An Evening with Ken Scott

Live Review | Our Lady’s Parish Hall, Acomb, York | Review and Photo by Liam Wilkinson

There’s a poignant moment in Ken Scott’s book Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust in which the legendary record producer and engineer expresses his regret over failing to note the significance of the many recording sessions he has attended. Some fifty five years have passed since Scott began his first job at EMI Recording Studios on Abbey Road, and his memories of those many sessions have become blurred over time. Ken is one of the few people who can claim to have worked so many times with The Beatles that he simply cannot recall the majority of his experiences with them, so lost are the moments to the fog of time.

The North Yorkshire charity Dementia Forward know all too well how the memory can fail us. They work tirelessly to support those living with a disease that has robbed them of precious memories. And tonight, at a little church hall in a suburb of York, the charity welcomed the man responsible for recording some of the most cherished songs in musical history to help raise money for this incredibly worthwhile cause.

Armed with a laptop, projector and a pair of speakers, Ken took his audience on a magical mystery tour of his astonishing career. With a laid-back modesty, a warm anecdotal patter and a promise to make a donation to the charity for every swear word he uttered, Ken spoke about beginning his working life as an engineer on The Beatles’ A Hard Day’s Night, about the many nights he spent capturing the soulful vocals of a young Elton John and how he once watched David Bowie sobbing as he poured his heart into the 1971 recording of “Five Years.”

Accompanied by a series of photographs of artists, locations and dog-eared covers of master tapes, Ken described his time at the Château d’Hérouville in France where he helped Elton John create Honky Chateau, he recalled the afternoons he spent on the Abbey Road fire escape ogling a naked yoga class in one of the nearby buildings with a giggling John Lennon and how the anxiety of working as a teenager under the great George Martin evolved into a close friendship and deep, abiding respect. He played an outtake of The Beatles’ “Your Mother Should Know” and informed us that this was the first recording he ever led as a solo engineer and, when asked by a member of the audience if he’d ever worked with Eric Clapton, he replied – with a charming lack of vanity – “only very briefly – I recorded his solo for “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” but I can’t remember a thing about doing it!”

It was with the engaging dissection of classic songs, however, that Ken managed to enchant his small but appreciative audience. By isolating the tracks of Elton’s “Rocket Man” and Bowie’s “Life on Mars”, both recorded with Ken at the controls, this ever-humble gentleman demonstrated the ingenuity and magic involved in constructing a classic cut. He played Elton’s stunning vocal take and remarked on how he literally watched as Mr Dwight wrote the entire song in just ten minutes, and he isolated Mick Ronson’s soaring guitar and Rick Wakeman’s ornate piano on the Bowie classic whilst recalling just how delightful a man Ronson was and how Rick’s piano still gives him tingles to this day. Particularly fascinating was the story Ken told regarding that strange ending of “Life on Mars” in which the payphone at Trident Studios suddenly started to ring during the session and how Mick Ronson can be heard to say, in his thick Hull accent, “Fucking bastard!” as they abandoned the take. Another donation for the swear-jar!

Nobody who attended tonight’s event knew what they were going to get before Ken began to speak. But by the end of the show, everyone agreed that we’d probably been the luckiest bunch of people in York on this warm autumn evening. Ken closed his two-hour talk with a few words about his sadness over losing lifelong friend David Bowie back in 2016, as well as mentioning, with obvious emotion, how he felt when John Lennon, George Harrison, Mick Ronson and George Martin departed. And, with a click of his laptop, he projected the logo of Dementia Forward onto his screen and urged us to support this most important of charities, highlighting just how vital it is that we find a way to preserve such special memories for future generations.

To find out more about Dementia Forward, visit http://www.dementiaforward.org.uk/.