MIMO - When Music is Your Fix

Dadadeeeedadada dadada

No matter where I was, if I heard that collection of notes sung in that way it could only mean one thing. I was being greeted by George Harrison. Let me explain. Late in the 1970s it was my great good fortune to find myself a working member of an extraordinary team of people. At the core were the geniuses we now know as ‘the Pythons’ – six masters of mirth who transformed the comedy landscape forever – and the ‘Seventh Python’, the extraordinarily talented Neil Innes. Incredible as it seems to me, I was working on not one but two projects that were to become undisputed classics that not only stood the test of time but became landmarks in late 20th Century culture – and both of

which catapulted me into the orbit of one of the seminal figures in the history of pop music.

The two projects in question were Monty Python’s Life of Brian and The Rutles – All You Need Is Cash. Eric Idle, the common link between both projects, sent me a guitar demo of a song that he thought might be fun to close the film – a spoof of a 1930s Hollywood musical. I rang Terry Jones the director of the movie and asked how much of the song he needed us to record. ‘Oh about 30 seconds!’ was his response (he still hates the song!). I relayed this information to Eric whose response was unprintable, but I would up giving it the full Hollywood 5 minute treatment. Enter George, who had bravely taken on the production of the movie after EMI pulled out, fearing

a religious backlash. When we recorded Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life, he was to produce the single version that was released to coincide with the movie. And of course the hook of the song the whole world now knows and loves is the whistle, answering the title line. Except I had written this little Hollywood string figure behind the whistle – da da dee da da da da da da – near the end of the song. And George adored it! He was the movie producer, so out went the whistle! Luckily it was reinstated for the film but his passion for that little phrase never diminished.

As for The Rutles, George was always there in the background, offering advice to Neil and Eric, suggestions on how it was done and how we should approach certain events in the Beatles

career. I always believed he loved the Rutles so much because it allowed him to sit back and enjoy the Beatles career without having to live in the pressure cooker he had had to endure first time around. And love it he did – when asked if the Beatles would ever reform he answered ‘no, but I hope the Rutles will’. And we did, in Los Angeles a few years ago. As Eric Idle said ‘how can you reunite a band that was never together in the first place?’ We all miss George terribly – recently I arranged a Harrison/Dylan song ‘I’d Have You Anytime’ featuring Evan Rachel Wood, Patrice Rushen and Tom Scott, for Amnesty International’s 50th Anniversary Album, Chimes of Freedom. And the amazing Scorsese documentary proves that without

George Harrison the world is a less fun place. Da da dee da da da da da da!

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About the Author


John Altman is a BAFTA and Emmy award winning composer, musician and conductor and was recently made Doctor of Music at the University of Sussex, School of Media, Film and Music. John has a long and distinguished career in music, including performing with Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix and Sting. His film credits include period music for Titanic and Shall We Dance. In addition, John has scored over 5,000 TV commercials and is cited as among the top composers in British advertising.

A brief look at who John Altman has shared the stage with or worked with since the 1950s:

  • the 50s - appeared with Judy Garland onstage at the London Palladium
  • the 60s - played with Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Muddy Waters
  • the 70s - played with Bob Marley, Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Elton John. Wrote for Monty Python and the Rutles
  • the 80s - wrote for Simple Minds, George Michael. Played with Slim Gaillard, Chet Baker. Sting, Phil Collins, Jeff Beck
  • the 90s - wrote for Bjork, Tina Turner, Barry White, Diana Ross, James Bond, Titanic. Played with Chaka Khan, Lionel Richie, Bill Wyman
  • the 00s - played with Prince, Amy Winehouse, Pharrell, Black Eye Peas, Jessie J, Joss Stone
  • the 10s - still standing!

Posted in: Featured, Music History 101