Whether it’s a band, a film, a place or a person, there are many ways that fans creatively express their love for something. However, it takes a rare and special level of commitment to dedicate your entire Christmas period to forensically dissecting the work of your chosen inspiration. That’s the level of devotion Chris Shaw, Beatles superfan and creator of music discussion podcast I Am The EggPod, has for the Fab Four, and earlier this year it manifested in a staggeringly intensive podcast project.
First launched in 2018, I Am The EggPod had a relatively simple set-up in its original form. Shaw would interview a new guest for each episode, and analyse their favourite Beatles album track by track. “There was nothing else out there,” Shaw recalls. “Obviously I’m a big fan of the Beatles but there was nothing there when I first started it, so I thought ‘I’ll just do it myself’.”
I Am The EggPod was an early trailblazer of this now-established podcast format. It now includes the likes of recent British Podcast Award winners Decode, who have expanded on the template through the use of poetic, immersive soundscapes that leads listeners through seminal UK rap albums – so far featuring Dave’s Psychodrama and Skepta’s Konnichiwa.
It was recording an episode with broadcaster and noted Beatles fan Samira Ahmed – who last year interviewed Paul McCartney about a lyrics book he published with poet Paul Muldoon – that really crystallised the format for Shaw. “She was amazing; she just kind of made the template. It made everything a bit deeper and not just analysing music; it was talking about memories and feelings and that sort of thing. It sort of blew up from there.”
Eight days a week
EggPod’s original incarnation proved popular with Beatles fans, but 2021 brought something unexpected: some new material to dissect. Created by Oscar-winning Lord Of The Rings director Peter Jackson, The Beatles: Get Back was an eight-hour documentary series, based on 60 hours of film footage and over 150 hours of unheard audio from the band’s Let It Be recordings. It was hailed as one of the most remarkable Beatles documentaries ever spliced together, and made perfect fodder for EggPod’s brand of reaction, analysis and discussion.
“Originally I was going to do three episodes, because it’s split into three sections,” Shaw explains. The film came out in November 2021; he had a guest in mind and was planning to do something for Christmas, but comedy writer Joel Morris, who had already made a couple of appearances on the podcast, contacted Shaw with a particularly compelling idea. The Beatles: Get Back documents 22 calendar days in January 1969, during which the Beatles shut themselves away for their own lockdown-style project – first in a studio in Twickenham and then at Apple Corps HQ on Savile Row – as they set about recording material that would eventually be performed at their famous rooftop concert.
“Joel said: do one podcast a day, throughout January, and then publish it on that day in January,” recalls Shaw. “He suggested I could do it with, say, 10 guests, and record a couple of days per guest.”
Shaw was immediately intrigued by the concept, but there was a problem. By this point, it was already December, meaning Shaw would have only three or four weeks to complete the project and release it in sync with the original recordings 53 years previously. He’d also have to account for three times as many guests as he’d originally planned for, and seven times as many episodes.
“I was chatting to my wife and I said, Do you mind if I ruin Christmas? She said, Yes, you can go for it. So I did.”
After that somewhat difficult conversation, Shaw swapped eggnog for EggPod, and spent the following weeks working flat out on the podcast.
“I emailed a lot of people who’d been on the podcast before, so they knew the format anyway – pick a day and talk about it.”
With a little help from my friends
Looking at the vast swathe of illustrious guests underpinning the podcast as a whole, it’s easy to imagine Shaw as a music mogul thumbing through his bulging contacts book. Apparently this is not the case – or at least, it wasn’t when he started out. “I think I knew two people,” he says. “I know them from doing this. And I’ve kept in touch and am friends with some of them now, which is a bit weird.”
However, there was one person in particular that he was determined to reach. “Mark Lewisohn is basically the Maharishi of Beatles history,” explains Shaw. “He’s the leading historian who has written the proper, authoritative book [The Beatles: All These Years]. It was really disconcerting when he started appearing on other podcasts!”
For anyone who has been having a similar problem – failing to pin down a highly coveted guest – it’s worth noting that when Shaw finally did get his man he discovered there was a particular reason why he kept getting sidestepped. Lewisohn later explained that he didn’t feel confident following the podcast’s established track-by-track album review format. However, by picking a different kind of album, ‘The Beatles Live at the Star Club’, he was able to circumvent the problem. “It made it less of a musicologist’s role, more historical; which he felt comfortable with,” Shaw says.
By the time he embarked on the Get Back project, Shaw had built up a considerable list of distinguished contributors. However, he says that recording over the Christmas period made securing guests for the endeavour challenging at first.
“Thankfully people did start saying yes, but my problem was it wouldn’t be recorded sequentially, so I might be talking about day eight on one day, and day 12 on another, and then day two… so for my benefit and theirs I watched each day in the movie and made annotations. I basically wrote the whole thing out – all eight hours. And then I would email that to the guest.”
This level of preparation and attention to detail proved to be a masterstroke, and the essential glue that held the whole project together. Guests were able not only to watch ‘their’ day in advance of the interview, but also to read the full transcript and have it in front of them as an aide memoire, meaning conversation could flow easily.
