The Rutles - Oi! Where's Leppo?

Without a guitar or a band, Ollie apparently laid low until the early Summer of 1977 when Neil Innes asked him to be a Rutle.

The Rutles was a Beatles parody group born out of a sketch on the Rutland Weekend Television show, starring Neil Innes and Monty Python's Eric Idle.  A clip of the Rutles sketch was shown on Saturday Night Live when Idle hosted in October, 1976, and the response from fans was so great that Lorne Michaels offered to be the executive producer for what became a hilarious full-length television special, titled "All You Need Is Cash".

Neil Innes was commissioned to write the songs and put together the musicians for the recordings.  John Halsey and Ollie were drafted as well as Ricky Fataar (Beach Boys, Boz Scaggs), who Eric Idle had met on holiday in Barbados.  Sometime around July, the band finished rehearsing and recording the songs in just two weeks.  A tape of some of the rehearsals has been bootlegged.  Ollie played guitar and keyboards on the recordings and provided the vocals (slightly sped-up) of the Paul character, Dirk McQuickly.

Unlike Neil, John, and Ricky, Ollie unfortunately did not get to play one of the Rutles in the film.  Being a lefty, he would have been perfect for miming the parts of Dirk, but the producers wanted Eric to play the role instead.  Eric looks so hilarious in the role that the movie is probably funnier the way things went.  Ollie instead became Leppo, the fifth Rutle from the Hamburg days who mainly stood in the back (like Stuart Sutcliffe) and was never seen again after crawling into a trunk with a small German Fräulein (unmarried woman, or governess).  The film was shown on television in the US in March of 1978.  Ollie was given just a couple of seconds of screen time in a still photo. 

In 1996, The Rutles put out another album called "Archaeology", which features several tracks with Ollie from the original 1977 rehearsals and recording sessions.  It is an outstanding album that sadly received very little promotion.

Article: Guitar (UK), January 1977  Terry Theise's Electric Guitar Top Ten

Otway and The "Caves" Demos

Ollie borrowed guitars from the likes of Bernie Holland and Gary Glitter (star-shaped!) and started doing some sessions again.  He played on Kevin's "Rainbow Takeaway" LP in 1978.  The album didn't fare so well with the punk movement in full swing and all, and Kevin went back into retirement for nearly two years.

In 1979, Ollie played on John Otway's "Where Did I Go Right" album.  The two really hit it off, recorded various demos together, and did a duo tour  accompanied by a drum machine.  A tape exists of one of these shows.

In 1979-1980, he also did some recording for Neil Innes' "Off The Record" LP, though he doesn't play on much of the album.  Ollie did eventually appear on Neil's "Innes Book Of Records" television program playing guitar and singing backup on a humorous punk version of Neil's "Catch Phrase" song along with John Halsey on drums. 

Ollie's most notable activity in 1979 was recording demos for a solo album.  These demos were released officially in a package titled "Caves" in November of 1999 on Market Square Music label (Cat.# MSMCD103). Ollie played all the instruments and sang all of the vocal parts on the demos.  The tracks are a mix of laid-back, melodic tunes and upbeat pop.  Great guitar on "First Day In New York" and the humorous "Airplane Food".  A version of "Steppin Out" was done for Kevin's 1983 album, "Diamond Jack and the Queen of Pain".  In "Back Against The Wall", Ollie sings about wanting to getting away and living on an island -- something which he would end up doing a couple years later.  Too bad that the solo album was abandoned, as it would have been nice to hear the final produced versions.  The package includes cover art by Ollie and liner notes from John Otway and Barry Monks.  

Sweden, Halsey, Spain, and Reuniting with Kevin

Early 1980 saw Ollie playing gigs in Sweden with his lady friend and singer, Zanna Gregmar.   He wasn't finding much work in England, so he and Zanna were making a go of it in Sweden.  Soon Ollie was recording with Kevin Ayers again.  Kevin's "That's What You Get Babe" LP came out around May, but it was very poorly received.  They did a few live dates, but Ollie and Zanna were soon headed back to Sweden.

1980-1981 saw Ollie working with John Halsey.  They got together some new material for a  straight-ahead rock/pop band and recorded demos.  They advertised for a bass player/singer to handle the lead vocals but didn't manage to find one, so the band never got off the ground.  They did some work together writing radio jingles for frozen pizzas and Italian fruit!  

Also around this time, Kevin Ayers did a tour with Ollie, John Halsey, and Clive Griffiths.  Imagine, the old Patto band with Kevin on vocals!  Wonder if any live tapes from that tour exist!  John, Ollie, and Clive also were involved in sessions for an album based on the Saturday-morning kids show, Tiswas.  The album, called "Tiswas Presents The Four Bucketeers", contains the last recordings to feature Ollie, John, and Clive playing together.

