Roger Ruskin Spear (photo credit - Toby
Wales/Three Bonzos website)
Hello Roger, thank you for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website.
There seems to be some sort of clothes and wardrobe thing going on – you
played Friars as Giant Kinetic Wardrobe and in your Bonzo days created
many trouser related masterpieces. What was the inspiration for that?
all part of the "pushing the boundaries of avant garde art" that
students indulged in back then (and now, I suppose). Our influences were
rather outdated even then -Marcel Duchamp, Gustav Metzger etc.
Exploring the possibilities of everyday objects as things of artistic
wonder, or some such pretentious rubbish. By the way - the general public
still rattle on about shirts if prompted ('Shirts 2010' on Hair of the
Some of the Bonzo brand of satire/comedy was, I believe, deemed too
strong for Radio at one point – a bit bizarre?
to change the original words to 'Canyons of your Mind' from "I am
pumping you again" to "I'm in love with you again" as this was deemed
too strong. Needless to say in the current live shows we use the
only other instance I can recall is completely flummoxing a Radio
producer with our version of 'Sound of Music'. I think he rather liked
the show before we got hold of it.
Paul McCartney liked you as the Bonzos had a role in the Magical Mystery
Tour film? Was this the bands only foray in the world of films?
to the 'Mystery Tour' via Paul's' brother Mike McGear. They originally
wanted the 'New Vaudeville Band' but we had worked with the 'Scaffold'
in Liverpool so were introduced as the 'original and still the best' by
only other film bits were a short Pâthé Pictorial of 'Equestrian Statue'
and the 'Head Ballet', and a private film called 'Son of exploding
sausage'. Both appear from time to time at the BFI.
60s satire TV show Do Not Adjust Your Set brought you to a wider
audience – how did this change your lives (if so) – must have been a
great time being around people who if not household names as such then,
certainly are now.
It was the Sixties and most things were moving quite fast. One minute I
was appearing in Northolt at a wedding alongside Eric Clapton and the
next minute he was-well, Eric Clapton.
What do you feel the legacy of the Bonzos was – we know Vivian Stanshall
is famed for his Tubular Bells “commentary” amongst other things, but do
you feel The Rutles for example would have happened?
without the help of Eric Idle
After the Bonzos called it quits in 1970, you played Friars 1st
birthday party and also provided one of the best bits of memorabilia the
Friars website has in your diary entry for that day! I can’t expect you
to remember the gig but being out under your own name must have been
daunting at first but extensive touring helped carve out your name in
its own right? This wasn’t that long after the band called it a day.
indeed remember the Friars gigs very well, the first followed on from an
experimental gig (actually a lecture) I did with Viv in Birmingham for
the Birmingham Arts Lab. I was to present an exhibition of the robots but
found I needed to present them in the form of an 'entertainment' on
stage and have been doing so ever since. The early patronage of Friars
certainly helped knock shape into the act that was to become the 'Giant
How did you feel at being forced/obliged to reform for contractual
obligation reasons? How come your role wasn’t bigger?
two separate questions there. I assume you mean the last ten or so gigs
we did after we officially announced the split at Christmas '70.
Actually they were the best we ever did as there was no angst about 'the
future' we just turned up, blew our heads off, took the money and
ran. Thats the way to do it.
was the 'contractual' stage act and my role (although forgotten over
time) was as it always was, but the 'contractual' LP was a different
were no further full reformations other than the 'Make Up and Be
Friendly' album. My role in that was not big as Viv's and Neil had fully
taken over by then and were on an unstoppable ego trip and bringing in
other musicians to replace us. This direction they wanted to pursue by
dissolving the Bonzo Dog Band as it was then known, to create new
vehicles (the 'Bonzo Dog Freaks' etc.) for expression without my
(on records) was also minimal even before then, because, as time
progressed from 'Gorilla' onwards, I could not connect with Neils'
In addition to the solo gigs, you did Big Grunt with Vivian Stanshall –
can you tell us a little more about that?
was a band formed by Viv that included 'Borneo' Fred Munt-our roadie
-because he looked good, and Dennis Cowan on Bass. Very short lived and
may have done a few live Gigs-but Viv soon after finally flipped and had
to get treatment so that was the end of Big Grunt .I only remember
doing one publicity photo session and a TV show for Marty Feldman with
that band. Soon after, Viv teamed up with Neil and took a band called 'Bonzo
Dog Freaks' on the road. By that time I had ,thanks to Friars, got the
'Giant Kinetic Wardrobe' fully up and running and met them several
times on the road, but didn't join them.