We can work it out
Another challenge Shaw faced was to avoid repetition. In the film itself there are certain themes and topics that come up a number of times – such as the original project’s creator attempting to persuade the band to perform the final concert in Libya – and, naturally enough, the podcasts guests tended to pick up on those repeated topics too.
The secret was in the edit. Listening to the final result, this is seamless, and you’d never notice how much was actually taken out of the interviews to ensure an easy listen. “I always spend ages editing,” Shaw says. “It’s 80% of what I do. There’s a saying that most podcasts should be about 45 minutes because that’s the time of the average commute.”
First, Shaw applies the right EQ to the audio to make the tones and frequencies comfortable to listen to with headphones, then takes out little hesitations and so forth. “I’m one of those that can’t be doing with all the ‘erms’,” he confesses. “That takes a while, and then I go through it all again to get the structure.”
“I did edit out a lot [of repetition],” says Shaw. “But I probably missed a few because of the time constraints.”
Talking of constraints, day 11 of the original recordings, Monday 20 January 1969, brought a special challenge, in that there was virtually no footage to talk about. Events were at a sensitive point: George Harrison had returned to the fold having briefly quit the Beatles; but the operation had just moved from Twickenham to the headquarters of the Beatles Apple Corps, on London’s Savile Row, and, with new recording equipment still in the process of being installed, the band decided not to let the cameras roll on proceedings that day.
The solution the documentary uses to get around this is a short section interviewing two young fans outside on the street hoping for a glimpse of their idol, Paul McCartney, but this presented a considerable extra obstacle for a day-by-day podcast, whose sole raison d’être is to revisit the events of that particular day. Shaw realised that sticking rigidly with the podcast format at this point wouldn’t make for the most insightful or informative of episodes, especially since there was no time for deep research, such as tracking down the two young fans for an interview.
A day in the life
“I did think, maybe I should just skip that. But I’d gone so deep into it I couldn’t cop out at that point,” he remembers. Instead, he decided to take a brief diversion down a different route. Shaw’s solution was to call in EggPod stalwart Rob Manuel, doyen of its first ever episode and as safe a pair of hands as he could muster. “I knew he was the perfect person to do it. He did a ‘listicle’ and he watched the film three times up to Day 11 in about a week.”
From his forensic viewing of events ‘up to now’, Rob distilled 10 talking points for discussion – the big themes that had emerged so far, trying to understand what was going on in the mind of each Beatle and the supporting cast of characters working with and for them. The result is a rewarding, even deeper dive into the events, ideas, motivations, emotions and nuances that the film explores – and the results were very well received by listeners.
Had Shaw not chosen to be flexible with the format, Day 11 could have been a weak episode thin on substance. Instead, he recognised the challenge and turned the enforced pause in proceedings (conveniently around the half-way stage in the whole Get Back project) to both his and EggPod’s advantage. This aptly illustrates that in podcasting, not everything has to be planned exactly and laid out ahead of time. In some cases, it’s better to be flexible, and adapt to changing circumstances on the fly.
The rest of the series was equally popular, and formed a compelling package that garnered 250,000 listens for one episode and shot the offering to number one in the UK music podcast charts. What Shaw had ended up creating was a complete multimedia experience, blending appointment TV viewing, daily podcast listening and audience interaction. For each of those 22 days featured in the documentary, ‘EggPodders’ would watch the day’s footage, listen to the podcast, and discuss the whole thing on social media. In effect, Shaw had inadvertently placed EggPod in the vanguard to what has become another growing trend: watchalong podcasts, a category which now boasts shows featuring actors from the likes of It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, The Sopranos, Gilmore Girls, Succession and others.
So looking back, how does Shaw feel about the podcast he’s created, and what advice might he offer to anyone who is facing challenging times with theirs?
“When I first started doing this, not many people listened and then I sort of gave up on it,” he admits. “But when it kicked off in September 2018, then people started listening to the first few. Even if nobody listens to the first few, at some point they will, and then they'll binge listen. So just keep doing what you're doing – don't change it.”
“I could have done a lot of things differently. It’s just the fact that it was in real time really. I think we were still in lockdown: you watch something and you want to talk about it, and it’s such a niche thing you could only really talk about it with other Beatles fans. So people seemed to use [the podcast] as a sort of hub, just to get together and go ‘Oh yeah, I love that bit’.”
As for the Get Back episodes, it’s fitting that a music documentary that’s remarkable for so many reasons has spawned such an ambitious and exciting podcasting project. As a reprise to the episodes, Shaw recently ‘got back’ into the whole thing via an interview he did with original film-maker Michael Lindsay-Hogg, where among many topics discussed was how the film differed from Let It Be, and what it’s like being one of the revisit’s central characters rather than being behind the cameras.
In retrospect, Shaw is happy with what he achieved in the ‘day by day, every day, on the day’ shows: “As a piece, it does really stand alone. I can’t really talk about it without sounding like I’m showing off – but yes, I’m really proud of it.”
Between the tight time frame, the dense nature of the subject matter and the availability of guests, the undertaking had its fair share of challenges, but for those that find themselves in a creative hole, Shaw’s advice is simple. “If you've ever run out of ideas,” he says, “just press record and see what happens!”