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Monty Python's Flying Circus
30 Musical Masterpieces Daniel Ross , June 23rd, 2009 06:02

The De Wolfe vaults are clearly brimming with unheard treasures. What with last year's release of Shaw Brothers kung-fu soundtracks and the promise of a steady stream of other such gems to come, this curio comes as a revealing and welcome addition. It's not merely for the ageing comedy fuddies, either. Brushing aside John Philip Sousa's 'Liberty Bell', there's an awful lot to discover here. There's a strange mix of the pastoral and the impressionist, with the odd cocktail-jazz vignette thrown in to soften the blow, and some excellently baffling, thoroughly British, wind band music. It's like a tour of eccentric Britain, but one taken under the direction of Henry Mancini.

Monty Python's Flying Circus was, above all, a programme that delighted in the juxtaposition of stiff Britain and the over-flexible rest of the Western world. Hence, any notions of Britishness are hilariously overdone, and any notions of 'otherness' are coolly caricatured. The sweeping brass and Elgar-aping 'March Trident' (composed by Jack Trombey) accompanies the Olympic Hide And Seek sketch that takes the conventions of BBC Olympic coverage and exacerbates its ridiculousness, something that would've been impossible without the posho score. That the sketch extends into a surreal Starsky & Hutch-style chase sequence replete with funk guitar is by-the-by, for the stately march, with its trombone refrain and mass string reply that gives the piece its impact.

As for the razzamatazz of the rest of the Western world in comparison to lumpy old Britain, look no further than D. Laren's 'David And Goliath', which accompanied the Attila The Hun Show sketches. John Cleese's booming narration and Michael Palin's dodgy American accent introduce The Hun amidst stock footage of barbarian battles while the pomp of Laren's march adds the requisite Hollywood-isms, shining the light on the terminally silly premise by approaching it with total seriousness.

Elsewhere, the metallic prangs and water sound-effects on 'Eye Of Horus' serve as the perfect accompaniment to a nightmarish Palin sketch wherein a television presenter continually suffers from déjà vu. The opening seconds of the piece become a doom-ridden signifier that he's about to lose his mind. As the piece continues (not in the sketch), it becomes a slithering mood-piece with guitar tones Tarantino would wet himself over – it's suddenly very easy to see that those behind the Flying Circus soundtrack were possessed of highly developed musical minds. Furthermore, harmonising clarinets and cor anglais on Towren's 'Flute Promenade' lend still more mockingly country garden-esque bases for the comedians to bounce from.

As a whole, this exhaustive compilation does more than just collect the bits you didn't know you heard while the Pythons crawled around laying the foundations for the most overly-quoted comedy dynasty in existence. It alerts the listener to the inherent contrast in the Pythons’ cultural landmarks – they mock with seriousness, are deadpan with deadly accuracy and, more often than one might think, have the De Wolfe music library to thank for it.