Neil Innes – How Sweet To Be An Idiot

Innes - How Sweet To Be An Idiot

I have said this before, but now it is true more than ever: The world needs an idiot with a duck on his head and a piano

In a sad irony, the opening track of Neil Innes’ last solo album, ‘Nearly Really’ was called ‘Old Age Becomes Me’. Alas, that was not to be as he left us aged 75 on December 29th only a couple of months after that final album was released.

Before his untimely death, he was also working with Grapefruit Records on the definitive and much needed reissue of his debut album, ‘How Sweet To Be An Idiot’. This album is shock full of Innes’ carefree charm and warm humour, and, if you have a bit of patience with the first few songs, it offers up some absolutely cracking Beatlesque pop songs.

Squeezed in between higher profiled releases he was involved in from both Grimms and Monty Python, it seems the album got lost in the shuffle. 

In fact, it almost feels as if Innes himself didn’t really focus on it all that much; to me it seems that the LP almost plays out like a rehearsal session. It starts with a short and wonderful vignette, as if just to state what the album really will be about, but then all of the original A-side of the album is filled with what feels like warm-up material, a boogie, a blues number and so on. The band, however, are hot from the get go and Ollie Halsall in particular is a delight to the ear.

But then comes the original B-side, and here we have the actual album, one pop wonder after the other. Fittingly, the side begins with the title track, and what a masterful song it is; starting with the heartfelt lyric about the idiot, then changing tack and turning into something from Sgt Pepper. 

And frankly, every track on the B-side is brilliant. My favourite may even be the somewhat shuffling ‘This Love Of Ours’, sounding a bit like an outtake from the Wings album ‘Venus and Mars’ if that album only had been recorded two years earlier.

Unfortunately, as if Neil had somehow forgotten how short and LP is or how many sides it has, the whole thing then ends all too quickly, tellingly with ‘Singing A Song Is Easy’.

I say tellingly, because intentional disregard of quality control is almost a hallmark for Neil Innes; he was so talented and inspiration came to him seemingly so easy, that he took it all just as it came. That is also why he (allegedly) described the album sessions himself like this: “If a track didn’t happen after four or five run-throughs we dropped it and went on to another one.”

If someone had been there to exercise stricter control, things would most likely have been different. When Innes a few years later made the Rutles album, he had to mimic the Beatles’ quality standards, hence that album is great from start to finish. So great in fact, that in the end lawyers forced him to hand over the song writing credits to Lennon & McCartney, despite none of the songs actually copying a Beatles song in any technical sense. It sounds crazy but it is true.

But this reissue also has a quite worthwhile set of bonus tracks, consisting of singles from the 1973-75 period.

I for one am very glad to get to hear “Music From Rawlinson’s End”. Although it is an instrumental track, I am a bit of a sucker for anything and everything connected to Vivian Stanshall’s Rawlinson’s End project!

The disc also contains a couple of other single tracks that I didn’t have; and the greatest find among those has to be ‘What Noise Annoys A Noisy Oyster’, which shamelessly rhymes “oyster” with “moisture”. Pure genius!

You need an idiot with a duck on his head and a piano. Maybe you just don’t know it.

Chinofeldy make staying at home worthwhile

Joe Kane and Marco Rea have teamed up as Chinofeldy to make lockdown pop for these strange times together with self-isolating friends across the world. 

Their new single, ‘Stay Home’ has an incredibly Beatlesque hook of a melody that will melt your heart in less than three seconds. If it doesn’t, you have a serious issue, because it means that lump in your chest is really a stone.

This is the type of song that makes staying at home worthwhile: It is simple and catchy, yet impossible to tire of even if you put it on endless repeat. Pure genius.

So what if it is unashamedly retro? Now that we are all isolated in our homes, time has literally stopped. We might as well let a little sunshine in and smile like it is 1967 all over again: The Beatles reached out to the world via satellite to over 400 million people with ‘All You Need Is Love’. Now we have the Internet. And hand sanitizer.

I want to stay home 

With the rest of the world 

Hold invisible hands 

Hope you washed them as well

Chinofeldy is a bit of an underground supergroup by the way. If you haven’t heard their other projects, start with Marco’s amazing solo album ‘Wallpaper Music’ and Joe’s first Dr. Cosmo’s Tape Lab album. Then go on from there!

But before that, don’t miss out on the ‘Stay Home’ video, it’s every bit as warm and fun as the song!

Instant classic from Zopp

Andrea Moneta, a shape-shifting teapot and Ryan Stevenson of Zopp

First I think: “National Health bootleg”… but then I change my mind: “No that can’t be, the sound quality is too good.” Then I look in my iTunes library and see that I am accidentally listening to a promo copy of a new album I had not gotten around to playing because I suffer from an untrendy aversion to the MP3 format. 

But if it takes inadvertently being exposed to lossy compression in order to discover music that is this good, then so be it.

If you love Canterbury music like I do, then you will immediately warm to the self-titled Zopp debut album, which not only includes contributions from people like Theo Travis but also unashamedly state its Kentish intent from the get-go.

But simultaneously, you may also be protective of that scene and ready to violently dismiss stuff that emulates the surface but fails to provide real substance.

Recently, it seems like only Italian bands really nail this; Homunculus Res, Alco Frisbass and Brežnev Fun Club (although they admittedly aim for a different genre).

However, Zopp’s debut ticks the right boxes in the right way. While sounding very familiar, it remains in control of its own destiny and stands tall with its own compositions.

Zopp is essentially the creation of Nottingham twentysomething Ryan Stevenson. Or should I say, it is my understanding that he was that when he started out on a journey towards this debut album that would last over a decade. Much happened along the way; Ryan Stevenson became an award winning composer of documentary film scores, and others joined the Zopp project, such as the aforementioned Travis, but also drummer Andrea Moneta from Italian band Leviathan and The Tangent’s Andy Tillison.

As a result, this sounds like a real band effort. Maybe it really is; I have no idea if they are actually playing together or if this is the result of files having been sent back and forth over the internet. But the point is that it sounds organic, and it has that hallmark Canterbury lightness of touch and coherence that probably is related to being well-rehearsed.

It really is just beautiful.

And did I say I was Swedish? Hope that won’t spoil it all, but how can I not love a Canterbury album with such a reference? The first track, ‘Swedish Love’, is a well-chosen opener, as it is possibly the most deferential track of them all. It is pretty smart to start with such a short and whimsical thing that lures me in – and then to pull my ears further in with the longer and more complex ‘Before The Light’.

The music then gradually moves towards songs that while never straying extremely far from their influences nevertheless offer up more individualistic perspectives; both in the sense that they add other musical components, but also in the sense that they are obviously flowing from the pen of a single person. Ryan Stevenson’s compositions have a slightly solitary and introverted feel to them, and as a consequence the pace is sometimes slower than what you might expect after the first few tracks.

At times I am reminded a bit of Karda Estra, there is a similar earnestness and sense of discovery here.

One can only hope that Ryan Stevenson doesn’t get too influenced by all the attention among his elder peers that this album is certain to earn him, and that he continues down his own path. With this album, he has already made an indelible mark, and hopefully that sets him free to explore rather than suffer under the burden of trying to repeat this success.

An instant classic – if something that has been ten years in the making can be called instant!