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Music

When George Harrison introduced Eric Idle to Joni Mitchell

Famously, the late Beatle George Harrison was a close friend of Monty Python’s Eric Idle. In fact, it was Harrison who financed the acclaimed 1979 Monty Python film Life of Brian simply because he adored the comedy troupe and wanted to see the film come to fruition. Idle first met Harrison in the mid-1970s in a moment Idle later described as “love at first sight”, and they bonded over their shared passion for music and comedy.

In his 2018 memoir, Always Look on the Bright Side of Life: A Sortabiography, Idle explained that he met Harrison at a screening for Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 1975. “I had heard that George wanted to meet me, but I was somewhat shy of meeting him.” Idle wrote. “I was shy and tried to avoid him, but he snuck up on me in the back of the theatre as the credits began to roll. I hadn’t yet learned he was unstoppable.”

Adding: “We began a conversation that would last about twenty-four hours. Who could resist his opening line? ‘We can’t talk here. Let’s go and have a reefer in the projection booth.’ No telling what the startled projectionist felt as a Beatle came in with one of the actors from the movie he had just projected and lit up a joint.”

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Detailing his story further, Idle continued: “He managed eventually to get us to leave, and we went off to dinner with Terry Gilliam and Olivia Harrison. After dinner, George insisted I go with him to A&M Studios, where he introduced me to Joni Mitchell. Joni f***ing Mitchell, for Christ’s sake.”

At the studio, “Saxophonist Tom Scott was at work on some overdubs of George’s latest album, Extra Texture, and we listened to some of the tracks and then went back to the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where we talked and talked and talked for the rest of the night. What was it like to be a Python? What was it like to be a Beatle? A thousand questions.”

In reflection, Idle noted that part of his bond with Harrison was also due to their shared position in their respective groups. Idle once told Rolling Stone, “It occurred to me later that we both played similar roles inside our groups with big power blocks. Once I was moaning a little bit on Brian, saying, ‘It was hard to get onscreen with Michael Palin and John Cleese.’ He said, ‘Well, imagine what it’s like trying to get studio time with Lennon and McCartney.’ I said, ‘All right. Absolutely. Got it. OK. Check. I’ll shut up now.’ Then it occurred to me that yes, in fact, we were slightly the outsiders, playing similar roles in our groups.”

Watch George Harrison’s short cameo in Monty Python’s Life of Brian below.