Just in time for New Year, here is the final part of our extensive interview with Dave Brown. If you missed them, parts one & two can be found in our archives, and the entire interview is saved for posterity over yonder.
We’ve seen that Dave Brown has been very busy during the Mighty Boosh’s hiatus from the public eye. And whilst fellow comedy writers and performers are struggling to garner attention for their projects in a recession hit industry, what do part-time gorillas and graphic designers by trade do with their time outside the ape suit? For Brown, the charity work is only the beginning. Scratch the surface, and you discover a man who simply never seems to stop for a moment.
“I’ve just been doing a lot of work with a musician called James Rhodes,” he states, referring to the critically acclaimed pianist who has recently released his latest album, ‘Bullets & Lullabies’ which features Dave’s design work. “He’s an amazing concert pianist and an incredible guy. I worked on all the graphics for his new Sky Arts TV show with Nige [Coan] and Ivana [Zorn - who both provided the animations for previous Boosh projects]. I’ve also recently done his album artwork, his website and a load of photo shoots with him, and will hopefully be working with James and his manager Denis Blais next year too. They’re really great people to work with,” he infuses, and continues to explain his position as a designer by trade. “I’ll always have my design and photography work to fall back on when I’m not In comedy world. I really do love doing it all, and whilst I’m very lucky to have a pretty versatile life, having your own studio [Ape Inc. Ltd] is also very time-consuming. It’s hard finding the time to do other things like write and direct, for example. I need to be more strict with my time!”
There has also been talk over the past year about public displays of Dave’s visual artistry. A gifted photographer, Brown has been the official archivist for The Mighty Boosh since the early days, and the vast majority of their behind-the-scenes photography, promotional material and package designs all feature his trademark style. This year he also launched his own photoblog, featuring archive Boosh memories, humorous sightings and portraits of everyone from London Zoo’s gorilla Mjukuu to indie musicans Anthony Rossmondo, The Horrors and Alison Mosshart. Though professional constraints have made updates grind to a halt, thankfully, it seems photography is still on his agenda.
“I’ve got loads of ideas for photography books. It’s just getting the publishers on board. I certainly want to do a proper coffee table book of my Boosh stuff. There’s a lot of my photography in the Boosh Book,” he reminds me, referring to 2008’s ‘The Mighty Book Of Boosh’ which was more in keeping with the style of classic Monty Python books than a historical tome, “but I want something that’s just solely about the image. A book more akin to what Mick Rock’s done with Bowie… not that I’m comparing my work to his! I’ve got millions of photographs, many which have never seen the light of day, but it’s just finding the right time to do it, whether that’s on the back of a new tv series or an album, or whatever.”
There could, perhaps, be a temptation to leave such projects until the end of The Mighty Boosh as we know it, so as to ensure it’s a definitive piece. “Maybe,” he muses, “but not for me. I’d like to do it tomorrow, but in terms of the publishers, they’ll probably only want it when its all over.”
It seems those publishers will be waiting a long time. Despite what many fans would believe, the Boosh show no signs of going their separate ways just yet. “We still see each other all the time,” Dave tells me, “and we’re all obviously very close. Its just nice to go and do other things with other people sometimes, unless you’re married, then that can be an issue! When we get back together and do stuff it just clicks, like at the Zappa gig.”
One of the main questions The Velvet Onion is repeatedly asked is about how long The Mighty Boosh will continue to exist, and these quiet times have certainly tested the patience of many. Putting some of the more outlandish rumours to Dave, he’s quick to dispel any fears of a big fall out. “There’s no animosity at all, just because you’re not on tv or on a live tour right at this very moment it doesn’t mean you’re not doing stuff. There’s material written, and Noel & Julian are just waiting for the right time. They are great in that respect, in that they don’t bite everyone’s hand off at the first opportunity. Everything the Boosh does is what’s right for Noel & Julian, and the comedy, and then what we all want to do. They’re adamant that any idea for the show should be driven by them, and that’s totally right, and I completely respect them for that. And when they do it,” he promises, “It will be done right.”
