Sunday, April 12, 2009

Beatle People: George Martin

Sir George Henry Martin CBE (3 January 1926) is a British record producer, arranger and composer. He is sometimes referred to as "the Fifth Beatle"—a title that he owes to his work as producer or co-producer of all of The Beatles' original records as well as playing piano on some of The Beatles tracks—and is considered one of the greatest record producers of all time.

In 1969 he established the Associated Independent Recording (AIR) Studios. Although officially retired, he is still the chairman of the AIR board.

In recognition of his services to the music industry and popular culture, he was made a Knight Bachelor in 1996. He is the father of producer Giles Martin, and actor Gregory Paul Martin.

Early years

When he was six, Martin's family acquired a piano that sparked his interest in music. At eight-years-old, Martin persuaded his parents that he should take piano lessons, but those ended after only eight lessons because of a disagreement between his mother and the teacher. After that, Martin explained that he had just picked it up by himself.

As a child he attended several schools, including a "convent school in Holloway," St. Joseph's elementary school in Highgate, and St Ignatius' College in Stamford Hill, to which he won a scholarship. When war broke out and St. Ignatius College students were evacuated to Welwyn Garden City, his family left London and he was enrolled at Bromley Grammar School.
“I remember well the very first time I heard a symphony orchestra. I was just in my teens when Sir Adrian Boult brought the BBC Symphony Orchestra to my school for a public concert. It was absolutely magical. Hearing such glorious sounds I found it difficult to connect them with ninety men and women blowing into brass and wooden instruments or scraping away at strings with horsehair bows.”
Despite Martin's continued interest in music, and "fantasies about being the next Rachmaninov," he did not initially choose music as a career. He worked briefly as a quantity surveyor and then for the War Office as a Temporary Clerk (Grade Three) which meant filing paperwork and making tea. In 1943, when he was seventeen, he joined the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy and became a pilot and a commissioned officer. The war ended before Martin was involved in any combat, and he left the service in 1947. Encouraged by Sidney Harrison (a member of the Committee for the Promotion of New Music) Martin used his veteran's grant to attend the Guildhall School of Music and Drama from 1947-50, where he studied piano and oboe, and was interested in the music of Rachmaninov and Ravel, as well as Cole Porter and Johnny Dankworth. Martin's oboe teacher was Margaret Asher (the mother of Jane Asher, who would later have a relationship with Paul McCartney). On 3 January 1948—while still at the Academy—Martin married Sheena Chisholm, with whom he had two children: Alexis, and Gregory. He later married Judy Lockhart-Smith, 24 June 1966, and they also had two children: Lucy and Giles.


Following his graduation, he worked for the BBC's classical music department, then joined EMI in 1950, as an assistant to Oscar Preuss, the head of EMI's Parlophone Records from 1950-55. Although having been regarded by EMI as a vital German imprint in the past, it was then seen as a joke and only used for EMI's insignificant acts. After taking over Parlophone when Preuss retired in 1955, Martin spent his first years with the record label recording classical and Baroque music, original cast recordings of hit plays, and regional music from around the British Isles. Martin also produced numerous comedy and novelty records—working with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Rolf Harris, Flanders and Swann and Shirley Abicair. Martin worked with the Vipers Skiffle Group, with whom he had a number of hits. In early 1962, under the pseudonym "Ray Cathode," Martin released an early electronic dance single, "Time Beat"—recorded at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop—in much the same style as the Doctor Who theme tune. As Martin wanted to add rock and roll to Parlophone's repertoire, he struggled to find a "fireproof" hit-making pop artist or group.

As a producer Martin recorded the two-man show featuring Michael Flanders and Donald Swann called At the Drop of a Hat, which sold steadily for twenty-five years, although Martin's breakthrough as a producer came with the Beyond the Fringe show, which starred Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller. Martin's work transformed the profile of Parlophone from a "sad little company" to a very profitable business.

The Beatles

Martin was contacted by Sid Coleman who told him about Brian Epstein, the manager of a pop group he had met. He thought Martin might be interested in the group, even though they had been turned down by Decca Records among other major British labels. Until that time Martin had had only minor success with pop music, such as "Who Could Be Bluer" by Jerry Lordan, and singles with Shane Fenton. After the telephone call by Coleman, Martin arranged a meeting on 13 February 1962 with Brian Epstein. Martin listened to a tape recorded at Decca, and thought that Epstein's group was "rather unpromising," but liked the sound of Lennon and McCartney's vocals.

