Watch Spinal Tap go toe-to-toe with Jonathan Ross on British prime-time TV

Spinal Tap appear on Tonight with Jonathan Ross in 1992
(Image credit: Channel 4)

Tonight With Jonathan Ross was a thrice-weekly chat show on Channel 4 which ran for two series – or seasons, if you’re American or really like Netflix – between 1990 and 1992.

It was filmed before an audience at The Greenwood Theatre in London, and over the course of its 149-episode tenure, it featured guests such as Bill Hicks, Audrey Hepburn and Nirvana's infamous performance of Territorial Pissings.

Towards the end of the shows' three-year run, Spinal Tap were booked as special guests on Friday, March 27, 1992, alongside boogie woogie practitioner Jools Holland and perpetually nude comedian Malcolm Hardee, "wearing trousers for the very first time on TV". 

"Let me ask you, have you ever rooted through the old sections of your album collection and wonder whatever happened to those great concept bands of the 70s?" began the host. "People like Camel, Curved Air, Budgie, all those great bands. Fantastic stuff! 

"Well tonight, we can put your mind at ease concerning one seminal English rock band. Over that period, we lost track of them as they toured Japan and the far shores of America, but now they're back, reunited and rocking hard. So ladies and gentlemen, dust off your air guitars, dig out those crusty, old, unwashed leather trousers and centre-part your hair and get ready to rock, get ready to rip it up... Please welcome Britain's premier rock gods, Spinal Tap!"

It was a momentous occasion for fans of the troubled trio – who bear a staggering resemblance to the actors Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer –as they'd reunited the year before and released Break Like The Wind, their follow-up to their seminal album This Is Spinal Tap in 1992.

The band were doing the promotional rounds – and who would appear at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at the old Wembley Stadium a few weeks later –and found themselves facing one of the UK's premier chat show hosts to promote their latest offering and reveal the reasons behind their lengthy hiatus. 

It was bassist Derek Smalls who stepped up to mention that he'd spent time performing with a Christian rock band called Lamb's Blood and described the similarities between Christian rock and other non-secular acts.

"There are the same three chords, basically, but they just they just take a slightly different position towards the supreme evil one," he noted sagely. 

Ross, never one to shy away from difficult lines of questioning, broached the subject of the band's bad luck with drummers. The band had recently auditioned some young hopefuls, including The Go-Go's Gina Schock,  Jane's Addiction's Stephen Perkins and Fleetwood Mac's Mick Fleetwood, who performed in a protective silver suit under the baking Californian sun.

Fleetwood – who was unsuccessful in his attempts to join the band – was interviewed by a satellite link-up from his home in Los Angeles. 

"I was most disappointed," said the drummer. "I took a lot of prep work, as you can see and the Tap, for whatever reasons, didn't give me the gig as of the moment, but I'm still hoping..." 

You know that we love you, right?" offered flaxen-haired frontman David St. Hubbins. "It's just you didn't deliver that day, love. I'm sorry."

"The asbestos suit probably you know slowed you down a bit," added Smalls.

"I practiced for days with the suit," Fleetwood explained, "hoping that would be a good thing for the Tap, meaning they they would have me around for a while and maybe not lose another drummer so quick, but I'm disappointed and I've gone on to other things."

Following the awkward conversation, the band took to the stage to perform their single Bitch School.

"It's about dog training," St. Hubbins offered.

Watch Spinal Tap's glitch-free performance and the full interview below.

Simon Young

Born in 1976 in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Simon Young has been a music journalist for over twenty years. His fanzine, Hit A Guy With Glasses, enjoyed a one-issue run before he secured a job at Kerrang! in 1999. His writing has also appeared in Classic RockMetal HammerProg, and Planet Rock. His first book, So Much For The 30 Year Plan: Therapy? — The Authorised Biography is available via Jawbone Press.