We were delighted to welcome Bethan Roberts to Word In Your Ear to talk about her novel “Graceland“. This is based on the most important relationship in the life of Elvis Presley. His mother Gladys brought him up single-handedly when his father went into prison, she encouraged his singing, she feared for what the girls would do to him and what the managers might take from him, wished he didn’t have to go away so often and would have preferred him to be a furniture salesman married to a nice local girl with some grandchildren on the way. Then, when he was undergoing basic training in the army, she died.
People say that Elvis was never the same after he went in the army. In fact he was never the same after his mother died. Bethan tells us about how she got the idea for the book, what fascinates her about the intense relationship between mother and son and while, as she explains, the odd incident may have been embroidered, the basic facts of her narrative are not in dispute. What’s most amazing, when you read “Graceland”, is that nobody’s written this story before. This book is highly recommended, not merely to fans of Elvis, but for anyone who wants to understand what sudden dramatic fame does to the nearest and dearest of the Famous One.
When Sid Smith first finished his definitive biography of King Crimson in 2001 he thought, not unreasonable that would be that. But then Robert Fripp reactivated the band and so Sid had to take up his pen once more. This has resulted in an even more definitive work “In The Court Of King Crimson”. He came to Word In Your Ear to run Mark and David through the key facts of their extraordinary rise and their exceptional longevity, what it’s like to spend six weeks on the road with a bunch of musical gentlemen of a certain age and why he’s not planning to put down his pen just yet.
In his new book “A New Day Yesterday”, an account of progressive rock in the 1970s, Mike Barnes tells the story of how this peculiarly British musical form was born out of the Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park” and the Graham Bond Organisation and went on to flourish throughout the 70s in the universities of Britain and the arenas of the United States. He talks to Mark and David about all the issues that matter: capes, mellotrons, seated audiences, prolonged soloing, the real names of the members of Quintessence and whatever happened to Egg.
Alexis Petridis was very lucky Elton John chose him to help tell the story in his best-selling memoir “Me”. Elton John’s equally lucky Alexis agreed because without him it probably wouldn’t be half as good as it is. In fact it’s two stories: the first is the story of a musical career that seems to be headed nowhere until a chance meeting with a lyricist began a partnership which operated in an unprecedented way and led to unprecedented success; the other is a personal story of how a very tense little boy from Pinner grew to be able to afford all the addictions on a Pharaonic scale, managed to conquer them and belatedly found contentment in a state that wasn’t even invented when he was first a superstar. Every home should have a copy because everyone in that home would find at least some of it jaw-dropping. Alexis told us what it was like to write and what he learned about life in the process.
On December 7th Thomas Alan Waits celebrates his 70th birthday and to mark that occasion we asked Barney Hoskyns, the author of his biography “Lowside Of The Road”, to talk about what makes Waits one of the rare examples of a misfit who has prospered on his own terms. It’s all here: developing his shtick entertaining the line of customers outside, choosing to dress in a way that had gone out of style twenty years before, living his character twenty four hours a day, being taken in hand both personally and professionally somewhat late in the day and eventually becoming a success on his own terms. Barney thinks he as important an artist as the 20th century has produced. He came along to explain why.
It’s always good to welcome Andrew Collins back to the pod. Andrew was with us most recently to talk about the new edition of his official biography of Billy Bragg. This time he’s got his movie hat on, as befits the man who writes about films for the Radio Times and presents “Saturday Night At The Movies” on Classic FM. Since 2019 has been such a bumper year for music biopics we asked him to remind us what are the best of breed in ten categories ranging from fiction to festivals and everything inbetween. You probably won’t agree with it all but it will probably leave you determined to have a look on Netflix and search out some overlooked classic.
Graham Parker had an unusual career trajectory. “I didn’t pay my dues until after I had some success,” he says. In the wake of his greatest triumph, 1979’s “Squeezing Out Sparks”, he broke up his partnership with the Rumour and moved to America. Here he was the unwitting beneficiary of a record business which had difficulty adapting to a changed world. In the 80s and 90s, he says, they actually gave him too much money. A few years back he resumed his partnership with the Rumour, who were all present and correct and all got on with each other, a state of affairs almost unique in rock and roll. Together they were featured in the Judd Apatow film “This Is Forty”. He currently commutes between his homes in London and the United States and begins a UK solo tour in Exeter on November 21st. The full date sheet, which includes a show at the Union Chapel on the 25th, is here. He may be coming to your town. If he does go and say hello.
The big hit records of today are assembled. The great records of 1968 were made. In a few cases they just happened, seemingly brought into being by some higher power over and above the efforts of any one individual. In his new book “Wichita Lineman: Searching In The Sun For The World’s Greatest Unfinished Song” Dylan Jones traces the combination of inspiration and chance which makes this “the world’s greatest unfinished song” and, more to the point, arguably the greatest pop record ever made.
Daniel Rachel talked to everyone from Noel Gallagher to Tony Blair for his new book “Don’t Look Back In Anger” and he came in to Word In Your Ear to talk about how Kate Moss, David Beckham, Alan Macgee, Damien Hirst, Alastair Campbell and many others, knowingly or otherwise, managed to shape Britain’s last feelgood decade, which began with Spike Island and finished with the death of Diana. We guarantee, this will change the way you think about the era you lived through.
When Dave Lewis first went to see Led Zeppelin at the Empire Pool, Wembley in 1971 it cost him 75p. When they played their final show at the O2 in 2007 he was on Robert Plant’s guest list. From the germ of his teenage scrapbook he built a small empire, based on his fanzine “Tight But Loose”, which has produced a staggering range of titles dedicated to every aspect of Led Zeppelin’s career. His book “Evenings With Led Zeppelin” has the distinction of being literally the heaviest book ever to feature on “Word In Your Ear”. Dave came in to the Islington to talk about what got him excited in 1971 and, as you’ll hear, still excites him today.