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Various Artists – Monty Python’s Flying Circus: 30 Musical Masterpieces

Various Artists – Monty Python’s Flying Circus: 30 Musical Masterpieces (De Wolfe) 

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The De Wolfe vaults are clearly brimming with treasures unheard for many years. 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 aside, there’s an awful lot to discover here. There’s a strange mix of the pastoral and the impressionist, factoring in the odd cocktail-jazz vignette 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 Fly 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, one 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. The Britishness needed to be suitably amped, and this stately march was the one to do it, with its trombone refrain and mass string reply.

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, sadly for Palin, 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 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, though their composition was surely undertaken in all seriousness.

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.

This comes out via De Wolfe on Monday 22nd June. You can read this review at The Quietus, here.

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Various Artists – Kung Fu Super Sounds

Various Artists – Kung Fu Super Sounds (De Wolfe)

Kung Fu Super Sounds
Kung Fu Super Sounds

Trawling through the archives of the Shaw Brothers Kung fu soundtracks must’ve been an exhaustive, rewarding affair, and it’s gifted the listener with a perfect time capsule, a glimpse into mad fusions and extreme musical statements. That every single one of these assorted works is composed by Westerners is of no surprise – though the cinematic devices were pure Hong Kong, there’s always been an eye on Europe and the Americas. What was saleability, it seems, has now become nostalgia.

Consequently, there are devilish Mahlerian trills throughout the orchestral movements, but also light Afro-American funk touches. Horror House from 1975’s The Four Assassins utilises painfully shrill Shostakovich-esque military woodwinds, but the incomparable energy of the bongos on anything from Dirty Ho provides curious balance. Similarly, the final chord of Ivor Slaney’s Shaolin Handlock theme recalls the very same of Holst’s Mars, while the triumphant workout of Return To The 36th Chamber is pure faux-heroic blaxploitation fare.

Moodier mise en scene dictates eerier music, and the images conjured by pieces wherein assassins are stalked and hunted work extremely well. You can hear footsteps, approaches and attacks – the very tenets of soundtrack composition are rammed in your ears so hard that it’s impossible not to see Gordon Liu tiptoeing before roundhousing their fucking head off and flying toward a tree via wireworks. Notions of this material will be familiar to Wu Tang Clan fans, and their remaining number would undoubtedly revel in this retrospective delight. Their heavy sampling of the imagery, dialogue and ideology of many Shaw Brothers classics have lent their oeuvre a distinct credibility and lofty, almost religious dynamic, but to gain the most entertaining readings of these great snippets, one need only dwell on the source material.

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