as I wanted with Neil - sometimes I felt left out - hence Neil telling me that he didnt want to go away either - he would work it out so he didnt have to be away or we could go together.
Q: This is something I've long wondered about women married to musicians; as we said before, Neil was gorgeous. There must have been girl fans camped on the lawn or something. How did you deal with that? Or did you, or was there?
Yvonne: That’s a difficult one to answer really because I wasn't really aware of... I was aware of it because there were fans, but I think you had a way of dealing with them really didn't you?
Neil: Bonzos didn't attract the same kind of fans.
Q: No groupies taking their tops off?
Yvonne: No there weren’t. There were fans around but they weren't those pushy people that you couldn't deal with.
Neil: No the Bonzos were more socks and dregs and kitchen roll.
Yvonne: They were around. But even now Neil attracts an intellectual kind of people that aren't those sort of people. Do you know what I mean? He attracts a different kind of people.
Q: There are still a few. I remember at Beatlefest once, there was some 16 year old girl. You were on stage singing and we were watching from outside the door. You had your hat on and the light was shining from the hat and she said, “Look at the way the light shines on his face!” And I said, “Yeah.” And she’s like, “He’s gorgeous! He’s gorgeous!” I’m like, he could be your grandfather. I didn't say that but I’m just like yep he is, isn't he? And she was enthralled.
Q: Yvonne how did you get into landscaping?
Yvonne: We had this garden in London, then we moved to Suffolk. I’d been brought up in London with a very small garden. And we had all these green things growing on it and I thought help. I don't know what to do with these things. So I went to a local college just really to find out what to do with these plants and what they were called. And as I walked through the college gates I suddenly realized what I should be doing. There was more to horticulture than Latin names and plants. There was drawing and design - it seemed to combine everything I liked to do. And up to then I’d been teaching on and off and doing a bit of drama here and a bit of English there, and not being very clear but as soon as I went into that college I realized. So from a half day a week course I suddenly went full time. Did all the qualifications and came out the other end. That’s how I got into it; because we moved into a place with a lot of land.
Q: Some more questions from the board: Rock Of Ages asks what’s Neil’s pet peeve?
Neil: Pet peeve? About what? Bloody Gordon Brown, what else?
Yvonne: Pet peeve. The thing that makes you most angry.
Neil: I don't have any pet peeves. I treat all my peeves equally. (laughs)
Q: What’s Neil's favorite drink?
Neil: Alcoholic drink?
Neil: I like wine. I do like wine. But I mean, there’s nothing like a glass of water when you're thirsty. It’s a bit like my peeves.
Yvonne: I know what you like. You like virgin marys.
Neil: Well at the moment I’m having virgin marys because I’m not having any alcohol at the moment. And it’s quite nice to have something spicy. Spicy tomato juice. I love a good wine. A good wine. Not just wine for wine’s sake.
Q: At least the first bottle.
Neil: Bonnie calls it rotting grape juice.
Q: That’s what it is!
Neil: Not quite! No, when you have a really really good wine you're spoiled. You want to get something close to that every time you have a glass of wine. So that’s probably the adventure. Hmm, I wonder what this one’s like. I do drink too much wine from time to time but I give myself a holiday like I am now. And that’s great. It’s like nature; it’s seasonal. Might as well just go with the flow. There comes a point where you become less efficient because you've enjoyed your wine too much. I've always thought that I've got something more important to do than just sit and drink wine and take the edges off life. So eventually you come back to working completely sober and objectively until you get fed up with it.
Q: You want to do something bigger at that particular moment, or...
Neil: Not bigger; more important than trying to forget. Wine makes you really sleepy and that’s nice if you can't sleep. If your brain’s full of ideas, very often wine can help. The soporific of the gods. But too much wine and you lose your edge, so it’s really good to be completely clean and clear to actually see things in another way.
Q: What do your kids do for a living?
Yvonne: Miles is a science teacher. He got a degree in science. He teaches science to kids.
Neil: 12 and upwards.
Yvonne: Luke is in graphics. He runs a translation agency. International companies like Virgin or Aviva send their adverts and brochures to Luke's office and he has them translated into Japanese, Arabic or whatever and then he makes sure the the translations look nice in the layout, matching corporate styles etc. that kind of thing.
Neil: Also he’s graphics and IT.
Yvonne: He does all ours. And Barney is still wondering what to do but he’s got to work because he’s got the two children so he’s working as a docker at the moment and various other things like that, but we expect great things from Barney. He’s just biding his time.
Neil: One day he’ll wear tights and sing opera. But we’re not pushing him. He’ll be a crane driver for now. He hasn't really grown up, has he? But he’s a super dad.
Neil: The most fantastic dad. His kids, you can just see, they love him. And I think there’s no more beautiful sound in the world than a happy child. And he’s got two lovely happy kids that he shares with us.
