Category Archives: Music

The Instant Monty Python CD Collection (1994)

“The Instant Monty Python CD Collection”
Released by Virgin Records
6-CD set released 1997

Not simply a CD release of “The Monty Python Instant Record Collection.” Instead, “The Instant Monty Python CD Collection” is a box set containing CDs of the albums “Another Monty Python Record,” “Monty Python’s Previous Record,” “Matching Tie and Handkerchief,” “Live at Drury Lane,” “The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” “Contractual Obligation Album,” “Life of Brian,” and “The Meaning of Life” – eight albums squished onto six compact discs.

Each CD is contained in a jewel case within an oversized box. Also includes a 40-page booklet. 

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Another Monty Python Record (1971)

Although acknowledging the BBC release by it’s very title, ‘Another Monty Python Record’ was undoubtedly a new beginning for the Pythons. It was Charisma Records that made them the offer they really couldn’t refuse. The company had been established by Tony Stratton-Smith in 1969, the same year ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ was first screened on the BBC.

The Pythons had a file of sketches that were familiar from the second television series over the Autumn of 1970 and these were utilised when ‘Another Monty Python Record’ was recorded in 1971. Resurrecting familiar favourites like the Spanish Inquisition, the Camp Judges, Spam and Contradictions, in some cases the album represents the definitive version. The Undertaker sketch, that monument to bad taste, was stripped of the feigned cries of audience disgust that the BBC had insisted on to mask the most offensive dialogue. Here Graham Chapman can let rip on the boundary-pushing notion of eating the dead mother of John Cleese, although even the Pythons reined themselves in to an extent, Graham’s pepperpot still screaming: “Intercourse the penguin!” for example. Still, there were distinct signs of liberation.

The team certainly embraced the recording medium and started using it in decidedly Pythonesque ways. Terry Gilliam’s striking cover artwork, as was his wont, hungrily seized upon the readily available, rather bland, pastel packaging of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in D Major and simply scribbled over that. Adding ‘Another Monty Python Record’ in scrawled black crayon. The crossed out liner notes for the Beethoven recording took a decidedly Pythonesque route too, with information concerning Ludwig’s remarkable prowess on the tennis court. Moreover, the makeshift notes on the Pythons themselves profess to having been written by 1930s Conservative Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin. In addition, the record followed the precedent of ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band’ and included an array of pull-out material, including instructions and plays for interaction with the How To Be An Actor sketch.

Most importantly of all, the record played with the conventions of the recording studio, just as ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ played with the conventions of the television studio. Erroneous extracts from ‘Pleasures of the Dance: A Collection of Norwegian Carpenters’ Songs’, an apology for the mistake, a burst of the ‘Liberty Bell’ theme tune, even another apology interrupting a sketch. It’s all the very essence of Python. Even the foibles of records themselves are mocked. At the close of side one, bovver boy Michael Palin, working on behalf of the Pirahna brothers, brings the Ethel the Frog section to a close with: “Sorry, Squire. I scratched the record…” which, on vinyl, skips over and over again into infinity. Even the foibles of records themselves are mocked.

Side two begins with Eric Idle’s clipped: “…ard Heath…” No matter how many times you pull the needle back to the start of the groove Eric never will say Edward Heath. You did hear a bit more of Eric, not to mention a bit more of the others, on the American version of the record. “Selling it to Neil Bogarde’s Buddha Records” was Strat’s greatest achievement, Eric insists. “It paved the way for success in America. When we first went to California they didn’t know we were a TV show as they had only heard the recordings”.

New links, longer edits of Spanish Inquisition and Gumby Theatre, as well as complete extra sketches (Penguin on the Television and World Forum), featured on that Buddha Records release which appeared in 1972. Python completists will be relieved to know that it is this version, nearly nine minutes longer than the original UK release, that has been the one officially recognised since Virgin Records acquired the back catalogue of Charisma Records in 1986. Even though World Forum does date the recording by containing the only joke dented by the passage of time. A Charisma single was also released to promote the album. This utilised the Royal Festival Hall sketch and an edit of Spam, distilled to the briefest of snatches of the Fred Tomlinson Singers Spam chant.

“Putting that record together took up so much of our time,” Terry J. confirms. “We would record hours and hours of material and nobody was making notes. We ended up surrounded by mountains of tapes with no idea where anything was. By the time we had finally finished it, it had cost Charisma Records something like £50,000. Five times what it should have done!”

