‘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”.
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.