Monday, 12 December 2016

2016 Memoriam: Sir George Martin (by M.J. Steel-Collins)

(Article written by M.J. Steel Collins)

The song benefits from one of George Martin's ingenious studio devices: recording specific parts at different tape speeds. Though McCartney handles the piano chords on "Good Day Sunshine," Martin — an accomplished keyboardist who contributed to a number of Beatle recordings — is responsible for the slowed-down honky-tonk piano solo that follows the abbreviated second verse.The result is a peppy break that sounds organic even though it's the product of tape-manipulation trickery. Martin's nuanced approach to recording technology — using it to serve the music, not as a gimmick — is arguably his biggest contribution to Revolver and everything that followed. "George Martin [was] quite experimental for who he was, a grown-up," said McCartney.”
Elvis Costello, on “Good Day Sunshine”, 100 Greatest Beatles Songs, Rolling Stone magazine, 19 September 2011

Ah, Sir George Martin. Where would we, nay the world be, without this wonderful man? Bereft of some of the greatest music of the last 50 years, and certainly a few Goons albums to say the least. He was the man who gave The Beatles a chance after so many record labels turned them down (Decca most famously, when Dick Rowe didn’t think they’d go anywhere, as in his opinion, guitar music was on it’s way out. Surely a man has never had to eat his hat to such levels in music history). As it was, Brian Epstein contacted Sir George Martin, then head of Parlophone, a record label at that point mostly associated with offbeat and comedy discs. Martin agreed to give The Beatles a chance, brought them in and gave them a contract. At the end of their first meeting, he asked the nervous Liverpudlians if there was anything they didn’t like. Silence. Then a 19 year old George Harrison pipes up, “Well, for a start, I don’t like your tie.” Cue a short awkward silence, during which Harrison’s bandmates stare daggers at him, until Martin started laughing, the ice was broken, and one of the most significant working relationships in music history began.

I found out this great man had died early one morning last March. I sat down with the first cup of tea of the day, fired up the laptop and went to wake up over Facebook. The first post I saw was from Dhani Harrison’s thenewno2 page, featuring and old black and white photo of George Harrison and Martin, with the words “Dear Sweet Man. God bless”.

As head of Parlophone, Martin continued to maintain the label as a producer of humorous records, but he also wanted to acquire successful pop artists. When he was approached by Beatles' manager Brian Epstein in 1962, the group had been turned down by every major record label. Convinced, however, that the Beatles had all the right pop elements--infectious songs, winning personalities, and good group voices--Martin signed them to a contract and set out to record them in EMI's Abbey Road studios. That same year, the Beatles' first single, "Love Me Do," backed on the flip side by "P.S. I Love You," reached number seventeen on the British charts, and was followed with "Please Please Me," which went all the way to Number 1.The craze for the Beatles--dubbed Beatlemania by the press--began in England and in little more than a year the "Fab Four" would similarly overtake the United States with the single "I Want to Hold Your Hand." As Martin recalled in his 1979 autobiography, All You Need Is Ears, "suddenly the whole thing snowballed and mushroomed and any other mixed metaphor you care to think of. From that moment, we simply never stood still." The Beatles's first album, Please Please Me, was recorded in the span of one day and, like virtually every Beatles recording which followed, soared to Number 1 on the charts.
Michael E. Mueller, George Martin biography, Musician Guide

George Henry Martin was born on 3 January 1926 in Highbury, London. Though deeply interested in music, surprisingly, his first career choice was as a quantity surveyor, followed by a stint as a temporary clerk in the War Office. In 1943, aged 17, he joined the Royal Navy, though saw no action in the war. Upon leaving the Navy in 1947, he enrolled at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, using a Veteran’s Grant, studying piano and oboe. His oboe teacher happened to be Margaret Eliot, mother of Jane Asher, the long term girlfriend of Paul McCartney. After leaving the Guildhall School in 1950, Martin started his music career at the BBC Classical Music Department, before moving to EMI’s Parlophone Records as assistant to label head Oscar Preuss the same year. In 1955, Martin succeeded Preuss, and produced a wide range of records from comedy to classical and baroque. One notable album from this era included Spike Milligan’s Bridge On The River Wye, a spoof of Bridge On The River Kwai, intended to have the same name as the film, before the producers threatened to sue.

Martin also produced for Bernard Cribbins, Bill Oddie and Bruce Forsyth. He also released an early electronic dance record, ‘Time Beat’, recorded at the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop. His association with The Beatles began with a meeting with Brian Epstein in February 1962; Epstein played the band’s Decca audition tapes. Martin wasn’t entirely impressed, but liked the vocals. He agreed to sign The Beatles at a subsequent meeting with Epstein in May 1962, impressed at Epstein’s enthusiasm. The band entered Abbey Road for the first time in June that year, the only time Pete Best made it to the studios before being replaced by Ringo Starr. Famously, Starr was relegated to tambourine during the recording of The Beatles’ first single “Love Me Do”, session drummer Andy White, taking over drums, but Ringo made it back to the skins not long after.

In the early years of The Beatles’ career, Martin’s innate talent helped the band develop their sound, and he became something of a magician, meeting their demands for what they wanted their music to sound like as time went on, from John Lennon’s request that something be ‘tangerine’, to George Harrison’s exploration of Indian music. Martin was a highly talented arranger, scoring the orchestral accompaniment to much of The Beatles music. Time in the studio with the band also had it’s moments. One memorable occasion was the time during the Sgt Pepper sessions, when John Lennon accidentally dropped a tab of acid, rather than an upper. Lennon complained of feeling unwell, so was taken to the roof of Abbey Road studios by Martin, who thought the fresh air would help, unaware that Lennon was actually tripping. As Martin recalled later in his book Summer of Love: The Making of Sergeant Pepper, he thought Lennon was taking an unusual interest in the stars, whilst gently swaying. McCartney and Harrison, who knew Lennon had taken LSD, burst out on the roof, much to Martin’s surprise, concerned their bandmate might think he’d be able to fly from the roof; he was taken to McCartney’s home near the studio, where Macca took LSD for the first time to understand what Lennon was experiencing.

