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Big Shot - the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band

The artist, Pete Radmall, once set out to do a series of nude paintings of his wife, Maureen. She was posed reclining a la Goya’s Maja on a sofa with her hands behind her head. To emphasise the ironic nature of the studies, he surrounded the sofa with screwed up pages of photographed nudes from Penthouse and Mayfair magazines, the largest purveyors of British softcore pornography of the day. After a while, during the third or fourth painting, he felt the need to emphasise the sofa, responding to its character, its own forlornness within the confines of the bare room. He dispensed with Maureen, and painted the scene without her and was amazed to find that his sense of her lingered in the picture. Like an artistic version of quantum physics, each subsequent representation of the sofa became more lonely and yearning, erotically evoking the absent model. He painted on. He became aware that the paper strewn on the beige carpet around the sofa was like waves in an undulating sea, the gloomy room, an impending storm.

He produced one sofa picture, then another, then moved on to other sofas in other rooms, naming them after Turner: “Sofa in Storm off Dover Point”, “Sofa Bearing Up for Anchorage”, “Sofa Aground, Margate”, “Sofa Becalmed” and “Sofa at Entrance to Yarmouth Sound”. By the time he came out of his “Sofa Period” Pete had painted a series of some eighteen paintings. A couple of these were bought by the other lead singer of the Bonzo Dog-Doo Dah Band, – other than Neil Innes that is (see yesterday’s post) - the eccentric and brilliant Vivian Stanshall who loved all things nautical, and they attracted much comment from his friends. This resulted in Pete lending Stanshall half a dozen more from the series, and for a while he effectively acted as Pete's gallery agent, selling the paintings to his guests.

Being a good friend of Pete's poet brother Phil, I met Pete a dozen or so times over the years and his dry, gentle humour always captivated me. I remember one time in the late seventies the three of us went for a coffee in a posh restaurant in St Peter's Square in Manchester. Pete was wearing an all-white suit, but I could tell from the waiter's look of disdain as he approached that we weren't up to scratch, and he looked down at us as though we were student vermin, which we probably were compared to the surrounding clientele. When he eventually plonked the coffee down in front of us, Pete leaned forward and asked him politely: "Excuse me , can I borrow your pen?" He proffered his Parker, which Pete promptly used to stir his coffee, deftly and publicly humiliating the waiter, who had forgotten to give us teaspoons.

Here's a beautiful piece of noir from the Bonzos with Stanshall packing in as many cool one-liners as a Chandler novel. I love the insanely "wild side" sax solo from Rodney Slater.

" "Yeah, yeah, yeah," I slobbered. Hotsy said, "You're slobbering all over the seat kid"."

We've all been there.

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