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The Python and the Redwood Stage

The Producers | Andre Jacquemin

Article from Sound International, May 1979

André Jacquemin stars in "The Python and the Redwood Stage", introducing Doris Day as Fred Dellar, and a supporting cast including Dame Edna Everage and the Leyton Buzzards. Whipcrackaway, whipcrackaway!


André Jacquemin is an integral part of not only the sound end of the Python team but also Ripping Yarns, Dame Edna Everage and the Leyton Buzzards. Fred Dellar put on his matching tie and handkerchief and went to André's Redwood Studio.


Initially, I entered the wrong door. Following a trail of cables up a flight of crazy house stairs, I eventually located a room inhabited by a man in a mock-up flying machine, plus assorted camera and light assisted loonies. 'André Jacquemin?' I enquired tentatively. 'Downstairs!' yelled one would-be Cecil B. 'Downstairs!' echoed the others in unison.

I descended instantly. The last time I'd seen someone climb a staircase in a house that provided no welcome, they'd been instantly chopped by Anthony Perkins dressed in drag. I've never cared to tempt fate. The ground floor proved relatively saner. Inside the correct door, I discovered a friendly looking engineer playing what sounded like the theme from an up and coming James Bond movie. He looked up from the desk. 'I'm André,' he announced. 'And this is the theme number to our film about Jesus.'

Another loony, I thought. But obviously the one I'd been ordered to contact. I checked my assignment card once more. 'Talk to André Jacquemin, Redwood Studios, 15 Neal's Yard, Neal Street, London WC2' it read. I pressed the red button on my cassette recorder and began my usual impression of Russell Harty. 'Tell me all,' I requested.

Jacquemin, a man with a desire to please, opted for a policy of instant cooperation. 'Redwood was set up about two years ago. Mike Palin, of Monty Python fame, decided that he wanted to get a studio together because he was interested in that side of things — and he came to me because I was producing the Python records at that time. I'd been trained at Studio G, in Wardour Street, and I met Mike when he did some demo tapes. I'd suggest that it would be nice to put a bit of music on to this or some sound effects on to that — which is a way of thinking you get into when you've been trained as a voice engineer — and he seemed quite impressed with the work I did for him. You see, that's what Python was all about, putting effects or music on speech and getting it done instantly so that one can hear the finished thing without waiting. And they were pleased to meet someone who could get this done for them efficiently. They thought this very unusual, the reason being that previously they'd always used music studios where the work was a bit different. Eventually Mike Palin asked me if I'd like to produce one of the albums. Which seemed all very nice. But this sort of thing happened all the time, people coming in and saying how they'd like you to work on their next album. They usually ended by saying that they'd give you a call — but you never heard from them any further. However, in this case, Mike phoned me up to tell me he had a script prepared and asked if I'd like to co-produce it. And that was the start — I just couldn't believe it. The album turned out to be Monty Python's Previous Album and we all got on very well. In fact, we've done five since then.'

The odd thing is that Jacquemin had never heard of Mike Palin when they first met. He'd never even viewed Monty Python, though he'd heard about the show. It was only after someone had told him exactly who Palin was that he'd sat down with a TV dinner (spam, spam, spam and spam) and tuned into the delights of Cleese, Idle and Co.

'I was quite amazed,' he remembers.

Since becoming co-owner of Redwood with Palin, Jacquemin has helped to produce only one Python album at the studio, this being The Instant Record Collection, the subject of a crazy packaging concept. 'Matching Tie And Handkerchief we did at home. I had a studio there for a while — just a 4-track Teac really. But we did the album, which was an incredible feat. The Americans, who are into Cheech and Chong and all that sort of stuff, which is done on 16- and 32-track, just don't believe that you can get a team of five people, plus effects and music, and get everything together on 4-track. When I started, multitrack in radio wasn't used at all — it was all stereo or mono. You had to have one machine with voice-over, one machine with music on, one machine with sound effects — and you had to run from one deck to another turning them on. It was like that with all the old live radio stuff. Monty Python And The Holy Grail was, I think, done at a studio owned by Red Bus. After leaving Studio G to go freelance and work on the Python album, I got involved with Red Bus Records — though that wasn't a very good experience. We had a studio with them but it didn't work out — after which Mike Palin came up with the idea of this studio.'

