I first discovered Monty Python through their records rather than the Flying Circus TV show. This was via cassette copies of said records, smuggled into the house by my brother, lent most likely by the same friend who first introduced us to Genesis. (Scoggins bros, you have a lot to answer for!) It wasn’t until the early 1990s that I first saw Monty Python on ‘the box’ when Auntie Beeb started re-running them, alongside (if memory serves me right) episodes of the new subversive comedy ‘news’ programme post watershed on BBC2. This is back in the Angus Deayton days, when Ian Hislop had significantly more hair, and when the show was considered subversive, whereas now it’s become part of the establishment – they even let politicians on it!
Anyway, back to Python. I love Python, I love their silly, surreal subversiveness. I love the fact that their comedy is so uniquely British in all its bonkersness, and no matter how far their reach has been around the globe, you can only truly ‘get’ all the nuances and nub of their fun-poking if you also hail from these “Isles of Wonder” (pre-Brexit). This album is their second disc, recorded in 1971 after their first two TV seasons. This specific record of mine was bought only a year or so ago for €1 at the Utrecht Record Fair. It’s crackly old bugger, but this doesn’t distract from a comedy sketch as much as it might annoy during music.
It’s got many of their classic sketches on it, such as the recurring Spanish Inquisition, the Architect’s Sketch with Cleese’s wonderfully deadpan ‘Does that not fit in with your plans?’ which is less about the obvious (but very funny) slaughterhouse joke but their dig at the end about the freemasons. Many of their sketches are about positions of authority: upper class twits, army generals, bank managers and the like, in a way that is peculiarly British. We’ve also got the downright silliness of the Death of Mary, Queen of Scots and The Gumbies playing Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard as well, and it’s credit to their writing and performing skills that these very visual jokes also work so well on record. It also features the perhaps lesser known but no less brilliant Cannibalism sketch (‘still no sign of land’) and a better execution (pardon the pun) of the Undertaker’s Sketch that the Beeb would allow to be broadcast, with all its audience interruptions and ‘stage invasion’.
It’s a veritable embarrassment of riches with the wonderful Spam sketch, and it was years I tell you before I knew that the Spam chorus was being sung by a troupe of Vikings. (Monty Python are of course credited with not only giving us the name for the computer programming language ‘python’ but the reason we call unwanted emails ‘spam’.)
After their disappointment with the BBC-controlled first album, they take full reins of the production on their second, and not only do we get much inventive use of sound effects and music, but the surreal visual ‘concept’ behind the record, as orchestrated (yes, its another bad pun) by Gilliam. My slightly battered copy still has the insert for ‘How To Be A Great Actor’. And yes, I know it’s not ‘music’, but it is a record and its in my record collection, so there.
Best Bits: ‘Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as: fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms – Oh damn!
Genre: Comedy Icons
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