Q: Here's a lighthearted question from Madeleine: I’d like to know if Neil has any ideas for solutions to the media commercialism problem, since that’s a recurring topic of his.
Neil: Yeah I think what we need is a new kind of fundamental liberalism where it’s all right to kill these people.
Yvonne: Easy. That was good. That was easy! (laughs)
Neil: No I mean people... these people are intolerable so they have to be killed.
Q: That’s not gonna look very good in text.
Yvonne: You play with that one.
Q: Just write ha ha ha ha!
Neil: Brackets, lull.
Q: Neil glares menacingly ahead.
Neil: I’ll answer it seriously but I honestly don't think you can change the world just like that. But if people are encouraged to think differently, change will then come from within. You have to change within yourself what you're prepared to put up with. There’s so much in the economy that’s finely balanced. You can't suddenly say this is bad; we have to get rid of it overnight. But you could actually say it like this; what are the politics of an ego warrior? We say yes to capitalism, because it creates wealth. Say yes to socialism because it distributes wealth. But no, no, NO to stealing. We have to try and get some sort of politicians in lines that will pass laws that it’s not okay for anybody to steal. Whether it’s a worker stealing from the boss, or whether it’s white collar bankers stealing from the rest of the people. Zero tolerance on stealing. Well zero tolerance on intolerance as well. Let’s kill them; it’s easier!
Q: But conservatives see taxes as stealing. What Wall Street does isn't legally stealing.
Neil: But you see you're just echoing the media.
Neil: This is why they should be killed; because they start falsehoods and sound bites like that rather than educating people to what the actual issues are. The media basically is only interested in emotional engineering. Not any kind of rational thought or debate on any level. Bill Maher called it disaster porn.
Q: I call it outrage porn.
Neil: Exactly. Basically everyone’s been trained to consume, especially in America. With the economy running for years under Chairman Mao the Chinese were forced to become savers because they thought they’d better keep their money in the bank. Whatever they got, they saved. So they've got a saving culture. That made the Chinese banks cash rich while the American banks were cash poor. So people in America buy the stuff China makes. That works really well for China. It works like shit for America and something’s got to change. And Americans have got to change. And they've got to realize that they can't just eat all this crap, and they can't just watch all this crap. The reality check is in the post. It won't go on like this. It can't go on like this. You can't have five or six lanes of automobiles with one person in the car. This was never the American dream.
Q: And yet a lot of people consider it a virtue that we’re able to consume and waste as much as we want.
Neil: Yeah but if everyone reads Bill Bryson’s book. You can soon find out which of the bacteria are going to fail because they killed off the host. And there are other bacteria that will carry on. Just be one of the winning bacteria, because that’s all you are. You're not much more than that. The whole of human life is... we happen to be multicellular. That’s all. But there’s no trick to it. Every cell is made up of tiny little atoms and protons and things like that. We just happen to be this shape. And there are other people of the same species which are not doing the same things and they’ll probably stand more chance than people who are being profligate. But there you are; you can't do this. I’m actually wearing a duck on my head when I’m saying this. And I was wearing the duck on my head when I was saying kill people as well. I’m a killer duck. My grandkids: I defended myself because Isabella came at me once with an angry, "I’m gonna get you!" kinda thing and I had the vacuum cleaner. I held it up and Max said immediately, “Look out! He’s got a vacuum cleaner and he knows how to use it.”
Q: How old is he now?
Q: What are your family heritages? Neil mentioned once that Yvonne is of Norwegian ancestry. I never would have guessed!
Yvonne: (laughs) Actually I look more Norwegian than any Norwegian I know. My relatives are all short and dark. I’m the only tall fair Norwegian in my mum’s family.
Neil: Mine are all swarthy islanders as well. I’m half Scottish and half English, and you’re half Norwegian and half...
Yvonne: My father was half Norwegian half German.
Neil: So you're three quarters Norwegian. What did Bob Newhart say? I’m 75% German and 25% Irish. I guess that makes me a meticulous drunk.
Q: John Hall from the board asks: what happen to the songs that Richard Thompson joined in? Neil mentioned a few years back that he was recording songs with Richard Thompson.
Neil: That was for Linda Thompson’s album. Brian Patton had written a poem called "Sometimes it Happens." And I wrote some music for it and Linda Thompson sang it.
Q: How long ago?
Neil: A good 30 years ago. But I've met Richard on and off over the years and he very kindly offered if ever I needed a guitarist he’d be there. Which is fabulous because he doesn't offer that to anybody. So I take that as a huge compliment and I hope I can take him up on that one day when all the bits line up.
Q: This is something I've wondered for a long time: when you were back in the Bonzos you didn't want Paul McCartney’s name to go on Urban Spaceman because you really didn't want a top ten hit.
Q: Was that something that was in the air then that everybody who was hip didn’t want to be famous or was that just you guys?
