In the midst of molestation by a bunch of giggling damsels hurling themselves onto me as I ran through the grand entrance of Saint Nick’s Cathedral, I couldn’t help but think back on how this all started.
Earlier that evening we’d been instructed – summoned even – to plant ourselves outside Newcastle Castle for 8pm sharp. So, standing there on a balmy Newcastle night beneath the cold slab of the Castle, the sun sank and the doors of the pub opposite burst open, disgorging an extraordinary crowd onto the glistening cobbles; amongst the punters armed with pints dressed as regular as can be were peppered chainmail-encased knights, flowery damsels, velour wizards and blood-spattered baggy rabbits.
A suitably barmy mix of modern and medieval, the eclectic crowd was silenced by a cacophony of titters as a gaggle of barefoot women in diaphanous gowns skittered past, and a hirsute, barrel-chested castle landlord pulled his wan, sickly son out onto the steps of the keep.
characters were dragged kicking and screaming out of the screen, ever-more incongruous sights unfolding
Telling us all exactly how you should build a castle on a swamp (don’t), his blustering was soon cut short by the sharp hairy knock of coconut hooves heralding the grand entrance of the only serious man in a very silly world, King Arthur himself.
An on-the-spot induction followed and with that we were all cast as fellow Knights of the Round Table, setting off on the quest for the Holy Grail. Following the King around the back streets, we dodged rubber chickens hurled from the castle ramparts by a piquantly rude French knight, encountered a low-rent devil banger-slinging enchanter, and crossed the bridge of peril through the Black Gate.
an evening where cognitive dissonance was in full force
Finally making it to the Cathedral doors we were treated to a rampant greeting by the previously mentioned squealing maidens, who cast the incoming ladies aside and pounced on the men, looking no doubt for a knight to remember.
Into the polished pews we went for an evening where cognitive dissonance was in full force as drinks, nachos and all-around good cheer were dished up beneath the vaulted roof of the magnificent – and usually very solemn – cathedral. Apropos to the venue, the screening kicked off with a hymn, which was, natch, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life; the iconic (and likely only) singalong crucifixion ditty from the finale of Holy Grail follow-up Life of Brian.
the film itself remains an anarchic, muddy, meta masterpiece
Throughout the film characters were dragged kicking and screaming out of the screen, ever-more incongruous sights unfolding as stubborn black knights were chopped to bits in front of the organ, sex-starved nymphets ran up the aisles screaming for oral sex, and the enchanter reappeared at the lectern to cast scorn alongside a fresh supply of devil bangers.
The film itself remains an anarchic, muddy, meta masterpiece, a still-influential classic that saw the Python boys transformed from pop surrealist laugh-merchants to stone-cold comedy icons. Its stature growing over the years, time shines ever kinder on a film that even now feels fresh and vital, yielding new surprises for even the most devoted of followers and securing a bevy of new fans from amongst the few lucky ones for whom their first experience with the film was this impeccable night from Screenage Kicks.
Leigh Venus at the Cathedral Church of St Nicholas, 2 September 2016
Originally published in Narc Magazine
Photos: Tanya Smiles