Jacquemin says he didn't go along with the idea initially. 'I said there were so many studios about that if Mike wanted to invest money there had to be twenty million other projects we could get involved in. But Mike said he believed in me and thought I could do well with a studio. He managed to persuade me and so we finally went ahead, with the result that we've been very successful since — I think!'

I indulge in a silly walk around the desk while I think up another question. Then I ask why Redwood is a success and enquire about the types who beat a path up to Neal's Yard.


'We seem to get the specialist jobs. Python, for instance, is a very critical thing. I also work with a guy named Tony Hertz, who is probably the best radio producer in England today. He used to be a partner to Jeff Wayne. All the radio awards the studio has won have been Hertz productions. He's a very critical man to work for and you've got to be in on one of his sessions to understand how he operates. His office wall is absolutely splattered with awards. He's radio's equivalent of a big record producer and his jobs are fairly pricey — but that's because he's so good. He uses this studio a lot because he knows we care about the work we do.'

One wall of Redwood attests to the Jacquemin-Hertz penchant for prizewinning. It's liberally decorated with Cleo, DNDA and other awards for prize-winning commercials. There are also a number of silver discs for sales accrued by the Python platters. It seems that Jacquemin even struck gold with Monty Python — Live At Drury Lane. His success story then is not just part of a Python script.

'We do frighten a lot of people away though,' he continues. 'Thing is, we're fairly expensive for an 8-track studio. Twenty-five pounds an hour, in fact. But though we are expensive, we do get the cream of the work. The desk we're using now is the result of my experience over the past 10 years, plus that of Rob Haggis, who used to be at Sound Developments and who is currently doing Utopia's new remix-suite. Redwood is somewhat lavish for an 8-track and we spent a lot of money on it.'

He pushes a catch, then slides the mixing desk from a next-to-the wall position to a more centralised one. The whole thing is on rails and can be kept in a location that's space saving or moved into the central area to facilitate accurate stereo mixing.

'We didn't want to go to Eastlake or anyone, I wanted things to be a little different, show a bit of originality. A guy called Harry Day actually built the mixer. He's a friend of Rob Haggis' and worked on the very first desk that Neve ever made. He's been in the business a long time. Actually we did have a quote from Neve — they wanted about £35 000. This desk cost us £15 000, which is a lot less frightening. We have had problems though and a re-think on the studio set us back another £25 000. We had Sandy Brown Associates measure out the acoustics — they have a computer that does it on a graph — and we've had our ceiling lined, plus a number of other things. The studio is slightly bass heavy now, which is not a bad thing, but there are still other things to do. For instance, we're going to get graphics on the monitoring in order to level that out. It's necessary for us to get everything dead right.'

A studio can only be as good as the guy who's running it. Jacquemin is obviously ace when it comes to speech recording. The Bond-type theme to The Life Of Brian, apparently the title of Python's forthcoming film, would also seem to indicate that he's no slouch when it comes to music. Despite the size of the studio, Jacquemin has managed to attain a huge sound indicative of Spector in full flight.

'The studio's not that small,' Redwood's co-owner, manager and chief engineer explains, 'though we normally use an eight-piece string-section on various projects, we can get a 12-piece in here. The ceiling is very high — the basic studio design was by Kevin Brown — and you can get a really big sound. As for the desk, 8-track is enough for me... it's amazing what you can get away with. We did something recently that's got big brass on it and lots of other things. At least, that's the way it sounds. But in actual fact, only four people were on the track. We had everyone doubling up on things and got an incredible sound. On the Brian track, we're filling six tracks of the eight and then bouncing those down to two tracks, down to seven and eight, then filling the rest with brass etc. We could have done the whole thing on 8-track but because the film is being done in stereo, the actual soundtrack will have to be in stereo. But it's got to sound big because all Bond type music is BIG!'

Certainly the sound that has been emanating from the control room's Lockwoods has been huge. However, Jacquemin, who at one time worked as bassist with Virginia, a well-known band on the British country music circuit ('Pete Wilshire is now teaching me to play steel guitar') remembers that his first attempts to record music were less than impressive.

'My first music session was disastrous. The bass didn't sound right — I just didn't know what a bass should sound like. There are so many permutations. You can get a guy off the street and say here's your board, there's the drums, get me a good drum sound — and what they think is a good drum sound can be really weird. I know, because I've trained quite a few people over the years and I always ask them to get what they feel a good sound should be, just to get an idea of how they think. It's funny, but you actually have to start thinking about the way instruments sound on record. It's the same with speech — it's a totally different ball-game. You got to know how things sound like on record — just how they work. I'd rather forget about my first music session — everything sounded awful.'