In 1981, Ollie was in England to do sessions for Vivian Stanshall's wonderful album, "Teddy Boys Don't Knit".  John Halsey and Neil Innes were also involved with the sessions.  Ollie still didn't own his own guitar.  Instead of using the proceeds from the sessions to get one, he bought blueprints for a boat that he was going to build and sail around the world in!

Later in 1981, Ollie moved to Majorca, a Spanish island where he would live for most of the remainder of his life.  Now he was living close to Kevin, and they would work together over the next 11 years whenever Kevin was in the creative spirit.  He also kept busy doing music with Zanna.  They did a TV appearance with Kevin, John Cale, and Andy Summers (Eno also had been invited).  

Ollie got involved in producing and playing for Spanish groups and artists.  There is a long list of those he got involved with over the years.  Most notable perhaps is a techno-pop group called Cinemaspop.  Their "La Naranja Mechanica" (1984) contains a lot of material written and played by Halsall.  Apart from the Spanish artists and a short stint in 1985 with John Cale, Ollie worked primarily with Kevin for the rest of his life.

Kevin and Ollie put out five albums from 1983 to 1992.  1983's "Diamond Jack and the Queen of Pain" contained Ollie's "Steppin Out" and Ollie playing acoustic slide guitar on "Champagne and Valium".  As Ollie put it, "The production is all mechanical, but I suppose it grows on yer!"  Ollie played bass on 1984's "Deia Vu" and was heavily involved producing and writing for 1986's "As Close As You Think" album.

"Falling Up", released in 1988, is generally considered to be the return of Kevin to fine form.  Perhaps his strongest album in years.  It includes some particularly moving playing from Ollie on "Another Rolling Stone" and "Am I Really Marcel".  His playing throughout the album is very tasteful.


In 1991, Ollie came to England for a week to visit and participate in the Vivian Stanshall Dogends concert at the Bloomsbury Theatre.  Also on the stage were John Halsey, Jack Bruce, Rodney Slater, Roger Ruskin Spear, and Pete Brown.  A tape of this show exists, though I sadly haven't heard it yet.  This visit to England would be the last time many would see Ollie.

Kevin's "Still Life With Guitar" album hit the shelves in February of 1992.  It is a pleasantly mellow and predominantly acoustic album.  Ollie plays acoustic guitar on "Don't Blame Them", "Ghost Train", and "M16".  He also played vibes on "I Don't Depend On You".  It would be the last release to be graced by Ollie.  They toured throughout Europe, and Ollie was reportedly in very fine form when  tragedy struck.

On May 29, 1992, Ollie died in Madrid of a drug-related heart attack.  He is buried in Majorca.  Fans have placed a guitar volume knob on his gravestone.

Article:  Ptolemaic Terrascope Summer 1992
  Nick Saloman's obituary for Ollie which includes a poem Ollie wrote in 1986.

1997 Rutlefest Stories
  John Halsey and Neil Innes remember Ollie.

Peter "Ollie" Halsall was perhaps one of the most underrated guitarists ever.  It amazes me that so few  people (especially guitarists) seem to know about Ollie -- and that it took so long for a guitar head like me to hear his playing.  I try to turn friends on to his playing whenever I can.

His guitar work was so unusual, fast, and fluid that it could make you laugh.  He could also make it sing very movingly given a gentle tune.  If the world made any sense, he would be way up there on the guitar hero list with Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, etc.  But he never really cared much about being a guitar hero.  He was blessed with an incredible gift for music, and he was a thoughtful musician, not just a flashy guitar lickster.

I will close this short and terribly insufficient bio off with a list of some words that those who knew him use in their reflections of the man:  musical freak, brilliant, one-off, funny, underrated, amazing, warm, extraordinary, shy, humble, absurd, gifted, insane, musical acrobat, unfathomable, daring,  missed.

For a complete discography and other great information on Ollie, I recommend that you visit Barry Monks' Ollie Tribute web site.  See the Links page of this web site for a link to Barry's site as well as  Martin Wakeling's "Why Are We Sleeping?" Kevin Ayers site and other places that have more information on Ollie. 

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Significant source references:  
"Ollie and the Blue Traffs", Melody Maker January 22, 1972
"Ollie Halsall on Doing Your Own Thing", New Musical Express 1974
Inteview with Ollie, Melody Maker, July 13, 1974
"Player of the Month Ollie Halsall", Beat Instrumental April, 1976
"In This Corner...Boxer", Rock Around The World  July, 1976
"Zooming In On Boxer", Trouser Press, August/September 1976
"Putting On Ayers", Trouser Press, October/November 1976
"New Rock Record", Terry Hounsome, 1983 Blandford Books
"John Halsey and Patto", Ptolemaic Terrascope, 1992
Roger Dopson's liner notes from Kevin Ayers' "Rainbow Takeaway" CD (et al.)
Martin Wakeling's "Why Are We Sleeping" Kevin Ayers Web Site
Barry Monks' Ollie Halsall Web Site
Barry Monks' liner notes from the Timebox "Deram Anthology" CD