Bonus Material

All four tracks were recorded in 1980 during the sprawling sessions for ‘Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album’, the last Python record released on the Charisma label. Treadmill Lager, with Michael Palin’s eager to please religious authority figure in the voice-over studio, does actually appear on the album as The Bishop. It is included here as a precursor to Bishop at Home, an extension of the Bishop sketch which sadly didn’t make the cull. Here we meet the Bishop’s wife, Rebecca, played by Terry Jones. Who else? Graham Chapman presides over the Court Room sketch, while Freelance Undertaker has relentless door-to-door salesman Eric Idle door stepping Terry J. Both sketches remained in the vaults until the Special Edition Monty Python albums were assembled by Virgin/EMI in 2006.

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Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1970)

The very first series of ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ had come to the end of its original run just four months before the BBC rushed this album into production. So early in the history of Python is it that on the record’s original release Terry Gilliam wasn’t even credited as a member of the team. Despite designing the iconic cover artwork and even cropping up as an extremely camp unwanted guest in the Visitors sketch, it was a five man outfit back then. The one woman, Carol Cleveland, is reassuringly on hand to be shocked, seductive or sedate as and when required.

The album was produced by the overseer of the television series Ian McNaughton and became something of a ‘lost’ Python album. Re-released as ‘The Worst of Monty Python’ as part of the Audio Visual International range in 1985, even the BBC seemed to forget exactly what it was. Although it would be dusted down for a release on compact disc, it was marketed and packaged as simply a collection of “the very best of the BBC TV series”. It is that, undeniably, but far more than just a compilation of favourite sketches lifted from the television soundtracks, this was recorded especially for BBC Records. As Michael Palin remembers: “Someone at the BBC obviously thought there was a market in us getting together to record some of the old sketches. Actually, they wouldn’t have been (+i)that(-i) old then. Everything is from the first series of ‘Python’. We would have been working on the second series at that time. All of us were gathered together at the Camden Palace Theatre and recorded it in a day. It took us about three hours to get everything recorded and then the BBC engineers tidied up the tapes and released it”.

The day in question was 2nd May 1970 and for this special, inaugural Monty Python album the BBC had invited a studio audience. They weren’t the most animated of audiences and certainly took a little time to warm up. Indeed, the very first sketch only gets the occasional laugh. Flying Sheep, incidentally the very first sketch the team had performed for a television audience too, again has farmer Graham Chapman discussing his sheep problem with amazed passerby Terry Jones. Still, Graham’s pay-off line is followed by complete silence. He does better in The Mouse Problem. The audience seem to have finally got the rhythm of the humour and fully appreciate his repeated: “I know I have!” It’s just a pity that the BBC couldn’t spell his name right on the record cover. He was originally billed as Grahame Chapman.

The BBC also erred with the recording too. The Pythons had been reassured that the session would be recorded in stereo. In the event, it was recorded and released in mono. This made the scripted material where Graham demonstrates the stereo recording system completely redundant, but he performed it anyway. It was a very Python coup.

“Everything at the BBC was done on a dreadful shoestring,” maintains John Cleese. “I remember we were filming in the early days of Python and I had been hanging around all day. In the end all that was seen of me on screen was my right shoulder! I said to Ian: ‘Look, can’t we get a stand-in or an extra to do this sort of thing?’ and Ian said: ‘Oh no. An extra would cost thirty pounds a day. You only cost us ten!’ That was the BBC.”

It would be Ian McNaughton who would direct the team’s first feature film at the end of 1970. Indeed, ‘And Now For Something Completely Different’ would revisit many of the sketches recorded for this album. The two projects are very much companion pieces and invaluable indicators of things to come. The first film basked in re-heated old sketches while tentatively playing with the conventions of cinema, something that the Pythons’ subsequent films would really rejoice in. Similarly, while the later Python records would easily over-shadow their first, it is clear that the team are parading familiar material but in a gleeful way that is already twisting the conventions of the long playing record.

At its most obvious, Terry J. sets up material with a knowing: “Good morning, is this the Barbers Shop sketch?” On the same track John provides a running commentary on the visual action lost to the listener at home. More importantly, the team are already making the record a unique experience. The BBC may be throwing it together, the Pythons clearly are not. It is purposely written and performed not for the crowd at the Camden Palace theatre but for the people who will purchase it. John Cleese mutters, “End of side one” and, once the listener has turned the album over, Eric acknowledges John as the chap who interviewed Sir Edward Ross on the other side.

Later John begins to complain about his deceased Norwegian Blue to Graham’s military officer who gruffly advises: “You want the pet shop on the next track!” The relentless joke that this is merely a record you are listening to and that the said record has restrictions and codes that need mocking is reinforced by Terry J. as a British Railways employee who explains: “it’s not easy to pad these records out to 30 minutes you know…”. The laughter that the Parrot sketch engenders is almost at fever pitch. Well, as fevered as this audience got.

