Is Vivian Stanshall's Sir Henry... the best prog album you've never heard?
Making the case for Vivian Stanshall's classic album Sir Henry At Rawlinson End and its place within the prog canon
The story so far: English as tuppence, as changeless as canal water, towered and turreted Rawlinson End nuzzles in damp and downy vales. Squatting o’er his suppurating piles, avast Sir Henry: feudal reactionary stuck-in-the-muddle ages, gleefully unloading lead-shot into the arse of progress. All inhuman life lies in this surreal recording from the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band founder and Tubular Bells narrator.
Enter its rusticated portals to the querulous strains of Great Aunt Florrie singing, ‘How nice to be in England.’ Her jingoistic nostrils flare as she enumerates the ill-bred pleasures of the ruling class, pinking the python, abusing the bishop and buggering Boudica in a wheelbarrow. If there was a Churchillian god in heaven, this would have been adopted as our national anthem and watermelons would be the only fruit.
That groaning crone-cum-housekeeper, Mrs E – a martyr to dropped ’aitches – jabbers through a ditty called Socks. It’s a slice of strife and tribulation that marks her out as the undisputed godmother of kitchen-table rap and deathless prose. ‘A good bit o’ muck never did folks any ’arm,’ she insists. Try telling that to Lady Chatterley!
More sinned against than sinning, Hubert – the feckless, odd-socked crackpot brother of Sir H – wistfully delivers his Rub-A-Dub soliloquy, sotto voce, while lying naked on the lawn imitating a sundial. Ah, behold Lobelia, he follows his cock-a-doddle bent unabashed and there’s The Rub. How sweet to be an idiot.
Messrs Nice ‘N’ Tidy – the simpering fol-de-rol of two resting thespians turned domestic chars – chorusing in unison as they Brasso the aristocratic knobs and knockers and buff up the family jewels. Yith. Nancy boys do knit nithly.
Gingerly wigged smart-aleck Smeeton espouses his eponymous poesy. He of the gadfly mind mimics Mary Shelley in a game of word association football while drawing witticisms from his wellspring of useless facts.
Old Scrotum, the wrinkled retainer, belches out Fool & Bladder: an ale-quaffers roundelay inciting village maidens to unlace their grommets and disport among the sheaves while inflamed swains push against the grain.
Unleashing The Beasht Inshid, Sir Henry champions the virtues of the family motto ‘omnes blotto oblivioso’ as he cracks opens another bottle of philosophy. Brutally neutered and drunkenly skunked he rides bare-back the fur-tongued hounds of Hades. Barking at the mandrake in the moon, he toasts Sir Rhosis of the Liver. ‘It’s a novel way to commit suicide,’ bellows Sir Henry from behind the bars of his self-made asylum.
Anyone for Rawlinson End, the musical?