It’s safe to say that many of my greatest passions often intersect each other. Aside from being a music fanatic, I’m a massive anglophile; if it’s British, I probably like it, or at least have some amount of knowledge on the subject. I also enjoy comedy, having been raised on Mel Brooks films, Monty Python, and any number of farcical films from the ’70s and ’80s.
So it makes sense that my interests led me to the work of the Mighty Boosh, a comedy duo (plus others) from England whose surrealist sketches mix impeccably with music, animation, and pure imagination. The pair, Noel Fielding and Julian Barratt, began collaborating in the ’90s as stand-up comics, working their way to a radio show and eventually landing a self-titled BBC Three television series from 2004-2007. The show revolves around the surreal, psychedelic, and often whimsical adventures of Howard Moon (Barratt) and Vince Noir (Fielding). Although the pair, along with costars Rich Fulcher, Dave Brown, and Mike Fielding (Noel’s younger brother), took the UK by storm on a rock-star level, they still maintain cult status in the US. For that reason, I was extremely excited when it was announced that Noel Fielding was embarking on a solo North American tour of his show An Evening with Noel Fielding, which began in early March. I was lucky enough to catch the show during a six-night run at NYC’s Gramercy Theatre, and I can honestly say that I haven’t laughed that hard in a long time.
Before I go off on a tangent about how wonderful the show was, what I really want to discuss is what drew me to the work of Mr. Fielding and The Mighty Boosh in the first place: the music references. For anyone who has ever watched The Mighty Boosh, the number of pop culture influences scattered through the show is enormous, often alluding to musicians or retro-fashion associated with music. Multiple genres from jazz, glam rock, electro, folk, and pure “classic” rock make their way into the show in affectionate, but hilarious parody.
In no particular order, here are 10 times that The Mighty Boosh referenced music!
1) Mick and Keith
The Boosh (as they are affectionately called because it can be tiring to say all three words) make several allusions to the legendary songwriting team of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards. The clip above is from the opening of “Jungle,” featuring Vince busting out his best moves like Jagger. In the episode “Charlie,” Howard requests that Vince “swear on Jagger” as a means of keeping a promise. And in “The Call of the Yeti,” Naboo the Enigma (Mike Fielding) implores Vince to, “…stay punk. Think of Johnny Thunders, Mick and Keith!” to prevent his succumbing to the “hippie nonsense” of the yetis’ song.
2) Ziggy Stardust
David Bowie’s aesthetic is intrinsically part of the persona of Vince Noir throughout the series, from his androgynous face, hair, and outfits to his ability to transform his style from episode to episode. But the most subtle Bowie homage in the series is literally in the background. The episode “Nanageddon” finds Howard and Vince disguising themselves as elderly ladies in order to find a Nana demon at a bingo game. According to DVD commentary, the dark, gloomy streetscape behind them as they wait outside the bingo venue was inspired by the cover of Bowie’s seminal album, The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars. Fielding continues to evoke the spirit of Bowie in his solo work, including a plasticine likeness of Bowie as Jareth from Labyrinth in his current stage show.
3) The Nudie suit
“The Fountain of Youth” finds our heroes looking for the fabled key to eternity, and of course Vince always ventures out into the world (or other worlds) with the hottest fashion. This episode finds the fashionista donning an outfit modeled after suits worn by the late Gram Parsons of The Flying Burrito Brothers. The Booshified Nudie suit (named after designer Nudie Cohn) is glammed up with Fielding’s signature pop-art designs, but still evokes the country-rock style of the legendary Parsons. If truth be told, Vince Noir and Gram Parsons do look like they could be long lost brothers.
The famed music festival finds itself mentioned a few times. The talking gorilla Bollo (Dave Brown) smashes a guitar à la Jimi Hendrix in “Electro” and mystical advice-giver Rudi (Barratt) exists in his own little slice of Woodstock in “Jungle.” The character of Rudi is resurrected and fleshed-out in “The Priest and the Beast” as a musician with his partner Spider (Fielding) searching for the new sound. The episode constantly mentions Carlos Santana (and his namesake band), as the characters are loosely based on his Mexican-American heritage and signature guitar sound. The Who are also mentioned when Spider complains about having had to “clean up” after the festival while The Who left. “I didn’t see Roger Daltrey in no flipping apron!” The episode concludes with a cameo appearance by Daltrey, hoovering the desert as his karmic comeuppance. (Sidenote: It was my Who obsession in college that led a friend to inform me of this episode, thus introducing me to The Mighty Boosh.)