While the Pythons are actively tackling the limitless fun of sound recording, the BBC engineers seem to be treating it more like a simple radio show. Indeed, just before the BBC finally sold the Camden Palace theatre in 1972 they recorded ‘The Last Goon Show of All’ there. This Python record utilises sound effects that are very reminiscent of Goon Shows of the past. In particular, the coughing cat in the Interesting People sketch has a decidedly Goonish feel to it. Harry Morris was the man in charge of them. His mindset was that comedy meant silly sounds, musical stings and speeded-up voices. It’s funny but uninspired. Conventional but not Python.

Despite the limitations of BBC Records this is a tight and technically savvy first attempt to distil the aural insanity of Monty Python for the turntable. For John Cleese: “it’s a perfectly adequate record of what we were doing at the BBC at that time.”

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Monty Python’s Previous Record (1972)

Charisma Records were keen to produce a second Monty Python album, and to that end the team sorted out a selection of favoured sketches for recording. The majority of these had been written and performed for the third and final series of ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’, broadcast at the end of 1972.

Classic television Python, destined for ‘Monty Python’s Previous Record’ including John’s lupin-obsessed highwayman, Dennis Moore, Eric’s wealth-obsessed host of ‘The Money Programme’ and Mike’s customer service-obsessed client in the Argument Clinic. The Happy Valley Fairy Tale had originally been written for ‘Monty Python’s Fliegender Zirkus’, a special episode for German television. This particular sketch, as far as the record version was concerned, also allowed a Python to utter the ultimate swear word for the first time. The honour went to Terry Jones who screams: “because she’s a fucking Princess, that’s why!” Eric Idle too was able to fly in the face of BBC restrictions. His holiday-maker with the inability to say the letter ‘C’ casually admits that’s he’s a “silly bunt!” Although included in the television sketch, the line was cut at the insistence of the BBC and just the raucous laughter of the studio audience was left as evidence.

As with ‘Another Monty Python Record’ the very nature of vinyl is all part of the joke. The very first thing you hear is Terry J. screaming “Not this record!” several times, before the needle is thankfully scratched away from his manic ranting. Once again, side one ends with Mike signalling that it’s now time to flip your platter. Here it is in reaction to Eric’s relentless holidaymaker sharing his never-ending gripes about the perils of package holidays. Mike’s anguished “For God’s sake, take it off!” brings relief as the needle is forcefully removed from the groove.

However, one technique was even beyond the expertise of Andre Jacquemin. For the time being, at least. “We tried to have three grooves on one side of the record, so depending on where your needle landed you would have got one of three different sections of Python. This is why Graham says ‘And now a massage from the Swedish Prime Minister’ three times. That was to add to the confusion. You were supposed to hear that, then one of three alternative grooves. We just couldn’t make it work. The three grooves ran into each other towards the middle of the record, so we decided to just join them up. The massage from the Swedish Prime Minister is the indicator as to where each of the three grooves would have started”.

Still, away from all these attempts at studio wizardry, the entire soundscape is richer than before. For the first time, Python material is funnier because of the recorded medium. The Wonderful World of Sound couldn’t work any better. Neither could the embarrassing noises with Carol Cleveland’s saucy “I’ve got something to show you” driven home with the enticing ‘Zip. Thud. Thud. Roll’ that follows.

Bonus Material

The majority of the sketches included here were recorded during the elephantine session for ‘Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album’ in 1980. Produced by Eric Idle, the album leaned toward musical numbers resulted in great swathes of sketch material being jettisoned. Baxter’s finds John Cleese, as a senior government minister, in the commercial voice-over studio. Mortuary Visit has a tolerant Graham Chapman guide Michael Palin’s staggeringly dim dignitary. Graham’s Flying Fox of the Yard is a memorable shade from the past, mocking the very structure of comedy itself. Four sketches (Meteorology, Blood, Devastation, War & Horror, The Great Debate and Is There?) also nostalgically hark back to ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ and its deconstruction of the television discussion programme. Meteorology was a particular loss to ‘Contractual Obligation’, with Terry Jones’s faintly condescending interviewer chuckling to himself at John Cleese’s calm and reasonable scientific explanation. Teach Yourself Heath, in which Eric Idle offers instruction on how to sound like the then Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath, was included on a bonus flexidisc with the initial pressings of ‘Monty Python’s Previous Record’. It was also given away free with the December 1972 issue of ‘Zigzag’ magazine. This bonus selection concludes with three radio adverts for ‘Monty Python’s Big Red Book’, first published by Eyre Methuen in 1971.

