Vivian Stanshall

Teddy Boys Don't Knit

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Teddy Boys is often derided even by some of Viv Stanshall's most loyal fans for possessing neither the depth of Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead nor the hilarious wordplay of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End. Yet while there may be some truth in both claims, it can still be enjoyed as the closest Stanshall ever came to reinvoking the unique essence of the Bonzo Dog Band. Certainly it is infinitely preferable to the Bonzos' actual efforts at reunion -- the lamentable Let's Make Up and Be Friendly from 1971, or 1992's execrable single "No Matter Who You Vote for the Government Always Gets In." Close scrutiny of the credits reveals that, in fact, Neil Innes and Roger Ruskin Spear helped out on several tracks (along with the mighty Richard Thompson on guitar). Approached in this spirit, though Teddy Boys Don't Knit may not match The Doughnuts in Granny's Greenhouse in terms of sheer comic genius and melodic invention, it is still an album to treasure by one of the great unregarded geniuses of British music and literature. Recorded in 1981, it finds Stanshall emerging from a very dark period, blighted by nervous breakdowns and various forms of addiction. Now he was enjoying family life for the first time, an experience that filtered into songs like "The Tube" (a reference to his baby daughter as a channel through which food passes) and "Bewilderbeeste" (a bizarre but tender love song for his wife). Several of the songs here are leftovers from Sir Henry, but none the worse for that. In fact it's hard to see why the wonderful "Terry Keeps His Clips On," for instance, was excluded in the first place. Other songs hark back to rock & roll pastiches like "Canyons of Your Mind," and there's no lack of the '30s music hall influence that first inspired the Bonzos. "Possibly an Armchair" is delightfully wistful and "Calypso to Collapso" possesses a sensuality far removed from the kind of music most people associate with Stanshall (though undercut somewhat by the more characteristic refrain "Pork pies in foyer"). Most typically of all, there's the kind of gleeful delight in the absurd possibilities of language that Stanshall shared with the likes of James Joyce and Spike Milligan. Where else would you find words like "idi-amin-o-syncraties" or "vomit-oratorium"? If the album does have a fault, it lies with the plodding pub rock arrangements that sometimes leave Stanshall's flights of fancy earthbound. Yet there's no doubt that Teddy Boys has been shabbily treated by critics and record companies over the years -- and this is doubly unfortunate since, while various subsequent recordings stay unaccountably locked in the vaults, it remains his final sanctioned release.

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