Neil: I think it was us being mischievous really. Half of us would probably have been quite happy to have a hit. But that wasn't our sole purpose. It’s like if it happens, great. But if it doesn't; and it might as well be on our terms. It’s as much to make mischief with the manager, to say we don't want Paul’s name. We don't want success on someone else’s coat tails. Of course we can't use Paul McCartney’s name on the record! And that was quite genuine but in a fun way. But it was never any high minded... it was just a bit of mischief really. But it was genuine. If the record was going to do anything it had to do it by itself without all these... to say it’d been produced by Paul McCartney right from the word go, it might not have happened. It might have had a backlash; oh, that’s just another... or whatever. But it did. It got to number 17 without anybody knowing. Now it’s still a great record because Paul produced it. He made it very special by double tracking the drums and giving it life and energy and a sort of feel. But in the end that’s what in the end people bought. Because they buy it one at a time because they like it, and it’s really nice that the song is still remembered and liked today. It was even voted one of the top 40 over the 40 years or something of the British Academy of Songwriters. So George has got one, I've got one, then McCartney’s got two. He’s good.
Q: Do you think that maybe the difference between you and like The Who was that they sought being famous, they would do what it would take or kiss whoever’s ass or whatever?
Neil: I don't know they kissed arse, the good ones, because they were genuine artists. They had things to say. But they were in that business of making records. The Bonzos weren't. They were a visual band first and foremost.
Yvonne: And they didn't care.
Neil: We didn't care about things other than what we cared for, which wasn't to be pop stars. We saw the funny side of pop stars as well as the funny side of electric kettles, trouser presses and everything else. It’s the way the consumer society was going. And it still is and it’s even worse.
Q: Were there less people hip to it back then?
Neil: No I don't think so. The people who vote liberal and who have common sense are in the majority. They're just airbrushed out by the media because they don't like that. It’s much easier to get the people who go "moo" and "baa" and suck up to them and show smiley faces and lots of shiny things. It’s terrible. They certainly do nothing to bring the human race forward. They would rather play pharaos and slaves than work on any kind of egalitarian kind of system where everyone looks after each other, and children are treated as valuable as anybody. You can't have everybody be a rocket scientist. You need a carpenter, you need a plumber, you need a baker; you need all these. I think you need people who are short changed physically and mentally. Because who knows; the whole human understanding is everybody. You kill a bit of that off and you've lost something. I think personally that everybody is as valuable as anybody else. That’s a universal law. You break any multicellular creature down, we’re atoms. While we’re alive it’s just that the atoms are happy to be in this kind of thing and the bacteria are happy to slosh around on us. But then when we die, the atoms go off and become something else. Nothing in the universe ever goes away. That’s in that song and I thought of that myself, because where’s it gonna go? I think I was helped by Steven Wright saying you can't have everything, where would you put it? All these facetious comedy jokes or Renaissance man type Age of Enlightenment thoughts. Why are we top of the food chain? Because we think we are.
Q: Finally, what’s your secret for a happy marriage?
Neil: Alcohol. (laughs) There’s no secret. I think both of you've got to be able to put up with a lot.
Yvonne: You have to give each other space too. You've got to have space. And I think you've got to be very flexible and not take things badly because you're with somebody a lot of the time. We find this on the tours too. You're together so much that sometimes you’ll start to get tired, the other person is tired, and suddenly something he says or I say goes the wrong way. You just can't help it if you're together a lot. So you've got to give each other space.
Neil: That’s easy for you to say!
Yvonne: I don't know really. I think it may be too tolerant.
Neil: Yeah we’re too boring.
Yvonne: I wonder. Because you know people get divorced. I suddenly thought we must be the most boring couple around because we've been together 47 years and we're not getting divorced. (laughs) So I don't really know.
Neil: I don't know whether people expect too much of other people. But I think you've both got to be prepared to... all right it’s not worth taking it to some kind of childish level. There are bigger things to do. Especially if you've got children. Although I don't think people should stay together if they suddenly find that they've just got nothing in common. But if it’s only something that you just can't have your own way once in a while, you've got to take it in turns to be the baby. If somebody is going to have a paddy, make sure you have your turn to have a paddy as well. And they've got to take it. It’s give and take. It’s more than that; it’s clichés.
Yvonne: You've got to have a basic respect for the other person underneath so that those little horrible petty things aren't important.
Q: I had a boyfriend whose parents hated each other, wouldn’t talk to each other but never got divorced. You guys never got there.
Neil: No we wouldn't be together if there was remotely any chance of that. It’s got to be a life. You've got to share a life. And you've got to be alive.
more of Yvonne & Neil's adventures together
Thanks a lot to Vicky S. for the proofread!
|WHAT'S NEW! TOUR
Home | By Title | By 1st Line | Bonzo Dog Band | Grimms/ World | RWT/Rutles/Python | Solo