Your solo show featured robots and dummies doing all sorts – how did you
develop that idea? And what gave you the idea?
Once again, back to Art School and the pushing of the 'Art Envelope'.
'Sculpture' a la Damien Hirst was not heard of in those days, apart from
maybe Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Keinholtz and 'that crowd', so I adapted
the development of Kinetic Art to encompass Vaudeville and Music
Hall, particularly influenced by Bruce Lacey of the Alberts. In fact- I
nicked his ideas wholesale-let's be honest.
You may not know that you are one a few select artists to have played
the first three venues of Friars in Aylesbury, you also played at
Christmas 1972 (with Capability Brown) and Christmas 1979 (with XTC) – I
don’t know if you have memories of these gigs at all? The news-sheets at
the time mentioned all sorts of likely goings on with robots!
have already said-I have fond memories of Friars and do Indeed recall
some of the aspects of the gigs and the practice they afforded in
working out the best way of assembling the robots on stage without
alarming the other bands!
When the Bonzos reunited a while back with guest performers such as
Bill Bailey, Stephen Fry and Phill Jupitus, you must have been proud
that the Bonzos meant something to today’s comics, did any of the guests
fare better than the others? A bit unfair I know!
were very taken aback and flattered that our efforts were seen as some
sort of influence-but let's be honest again, the majority of the time
when 'they' say the 'Bonzos' 'they' really mean Viv and his legacy.
all mucked in equally well - although I thought Paul Merton's' dance
version of Monster Mash' was particularly Bonzo in its surrealism.
Edmonson too, certainly deserved the title of 'Honorary Bonzo'. It was
refreshing to work with such a fertile mind on our wavelength and for me
his involvement was the highlight of the tour. Ade's contribution to
'Trouser Press' took it to a new level of which I, un-aided (sic),
was incapable. I was saddened to read his recent published comments
regarding our final show together.
also looking forward to talking and 'duelling' Theremins with Bill, but
he didn't show up till the last gig of the tour when it was too late.
You taught design at the Chelsea College of Art – you’ve clearly always
had an eye for design, this must have been an enjoyable way to impart
your talents and you students must have thought so as well?
taught there alongside Sam Spoons and indeed Alan Cooper from the
Temperance Seven - a hotbed of eccentric musicians if ever there was
one. I'm not sure if the students enjoyed it but most used to say "My
Grandad remembers you".
The wonderfully title Bill Posters Will Be band that still plays every
month and has been going for 27 years - I know you were part of this,
do you still play with them?
Bill Posters band is in fact the bulk of the original Bob Kerr's Whoopee
Band. I no longer play with them, I had a brief stint with them in the
eighties but then Rodney Slater took over in the Nineties and Sam Spoons
has been with them throughout their career, and many musicians have
passed through their ranks without mishap)
More up to date in 2010 and you play as Three Bonzos and a Piano and
work sometimes with another Friars man, Andy Roberts from Liverpool
Scene. How have these gigs gone down? Presumably a hard core of Bonzo
fans? I like your reference to the Bash Street Bonzos – your website is
quite self deprecating!
always respected the 'Beano' and 'Dandy' as witness - "Lord Snooty and
his pals tap dancing" ('intro and outro').. The '3 Bonzos Gigs' are
going down very well as we give a taster of what it was like in the
Sixties at old venues like the 'Tigers Head' in Catford. We have the
"fans of a certain age " as well as lots of new recruits of all ages
-real 'family' stuff. Its good to have Andy Roberts with us too, as he
has always been associated with the band.
Roger, thanks for talking with us and very best wishes from all at
This interview and its content
are © 2010 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not be used
in whole or in part without permission.