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Ginger Geezer

The Encyclopedia of Popular Music

Stanshall, Vivian

Copyright Muze UK Ltd. 1989 - 2002

b. Victor Anthony Stanshall, 21 March 1943, Shillingford, Oxfordshire, England, d. 5 March 1995, England.

Stanshall's love of pre-war ephemera, traditional jazz and an art school prankishness was instrumental in shaping the original tenor of the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band. This satirical unit was one of the most humorous and inventive groups to emerge from the 60s, but fell foul of the eclectic pursuits of its divergent members. Stanshall's first offering following the Bonzo's collapse was "Labio Dental Fricative", a single credited to the Sean Head Showband, an impromptu unit which included guitarist Eric Clapton. A second release, a brazenly tongue-in-cheek rendition of Terry Stafford's "Suspicion", featured Vivian Stanshall And His Gargantuan Chums, and was coupled to "Blind Date", the singer's only recording with biG GRunt, the group he had formed with Roger Ruskin Spear, Dennis Cowan and "Borneo" Fred Munt, three refugees from the immediate Bonzo Dog circle. Each band member, bar Munt, appeared on Let's Make Up And Be Friendly, the album the Bonzos belatedly completed to fulfil contractual obligations. Despite a handful of excellent live appearances, biG GRunt's undoubted potential withered to a premature end when Stanshall entered hospital following a nervous breakdown.

Men Opening Umbrellas, Stanshall's debut album, was released in 1974.

Steve Winwood was one of the many musicians featured on the record, inaugurating a working relationship which continued with the excellent "Vacant Chair" on Winwood's solo debut 'Steve Winwood", and major lyrical contributions to Arc Of A Diver, his 1980 release. Indeed, despite recording a punk-inspired version of Cliff Richard's "The Young Ones", Stanshall achieved notoriety for his contributions to other outside projects, narrating a section of Mike Oldfield's Tubular Bells and as a contributor to the BBC Radio 4 programme, Start The Week. It was while deputizing for the Radio 1 disc jockey John Peel that Stanshall developed his infamous monologue, Rawlinson End. This formed the basis for the artist's 1978 release, Sir Henry At Rawlinson End, which later inspired a film of the same title and starred Trevor Howard. Stanshall continued to tread his idiosyncratic path throughout the 80s. An album of songs, Teddy Bears Don't Knit was followed by another spoken-word release, Henry At Ndidis Kraal. In 1991, he continued the Rawlinson saga by staging at London's Bloomsbury Theatre, Rawlinson Dogends, which included in the show's backing band former Bonzo colleagues, Roger Ruskin-Spear and Rodney Slater. In the 90s Stanshall carved out a separate career using his voice in advertising, making full use of his luxurious, stately tones.

Until his tragic death, caused by a fire at his home, Stanshall was one of England's most cherished eccentrics. At his memorial service which was attended by a host of professional admirers, Steve Winwood sang an impassioned "Arc Of A Diver" accompanied by his acoustic guitar. Neil Innes made a moving speech which contained the poignant line: "Did he fear that nobody would love him if he allowed himself to be ordinary?"

DISCOGRAPHY: Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead (Warners 1974)***, Sir Henry At Rawlinson End (Charisma 1978)***, Teddy Boys Don't Knit (Charisma 1981)***, Henry At Ndidi's Kraal (Demon 1984)**. BIBLIOGRAPHY: Ginger Geezer: The Life Of Vivian Stanshall, Lucian Randall & Chris Welch.


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