Back in 1993 the BBC during part of their late night arts slot The Late Show, broadcast a short autobiographical musically interjected film by Vivian Stanshall.
They titled it Vivian Stanshall: The Early Years; Stanshall titled the confessional performance Crank.
Short and to the point. But like all connected with Vivian Stanshall, ever ambiguous.
As an audio rip this piece works exceptionally well; in fact it does sound very much like a radio doc; especially as much of the film is made up of musical performance.
The narrative is told directly to camera; compelling to watch it may be, but really it's Stanshall's voice and what he is saying - and the way he says it - that is truly compelling.
His diction is perfect; his annunciation superb; his wit, as always, masterful.
True to autoboiography he tells his tale chronologically, concentrating primarily on his childhood and the tricky relationship he had with his father.
Interjected throughout by musical performance, almost in a this is what happened to me as a kid so that inspired this piece of music kind of way, Stanshall covers his genres (accompanied by Mr. Slater on wind and Danny Thompson on bass; unfortunately I don't know who the other musicians were; hard to find any info about this show): old time jazz pastiche,
rock n roll, some great solo numbers from Teddy Boys Don't Knit (what must be his greatest solo work; including a performance of one of his finest ever songs 'Ginger Geezer',
a song important enough in my life for me to have named my youngest hound after it.
Hi, Geezer. Good boy, etc....),
some very cool blues, and even an astounding, satirical spiritual number, that'll have you humming its refrain for days.
I'm not even sure if many of the songs he performs throughout the piece have ever actually been recorded or put out as product; but from what I understand there's a ton of stuff that Stanshall created: music, visual art, sculpture, and all manner of whatnot; whether it will ever see the light of day; ever become available, well, who knows...?
This film, made in conjunction with the BBC, was all part of Stanshall's gradual movement back into the entertainment business after a state of semi-retirement due to mental-health problems.
You are left at the end of the performance with the sense that Viv Stanshall wasn't always comfortable being Viv Stanshall, which kind of goes against the more dominant ideas associated with artists and those creative types in the public eye. But it did seem for Stanshall that creativity was often a bit of a burden; a burden because it became a compulsion; an obsession; not necessarily something he wanted to do, but something he just couldn't help doing.
But when one is an artist, madness becomes legitimate. Acceptable.
But madness, in any form, is never easy to live with.
I remember Stanshall appearing on Jools Holland's TV show Later... about a year after Crank was shown.
He wasn't performing, he merely sat in the audience. But Holland announced him anyway, and with a genuine admiration - unusual, as I usually find him terribly sycophantic - stated how pleased he was to see him; as we all were.
But then he was gone again.
For good this time.
Dying in a house fire in 1995.
He was fifty-one.
But his art lives on; the recent revived interest in The Bonzos has created more curiosity, leading to the CD release of Men Opening Umbrellas Ahead, and as I said earlier, who knows what else could be released from the vault?
It's just such a shame he wasn't able to create a nice concrete conclusion to his career; something that tied his eclectic and enormous body of work together.
But at least there's stuff such as this, and believe me, this really is as close to the audience an artist like Stanshall can possibly get.
But ambiguous as hell.
Viv Stanshall - Crank (1993)
Fifteen minute audio rip from VHS to DVD captured broadcast @320kbs.
Sound quality is pretty damn good, considering how much its been bounced around.
Revive Viv here