5) The Mods
Speaking of the Who, Mod fashion and style are evoked in “Jungle.” Howard mocks Vince for his feminine style and interest in Mod fashion, stating that his hero and mentor Tommy would have hated him because he was a Rocker and joined in the fights at Brighton in the vein of Quadrophenia. Later, Vince sports his sleekest Mod suit in his attempt to be King of the Mods, which ultimately saves him and Howard from the Mod wolves. The music in this scene, composed by Barratt, is a pastiche of early British Invasion groups through an Austin Powers-esque filter. P.S. Mod wolves love Ben Sherman.
6) The Funk
Perhaps the most well-known episode, “The Legend of Old Gregg” reveals to the world that “The Funk” is not just a music genre, but an actual creature. Old Gregg, a merman with a Rick James vibe, explains to a captive Howard Moon that The Funk is a animal from outer-space that came into possession by Bootsy Collins of Parliament. Other than members of Parliament, Rick Wakeman of Yes fame and The Bee Gees are also mentioned in the fascinating history of this alien muse.
7) Glam Folk
It’s a quick gag, but Vince brings up the unlikely and unsuccessful pairing of two very dissimilar genres, Glam and Folk. A non-sequitur shows us what is seemingly a folk duo singing “Canticle” in the style of Simon and Garfunkel, but it is revealed that they’re wearing KISS-inspired face makeup. The episode concludes with the pair singing a folk-rendition of Judas Priest’s “Breaking the Law” over the credits.”
8) Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk
In the first series episode “Tundra,” Zoo-niverse owner Dixon Bainbridge (Matt Berry) approaches Naboo, asking him if he’s in a trance, to which Naboo answers that he’s listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk. Bainbridge responds with a look of disgust. By the third series, the joke is revived in “Party,” when shaman/squid-creature Tony Harrison (Fielding) argues with fellow shaman Saboo (Richard Ayoade) over playing Tusk at a party. Seems like every fight with a friend over music I’ve ever had, really.
9) Bryan Ferry
“The Hitcher” episode introduces Vince Noir’s apparent backstory, where he reveals that he was “raised in the forests by Bryan Ferry.” Julian Barratt later brings the show’s animated version of the singer to life, characterizing him as being out-of-touch with urban life and modernity in general. Naboo later breaks the fourth wall a bit, poking fun at the poor imitation of Bryan Ferry as played by Barratt by stating that he looks more like Terry Wogan. Bryan Ferry also comes up in Noel Fielding’s Luxury Comedy, represented as having a kite for a head (along with Frisbee Brian Eno).
Vince turns punk in “Journey to the Centre of the Punk,” and even owns a safety pin formerly of punk idol Sid Vicious of The Sex Pistols. Vince must be rescued by Howard when he accidentally ingests a cursed jazz record; jazz is a constant butt of many jokes throughout the series. Howard notes that Vince, “hates jazz, he’s allergic to it. Remember that time he listened Weather Report and his neck went all big.” Naboo suggests that counteracting the jazz with punk might work by playing “a couple Stooges singles, a Ramones boxset,” but ultimately an Inner Space plot ensues to save Vince. Later, to remove Howard’s submarine from Vince’s body, Bollo and Naboo make Vince cry by suggesting that Mick Jagger has gotten bald and fat, and that Iggy Pop “works in a Tesco Metro.” Iggy Pop and Joey Ramone both appear as plasticine figures in Luxury Comedy.
There are many more musical jokes and loving reverences in The Mighty Boosh as well as Noel Fielding’s more recent Luxury Comedy, including Gary Numan, Edgar Winter, Kraftwerk, the Police, and more. If you’re a Boosh fan, tell us your favorite references in the comments!
Noel Fielding concludes his North American tour today, April 9th, in Vancouver. According to suggestions by Fielding on the Nerdist Podcast, a reunion collaboration of some kind between him and Julian Barratt may be in the near future. Fielding is also slated to be the next curator of the Radio 4 series The Museum of Curiosity.
(Cover photo via pbjmanagement.co.uk)