“Forbidden Fruit”: The Blow Monkeys were not simians in trees doing crass things with bananas

By on July 25, 2018

In this vintage 1993 episode from Night Flight’s syndication era, show host Tom Juarez offers up inane & insane filmic evidence that our “off the wall” wackiness was continuing into the next decade.

The episode features cuckoo-for-cocoa-puffs music videos by the Residents, the Untouchables, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Divine, Frank Zappa, Talking Heads and much more, including the Blow Monkeys’ “Forbidden Fruit,” which is pretty memorable because the whole damn thing only goes in reverse.

Watch “Night Flight Goes Off the Wall” now on Night Flight Plus.

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The video was lensed on the beaches of England’s Southern Coast.

According to what lead singer Dr. Robert told Billboard (“Video Track,” December 28, 1985), he’s supposed to be a “cross between Norman Wisdom [the British comedian] and Elvis Presley.”

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Directed by John Scarlett-Davies, “Forbidden Fruit” memorably features the band members having a typical beach party, and veryone is seen doing exactly what you’d expect to see them doing at a beach party in Merry Ol’ England: building sand castles, playing leap-frog and cricket, dancing ’round a bonfire, etc.

The band are seen wearing suits and ties while their friends — including the lovely skinny-legged dark-haired model Dr. Robert cavorts with on the sand and in the sea — wear typical beachwear.

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Scarlett-Davies — who also directed videos by Aztec Camera, Icehouse, Erasure, Scritti Politti, the Alarm and many others — apparently didn’t care much for the work of his fellow music video directors back in 1984.

In Rob Tannenbaum and Craig Marks’ I Want My MTV: The Uncensored Story of the Music Video Revolution he’s quoted as calling their videos “masturbation fantasies for middle America.”

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The quote is from an interview he did with Now in October 1984:

“I think most pop promos are blatantly sexist, which I find incredibly offensive. They’re just masturbation fantasies for middle America. They just sit there with their cans of beer, tossing off while all these scantily-clad girls do this and that with their big electric guitars like prick extensions. Most pop promos are just fifth rate imagery that’s copied from someone who’s copied from someone who’s copied from someone who’s read a coffee table book on Magritte and probably seen a few film noirs.”

Read more about the Blow Monkeys below.

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“Being goofy is kinda like being rich,” says Tom Juarez in his introduction to the band’s video. “There’s always someone goofier or richer. Unless you’re Ross Perot. Which reminds me, didn’t his first name used to be ‘H’?”

“As wacky as Ross might be, at least he never started a blue-eyed soul band. Now, let’s just say for argument’s sake, you were going to start a blue-eyed soul band, and you wanted to be taken seriously. What’s the stupidest name you can think of? Something so moronic yet undeniably vulgar, that it immediately conjured up images of simians in trees doing crass things with bananas. I mean, perhaps like, Blow Monkeys? Classy moniker, huh? Well, we don’t name the bands, we only broadcast them.”

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The Blow Monkeys — vocalist/guitarist Bruce Robert Howard (“Dr. Robert”), saxophonist Neville Henry, bassist Mick Anker and drummer Tony Kiley — formed in London in 1981.

Their name came from a racist Australian term Dr. Robert had heard as a teenager, living in Darwin, Australia.

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He’d been playing acoustic guitar with a couple of aborigines who were blowing into didgeridoos, those long Eucalyptus pipes which sound like a bass trombones.

Locals called them “Blow Monkeys,” which Dr. Robert thought was actually a pretty good name for a band.

Dr. Robert earned his nickname because he was seen as a sympathetic listener in his boarding school.

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Dr. Robert met the rest of the band through “musician wanted” ads in Melody Maker.

They ultimately signed with RCA’s Ariola Records, who released their debut album, Limping for a Generation, in 1984.

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Sales for the glammy, post-punk Limping for a Generation were modest, but RCA saw their great potential and paired them up with record producers who polished up their sound.

They’d emerged in the post-Boy George British pop era, right at New Wave was cresting, and were often lumped in with that movement, but as they continued, Dr. Robert and his band ended up creating sophisticated soulful melodic pop, which ultimately led to a new neologism being created for them: “sophistipop.”

Their 1985 single “Forbidden Fruit” — released almost a year before it appeared on their second album, 1986’s Animal Magic — introduced their new, confident, R&B-rich sound.

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Although they hadn’t started off to be a controversial band, Dr. Robert’s left-leaning political opinion occasionally got the band into some hot water with their label.

Sales of Animal Magic were boosted by another of its singles, “Digging Your Scene” — #12 UK/#14 US in August 1986 — which was spurned by something Dr. Robert had read that Donna Summer had said, about AIDS being God’s revenge on homosexuals (even though he was a heterosexual, he disagreed with Summers and penned the song in solidarity with the gay community).

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They also got into trouble with their anti-Margaret Thatcher anthem “Celebrate (The Day After You),” which was banned by the BBC in 1987.

Within just a few years, and after five albums and a few more minor hits — including their remake of Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me” for the Dirty Dancing soundtrack, which ended up at #1 on the U.S. album charts for eighteen weeks — the band ultimately called it a day in late 1990.

Watch “Night Flight Goes Off the Wall” now on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.