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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 October, 2003, 14:38 GMT
Sir George's path to Milkwood
By Nick Dermody
BBC Wales News Online

Sir George Martin and Aeronwy Thomas
Sir George Martin with Dylan Thomas' daughter Aeronwy
Former Beatles producer Sir George Martin believes any production of Dylan Thomas' Under Milkwood is a question of walking "a tightrope of taste".

It is not hard to understand why when he describes the character Captain Cat's line "let me shipwreck in your thighs" as "powerful stuff - one of the highlights of this great work".

His comments came at the talk he gave at Dylan Thomas Centre in Swansea on Monday night, the launch event for the city's two-week festival to mark the life, works and 50th anniversary of the death of Wales' most famous poet.

The evening was his explanation of how he came to walk that tightrope in 1988 with his EMI recording of Thomas' much-loved play for voices, a recording of original songs and tunes re-released for the festival as a double CD.

Like any respectable showbiz soiree, Sir George's cosy chat with the audience involved some impressive name-dropping as he reeled off the acting and singing talent - from Anthony Hopkins and Tom Jones to Elton John and Catherine Zeta Jones - he rallied for the work.
The words that Dylan wrote are still some of the most beautiful in the English language
Sir George Martin

Martin, still suave and urbane at 77, used a film and slide show to illustrate the story of how his audio version of Thomas' tale of a day in the life of the mythical Welsh seaside town of Llareggub came into being.

He drew heavily from the documentary made at the time by Melvyn Bragg for ITV's South Bank Show so, as the lights went down on the invited audience, many ubiquitous Welsh faces and voices from 15 years ago sprang to life on the screen.

Windsor Davies, Jonathan Pryce, Freddie Jones, Sian Phillips, Ruth Madoc and a fresh-faced Anthony Hopkins made early appearances.

Sir George Martin with Bonnie Tyler
Swansea's Bonnie Tyler was among Monday night's audience

The contributions of Tom Jones (Martin had to fly to Los Angeles to bag him), Swansea's own Bonnie Tyler and even Catherine Zeta Jones - for the fundraising live Prince's Trust performance - were also made clear.

It fell to Freddie Jones to deliver Captain Cat's shipwreck line, in a duet with another voice from the past, Mary Hopkin, playing the part of Rosie Probert.

After the lights went up, Sir George confessed: "I feel in love with Rosie Probert, like Captain Cat did. The words that Dylan wrote are still some of the most beautiful in the English language."

But it was Elton John who - eventually - found the tune for the most taut part of the music producer's tightrope walk, Polly Garter's song, I loved a man, about her fondness for three men, called Tom, Dick and Harry.

Sir George said it took him three months to track the superstar down to his Windsor mansion but, when the day came that the two of them were sat at an electric piano running through Thomas' lines, John took just an hour-and-a-half to come up with the melody which Bonnie Tyler sang on the album.

Sir George then broke his promise to his friend never to play that demo tape in public. So the audience at the Dylan Thomas Centre was treated to the sound of John's familiar, but younger voice, finding its way through a work very much in progress.

People were not left hanging on too long to find out why John had made the producer of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band - on whose cover Dylan Thomas is featured - swear never to play the tape to anyone other than the predominantly Welsh cast of his Under Milkwood.

The answer lies in the year it was made, circa 1988, when the tabloid's interest in John's private life had reached a fever pitch, with one paper eventually deciding to settle its differences with the singer out-of-court and by running the headline: "Sorry Elton".

Sir George revealed: "He said 'I've got enough troubles as it is without people hearing me sing 'I love a man whose name is Tom''."

The Dylan Thomas Festival in Swansea runs until 9 November.


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