Word podcast 292 – Kenneth Womack on the sideways genius of George Martin

Kenneth Womack, who actually teaches a course in the Beatles at Monmouth University in New Jersey, has just published “Sound Pictures”, the second part of his mammoth biography of Beatles producer George Martin, and he came to Word In Your Ear to talk about it. There was plenty to cover: from his childhood in the Depression through a transformation thanks to the Fleet Air Arm and the Guildhall School of Music to an apprenticeship at EMI which led him to produce everyone from Flanders and Swann to Peter Sellers and then confronted him with the challenge of making something of the four boys from Liverpool that the publishing division were keen on signing.

He wasn’t convinced at first but as soon as they did something he thought was good he was the first to recognise it and he was the only person apart from Brian Epstein who believed they were going to be huge and helped make sure they were. Kenneth provides a gripping account of what was arguably the most productive creative partnership of the 20th century. How does he think they would have fared if they had ended up with some other producer at EMI rather than George Martin? “I think they would have had a few hits and then faded away,” he says. “What make it all work was that they came at everything sideways.”

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Word Podcast 291 – Billy Bragg talks about the vital role played by skiffle in the story of British rock

David Hepworth writes: We dropped off Billy Bragg at his London hotel after this evening at Word In Your Ear and on my way home I started spooling back through the dizzing range of subjects we had touched upon in the course of the evening: Izal medicated toilet paper, the Beatles, Joe Henry, the restorative effects of finishing the evening signing tea towels, Bovingdon tank museum, an old copy of the East London Advertiser, meeting Bob Dylan, watching old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies, the importance of accountability, what the Clash could do and what they couldn’t do, meeting Ray Galton in the pub, what poems could each of us recite from memory, Lead Belly, the cultural importance of TV cowboys, how many of the Quarrymen are still alive and then there was a joke about a doctor and a cat which I can’t recall enough of to relate here.

In the middle of all that we recorded a podcast where Billy talked about “Roots, Radicals and Rockers”, his acclaimed book about skiffle.

The following day I asked Mark if there was anything I’d forgotten and he added: Conscription, rationing, availability of post-war foodstuffs (sugar, sweets), embouchure re brass instruments, Italian fashion and screen idols, American ’50s pop culture, the birth of ITV, cowboy mythology, Dixie, blues, trad jazz, bop, jive, rockabilly, skiffle, punk, garage rock, ragtime, syncopated rhythms of New Orleans, Spasm band instruments, the laws of the railroad & transport of livestock and, well, you get the idea. Thanks to Billy for giving us one of the great nights at Word In Your Ear. If you enjoy the Word podcast don’t forget to favourite it in all the usual places.

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