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The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief (1973)

The team’s fourth album in as many years is undoubtedly their most technically assured. It was also the most elaborately packaged. The original pressings featured a sturdy outer sleeve and a pull out inner sleeve with liner notes and the eye-catching, brashly colourful illustration of the tie and handkerchief itself. This was, quite naturally, visible through the cut-out in the outer sleeve. However, once pulled out one saw that the tie and handkerchief were actually tied around the neck of a poor chap swinging on the gallows. There was also an additional green insert showing the, now deceased, chap having his tie and handkerchief inspected by an on-looker. The credits for the recording and some helpful background information on Mediaeval farming were also included. And all this before you even played the record. It was the unmistakable work of Terry Gilliam and is arguably his most ambitious and satisfying of all the Python cover designs.

The actual recorded material was a tad more ambitious than before too. There was far less reliance on television sketches for one thing. Although several familiar favourites from series three are in, including the Church Police, Oscar Wilde and the ultimate in sustained list comedy, the Cheese Emporium. There’s even a throwback to series two with the boozy Australians, all called Bruce. The classic song, much performed by the team on stage over the years, was an extension from the television original and was written and recorded especially for the album.

The record was recorded in Andre Jacquemin’s parents’ back garden, in their shed. Michael Palin has fond memories of the bespoke studio: “I have this wonderful image in my head of all of us cramped into this shed in Finchley and John Cleese sat on a stone outside in the ornamental garden, with a cup of tea in one hand and a slice of Andre’s Mum’s homemade lemon drizzle cake in the other. He would sit there just waiting for us to call him in to do a silly voice. Then he would go back to his tea and cake”.

“As a group we trusted one another to take control over a particular project, be it book, film or record,” says John. “I didn’t tend to get involved in the organisation side of things. I was more than happy to turn up, record my bits and go home”.

The designated Python for ‘Monty Python’s Matching Tie and Handkerchief’ was Terry Gilliam. Andre Jacquemin vividly recalls those halcyon days of September 1973. “Terry and I would be listening back to tracks and making edits, while my writing partner, Dave Howman, would be helping put effects together. We would be working late into the night.

“It was all so very Python,” maintains Michael Palin. “Lovely, Indian Summer weather. Cups of tea in the garden between takes. A real cottage industry, well garden shed industry really.”

From the ridiculous to the sublime, it was at Abbey Road Studios that the major technical breakthrough was achieved. “We were cutting the album there,” Andre Jacquemin remembers. “Our recording engineer was George Peckham. He had been there for years and had worked on all the Beatles albums. Quite simply, he was the best. Together, we finally succeeded in making two grooves on one side of the record work”. The ambitious attempt at running three separate concurrent grooves had defeated them during the making of ‘Monty Python’s Previous Record’, but now Andre had found the solution. “The only way that it could be achieved was by making each groove’s running time slightly shorter. We had to settle with just two grooves but that way they wouldn’t run into each other toward the centre of the record”. As a result each groove lasted about eight minutes. Some customers complained that one side of the album was a con, lasting half the length of the other side! To add to the confusion, each side was labeled Side 2. “We were delighted with it”, remembers Terry Jones. “In theory you could play that side four, five, six times and always hit the same groove. Then, one day, you’d play it and it would be something completely different, to coin a phrase!” Michael Palin adds: “We had these visions of stoned fans, of which there were a lot in the early ’70s, having the shock of their lives when brand new material was playing on a record they had had for months. Some people thought there was an alternative version because they would hear talk of these mysterious sketches that they had never heard on their record. It drove people mad. This was precisely why we did it, of course”.

It was the first commercial long-playing record ever to do it and it wasn’t easy. For full listening pleasure, the alternative groove starts with John Cleese’s molly-coddled Minister for Overseas Development and his encounter with that nice Mrs. Niggerbaiter.

Bonus Material

Another invaluable selection of sketches recorded during the 1980 sessions for ‘Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album’. Psychopath pits Graham Chapman and John Cleese as beleaguered victim and moronic thug, while Radio Shop features the slightly mad Graham haranguing assistant Terry Jones. Due to the limited space of a long-playing record and the team’s preference for focusing on comedy songs for the album, both sketches were dropped. There wasn’t even a place for Michael Palin’s flustered sports commentator desperately battling with a temperamental Teleprompter: “Not a result, it’s a thought!”

