Onion Talking: Dave Brown [Part Two – Drag Queens & Harlequins]
Last week saw TVO begin its exclusive chat with Dave Brown of The Mighty Boosh. Part two of this extensive interview, featuring Brown’s hints at future Boosh projects, the reaction to the Boosh Band’s latest live venture, and working with Rich Fulcher on his Eleanor live show, is to be found below.
The third and final part will follow later this week. Keep peeling to find out more!
The last round of Boosh appearances are already a fading memory. The last episode of The Mighty Boosh, following three hugely popular series, aired in December 2007. The Future Sailors Tour wound up just over a year later, and the boys have only sporadically appeared together as a unit since – yet barring a surprise appearance at this year’s NME Awards, it’s never quite been as the full five-man ensemble.
During that last blitz of activity, the Boosh fan base was augmented by NME readers and trendy teens going wild about this ‘new’ thing. Could the elongated break from the limelight be damaging? Could the casual fans have moved on before the Boosh return?
“It never ceases to amaze me just how loyal Boosh fans still are,” Dave states, “but decisions aren’t made on how long it’s been since there was last a Boosh show of some sort. The last big thing we did all together was the Future Sailors tour.”
Big is something of an understatement, with the tour taking in around a hundred dates including multiple arena performances. “It was an amazing experience, but it was also very full on and intense so it was only natural that there would be a long gap afterwards. It’s healthy to have breaks and do other projects separately. I can’t say I don’t miss it as they were some of the best days of my life, and I’d jump on a tour bus tomorrow if the opportunity arose but unfortunately, those decisions aren’t made by me!”
Despite outward appearances, however, the Boosh are clearly up to something behind closed doors. “There is stuff happening,” Dave hints, “and that’s one thing people tend not to realize. They don’t happen at the drop of a hat, but there’s new stuff out there growing slowly but surely… like a sea monkey.”
First on the agenda, it seems, is the long mooted Boosh album, filled with new versions of songs from the show, which was planned for the Autumn but has since slipped into 2011 as the boys get it exactly how they want. Dave reveals he recently heard the latest mix, which he describes as incredible and promises that: “When that comes out, it’s going to blow everyone’s head off.”
The songs have been reworked enormously in ways neither we, nor Dave himself could ever dare spoil for you, “You should ask Julian, Noel or Dave Westlake to chat about that,” he says with a glint in his eye, quite rightly unwilling to give too much away. Some evidence of the updated tracks could be heard just a few weeks ago, when The Mighty Boosh Band, augmented by regular collaborator Oliver Ralfe, supported Dweezil Zappa at Camden Roundhouse, as part of a celebration of the works of Dweezil‘s prog-legend father Frank. With only Mike Fielding missing due to illness, this was one of the few chances to have spotted the Boosh together in the UK in the last two years.
The event seemed to be a natural collaboration after the appearance of Diva Zappa in the third series of the show back in 2007, though as is typical for the Boosh, arrangements didn’t go entirely to plan. “I think Noel and Julian were in LA,” he reveals, “when Gail Zappa [Frank’s widow] asked them if they’d do the gig at the Roundhouse with Dweezil to celebrate Frank’s 70th birthday on December 21st. They were obviously very honored and accepted, but they forgot to mention it to the rest of us!” He laughs and breaks out with a grin. “The first I knew about it was seeing the poster from a bus going past the Roundhouse!”
“Rehearsal time was limited too… for some of us more than others. Rich was only around for one day as he was trying to get ready for Fulchfest which was also happening that night,” Dave explains, referring to Rich Fulcher’s monthly comedy night at The Bull & Gate in Kentish Town which plays host to a bevy of TVO subjects each month. “He had to run down the road to do it straight after we came of stage that night! Noel was also up to his eyes in stuff, and Oli [Ralfe] could only do half a day as well.”
“The gig was on a Saturday, so we got together on the Thursday in a tiny little rehearsal room to go through stuff. I think the original plan was to do songs we already knew seeing as time was limited, but in true Boosh style we attempted to rehearse some reworked versions of songs from the album as well as a version of ‘Hello Little Dear’ from the radio show that segued into ‘Willie The Pimp’ by Frank Zappa & Captain Beefheart – all in under 2 days! It’s lucky that Julian [Barratt], [Dave] Westlake and Magnus [Box, replacing the unavailable regular Boosh Band member ‘Reg’) are all such great musicians. They’re the ones who worked it all out. I just shake, slap and hit stuff and scream when I’m told to!”
As if the rehearsal trials were not enough, the Boosh Band further complicated their own dilemma with their usual over-excited vigour. “We also had to get our costumes, props and makeup together and sorted out. It was pretty tight time wise, but it was kind of like the old Hen and Chicken days in that we were doing it all ourselves again. We had a right laugh, and it was great to be performing live again – plus it was an absolute honor to be asked to play at such an event in such an amazing venue.”
