Manhattan sleigh-bell

As far as Channel 4 are concerned, Christmas ’93 means New York. Laurie Pike will be guiding viewers through the snow and the eight million

5 stories in the naked city. Here, she offers a sneak preview of the festive season in the Big Apple.

‘When people think of Christmas they think of New York. even ifthey don‘t live there. The city seems such a magical place in December. It’s the only time of year when people are nice

wonderland. especiain when it snows. Even the most jaded people start getting all misty-eyed and excited about the decorations.

'New York is a cosmopolitan city. but that doesn't seem to affect Christmas. Hanukkah is always near to Christmas and New York obviously has a huge Jewish population. so basically it‘s a holiday. And Kwonza. the African

to each other. for one thing. [Everything ' changes. It really does become a winter

. American celebration. is also about the

same time. Christmas has become kind of non-denominational. people are

Laurie Pike: we are family tolerant. they don‘t get upset about it being a Christian Festival.

‘The festive landmarks spring up

around the beginning of December. There's the tree at Rockefeller Centre which is gigantic. and you can skate there. which is so cool. There‘s this giant imposing building in the middle of all these skyscrapers. and there‘s all these people skating around it.

‘The store window displays are incredible. especially at Barney's which is this tiny but exclusive store downtown. Their windows are legendary. and in fact you can take a bus ride which takes you around all the window displays at night. That's New York. The store windows are such works of art that people actually take a tour of them.

‘A lot of people leave the city for

of people come into the city just for the festive season. In New York you‘ll find more ad-hoc families. you‘ll find a lot of gay people being around with their friends. When I lived in New York. a lot of the time I couldn‘t afford to go home for Christmas so I would just get together with my friends.

‘()n Channel 4. I‘ll be featuring some of the more off-beat stories that are covered by the 24-hour cable news station. ()ne story I‘m really excited about is the 20th anniversary of CBGB’s. All through December the club is having reunion concerts by a lot of the old hands like the Ramones. For me that is really. really exciting. If Christmas is about families. that‘s part of my family. the family of punk music.‘

Laurie I’ikc begins a regular series of I'é’])()l'f.\'_ff‘()l)l th’lI' York m1 Channel 4 (m

2/ [)(’('(’Hl[)(’l' a! l l .05an

upstate New York or wherever. btit a lot 1

:- The madcap laughs

‘Sorry I was in a bit of a flap-doodle yesterday,’ he begins. ‘I’m a little palpitatory. I’ve just been making an absolute bosh of wrapping up parcels. I don’t know, six years at art school, you’d think I’d be pretty good at this sort of thing . . .’

. Oh, yes, there is a corner of popular ' culture that is forever England. At least so long as Vivian Stanshall’s around.

Tiffin. Gentlemanly pursuits. Crumbling stately piles Iorded over by mad inbred peers. Tubas. Ilkeleles. Surrealism. All these little corners of life’s sardine tin are being neglected in an era of virtual reality, Uzi-toting rappers and blonde male grunge stars screaming ‘Itape Me’.

. ’Twas not always thus. For as the

- British Blues Boom groups strained to get just the right pained inflections into their Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf covers, the dandyish Vivian Stanshall of The Bonzo Dog Band was cheerfully intoning such ditties as ‘My Brother Makes The IIoises For The

Talkies’. An agglomeration of London

art students enamoured of 19203

} novelty songs, bizarre tape effects and ? judiciously-used rock ’n’ roll influences, The Bonzos were a little like a Mad hatter’s Tea Party thrown by an anarchic Temperance Seven on

2 acid. But only a little.

82 The List l7 December I993- l3 January l994

After they split in 1970, co-writer

, IIeiI (‘Itutles’) Innes went on to media i i stardom of sorts, while Stanshall was i ; thwarted by nervous breakdowns and i E bouts of alcoholism and tranquiliser ' f dependence. Ilis fecund imagination,

3 however, spawned the delightfully

repulsive ‘Sir Henry At Rawlinson End’, j which was filmed with Trevor Howard

in the title role.

This month, the nation gets the

chance to refresh its memory via the . ‘late Show’ special ‘Vivian Stanshall: j

The Early Years’. Stanshall wrote it, but didn’t provide the title, so is a tad ;

‘They asked me to put on some sort

. of show and then asked how . autobiographical it was, which

Z painting and wallowing in literature.

practically everything is . . . It is about

childhood influences - I draw a

parallel between my father and Kronos , eating his children - but it’s mostly . new songs with blather in between; a

lot of terrified blather with a newly- rehearsed band. Doesn’t that grab


Since the last time he toured, in 1991, Stanshall has concentrated on

His attempts at relaxation have been largely unsuccessful thanks to a compulsion to create. “It’s a real nuisance,’ he complains. ‘There are writing materials all over the flat. I can’t even read books without plinking an instrument or blowing something.’

But at last it seems as though an

outlet will appear for the four albums’

worth of songs he has accumulated and recorded at his own expense, with

I a recording contract just waiting,

Vivian Stanshall: between the hours of three and five

apparently, to be signed. It’s hard to tell quite how Stanshall feels about

this. Although he will be glad to get - his music out on record again, he

remarks, ‘Thankfully, I’m still under

; the impression that I’m a painter and e printmaker. I still feel fraudulent

! about the thing I’ve been making a

living out of for the last 25 or 30

years.’ What about the phrase ‘English

. eccentric’, which has been

synonymous with Stanshall all this time. Hasn’t that long since worn out its welcome?

‘IIo, because that’s what I am. I always was. I’d be a bit of a dunce if I didn’t notice people staring at me. But

} that has happened since I was 7 thirteen. I managed to persuade my father that a dufer coat was sensible

E rather than bohemian, and when I sauntered forth (my hair was hair-

; clipped, for God’s sake), a little boy

' said, “Mummy, look at that man,” and : his mother said, “Don’t look at him, he’s a crank.”

‘The “Ilain Mail”, donkeys’ years ago, phoned up and said, “We’re doing a piece on Betieman and the older eccentric, and we’d like to use you as s the younger eccentric - are you still 9 doing it?” And I said, well, between i the hours of three and five, yes. And she took this quite seriously and said, “Well, if I got down about half-three or four . . ." and I said, “That’s fine,

I’ll be Balinian by that time, old fruit. . .” (Alastair Mabbott)

Vivian Stanshall: The Early Years is on BBCZ on Tue 21 at 10.10pm.