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Monty Python Live at Drury Lane (1974)

‘Monty Python’s First Farewell Tour’ took the United Kingdom by storm in the Spring of 1973 and then invaded Canada that Summer, before returning triumphantly to London for the Drury Lane shows. The planned run of two weeks was hastily extended to the month of March, 1974. The show was even given the Royal seal of approval, Python style at least. The Royal box was always occupied by a dummy Princess Margaret.

For Terry Jones: “it was the nearest that any of us ever got to having a proper job. We would kiss our wives goodbye, work the night shift in the theatre, get roaring drunk afterwards, roll home and then do it all over again the following day”.

This recording captures the very last night of the run. It is a particularly vocal audience enjoying the well-oiled machine of sketch comedy. Classics like Nudge, Nudge and The Argument Clinic are greeted like old, familiar friends. That’s precisely what they were. There are few concessions to the recorded medium, although Charisma boss Tony Stratton-Smith does get a name-check in the Election Special sketch. As does James Gilbert, then the Head of Comedy at the BBC. Things had clearly changed though. Although six episodes of ‘Monty Python’ would be broadcast by the Corporation in the Autumn of 1974, the team had matured via both repetitive live performances of the sketches and the freedom that Charisma Records had given them. And not by way of the fact that John Cleese could now say “he’s fucking snuffed it!” There was a real sense of the Pythons finally owning their creative integrity.

The recording required additional studio work for introductions, explanations and time filling during the visual bits, notably Graham Chapman’s Wrestling sketch. It had been a tour de force of physical comedy he had been performing since the days of the Cambridge Footlights. Other vintage material, like Four Yorkshiremen, was happily embraced to the Python bosom for the first time. A classic piece written by Tim Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman, John Cleese and Marty Feldman for ‘At Last the 1948 Show’, it was now officially branded Python and continually cropped up in their live performances.

Amongst all the familiarity, it was Eric Idle who scored the biggest, unexpected laugh during the Drury Lane shows when he recoiled in Nudge, Nudge and muttered: “Breakaway!” It was a brand of chocolate bar he was advertising at the time. This reference was lost on later home audiences and subsequent reissues removed it.

The Drury Lane audience may also have been surprised to see Eric performing the Lumberjack Song. As Michael Palin explains: “Although I had sung it in the television sketch, Eric sang it in the live shows”.

Neil Innes gave the cast the biggest laugh during the Drury Lane recording. He played Kevin Phillips Bong, the voteless candidate in Election Special. Quizzed by Eric about his presumed distress at the shocking result, Neil’s only line was: “Not at all”. On this final night, he enlarged his part by reciting the opening lines to ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’ before leading the audience in a singalong of the chorus. John Cleese’s amusement is clearly heard.

For all this fresh silliness, there’s a pleasing irony to be had in Eric Idle’s opening introduction, promising that: “we’ll be seeing jokes, many of which are appearing for the very last time before retiring”.

Bonus Material

A fascinating interview with the Pythons ostensibly plugging the 1973 tour. Along the way, Graham Chapman peevishly markets ‘The Monty Python Matching Tie and Handkerchief’, Eric Idle builds up ‘The Brand New Monty Python Bok’ and Terry Gilliam giggles his way through a masterclass in animation.

Also included in the 2014 boxed set is ‘Monty Python’s Tiny Black Round Thing’. Originally issued as a free double-sided flexidisc with the New Musical Express of May 25, 1974, it was a promotional tool for ‘Monty Python Live at Drury Lane’ and has now been pressed on good old vinyl. The Lumberjack Song is featured here in a longer edit than on the album and Michael Palin recorded new material as the boss of the NME, in full-on Gumby mode.

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The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

In the immediate wake of the Drury Lane shows and the last television series, the Pythons turned their attention to ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’, the classic feature film that made ‘Ben Hur’ look like an epic. So, with coconuts in hand, they headed off to darkest, drizzliest Scotland.

The assembly of the soundtrack was completed in Andre Jacquemin’s Sunrise studios. Terry Gilliam, co-director of the ‘Holy Grail’ film and co-producer of the album, says: “I have wonderful memories of working in the garden shed. Andre’s 4 track recorder and my 2 track recorder was all we had to work with. Creating atmospheres and sonic worlds was a game of bouncing the sounds back and forth from one recorder to the other”. Andre recalls that the ‘Holy Grail’ recording set a precedent: “The Pythons always wanted to give good value for money. Certainly on the ‘Holy Grail’ album they all threw their ideas in to making it quite elaborate. They wanted to make it something funny in its own right”.