Their hard work and determination to go their own way has had a possibly unexpected but welcome knock on effect, building up one of the most loyal fan bases around. “I think that’s entirely down to Noel and Julian for keeping on believing in whatever they were doing,” Dave suggests. “The viewing figures for the first series were pretty awful if I remember correctly, but the show is a grower. Once you’re in, it’s so much harder to get out, and you become completely obsessed with it. The beauty of Boosh fans is you know they’re so loyal. It’s like a secret club. If you get it and somebody else doesn’t, then its more empowering to you. And if people you meet get it, then you immediately know that they’re like minded. I remember at college, I would gauge whether I could be friends with somebody on whether or not they liked the film Withnail And I. It seems harsh but you have to have some kind of system, and that seemed to be a pretty true one to be honest. I remember people saying they didn’t like it and thinking: ‘That’s it. I’m not talking to you!’” He laughs, and adds: “It’s still one of my favourite scripts ever. I’m not as harsh with people these days but still can’t really understand how anyone can watch that film and not think its brilliant.”
I admit I’m in complete agreement on the merits of the cult comedy classic, and reflect that Withnail is perhaps very much like the Boosh itself, in that on first viewing, many people are not quite sure what to make of it, but the more they watch it, the more than buy into its world and fall in love with what they see. Dave partially attributes the successful creation of the Boosh world to the amount of detail his collaborators put into each episode. “Each of those scripts Noel and Julian have written are almost film scripts in themselves. They’re pretty ambitious and epic for half hour episodes – its not like there’s a repetitive formula like some sketch shows with jokes and situations repeated with just a different hat on.”
“That’s why they’re not churning them out,” he insists. “It’s not an easy process. If you look at how many characters there are, the relationships they have with each other, the rhythm of each joke, the detail in the costumes and makeup, the obsession with the visuals and the whole musical element as well. Tell me another show that’s doing all of that?”
That passionate means of expression is back once again, and courting the risk of being branded a sycophant – and of branding Dave as a Jack of All Trades – I ask him if there is anything he has tried and found out he’s absolutely crap at. “Squash.” he retorts. “I tried to play squash once, and I couldn’t hit the ball with that stupid tiny spoon sized racquet, and I was furious, oh and maths, anything numerical, if they invented a games that involved maths and squash I’d struggle big time, but I’m also ridiculously competitive so I’d still beat you!”
One talent of his that took a lot of fans by surprise during the 2008 Future Sailors tour was his singing voice. After years of being mostly known as the man in the monkey suit, the tour gave Brown the chance to let rip a powerful rock roar and a smooth funky drawl that many professional musicians would give their right arm for. Despite outward appearances, this was not an overnight development. “I’ve always loved music and singing,” Brown explains, “My dad was totally obsessed with anyone that could croon, so I grew up on Nat King Cole and Frank Sinatra, so I’ve always been around singing, I’ve always loved karaoke, and I’ve always dreamt of going on ‘Stars In Your Eyes’ as Lenny Kravitz! I also really like doing musical impressions…” he states with a smile. “I could be the modern day Joe Longthorne! Maybe i’ll pitch that show to someone…”
With that, our time is sadly almost at an end. After a brief bit of silly chatter about starting a Chas N Dave tribute act with Noel Fielding and running a pub called The Stockey Cockney [“We‘ll have Chas N Dave, Dennis Waterman & David Essex playing on a Wednesday night!” he suggests], he prepares to return to his enormous workload with his usual vigour and enthusiasm.
But before he vanishes off into the studios of North London, I manage to sneak in one final question. With such a varied working life, is there one aspect of his career he loves more than the rest? If he had to do just one thing from now until the day he dies, what would it be? He ponders for a moment and reflects…
“The one thing I love doing is being creative, and when I’m not I get really frustrated. I’d love to live in a barn in the jungle somewhere and paint all day. I’d make music, take photos and do exhibitions and gigs for tropical animals and tribes, with Bruce Parry on pan pipes!