Following the death of Brian Epstein, about whom Martin had previously been concerned, The Beatles slowly began to drift apart, making studio time somewhat more fraught. Martin weathered the storm, though was later miffed that Phil Spector had been brought in to finish production on the Let It Be album without Martin being informed. When it came to Abbey Road, the final album The Beatles recorded Martin returned to the fold, on the understanding that the previous stushies were a thing of the past. The Beatles subsequently split in April 1970.

"I have so many wonderful memories of this great man that will be with me forever. He was a true gentleman and like a second father to me. "He guided the career of The Beatles with such skill and good humour that he became a true friend to me and my family. If anyone earned the title of the fifth Beatle it was George. "From the day that he gave The Beatles our first recording contract, to the last time I saw him, he was the most generous, intelligent and musical person I’ve ever had the pleasure to know.”
Paul McCartney

Mr. Martin helped redefine a record producer’s role in pop music. He was one of a handful of pop producers — Phil Spector and Quincy Jones among them — to become almost as famous as the musicians they recorded. And when he left Parlophone, a subsidiary of EMI Records, to start his own production company in 1965, his reputation as the producer of the Beatles helped raise the stature of record production as an independent career, rather than as simply a record label function.
Allan Kozinn, NY Times obit, 9 March 2016

Outwith The Beatles, in 1965, Martin established Associated Independent Recording (AIR), allowing him to become an independent producer, when most in that profession were tied to a salary with record labels. This gave Martin a bigger share of earnings on records he worked on. The AIR studios in Hampstead, opened in 1969, and is still highly regarded. Martin also opened an AIR studio in Monserrat in the 1970s. Musicians to record here include Elton John, Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd and Black Sabbath, though this studio was destroyed by a hurricane in 1989.

Martin also produced the themes for two Bond films: 1964’s Goldfinger by Shirley Bassey, and 1973’s Live And Let Die by Wings. He signed Matt Monro to EMI shortly before Monro recorded the theme to the second Bond movie. As years went on, Martin found he was less able to work owing to loss of hearing thanks to loud music. He supervised The Beatles Anthology archival project, but left production of Free As A Bird and Real Love to Jeff Lynne. However, he and son Giles remixed Beatles music for the Cirque Du Soleil Love show.

Sir George Martin was generous in his opinion when Julian Lennon, entered the music business, saying that Julian was very good, but suffered from his father’s monumental reputation – if it wasn’t for that, Julian would be much better received than he is. Martin was also good to the other Beatles children entering into the music business, including Dhani Harrison, who has also recorded at Abbey Road studios; he just happened to make use of the same piano that featured on ‘Hey Jude’.

Mr. Martin helped redefine a record producer’s role in pop music. He was one of a handful of pop producers — Phil Spector and Quincy Jones among them — to become almost as famous as the musicians they recorded. And when he left Parlophone, a subsidiary of EMI Records, to start his own production company in 1965, his reputation as the producer of the Beatles helped raise the stature of record production as an independent career, rather than as simply a record label function.
Sam Moore, George Martin’s Greatest Musical Moments, NME 9 March 2016

While the importance of Martin’s aural contribution to the records made by the group has always been acknowledged – he was regularly hailed as “the Fifth Beatle” – it has not always been appreciated how vital he was to their early career. It was to Martin, then head of Parlophone Records, a subsidiary of EMI, that Brian Epstein turned in 1962 when every other label had rejected the band, and it was Martin who signed the Beatles after meeting them in June of that year. In giving them a deal, Martin was going against the conventional wisdom of the early pop business. Up to that point, no group had enjoyed the success of individual singers such as Elvis Presley and Tommy Steele (whom Martin had turned down); indeed, when Epstein came to him, Martin was looking for a rival to Cliff Richard. Having ventured north to Liverpool to see the Beatles play at the Cavern Club, Martin understood, however, that it was their collective energy that might make them stars. He was also instrumental in persuading the band to replace their drummer, Pete Best, with one who would be steadier for recording purposes. Two other decisions of Martin’s were to prove of crucial significance. First, having realised that EMI would not give enough of a push to four unknowns from the provinces, he persuaded his friend Dick James to set up a publishing company, Northern Songs, to promote their music; by turning down shares in the business (feeling, as the employee of a rival, that he could not accept them) he missed out on millions.
Telegraph obit

"When I first met the Beatles in 1962, I didn't think much of their songs at all," he told "But they learned so quickly how to write a hit. They were like plants in a hothouse. They grew incredibly fast." The polished, classically trained producer began as a father figure to the four somewhat scruffy lads from Liverpool, capturing their songs on tape with a minimum of fuss or studio gimmickry. But by 1966, he was as much a collaborator as mentor, using his knowledge of both musical structure and recording technology to help the band realize its musical visions. Typically modest, he described his role as a producer in matter-of-fact terms. "Put simply, my job was to make sure recordings were artistically exceptional and commercially appealing, maximizing the qualities of artists and songs," he told
Todd Leopold, Sir George Martin, Beatles Producer, Dead at 90, CNN 9 March 2016