“There was a real sense that we didn’t want to short change the audience,” says Michael Palin. “I felt that if someone had paid to see the film at the cinema, when they bought the album there should be much more on it than just the clips from the film. As Terry G. had directed some of the film it was good to have him at my side while we trawled through the actual soundtrack and all of us were still writing sketches at the time. There were also plenty of leftover sketches from the previous television series. If two or more of us were in the studio, I would pull out some of these unused sketches and record them. A lot of the extra material on the ‘Holy Grail’ record was from this tranche of material but we only used it if it was somehow relevant to the project. The sketch about digging up Marilyn Monroe in order to get her to star in a new film was one of those that seemed to work. They had to be funny too, but Graham played the desperate film director so well we were in safe hands there. Both Terry and I felt we wanted the album to be able to standalone”.

Terry G. heartily confirms this. “Correct”. You see! “Like everything we did, it had to be more than just bog-standard. I was very happy with the album as we did it”. But he also cautions that: “Mike has a diary. I have a fading memory! We produced the album in the same way we did everything: instinct and exquisite taste”.

The memorable moments from the film were there in huge tracts, of course, but skilfully stitched into the fabric of the new sketches. Indeed, ‘The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ is, in terms of actual content of the film it is soundtracking, probably the most procrastinatious ever released. It’s also one of the funniest. Of course it is. It’s the first Monty Python film soundtrack album!

The basic conceit at its heart is that we, the audience, have paid our money and taken our choice of the Executive Version of the film soundtrack. The hilarious drawback of this is that it is selected highlights as seen during a 3.10pm screening of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ at the Classic cinema, Silbury Hill. As a result, we get the sound of snogging from the stalls, a history of the cinema’s architecture and even a guided tour of the fun palace’s car park. Indeed, the first time we actually hear any material from the film itself is five minutes in and even then it’s simply Graham Chapman as King Arthur with an innocuous cry of “Whoa, there!” The unbridled laughter is explained away as the reaction to a particularly funny bit of visual comedy. Then when the dialogue does fully kick in, it remains practically indistinguishable as a know-all John Cleese drones on and on over the top of it. This commentary is only curtailed by an irritated “Oh, shut up!” from the audience (well, Michael Palin actually). Seven minutes into the album we finally get a proper extract from the film, Bring out your dead, and there are plenty of other classics that are present, correct and clean of Pythonic interruptions.

The film’s musical highlight, ‘Camelot Song’ is one of them, included in all its silly glory. Other film scenes lovingly showcased on the album include the Knights That Say ‘Ni’, the Witch-Burning and the Hand Grenade of Antioch but there is certainly a continual sense that anything could happen and it probably will. Even the celebrated French Taunter is rudely interrupted as the film slows down and eventually breaks at what was originally the end of side one. Once again, the original side two didn’t really get back to the plot for ages. Instead there are hilarious ‘The story so far…’ recaps of several completely different films.

Laudably, the Pythons couldn’t allow themselves to do anything conventional for too long. ‘The Album of the Soundtrack of the Trailer of the Film of Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ is a lasting testament to that.

Bonus Material

Neil Innes wrote a lot of music for ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ and his gleefully gory rendition of ‘Brave Sir Robin’ is included on the album.

By Robert Ross, 2014

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Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979)

After an incongruous bagpipe aptly wailing ‘Hava Nagila’ and Eric Idle’s dogged record producer cheerfully introducing the cast of “70 camels, 48 goats, 16 chickens, 12 pigs, 2 dromedaries and, of course, those wacky Monty Python boys”, its straight into a false start of ‘Brian Song’ and the Three Wise Men.

‘Brian Song’ was always conceived as a big, ballsy ballad to start off the film. Terry Gilliam, designing the title sequence in the style of a grand religious epic, was determined to give real weight to Michael Palin’s silly lyrics concerning an ordinary chap growing up in an ordinary way. The words were teenage kicks, the imagery misunderstood prophet. Although the visual was ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’, the sound was decidedly ‘Goldfinger’.

In contrast to the ‘Holy Grail’ album, this soundtrack is almost completely dedicated to classic scenes from ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’. The simple and inspired style that ‘Life of Brian’ album producers Graham Chapman and Eric Idle came up with was to treat it as a fly-on-the-wall recording of the actual recording of the linking material. Eric is the calm but tentative producer, Graham the naïve and rather out-of-his-depth actor employed to read the links.

There is a real sense of freedom, almost improvisation, within the newly recorded banter. Eric has the opportunity to poke gentle fun at the executives at Warner Bros. Records and even the loyal Python sound engineer gets a mention, when Eric checks into the booth with “I think that’s fine, isn’t it Andre?” Best of all is the sheer joy that Graham and Eric seem to be having with the session. During the section of linking material continually affected by lobster intrusion, there are distinct signs of corpsing between the two. An immediate and intimate way of showcasing the best bits of the film, the album is pitch perfect.

