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He’s not the Messiah… he’s Andre Jacquemin

With Monty Python's (allegedly) last-ever live shows at The O2 in London still fresh in his mind, the veteran Python sound designer and record producer talks to Phil Ward

London’s Redwood Studios is a successful and versatile soundtrack and post-production centre with a long list of satisfied customers in music, film, television, radio and commercials. But its defining client is the Monty Python’s Flying Circus franchise (if you can call it that), with an association that not only spawned the facility in the first place but also continues to give it a unique edge.

For over 40 years, the quantum leaps of imagination at the heart of the Python comedy style have been tracked, edited and amplified in every medium, including live on stage, by the Redwood gestalt – masterminded by founder Andre Jacquemin.

This Python show is a labyrinth of DSP. How has digital changed your modus operandi?
It’s easier and quicker, but you don’t save any time because you have more time to mess about! The early Python stuff was done on 4-track, with a lot of no-going-back bouncing down. Cinema sound has benefited especially, but it’s still based on the quality of the acting and writing. Even digital films fail… I like to work as organically as possible, using mics and a mixing desk rather than a computer. I’ll do a basic mix on Pro Tools, but turn to the faders and knobs for a more refined and subtle finish.

Is Redwood networked to the rest of Soho?
No, we’re fairly self-contained. There’s file access from room to room: there’s an edit room upstairs where Terry Jones’ son, Bill, runs a production company with Ben Timlett – called Bill and Ben – where we can access their Avid and Final Cut Pro systems. But principally we’re standalone and independent.

How much live work do you do?
This run at The O2 was the first live production of this complexity since I did the Python shows at Drury Lane. I did do the Hollywood Bowl, but mainly supervising and firing in the cue effects from tape.

What was the biggest challenge for The O2?
Cleaning up the animation soundtracks, which were primitive mixes in mono with no stems. People want the originals, so we reinforced some of the sound effects on separate tracks and used iZotope’s range of plug-ins, including the RX audio repair software, to enhance the dialogue and music. That was a key element to get it at least to broadcast standard. It was a busy time, because we’ve also been working on the new album Monty Python Sings (Again), which has new material, as well as remasters. John Du Prez, MD for this show and long-standing collaborator with Eric [Idle], has been programming the tracks at home and bringing them into Redwood, where we’ve added the vocals and other overdubs.

You seem to span every possible medium…
Terry Gilliam always describes me as “the hardest man to sell into Hollywood”, because I do everything myself, whereas they expect a team of 20 engineers in various sound departments. They don’t believe one person can actually do the music, the sound effects, the foley, the dialogue, the soundscapes… the whole lot. But that’s what I’ve done with Python. We’ve done albums, cinema, radio, television and theatre… such a broad spectrum.

It’s obviously different to producing a pop band. I was brought up on voiceovers for commercials, rather than music, and it seems to have helped – although I was playing in a band at the time I joined [John Gale’s space-age sound lab for TV commercials] Studio G in Wardour Street. I had a great teacher, Alan Bailey, who joined Studio G from the renowned Radio Luxembourg and also engineered and helped me with the early Python albums. He’d worked with The Beatles, Frank Sinatra, you name it… he was one of those guys who can stick a microphone somewhere and it just sounds beautiful. It was a simpler world, before digital I/Os and sample rates.

40-odd years. How did it start?
Accident. I met Mike Palin while I was working at Studio G and did a voice-over demo for a friend of his – dialogue, FX, library music. I remember it was very funny material, but I didn’t know who he was. I didn’t have much time to watch TV in those days; I was always working! The penny dropped later when John Cleese walked into a meeting – I thought, “Shit, these are Oxbridge graduates!”, and I was lucky to get out of school with a swimming certificate… But Mike was impressed with the demo, gave me a pile of scripts and I began planning the second album.

By the time we were cutting the third album, at Apple in Savile Row, Mike overheard me discussing the idea of getting my own place with my writing partner, Dave Howman – later to co-write Every Sperm is Sacred (pictured, above right, onstage at The O2 on the final night) and Brian Song with me. A few days later, Mike invited me to dinner, wrote me a cheque and said: “Build your studio.” He’s been a director ever since, and has always taken a particular interest in the recording business and the recording process.

And it has evolved as you’d expect…
Yes, but we’re rock and roll compared to the boutique Soho scene. We’ll handle whatever comes through the door. At the moment I’m doing a documentary with Terry Jones, there’s a movie starting in September, and a ‘rockumentary’ – if you will – about the band Kiss. It’s a real mish-mash. My daughter, Jamie, was recording in Soho with her former band Duchess with the producer-writer Printz Board, who’s involved with the Black Eyed Peas and stuff, and they ran out of studio time doing some vocals. She asked if they could come in to continue the vocals and I said, “sure”.

What’s interesting – if you’re thinking about current recording practices – is that, while we were doing that session, Printz turned round to me and said: “You know, Andre, it’s really good to work with somebody who knows what they’re doing…”

O2 Every Sperm is Sacred photo: Jon Chapple