Opinions on the night were certainly in the Boosh Band’s favour. Whilst audience members in the seats that circle the giant columns of the Roundhouse were naturally subdued and withdrawn from the action, down on the floor the standing crowd lapped it up. “I think it went down ok,” he opines, “even without a proper sound check or any space on stage! We just tried to drink in the Zappa spirit and embrace the experience.” And what did the Zappa fans make of it? “We were really quite chuffed that they seemed to really enjoy it. We walked on stage and apart from a few pockets of Boosh fans, the room seemed to be mostly filled with sixty-year old men! We did wonder if they’d really appreciate us dressing up as women, wearing makeup and prancing around with a deranged Harlequin, but most of them seemed to… I think?”
The bizarre set was certainly in keeping with the Zappa ethos, which was perhaps to be expected from such huge fans of Frank’s work. “The great thing is that Noel & Julian met over a conversation about Frank Zappa, so there is a little history there. When we were doing Autoboosh [the third pre-radio live tour back in 2000], ‘Help, I’m A Rock’ was one of the last tracks played front of house before we opened the curtains to start the show. That song is really indicative to those moments in Edinburgh, with the three of us behind the closed stage curtain trying to pump ourselves up for the show with some Zappa gold.”
After this recent return to the stage, and the enormous reception to the Boosh Band sets during the last tour, I have to ask a question which is on the lips of every Boosh fan in the land. With the album on the way in the near future, will there be a tour to promote it? Dave‘s response is hopeful, but it seems the fans don’t need to start saving up just yet. “I don’t know to be honest. I think everyone enjoyed the Zappa gig, and there’s been talk of doing some gigs next year,” he hints, “and it could be incredible to do it. But we don’t know just yet. I’d love to, but you’ll have to ask Noel or Julian about all that.”
One of the biggest hurdles, it seems, will be getting everyone in the same room at one time. The last two years have seen the Boosh tackle all kinds of individual projects, with the closest thing to an actual collaboration the public could see the fruits of coming not from Noel and Julian, but from Dave’s work with madcap surrealist Rich Fulcher. Together they co-wrote and directed a show for Fulcher’s Boosh spin-off character, Eleanor the Tour Whore, which then wowed audiences in the UK and Australia, including a brief stint at the Edinburgh Festival.
“Rich came to me and asked if I could help him with his Eleanor show. There wasn’t much time as he was going to Melbourne in a month, but obviously I said yes!” It must be tough coming up with a complete hour length show almost from scratch so quickly. “We sat down in a little room in The Pleasance Theatre off Caledonian Rd to start trying stuff out and rehearsing it. Rich is obviously a genius when it comes to performing live, so once he started getting it on its feet and doing a few preview shows he came up with loads of new stuff.”
Dave is full of praise for his collaborator and friend. “He is one of the funniest men on the planet. I loved working with him, though I think he hated every minute of me hassling and nagging him! In the end I thought it was a really solid show, and there was just so much material in there. The gag count was huge, there were four songs (put together with Dave Westlake) and loads of video stuff. It was a lot of work and very ambitious considering the time we had, but by the end he was nailing it every night.”
Reviews, however, were not always in tandem with audience responses. This is something The Velvet Onion can attest to, having seen the show in Edinburgh on press night, seeing first hand an audience lapping it up in utter hysterics. “I was slightly annoyed,” Dave reveals, “that it didn’t get better reviews than it did. There were some ok ones, and the early reviews were understandable as the show was still in development, but I remember there being a write-up in Edinburgh that was an absolute stinker which I really didn’t understand. I knew a few people in the crowd that night, who said to me Rich had an absolute stormer. Everyone was pissing themselves the whole way through, but the review said: ‘This isn’t funny. There are no jokes. No-one laughed.’ You have wonder if they were in a different room.”
Despite a few grumbles from the press, the show garnered great responses wherever it played. Thankfully, it seems we’ve not heard the last of the gag-hag just yet. “Rich and I have been talking about maybe writing an Eleanor book, a bit like the one in the show,” he reveals, referring to the character’s fictional autobigoraphy that helps structure the live show. “We’re hoping to work on it next year… so she’ll definitely be back!”
another splendid piece from TVO! You really do spoil us! Thank you! I also went to Edinburgh & saw the show twice&loved every minute! That review was so unfair! I wrote to the author &told him so! I hope there is more to come…i’ll be there faster than a bullet!
As a Boosh fan (as opposed to just a TVO contributor) it’s wonderful to hear Dave talking about future Boosh plans. Much as I love most of their offshoot projects, there’s something magical that happens when the Mighty Boosh come together. I can’t wait to hear the album, and I’ll seiously explode with happy if they promote it with a few gigs. Seeing the Boosh Band perform at a sweaty Cargo in 2008 is one of my all time favourite Booshy memories, and I’d love some more of that…please.
I couldn’t improve on anything you’ve said here, Mog! The magic is when they are all together, and Cargo has gone down in history – let’s defo have some more of that, PLEEEAASE!
Yay for future Boosh plans! 😀 When Dave said there’s “new stuff out there, growing slowly but surely,” did he mean in addition to the album? I’m still holding out for the Boosh Film and Series 4! Anyway, thanks for a great interview!
Another superbly written article about a fascinating performer and genuine all-round nice guy! Thank you Didy and TVO!