The closing track is, of course, Python’s Greatest Hit ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’. It has now become a standard but when he first heard it the film’s director, Terry Jones, was uncertain: “I didn’t like it at all really. Eric had written it as this Walt Disney kind of song. Lots of whistling and cheerful singalong bits. To be honest I had thought of writing a closing song myself. I don’t have a clue what that song might have been but, in the end, I warmed to Eric’s song.” John Cleese agrees: “None of us thought much of it at first. We were not enthusiastic about it for the finale of the film at all. It’s in all the books. All the diaries. We changed our minds though. Thank God! I now think it’s as near a perfect end to a comedy film as you can get.”

“It’s obvious to me now”, explains Terry J. “How else could you possibly round off the crucifixion scene? It was as upbeat and positive about a decidedly downbeat and negative ending as one could possibly wish for. And we (+i)were(-i)making a comedy. If the audience file out of the screening whistling that song then I’m pleased”.

It is a song that has been very kind to its composer. Eric has fond memories of: “The Royal Variety Show before the Queen, where we did a fake out of Madame Butterfly with English National Opera star Ann Howard”. As well as: “the finale of Prince Charles’ 60th where I did a fake out of Swan Lake, dressed as a Swan in a tutu with the English National Ballet”.

Bonus Material

Although Otto’s suicide squad nips in just at the last minute for Brian’s crucifixion scene, the majority of his material was cut from the film. Here’s the Little Hitler in action, along with a demo recording of his song. The alternative version of ‘Brian Song’ ably illustrates the powerful vocals of Sonia Jones as well as her amazing ability to run through a load of anagrams of Brian. The selection concludes with two radio advertisements for the soundtrack album recorded during a break in the sessions by producers Graham Chapman and Eric Idle.

See Also

“Monty Python’s Life of Brian” – Feature film
By Robert Ross, 2014

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Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life (1983)

With the simplest of linking threads, ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’ was mostly shot at Elstree Studios. Terry Jones, who directed the film, confirms that: “unlike the previous two films we could actually go home after each day’s filming. It was like being back at the BBC. Only with much more money and more control”. Of course, this also meant that the camaraderie of a location shoot was fragmented to some extent.

However, in the recording studio the opposite was true. Andre Jacquemin remembers that: “it was Mike and Terry Gilliam who produced the soundtrack album”. As with the ‘Life of Brian’ album, the Pythons on production duty were naturally the Pythons who recorded the linking material. Michael Palin recorded the lion’s share of links, including a curtailed piece on Martin Luther, the sketch of which was cut from the film. Indeed, some dialogue missing from the final cut actually makes it onto the album. Terry G.’s contribution was limited by the explanation that, by its very nature, his stuff is mainly visual. He also plugged his accompanying short film of “pirate clerks”, ‘The Crimson Permanent Assurance’, as an introduction to Accountancy Shanty.

The spirit of Python had never looked more lavish than in ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’. It was clear that the musical numbers were going to be key to the soundtrack album. From the smallest salute to every euphemism for the penis to a three-minute ditty tackling the sheer vastness of all known space and time, it really was a case of the history of everything…put to music.

Terry J. reflects: “when I think of the very best bits of Python, most of it comes from ‘The Meaning of Life’. I was pleased with how Christmas in Heaven worked. I’d written that song and I thought Graham was wonderful”. Even better is Every Sperm is Sacred, one of the most ambitious and sustained pieces of Python comedy and every bit as grand and impressive as the Oscar scooping musicals in whose footsteps it so faithfully followed. Says Terry J. ” We just took the recognised framework of the ‘Oliver!’ production numbers, with hundreds of extras, and put it into the context of Python.”

Every Sperm is Sacred was nominated for a BAFTA for Best Original Song in a Film. There is a real case for seeing ‘Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life’ as the team’s first musical.

Bonus Material

The demo version and Jazz Club version of the proposed title song, written and sung by Terry Jones, is a knowing comment on the film industry. A delight but certainly less powerful than the song that was ultimately used. The very brief Fat Song was written as an introduction for Mr. Creosote but was dropped from the film, while the alternative Fishmas in Heaven version of Christmas in Heaven features unused Terry J. lyrics. Classics like: “and all the clips on ‘Disney Time’ have never been seen before…” are sung in a more Big Band, Frank Sinatra style than the familiar take. A bumper collection of radio adverts include the always welcome resurrection of Graham’s “Stop that, it’s silly!” Colonel, although far from being absent since 1973 he had been a stock character in the Python live shows, and had most recently been seen in ‘Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl’, released just the previous Summer!

