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Phil Jackson of The Rutles

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Ipswich Musician, Phil Jackson, is playing with one of the most famous English writers, comedians and musicians alive – Neil Innes of The Rutles, who are setting out on tour – including stops in Ipswich and Cambridge. He popped into Grapevine HQ for a chat about what to expect from the tour, and how he went from giggling fan to band mate…

The Rutles are back on tour, and you’re heading to The Smokehouse in Ipswich and the Cambridge Junction – have you played those venues before, are you familiar with them at all? 

I’ve never played the Junction before, it’s quite a well-known place so I’m looking forward to that gig, it’ll be fun. I’ve played the Smokehouse a bunch of times, and I did an album launch there a couple of months ago, so I know it well and I know a lot of the people that work there, and I’ve taught some of them as I teach piano there occasionally. It’s a really good venue, and hopefully it does a lot more of what it’s doing.

Seeing as you’re a bit younger than Neil Innes himself… How did you first become aware of The Rutles?

Shhh! I’ve always been a really big fan of The Rutles, and like most people, I knew about them because you know The Beatles, and you stumble upon The Rutles somehow as they follow the same pathway.

I was probably about 9 or 10 years old, something like that. They parody a lot of the songs in The Story of The Beatles, and they’ve got a song called Cheese and Onions, and in the film of The Rutles they feature that song in a segment which is like the Yellow Submarine segment, and the animation looks exactly like the same, and they actually had the same people make it, so it fools you. At that age you’re there going “ah there’s this song…” and for a few years I didn’t know the difference, and when Yellow Submarine came on the TV, or I think I had it on video, I was convinced that song was in it! I kept playing the video and trying to find it… then a few years later I saw on TV – it was in a documentary about quirky films, and I was like ‘I can’t believe it…’ but then I became a real fan of it, got CDs and such, and low and behold all these years later I’m in the middle of it, and I don’t know how that happened really.

How did you meet Neil Innes and get involved then?

Well, my old band The B Goodes was quite Beatles-esque and poppy, and we were quite well-known around Ipswich. We used to record in a studio called Spring Vale studios, and Neil also recorded there.

The chap that worked there, Mark Harwood – it’s all down to him really, kept saying to Neil ‘Oh these guys should be your band’ so he played him my some of my stuff and he seemed to like it. After a little while, we got to meet him and we did a couple of gigs in town with him. Long story short, a few years after that he needed a new keyboard player and he basically knocked on my door, which was extremely nice of him. 

You touched on it earlier, but I’m guessing you were a fan beforehand… 

Yeah, I was a very big fan! I was almost like a giggling fan, I had to tame myself, and it was a bit too unreal to understand. Here’s this guy, who’s done it all and is so great; and here I am, playing these songs with this god of music. Yeah, I was definitely a big fan. 

In terms of shows, does Urban Spaceman get put on the set? 

Not really. We did it when I first started, as we had a few shows with the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, which was Neil’s band in the 60s, and that was for the anniversary shows; it was their hit, so it made sense to do that.

Some people want him to do that, but it does get left out most of the time. Unless we’re playing a specific gig, where he knows it’s been requested by the people putting on the gig or something. Unfortunately no, and that’s disappointing because I really like it, because I’m the person that gets to play the flute solo and I think it’s such a nice, fun song.

What is your favourite song to perform with The Rutles then?

They’re all such fun!

I’m guessing you probably have quite a following as well? 

Yeah, it’s a strange band because Neil describes us as ‘the only tribute band that plays our own songs’. The Rutles as an entity is really very famous, but at the same time it’s sort of under the radar because it’s real but with an unreality to it, as we’re pretending to be this band, that’s parodying another band. If people don’t know who you are, it’s hard to explain to them.

But yes, they’re fanatic fans! I mean, they know every word to every song, and they’re waiting to sing everything back at you. It’s a lot fun, and the vibe is so good. It’s so happy, and the tour is called ‘The Major Happy Tour’, which is based on a song, and I think Neil’s sort of themed it to that this time. In these times of political uprising, he’s really conscious of that and just wants to put out a good vibe to people.

You’re going to a few different places, so what are the best and worst parts of touring? 

I don’t know if there are any worst parts, maybe it’s just the travelling as you get tired after a while. Neil has said previously, if you ever stop doing something then it’s really hard to start doing it again, so I think he’s been doing it nearly all his life, so you got to keep doing it. I’m gigging regularly myself anyway, but the travelling is the hardest thing. We’ve got dates in Glasgow and Aberdeen and those sorts of areas. We stay overnight but it’s a lot of travelling in a van. The best things I guess are everything else, it’s just the stem reality and that we forget about our real lives for a little bit. Then we come back to it – actually that’s the worst bit, coming back! 

Finally, why should people come and see The Rutles… 

Because I’m in it! I’m kidding… I think it’s the best drug you’re going to get around at the moment. It’s a really happy vibe, really funny, really musical, and if you like The Beatles, you’ll like The Rutles. Plus, you’ve got John Halsey on the drums, two of the original members in the group still playing; Ron Nasty and Barry Wom – who’s probably the funniest man in the world, and of course Neil Innes, who is one of, if not the greatest songwriters, and most inspiring people, so you should come along. 

Thanks for chatting to us Phil, and have a great time on the road!

Catch The Rutles live:

  • Sun 6th  May – IPSWICH, The Smokehouse – Doors 7pm / Film ” All  You  Need  Is  Cash” 7.15pm / The Rutles Live 7.45pm. Tickets  via  West  End  Music on 01473 214331. 
  • Tues 22nd May – CAMBRIDGE, Junction 2 – Visit www.junction.co.uk.

For more information on The Rutles check out the-rutles.com.