Rychard Carrington reports on Neil Innes - The Junction, Cambridge, 29 March 2011

Neil Innes
Junction 2, The


Let’s hear it for Neil Innes. Too often thought of as a sidekick to the louder talents of Viv Stanshall and Eric Idle, Neil is undoubtedly a master in his own right, who offers so much more than just mild-mannered comedy. It’s difficult not to sound affected when appreciating seriousness within a comedy act, and it’s particularly difficult not to sound misplaced in expressing an intense appreciation of an overtly gentle show, but here goes:

It’s really great to be’ is Neil’s opening line, immediately establishing the Innes style of employing parody and word-play as a means for lightly exploring the deepest philosophical issues. Neil has a keen appreciation for the beauty of the world, often best captured in the most modest of subtle touches. The concomitant is a quiet exasperation at the banality and cruelty that is so prevalent around us. Combine this with a love of words and of how ludic employment of them can tease and amplify meaning, and you’ve got a great poet, a highly pertinent commentator on life today. Add a knack for versatile musical pastiche and a presentation as benign comedy, and you’ve got Neil Innes.

This particular one-man show is entitled ‘A People’s Guide To World Domination’. In between songs are some brief musings and snatches of parody (such as Where Has All The Money Gone?) in the style of his 2003 Radio Four series In His Own World, recently revised and reissued as two CDs. The audience have been drawn here through different episodes of brushings with fame, and all are given their dues. There are abbreviated renditions of some of the 1920s English jazz numbers with wondrously daft lyrics which were the early staple of The Bonzo Dog Band. There is Sir Robin and even Eric Idle’s Bruce's Philosopher’s Song from Monty Python; there is a Rutles medley. Some of tonight’s songs date back to the classic BBC2 1970s series Rutland Weekend Television and The Innes Book Of Records: Slaves Of Freedom, Mr. Eurovision, Crystal Balls, Love Is Getting Deeper (a wonderful tribute to married love, that, performed in the manner of a comedy Frenchman). There are several songs from Works In Progress, my favourite album (by anyone) of the last decade: All Alone, One Of Those People, Face Mail In The Meat Zone, Eye Candy and, most sublime of all, Evening Sun. Run Away, a magnificent tribute to discretionary cowardice, apparently a reject from Monty Python And The Holy Grail, was a new number to me. Two more recent compositions, Democracy and Surly In The Morning proved that Neil is writing as well as ever, while the elegiac Imitation Song brought to the fore the broad melancholy that has been a crucial ingredient in Neil’s oeuvre.

Is it the function of art to bring out feelings that reside unexpressed deep in one’s psyche, to turn them into beautifully honed works that fascinate, entertain and move the emotions? Well, anyway, that’s what I think Neil Innes does. Thank you, man.  

Writer: Rychard Carrington

Neil Innes' website