See Also

“Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life” – Feature Film

By Robert Ross, 2014


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Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album (1980)

The Pythons entered the 1980s with no firm plans to do anything as a group. They certainly hadn’t broken-up but the last thing on their minds was another studio album. That was until Tony Stratton-Smith of Charisma Records pulled out his contract with the boys.

In the wake of the huge box office success of ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’, he was canny enough to realise that the Monty Python team still owed him one final recording on their contract. Hence ‘Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album’ was just that, as Michael Palin testifies: “yes, we had to do it. There was no real problem with Charisma. Stratt had been brilliant for us, but we were quite forcefully told that we had a commitment to record one last album with them. None of us really wanted to do it, if I were to be completely honest. I felt like it was stepping back a bit. We were thinking about another film so the group were still together but we would never had thought about doing another album. Anyway, we sat around discussing it and trying to think of a title. I think it was Terry J. who suggested ‘Contractual Obligation’ because that’s exactly what it was”. It was very Python, so everyone was happy.

Eric, who was producing it, had quite a lot of songs he wanted to record. Terry Jones also had some songs he was keen to record:. “Never Be Rude to an Arab came about as a result of the controversy surrounding ‘Monty Python’s Life of Brian’. “Even when we were writing the film I was the only one worried about religious maniacs taking potshots at us”, says Terry. “I can only think I was past caring when I wrote the song!” According to Andre Jacquemin: “There was a definite shift towards a comedy song album rather than a comedy sketch album. They were certainly not just throwing something together to wrap up the contract “.

If anything, it could have simply been called ‘The Pythons’ for it really is their equivalent of ‘The Beatles’. Like the legendary White Album, in the main ‘Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album’ showcases each group member as an individual talent.

Michael Palin says: “The record came along at a time we were all busy on separate projects so John would come straight from ‘Fawlty Towers’ or something with a couple of things he wanted to record. In a way it exposed what our real character within the group was, both to ourselves and the people who heard it. Finland and Decomposing Composers must tell you something about what sort of a person I am. If you work it out, please let me know!”. For Terry J.: “the only thing I think my songs tell you about me is that I worry too much!”.

For the country and western rendition of Terry’s Here Comes Another One, the team were joined by a guest in the studio when Mike Berry recorded the lead vocal. Even the cover artwork of Terry Gilliam has the bare minimalism of ‘The Beatles’. As Terry G. hopes, it was done: “with irony and wit”. The complete lack of cover artwork at all speaks volumes. This really is an obligation. It’s just the plain, inner sleeve with the familiar Mad Hatter logo of Charisma Records showing through the hole in the middle. Even the tracks listed are a comment on the possible legal consequences of the Pythons not making the record.

Of course, the ultimate comparison to ‘The Beatles’ should have been the breadth of material included. For ‘Monty Python’s Contractual Obligation Album’ could easily have been a double album. Andre Jacquemin admits that: “we recorded hours and hours of material for ‘Contractual Obligation’. For something none of them really wanted to do, we all put a great deal of effort into it. I know John was quite angry when we had to drop his ‘Oliver Cromwell’ but we just couldn’t include everything”.

Thankfully, over the years lots of these discarded tracks have been released. Oliver Cromwell first appeared on ‘Monty Python Sings’ in 1989, while the 2014 reissue ‘Monty Python Sings (Again)’ salvaged three more tracks. Moreover, most of the bonus material featured on the first three Charisma Records in this collection also come from the ‘Contractual Obligation’ sessions.

Bonus Material

Take one of what would eventually became the Medical Love Song is really Eric Idle’s guide track demo with Graham Chapman warbling along as best he can. And what fun it is. There’s an alternative country & western performance of I’m So Worried by Terry Jones, as well as a nicely undersold radio advertisement for the album by John Cleese. Best of all is a lengthy and fascinating interview with Graham and Terry J. who discuss the album with silly humour and great candid. Contrary to what Terry says, John Denver didn’t take kindly to being strangled. It may have had something to do with Rutle ‘Ollie’ Halsall singing “You came on my pillow…” to the tune of Annie’s Song! Thus, A Farewell to John Denver was replaced by Terry’s apology on later pressings of the album. He also cheekily alludes to the sketches being “jolly old”, notably Bookshop in which Graham Chapman takes on the role of his old cohort Marty Feldman. The piratical adventure comedy that Graham mentions was in fact filmed in the Winter of 1982. It proved to be the final hurrah for Marty, who died on location. John Cleese and Eric Idle were also aboard. They had already shot the Python film discussed here that Summer, but that’s another album…

By Robert Ross, 2014

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