Friday, March 10, 2006

Ginger Geezer

I've just finished reading 'Ginger Geezer', the biography of Vivian Stanshall by Chris Welch and Lucian Randall. It's probably just as well that Stanshall never got around to writing an autobiography, because judging by the chaotic lunacy described in this version of his life, it would probably have taken him 20 years and ended up a rambling, incomprehensible rant.

There's no doubt in my mind that Stanshall was a genius. Underneath all the madness and booze there was a sharp intellect and sensitivity. The book charts his life from a 'normal' family upbringing in East London, through being a Teddy Boy, joining the Bonzos and all the various crazy projects in the later years, including a doomed cabaret boat project, before his tragic death in 1995.

Quotes from his friends, family, colleagues and associates reveal the many different sides to his personality. As well as being a charismatic, energetic performer, he was a loving father and caring (if unpredictable and generally unreliable) friend. Plagued by panic-attacks and depression, he spent most of his adult life addicted to valium, which, combined with heavy drinking, resulted in some extreme rock n' roll antics which inevitably impacted on his personal life - most notably two failed marriages.

Overall, Stanshall comes across as a loveable rogue with a wicked, and appealingly unconventional, sense of humour. This biography is entertaining, moving and enlightening by equal degrees. It helped to have my walkman handy with some Bonzo tunes to play at the appropriate places, to bring the narrative to life. I also found pointers to loads of new music among Stanshall's contemporaries, collaborators and competitors - my Amazon wish list is suddenly overflowing!

Annoyingly, I missed a recent Bonzo Dog reunion gig, but I can't help thinking wouldn't have been the same without Vivian anyway. I must try and catch Neil Innes (another key Bonzo) next time he plays Brighton - his gigs at the Greys sell out in no time and you never know when he'll pop up at Club Boothby at Komedia. If only Vivian was still around to enjoy the recent renaissance of his brand of humour with off-the-wall, musical comedians such as the fantastically entertaining Boothby Graffoe. Being unaffected by most conventional comdey, I for one am relieved that the madness lives on.

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