The Ruttles

The Kings of Parody: Reviewing The Rutles

The MALESTROM’s resident car expert and aficionado of all things British and classic, Mr Frank Evans doesn’t spend all of his time behind the wheel. No, occasionally he puts his love of motors to one side and pursues one of his other passions, music. And with his quirky British sensibilities intact he headed off to see The Rutles on their latest magical tour. Take it away Frank…

I started to write this piece after going to see The Rutles play in concert in Liverpool recently. I wanted to do a review of the concert but thought it best to explain just who The Rutles are first of all.

People often say that if you remember the sixties then you weren’t part of what was going on regarding music, fashion, and culture. Some people also say that if you cant remember Rutlemania, then its because you were drinking too much tea. It may be that you still don’t know who The Rutles are and you’ve never drunk tea either.

Confused dear MALESTROM reader? Then let me put you out of your misery and explain who The Rutles were and are.

I think I can safely say that we can all remember a certain group from Liverpool called The Beatles, you may have heard of them, they had a few big hit singles and albums in the sixties. However, there was another group who would become a legend in their own lunchtime and were very much moulded from the shadow of The Beatles looks, sound and virtually everything else that the fab four did and said.

Like all good stories, we need to start at the beginning and we kickoff with Eric Idle, from Monty Python’s Flying Circus and Neil Innes, a part-time Python and earlier, a member of the Bonzo Dog Doo Da Band, a UK band from the late 1960’s. (Remember The Urban Spaceman and Jollity Farm?)

Eric and Neil had collaborated on a UK comedy Sketch Show called Rutland Weekend Television in the mid-1970’s. Neil wrote the music and lyrics and Eric provided the scripts/jokes. One such sketch was a pastiche of The Beatles. As it was shown on Rutland Weekend TV, the name of the group had to be The Rutles.

After the TV appearance, the lads thought they were onto a good idea and wanted to make a mockumentary TV film that would follow the story of The Beatles but would now be about The Rutles.

So they had the idea, but they needed a band who were definitely not The Beatles and also not a look-alike tribute act. The following people were consulted and they decided they had to be in the biggest band the world had never known.

Neil Innes played Ron Nasty who could have been John Lennon.

Eric Idle played Dirk McQuickly who may have been Paul McCartney.

Rikki Fataar played Stig O’Hara who should have been George Harrison.

John Halsey played Barrington Womble who must have been Ringo Starr

By the time Richard Starkey joined The Beatles, he was known as Ringo Starr. Likewise, Barrington Womble became Barry Wom and is now known as Barry.

Initially Eric Idle was thinking of asking the BBC to help finance the project but he later decided to go with USA TV network NBC who had a bigger budget and were able to bring in US comedians from Saturday Night Live (SNL).

The film was completed in 1978 and first shown on the American NBC TV network and a week later, in the UK, on BBC 2. The film was titled The Rutles, All You Need Is Cash and would go on to win a Grammy award for best comedy film of 1978. In its advertising, it said that any resemblance to The Beatles was quite intentional.

With the Beatles, many people claimed that they were the 5th Beatle, but with the Rutles, there was probably only one 5th Rutle and that was Mr. Ollie Halsall. He played the guitars and did the vocals for Eric Idle’s part in the film and on the record that followed.

Ollie Halsall who was in The Rutles

Ollie Halsall

Back to the film, and the prefab four as they became known. Initially, the film did not have great viewing figures when it was first shown in America but was well received in the UK. Many of The Beatles tunes and songs were reworked by Neil Innes so we now had Hold My Hand instead of She Loves You, Ouch! instead of Help!, Piggy in the Middle for I am the Walrus and Get Up and Go instead of Get Back. In all, there were twenty tracks recorded with I Must Be In Love being released as a 7inch single in the UK.

Eric Idle also played the part of the narrator talking us through the ups and downs of the lives of The Rutles from the early days in Hamburg, to their experimentation with tea drinking which resulted in their finest work, Sargent Rutters Only Darts Club Band, and finally to 1970 when, sadly, The Rutles went their separate ways never to perform as the prefab four again.

There are also interviews with Mick Jagger and Paul Simon who tell their stories from the 1960’s when they met The Rutles and how The Rutles sound influenced them.

Fellow Python, Michael Palin, appeared as Rutles press officer Eric Manchester and is seen being interviewed by a journalist who on closer inspection turned out to be Beatle George Harrison. Other celebrities to appear in the film included Bianca Jagger, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner and Bill Murray.

The Rutles

We need to mention that the 5th Rutle, Mr Ollie Halsall, also had a part in the film. He played a character called Leppo who was very much like Stuart Sutcliffe. His was not a speaking part, but Ollie appeared in a photograph of The Rutles from their early Hamburg days.

Now that you know a little more about The Rutles, I can now tell you about the gig. The venue was the Music Room at the Liverpool Philharmonic, and the act was of course The Rutles.

A lot of time had passed since The Rutles played Get Up And Go from the rooftop offices of Ruttle Core in Saville Row, London. Neil and Barry were still going strong and we were introduced to the delights of Rutling Ken Thornton on lead guitar and vocals, Mr Phil Jackson on keyboards and vocals and Mr Jay Goodrick on bass guitar and vocals.

I went with two friends of mine, Mark, and Neil, both respected music aficionado’s. Mark knows all there is to know about all the latest sounds and Neil has to be the biggest Beatles fan going. a connoisseur of all the little-known facts about them and their albums, facts that you would only expect to find in a Beatles Christmas cracker.

It was my first time seeing The Rutles and I have to say I was not disappointed, they were GREAT! The Music Room is relatively small and made for an intimate setting.

As hit after hit filled the atmosphere, young and old alike were consumed with the foot tapping melodic energy as the classics kept on coming, with tunes from All You Need Is Cash, Archaeology, A Hard Days Rut and Let It Rut, all made a welcome appearance.

As soon as they started playing the old hits, people young and old alike were singing and dancing along as if the songs had been recorded just yesterday. I have mentioned the album, All You Need Is Cash, which was followed years later by Archaeology. You may also remember A Hard Days Rut and the last Rutles album, Let it Rut.

Their latest project The Wheat Album, received a warm and enthusiastic response. During the show, there was a nice moment when Neil Innes paid tribute to Ollie Halsall who sadly passed away in 1992. As a tribute to Ollie and also, I suppose, to George and John, they played All Things Must Pass taken from George’s Album of the same name and released in 1970.

What The Rutles do so well is create a real sense of what it was like to have seen the Beatles in the early 1960’s before they conquered the world. And as the show came to a close, we were duly treated to the often neglected encore as two more songs, including The End from The Beatles Abbey Road Album, got an outing.

The tour was billed as the Major Happy Tour and I have to say it would take a cold heart not to embrace that sentiment. A fabulous musical journey from a wonderful live band, with the wit of Mr Neil Innes and company for good measure.

I would recommend anyone who loves The Beatles to have a listen to The Rutles. If I had to sum up the audience mood in the hall that night, it would be that it didn’t matter that they were not The Beatles, they were The Rutles and we loved it!

5 Rutles Trivia Facts.

  • The Beatles were huge fans and loved The Rutles music.
  • George Harrison appeared in The Rutles film, All You Need Is Cash.
  • John Halsey and Ollie Halsall were both in a band call Patto and also Time Box.
  • Rikki Fataar was in the Beach Boys in the Early 1970s.
  • The video sequence for the song Ouch! was filmed on the beach near my hometown of Southport, and the birthplace of Ollie Halsall.

Buy your copy of The Rutles new album The Wheat Album HERE

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