Rowland Rivron Interview by Catriona Reeves

IF you were going to put together a supergroup dedicated to the craft of the comic song, you couldn’t do much better than the line-up of The Idiot Bastard Band which brings together the legendary Neil Innes with Ade Edmondson, Phill Jupitus and Rowland Rivron. Catriona Reeves spoke to drummer Rivron about anarchic live rehearsals, winning Let’s Dance For Comic Relief, and his pert behind (circa 1989)

Louder Than War: The Idiot Bastard Band has a pretty eclectic line-up – how did you get together?

Rowland Rivron: Ade and Phill were on the road with Neil on the Bonzos reunion tour [Innes was a pivotal member of anarchic avant-garde outfit The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band in the 1960s], and the topic of original numbers came up, and that it would be fun to play them live.

I was brought on board as drummer, but rather than sitting in a rehearsal room together, we booked a month of Mondays in a pub back room in London, charged people a fiver to come along, and basically rehearsed in public and got a set together. The more seriously we took it, the more songs we added to the set, although we still like to bring new numbers every day to maintain a certain air of unprofessionalism.

All the other three bring songs to the table – well, Neil brings about 4,000 – although we’re hoping to use the opportunity of the five-week tour to compose some together as we travel the country in a people carrier.

Because we’re never rehearsed, only ever played live; during two short residencies and then at sporadic gigs and festivals, songs are recorded individually and then sent via iPhone for everyone to learn. That means that the first time we play a song on stage, that’s the first time we’ve ever actually played it together in the same room.

Louder Than War: Isn’t the lack of rehearsals a bit risky?

Rowland Rivron: It’s organised chaos; we’re all pretty good musicians and can hold a tune. Probably my favourite gig with the band was at the Bingley Music Live festival over the summer; the sun shone, we hadn’t rehearsed but it sounded great, and we went out for a lovely meal afterwards. I could have happily died that night.

Louder Than War: Your songs include Phill’s ballad about a disastrous support slot on tour with Madness, Neil’s Mexicana take on the love triangle, and Ade’s song about being pissed outside your front door at 4am. Do you perform covers as well as original songs?

Rowland Rivron: It’s probably now about a 60-40 split between originals and covers that we’re all mutually in awe of: there are Bonzo songs of course; Jake Thackeray, Flight of the Conchords, and even the Arctic Monkeys – Don’t Sit Down ‘Cause I’ve Moved Your Chair.

Probably my favourite is a novelty song from the 1950s called Transfusion [by Nervous Norvus, about a driver who keeps crashing, receiving a blood transfusion after each accident. [Really – it’s hilarious]. I enjoy making the car crash noises – I do them differently every time; often drawing odd looks from the rest of the band. And then it’s wonderful playing Urban Spaceman [the Bonzos biggest hit from 1968] just because of its legacy.

It’s four people singing from the same hymn book – although there are no hymns, unless something goes wrong. As soon as you hear a hymn, it’s time to get out of there.

Louder Than War: Do you think the band’s name might cause you some trouble on tour?

Rowland Rivron: Ade came up with the name; probably to ruffle feathers, but we stuck with it, although it’s probably less of a good idea now we’re taking the band on tour. “Bastard” isn’t that rude a word though, is it? Venues can always star it out if needs be. I think “bastard” needs to be re-established as a legitimate term. As it were.

Louder Than War: You’ve had a pretty varied career, with the drums and without – do you consider yourself a musician, comedian, or a bit of both?

Rowland Rivron: I wouldn’t class myself as a comedian – I’m just the idiot in the band. Ade and Phill are the bastards, and Neil is the “band”. He’s such a proficient musician. I watch in awe as he plays, especially when we do Urban Spaceman. I think it’s a beautiful relief for Ade to be in a band where he’s not the only centre of attention [unlike with his folk band, The Bad Shepherds]. It’s like you’re getting four entertainers for the price of one.

I wouldn’t want to be a “comedian” as such. It’s an odd thing, but with comedy you constantly have to come up with something new, as people don’t want to hear the same joke twice, whereas with music, you can hawk round the same stuff for years, and people still want to hear it.

Music was the first thing that I wanted to do; and by the time I should have been doing my A-levels, I was doing it. When I was 14 I learnt the drums, and by 17 I was the house drummer at the Blitz Club [London birthplace of the New Romantic scene]. Everything since then has just been luck.

Louder Than War: You’re a stalwart audience member/interviewee during Jools Holland’s annual New Year’s Eve Hootenanny – do you enjoy it as much as you appear to?

Rowland Rivron: I attended all 19 Hootenanny up until last year, just because it was being recorded in Newcastle while Jools was on tour, and I couldn’t make it. It’s recorded about three weeks before New Year, but it’s a shame not to get into the spirit.

Hootenanny is like a taster menu – it’s good to see the various acts, but at the end the production team say “right, we’ve just got to do a few pick-ups”, and that often involves a band performing an entire song all over again. It often takes about three to four hours to record, and once you’ve heard a song three times in the same evening, it can be hard to keep smiling. I do it for Jools, though. And the country. I’m dedicated to my performance.

Louder Than War: You’re nigh on a household name after winning the latest series of Let’s Dance For Comic Relief in March, dancing to Fatboy Slim’s Weapon Of Choice rather impressively. Would you consider it a career highlight?

Rowland Rivron: I know – I only went and won the blood competition! That wasn’t meant to happen! I was only recruited as the reserve, to stand by if anyone had to drop out. They finally let me perform in the last heat, and amazingly I stormed through, then won the final!

The chair move [where he walked over it, flipping it to the ground] was something that I used to do in my youth in wine bars in Hampstead, when slightly inebriated. The choreographer was over the moon when he saw I could do it. I was also proud of mastering the spinning luggage trolley. We got through a few different trolleys until we found one that would move in the right way.

I do consider it a career highlight, as there are few things in life that I have won. I’ve currently got the cup, until it goes to the next winner – it’s at the side of my bed and I use it as a spittoon.

Louder Than War: Lastly, I have to disclose to you that yours is the first naked bottom that I ever saw on TV [in the 1989 comedy series] The Groovy Fellers, and the image has rather stayed with me ever since…

Rowland Rivron: Oh goodness, I hope it hasn’t scarred you too much! Actually, it was rather a pert bottom back in those days. Hopefully it turned you towards a long and fruitful enjoyment of men’s bottoms.

Just think, you’re talking to the man who is sitting on that very bottom right now. Probably best if that’s the nearest you get to it….

The Idiot Bastard Band start their 20-date UK tour in Buxton on November 1, ending in Southampton on December 9. Tickets for all dates are available from or on the bands Facebook page.

All words Catriona Reeves. More posts on Louder Than War by Catriona can be found here. Catriona also blogs from The Smudge & tweets as @MsStrophe.

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