A still from the forthcoming historical epic The Life Of Brian. Note Cleese's beautiful plumage.


Nowadays Jacquemin is pretty much involved in music. He co-writes jingles - 'I write with Dave Bowman, who now runs Rebel Records. We've been involved in the Houndsditch Warehouse campaign that's been running every day for the past two years, while others we've written include jingles for Barrett's Liquor Mart and Our Price Records.' He's also managing and producing the Leyton Buzzards..

'They're like a cross between Cockney Rebel and Roxy Music but with a touch of originality thrown in. They're going to be very successful in '79,' he predicts. But comedy remains Jacquemin's first love. He's recorded Barry Humphries, producing the Housewife — Superstar album; worked to some degree with the Are You Being Served? and Ripping Yarns teams and rates the late Tony Hancock as his all-time hero. He also has some ambition to produce a Muppets album, claiming that the first Muppets release (he hasn't heard the second) was badly done.

'I even phoned Jim Henson to talk to him about it. With the first album there was so many faults. Fozzie Bear comes onstage and then you get this big five second gap before Kermit comes on. Holes like that are atrocious. Then there were things where the voices were all out of perspective — the voices of the two old men in the box come up one left and one right, which isn't correct. It's all these little elements, things I've learned from Python, the little effects and things, that really make an album. I was annoyed that the Muppet album got to No 1 because it could have been done so much better.'

Two years on, Redwood's still settling down - 'Not all of the furniture has arrived yet... the settee only came yesterday' — but the Jacquemin inventory of equipment and assorted aids is reasonably impressive.

'We've got a Fender Rhodes, our own drum kit, amps and things which people can use if they want to. In the control room we've got Harmonizers which can be linked to an Odyssey synth; the 8-track is a Studer; there are Lockwood monitors, we use a Quad for monitoring here because that's quite a warm sound; Tannoy Etons for studio stereo playback; there's a Crown DC 300A, which is quite a powerful amp; we've got a Studer mixdown machine, a Thorens record deck; a Neal cassette deck and an ITC cartridge machine. We do broadcast carts and I like to follow the whole job through because cartridges can be a difficult thing to get right and I want to make certain that the job's done properly. Then there's...' The facts and details pile up with considerably alacrity. When Jacquemin concludes: 'For an 8-track, it's pretty luxurious,' there's little one can do but concur.

So much for the studio then — but what of the live gigs, the involvement with Python at Drury Lane and Barry Humphries at The Globe?

'With Barry Humphries, I went through three consecutive days of programme and edited it all down to one album. That was great fun. Live At Drury Lane I was more involved with. I got Alan Bailey down from Radio Trent to engineer it, because I was doing the live sound there, and we used Ronnie Lane's mobile LMS. Alan's superb, a craftsman who really cares about what he's doing.'

All went well then?

'Yes, though one hilarious thing happened one night. A friend of mine had been acting as stage hand and came in to place mics for me. He got to know his cues fairly well and, after the third or fourth week on the live show, one night went off to the toilet at a convenient time. Unfortunately he picked one which seemingly had a self-locking door — and though he banged and shouted he couldn't get out. Neil Innes was due on and actually heard the guy, but just said, 'Some berk has locked himself in the toilet.' However, when he got onstage there was no mic for him and he just had to busk things while the guy in the toilet managed to climb out, run round to the front of the theatre — where they wouldn't let him in at first — then eventually run up the aisle before heading back-stage once more.'

A disaster for a National Theatre Ibsen presentation possibly. But for Python just something that seemed like part of the show.

Which reminds me — just what is the flying machine that seems to be using Jacquemin's upstairs room as some kind of hangar?

'Oh, that's a space-ship,' he remarks in a manner that suggests that such an occurrence is so routine that it's hardly worth mentioning. 'It's all to do with the film. EMI were behind it but dropped it because things all got a little too blasphemous. George Harrison is behind it now, putting in backing.'


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Publisher: Sound International - Link House Publications

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Sound International - May 1979

Donated by: Richard Elen

Feature by Fred Dellar

Previous article in this issue:

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