|Ricky Fataar, John Halsey, and Neil Innes
L.A. Rutlefest, November 1997
L.A. Beatlefest, Friday, November 28, 1997
Martin Lewis: When the whole Rutles thing came together, you were doing the music and the songs. You recorded the first album in literally a very fast…
Neil Innes: In a fortnight.
Martin Lewis: In a fortnight. John was telling us a bit about Ollie Halsall -- and everyone knows, any Rutles fans who see his name on the first album and the second album – tell us a little bit about Ollie, because he was a really special guy. He’s no longer with us sadly, but tell us a little bit about Ollie and his contribution to the Rutles, please.
Neil Innes: Well, John knows more about Ollie, because he was in the same band. I mean, there’s endless wonderful stories about Ollie. My own experience of Ollie is just like he was a musical brother to me. I mean he played the guitar like I wished I could. You know, and I think probably a lot of other people wish they could play the guitar like him. I mean, he’s got to be the most underrated guitarist that there ever was. He was daring. He was an acrobat musically, you know. He’d try anything and fiddle about. If everything went wrong, he turned it right. It was uncanny, wasn’t it?
John Halsey: It’s amazing.
Neil Innes: And then after that awful acrimony with the Boxer group and the management took all Ollie’s guitars away from him, which is, you know, a mean thing to do to a musician. Bernie Holland, who’s also on the new album, leant him this older guitar with a wonky neck. And, 'cause Ollie’s left-handed, and so the controls were in the wrong place, and he was going on doing sessions with this thing in a polythene bag. And with the neck like that, and he turned it to good effect, you know. He used it as a sort of "dihrrrrr" [gestures bending neck back and forth to change pitch], you know, but kept it in tune. It just didn’t stop him.
John Halsey: Ollie and I...Neil used to be in a band called the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah band, and the two mainstays in that band was Neil himself and another guy called Viv Stanshall. And Viv did an album that Ollie and I went and played on. I think you played piano on it actually [to Neil]. And its called "Teddy Boys Don’t Knit". You probably don’t know what a Teddy Boy is, though.
And so Ollie and I had a time bill for trying to get another band together, which was gonna be called Rocks. Which we thought was... that’s all we had. We had the name. But all we wanted was a bass player that could sing, because Ollie’s voice was completely and utterly knackered. [In a light raspy voice...] He used to speak like that cause…he didn’t hardly have any voice. So we got these songs together and got these tunes together, and we couldn’t get the bass player. What we wanted to do was get a three-piece together and come over here and play New York clubs and this sort of thing just as a sort of a mad three-piece.
And anyway we went off and did this album with Viv, and I went ‘round Ollie’s house the next week…Ollie lived in a house. He was at that time I think Ollie was about thirty, thirty-one years old. He was living with a girl ...in this house. And they had no telephone. They had no electricity. They hadn’t paid any bills on the house for years. He didn’t have a guitar. The only guitar he had was this star-shaped thing that belonged to Gary Glitter, and Gary Glitter wanted it back. And so anyway, we went and did this album with Viv, and we got 600 quid each for it. So, I sort of put my money in the bank and sort of helped pay a few bills and things like that.
When I went ‘round Ollie’s house I said to him, "Did you get your check?" "Yeah, I got it, man. Come and see what I bought." And I went in this house, and all around his sitting room, he had these plans that he’d spent his 600 pounds on for an ocean-going yacht. And they’re all pinned up ‘round his sitting room. I said, "What’s that?" He said, "I’m gonna build a yacht, man. Gonna build a yacht. I’m gonna sail around the world." I said, "Where are ya gonna…" He said, "Well, next when I get some more money, I’m gonna lay the keel in the garden and I’m gonna build this yacht. And you can get a crane to lift it out of the house." And I thought...I said, "Why don’t you get the phone put back on? Why don’t you buy a guitar? Why don’t you just buy a little boat?"
And so that is a sort of typical Ollie story, which is unfathomable.
L.A. Beatlefest,Saturday, November 29, 1997
Audience member: Yeah, I’ve been a long time fan. I really like your work with Ollie Halsall, and I’d like to know it you’d talk about Ollie a little bit, and does that kind of put the mockers on the Rutles without Ollie?
Neil Innes: No, it doesn’t. I think we missed him very much…John Halsey, Barry Wom, was in band called Patto with Ollie Halsall, and he introduced me to him at a time when we were doing a thing called GRIMMS with some poets and musicians and things like that. And Ollie and I became very good friends, and he played on my first album called "How Sweet To Be An Idiot". And, of course, he was heavily involved in making the first Rutles album. And when we came to making the second Rutles album we tried to find as many bits of Ollie as we could to include on there, which includes the track "We’ve Arrived (And To Prove It We’re Here)". Which was genuinely one take, done way back then when we were rehearsing the first album.
And what we did, we took a house and spent a fortnight learning the songs. Just a foursome and recording it on two-track. The version you hear – has anyone here heard the new album, "Archaeology"? (applause) Came to realize that, you know, it was a bit of a cheat putting that track on, but it was A) a snapshot memory of Ollie and also the fun we had rehearsing. But you know why it didn’t go on the first album when you hear it, ‘cause we couldn’t do it with a straight face then.
So, yeah, I think Ollie is the most underrated guitarist in the world and sadly he’s no longer with us. And he died in 1992, I believe. It’s quite nice, actually, in some ways, because towards the end of his life he was living out in Mallorca [or Majorca, a Spanish island] and he’s buried not far...in fact six or eight feet away from Robert Graves, a brilliant English poet. And friends in the neighborhood have, you know, put a little guitar volume knob on his gravestone. And that’s how we like to remember Ollie.
Yeah, we missed him a lot.
Note: The above has been slightly edited.
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