This piece was originally published April 19th, 2010.
Ever since I began watching Monty Python’s Flying Circus on PBS television in 1974 I was hooked and my obsession with Messrs Chapman, Cleese, Gilliam, Idle, Jones and Palin began…
1974 was the last year/fourth season for the Pythons, as well as the year that PBS began broadcasting the series (a bit of a happy accident when a PBS programmer in Texas decided to air a few sitting on his studio shelves, resulting in a snowball of laughs and in turn, PBS affiliates around the country running the show that year).
Nowadays, Monty Python’s impact on my life of laughing is completely intertwined with and attached to their style of Surrealist/Dadaist brand of humor and their often complicated sketch writing.
Diving into all manner of reference, from the historical to the scientific, from the visual arts to the aural arts, from low base slapstick to high art invention, their gargantuan dialogue and wordplay was like little I knew of before. Monty Python’s Flying Circus entertained, at times confused, shocked, and helped my listening/speaking/reading/writing vocabulary growth immeasurably.
There was one element however that I always tucked away in the back of my thoughts, behind all the fond recollections of each sketch and characters that Monty Python put before me over the years—that of the background incidental music that was used by the Pythons for many of their memorable sketches.
There was the music used in the infamous Blackmail sketch, Gumby Flower Arranging, Trim Jeans Theatre and most famously, the music used for some of Terry Gilliam’s inimitable animation sequences.
I wondered just where some of this music came from?
I knew the title theme music was not created by the show as it was John Philip Sousa’s famous instrumental,“The Liberty Bell (march)” , (used by The Python’s because it was in the public domain and therefore a freebie), but what about all the other music?
Licensing music, which was culled from a service that created and owned Library Music (a.k.a. Production Music)was an unknown to me.
DeWolfe Music is the first, the most famous and glorious of all Production Music houses. DeWolfe has been around since 1909 and in 1927 started to create their recording library to service the Talkies which were the rising and popular medium for entertainment.
Brilliantly savvy as a business, technologically advanced and state of the art recording facilities, and able to also utilize a core group of composers, musicians and orchestras to create what is now some 70,000 of their available instrumental tracks, DeWolfe cleared the legalities involved and made it an easier task for a filmmaker or television producer who wished to add music to a production without blowing a budget on trying come up with a soundtrack themselves.
By the time that The Graduate forever changed the way a soundtrack would be created (as a selection of current “hit” pop or rock tracks compiled and edited in to make up a film’s soundtrack in an effort to both create the film as well as tie in selling a soundtrack album, a practice which is nowadays more the standard than scoring original music, although licensing instrumental music is still a very big portion as well with DeWolfe the giant still among the industry) DeWolfe had amassed a huge list of films and television shows that licensed synchronized music through them.
This is where the majority of the music used for Monty Python’s Flying Circus came from (not to mention Dr. Who, Shaw Brothers martial arts films, the Python films and thousands more recognizable productions).
Thankfully, after acquiring just about everything Monty Python has released such as DVD’s, film soundtracks, books, video games, and the original vinyl lp releases, I can finally add the last piece of the Python puzzle…
Monty Python’s Flying Circus: 30 Musical Masterpieces is a collection now available on cd though the in-house DeWolfe Music Library label.
From “The Liberty Bell” Python theme and on there are all the gems I ever wanted: composer Sam Fonteyn’s “Bright Lights” (used for Blackmail) and “Man of Destiny” (used for Whicker’s World/Njorl’s Saga), Julius Steffaro’s “Ripcord” (used for Salad Days), Spencer Nakin’s “The Banquet pt. 3 (Brandle de Bourgogne” (used for Spot the Loony Sketch), Eric Towren’s “Pastoralia” (used for Gumby Flower Arranging) and “Flute Promenade” (used for Gilliam animation sequences).
The accompanying cd booklet has the usual high standards that I always associate with Monty Python releases—funny pics and plenty of information on the tracks, as well as quotes from the various Python members.
For someone with recollections of Python that has not seen the show in some time, this will bring back great memories, and for the casual fan or die-hard Python obsessive, this release is something to celebrate and obtain immediately.
Many, many thanks to DeWolfe Music and The Pythons for finally making music easily available.