Anthony 'Bubs' White – a tribute
I heard on Saturday that Bubs White had died in hospital, in Coventry.
Originally from Cambridge, Bubs was a formidable guitarist, with a long and distinguished playing career by the time we met. He was also, in those days, 22 stone with long hair and a droopy, rather mournful looking, moustache.
We were introduced by Viv Stanshall – Bubs had been playing in bands with various of the Bonzos for over a year by then. He and I toured together in Bonzo Dog Freaks in early 1971 – the band had a variable line-up, but Bubs and I had major roles to play alongside Viv and Neil Innes; Bubs was the Princess Fatima in a long white dress, and I was Dirk Thrust, the Prince of Prong.
There is a curious entry in Ken Garner’s book on the John Peel sessions that shows a Top Gear recording on 2nd March 1971, with a band comprising Viv and Neil, Bubs and me, Dennis Cowan (bass) and Keith Moon (drums), assisted by Gaspar Lawal and Shamsi Sarumi on a variety of African drums. It is listed under the name Freaks, and that’s one session I’d love to hear again!
Later that year Bubs and I were both involved in the recording of the last official Bonzo Dog Band album, Let’s Make Up And Be Friendly. The Bonzos were actually the very first band to record at the Manor, Richard Branson’s newly opened residential facility at Shipton-on-Cherwell, near Oxford. We shared studio time with a shifty fellow, who went into the studio during the hours that we weren’t using it. Turned out to be Mike Oldfield, who was just beginning to record Tubular Bells. And he certainly shifted some records when it was released, featuring Vivian’s signature introduction of the orchestra on the way!
Anyway, Bubs played brilliantly on the Bonzos record. He could rock (The Strain), and he could be intricate (Rawlinson End). With his curious image, he was absolutely perfect as a Bonzo, and he worked tirelessly on Roger Ruskin Spear’s Waiting For The Wardrobe, as well as ‘Legs’ Larry Smith’s Rusty.
There are plenty of stories. Vivian had recruited Bubs at a time when he was constantly on the look-out for unusual looking musicians to work with. Many times he would go up to some unfortunate he saw in the street (missing limbs, or a good twitch were favourites) with a cheery “I say, do you play bass guitar?” He would even call out from my minivan as we drove past.
One afternoon I was round at Viv’s house in East Finchley when Bubs was outside in the garden. Remember, Bubs was at his most rotund back then. We both heard sounds of distress from the poor fellow, and when we asked what the matter was, Bubs wailed “It’s a wasp!” “Well if I hear a bang, I’ll know it’s got you,” was Viv’s cheerfully unsympathetic reply.
I ran into Bubs a few times after that. He was occasionally involved with Viv’s Radio Flashes later in the 70s, as I was sometimes.
We remet in 2006, when Angela Hallam (Mascot Designer and Artist), who had got to know him in Coventry, persuaded a reluctant Bubs to come and see Neil and I with the Rutles, at Birmingham’s Glee Club. He had lost so much weight I wouldn’t have recognised him in the street, but it was a delight for us to see him again.
Bubs studied for a university degree in Pure Maths at Warwick in the early 80s, and later largely turned his back on music, save for a long musical relationship with Rob Armstrong, working in Rob’s studio. He had become a computer programmer in later years, and if he was half as good at that as he was on guitar, he’d have been a damn good one.
I know everything has its time, but I’m heartsore this year, at the loss of such great people.