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    How the Beatles podcasters of ‘Nothing Is Real’ see recent Fab Four releases
    • December 20, 2023

    Last month, a British band topped the U.K. charts with its new single, reaching number 2 in America, behind only Taylor Swift; they also landed two albums in Billboard’s Top 20.

    That’s a decent showing for a band that broke up 50 years ago.

    Yes, ladies and gentlemen, once again, The Beatles are back. The new song, “Now and Then,” and the expanded Red and Blue greatest hits albums join a world that has seen at least three dozen podcasts, a never-ending library of books, the latest a biography of the band’s roadie Mal Evans that runs nearly 600 pages, along with a parade of documentary programs like “McCartney 3,2,1,” and, most notably, Peter Jackson’s revelatory “Get Back.”

    Meanwhile, in Ireland, two diehard fans, Steven Cockcroft and Jason Carty, could arguably be described as the Beatles of Beatles podcasters.

    After winning the 2018 “Beatle Brain of Ireland” quiz, they launched “Nothing is Real,” their own podcast for all things John, Paul, George and Ringo. Since then, they’ve had three million downloads in the last three years, won PodBible’s 2022 Music Podcast of the Year Award and, Cockcroft says, “inexplicably,” were a No.1 music podcast recommendation in the New York Times this summer.

    The duo recently sold out live shows in Belfast, Dublin and London’s West End and were called on to host this year’s “Beatle Brain of Ireland” showdown. (“People complained the questions were too hard,” Cockcroft says.) Additionally, their four-part radio documentary about the band’s Irish roots, commissioned by BBC Northern Ireland, was just nominated for an Irish Radio Award.

    Cockcroft and Carty spoke by video recently about the forever fascination with the Fab Four and how it is evolving.

    Jason Carty (L) and Steven Cockroft (R) are the hosts of the Beatles podcast Nothing Is Real. (Photo credit: Chris Floyd / Courtesy of Nothing Is Real))

    Q. What do you think of the recently release “new” Beatles song, “Now and Then”?

    Cockcroft: I don’t think it is the greatest song in the world, but I don’t think it has to be. It’s enough that it exists.

    I didn’t think it was a good idea initially because I’d heard the work tape and didn’t think there was much of a song. But Jason always says Paul McCartney has this superpower where he can hear the finished record in his head – the drum and bass part and the string section. So I wonder if in 1995, Paul had in his head something that no one else could hear – it was clearly unfinished business for him and who am I to tell Paul McCartney he can’t scratch his itch?

    Carty: The older I get, the less precious I get about these kinds of things. I’m happy for there to be one more Beatles song instead of one less Beatles song. John Lennon’s voice is in popular culture again, and that’s important. And if you heard the original tape, Paul has taken bits out and changed the song. So it is Lennon-McCartney in that sense.

    Q. What about the video for the song?

    Cockcroft: I greatly admire Peter Jackson for what he’s done with the audio. I initially thought the video was terrible: while it’s quite funny the first time John Lennon is dancing around while the orchestra plays, by the third time, it’s a little irritating. But the last 40 seconds where it spools back from 1969 all the way to them as children really packed a punch and was incredibly moving.

    Carty: I like the video, and that it’s kind of silly. It’s not portentous, there’s not the message that “The Beatles are so important.” And it is spreading through the culture and I think that was part of the plan.

    Q. The Beatles obviously remain immensely popular but how much did Peter Jackson’s “Get Back” change the equation?

    Carty: “Get Back” was a total game-changer. It reseeded the Beatles for a younger audience. For a younger generation, it changed the Beatles from historical figures – the Shakespeares of pop music – into something more human and more real. You’re seeing the offshoot of that with “Now and Then”: there’s a huge number of younger people from about 17 to 25 in the Beatles social media space, on Tiktok, YouTube and Twitter. “Now and Then” is a big deal for young people who weren’t wedded to rock classicism.

    Cockcroft: We are part of the older generation who want a physical product, but Apple is turning away from us and focusing their attention on younger people who want who want new mixes and are listening on different platforms through different speakers. Initially, I was quite resentful of that, but I’ve come to terms with the fact that we’re not the market that Apple is chasing.

    Carty: You need to make the band relevant. Starting with “Get Back,” The Beatles moved into the space where Queen, Elton John and ABBA have been – an old band, but also a living band with a story. Queen had the Freddie Mercury movie, Elton had his movie and hits with Dua Lipa, ABBA had their musical and movie. Obviously, there are whole genres of music that are more relevant and the whole Taylor Swift phenomenon. But if you kind of look at top streaming artists the Beatles have been moving up.

    Q. McCartney has produced five Top 10 solo albums in the last 20 years. What impact does that, and his touring, have on the band’s continued relevance?

    Carty: Paul is a brand ambassador and this run has been phenomenally impressive. The Beatles would still be relevant, but we won’t really know until we’re in the post-Paul McCartney universe, which is hopefully a long way off.

    Q. Part one of “Tune In,” Mark Lewisohn’s biography [which is nearly 1,000 pages long, covering only through 1962] came out a decade ago. Whenever the second volume arrives, will it be received differently in this post-“Get Back” era or is it still for die-hards only?

    Cockcroft: The second volume will do better because the first one was about what their grandparents were doing and what they had for their breakfast as kids but this will be dealing with their actual career and people will be fascinated by that. And it’s coming into an environment in which people are much more interested and there’s a much broader interest in the Beatles.

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    Q. I was originally going to ask if the expanded Red and Blue albums seemed like a money grab and the bottom of the barrel – unlike, say, the “Sgt. Pepper” or “Revolver” reissues, there aren’t different takes or radically different mixes – but after what you’ve said, I’m wondering if it’s actually a savvy way to stoke interest in the Beatles among younger listeners.

    Carty: These albums are a Spotify playlist essentially, but it’s using the Red and Blue albums, which is good branding. Steven and I can go into a store and see those famous covers and get all excited again. But now there’s a 75-song playlist for the “Get Back” kids to stream songs like “Dear Prudence” and other songs.

    Cockcroft: I regard the Red and Blue albums as part of the canon, so I don’t like the tinkering with the setlist. I’d have preferred a new compilation. It’s like how I find some new mixes jarring – I enjoy the ones I grew up with – and was initially quite resentful. But now I accept these mixes and these albums are not for me. A friend asked: Is it more important to protect the holy texts or to get the message out there? If you think of it in those terms, it’s more important to get the message out there.

    ​ Orange County Register