IN THE INDEPENDENT
By Christopher Hirst
05 October 2002
Ginger Geezer by Lucian Randall and Chris Welch ( Penguin, £7.99, 275pp)
This excellent account follows the strange trajectory of Vivian Stanshall, frontman for the incomparable Bonzo Dog Band, who, despite twin addictions to alcohol and Valium, managed to keep his career afloat for the next 30 years through his verbal genius and passion for the absurd. Stanshall was an undisciplined perfectionist. Always determined to be the centre of attention, he could be both irresistibly charming and stupendously rude. The first section about the Bonzos, a group that won more affection than success, is often laugh-aloud funny. Stanshall's off-stage antics were even wilder than his act. The authors retell a legendary jape involving Stanshall and Keith Moon "testing" trousers in branches of M&S. Each tugged at a leg apiece until the garment ripped apart. "Well, they're not very strong," Stanshall would observe, when in would hop a specially hired one-legged actor. "Just what I'm looking for," declared the newcomer. "I'll take two pairs." Though wildly erratic, Stanshall's post-Bonzo output was far from negligible. The authors single out his LP Teddy Boys Don't Knit (a reference to his youth as a crocheting Ted in Southend), the audio version of Sir Henry at Rawlinson End and the first production of his show Stinkfoot on a boat in Bristol (not to be confused with the houseboat-home that Stanshall sunk). Having scuppered two marriages, the ailment-plagued Stanshall died in 1995 at 51, apparently as a result of a fire caused by his own carelessness. Substantial, sensitively written and often hilarious, his story is utterly unmissable.
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