After another meeting with Epstein on 9 May at the Abbey Road studios, Martin was impressed with Epstein's enthusiasm and agreed to sign the unknown Beatles to a recording contract without having met them or seen them play live. The contract was not what it seemed, however, as Martin would not sign it himself until he had heard an audition, and later said that EMI had "nothing to lose," as it offered one penny for each record sold, which was split amongst the four members, meaning one farthing per group member. Martin suggested to EMI (after the release of "From Me to You") that the royalty rate should be doubled without asking for anything in return, which led to Martin being thought of as a "traitor in EMI."

The Beatles auditioned for Martin on 6 June 1962, in studio three at the Abbey Road studios. Ron Richards and his engineer Norman Smith recorded four songs, which Martin (who was not present during the recording) listened to at the end of the session. The verdict was not promising, however, as Richards complained about Pete Best's drumming, and Martin thought their original songs were simply not good enough. Martin asked the individual Beatles if there was anything they personally didn't like, to which Harrison replied, "Well, there's your tie, for a start." That was the turning point, according to Smith, as Lennon and McCartney joined in with jokes and comic wordplay that made Martin think that he should sign them to a contract for their wit alone.

The Beatles' first recording session with Martin was on 4 September, when they recorded "How Do You Do It," which Martin thought was a sure-fire hit even though Lennon and McCartney hated it. Richards complained about new-member Starr's drumming on the next song, "Love Me Do", and so on 11 September, they re-recorded "Love Me Do" with Andy White. Starr was asked to play tambourine and maracas, and although he complied, he was definitely "not pleased." "Love Me Do" peaked at number 17 in the British charts, so on 26 November 1962 Martin recorded "Please Please Me," which he only did after Lennon and McCartney had almost begged him to record another of their original songs. Martin's crucial contribution here was to tell them to speed up what was initially a slow ballad. After the recording Martin looked over the mixing desk and said, "Gentlemen, you have just made your first number one record." Martin directed Epstein to find a good publisher—as Ardmore & Beechwood had done nothing to promote "Love Me Do"—telling Epstein about three publishers who, in Martin's opinion, would be fair and honest, which led them to Dick James.

As arranger

Martin's musical expertise helped fill the gaps between The Beatles' raw talent and the sound they wanted to achieve. Most of The Beatles' orchestral arrangements and instrumentation (as well as frequent keyboard parts on the early records) were written or performed by Martin in collaboration with the band. It was Martin's idea to put a string quartet on "Yesterday," against McCartney's initial reluctance. Martin played the song in the style of Bach to show McCartney the voicings that were available. Another example is the song "Penny Lane," which featured a piccolo trumpet solo. McCartney hummed the melody he wanted, and Martin wrote it down in music notation for David Mason, the classically trained trumpeter.

Martin's distinctive arranging work appears on multiple Beatles' recordings. For "Eleanor Rigby" he scored and conducted a strings-only accompaniment inspired by Bernard Herrmann. On a Canadian speaking tour in 2007, Martin said his "Eleanor Rigby" score was influenced by Herrmann's score for the Alfred Hitchcock thriller, Psycho.

For "Strawberry Fields Forever", he and Geoff Emerick turned two very different takes into a single master through careful use of vari-speed and editing. For "I Am the Walrus", he provided a quirky and original arrangement for brass, violins, cellos, and the Mike Sammes Singers vocal ensemble. On "In My Life," he played a sped-up Baroque piano solo. He worked with McCartney to implement the orchestral 'windup' in "A Day in the Life" and he and McCartney shared conducting duties the day it was recorded.

He contributed less-noted but integral parts to other songs, including the piano in "Lovely Rita," the circus instrumentation in "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," and the orchestration in "Good Night."

The first song that Martin did not arrange was "She's Leaving Home," as he had a prior engagement to produce a Cilla Black session, so McCartney contacted arranger Mike Leander to do it. Martin was reportedly hurt by this, but still produced the recording and conducted the orchestra himself. Martin was in demand as an independent arranger and producer by the time of The White Album, so The Beatles were left to produce various tracks by themselves.

Martin arranged the score for The Beatles' film Yellow Submarine and the James Bond film Live and Let Die, for which Paul McCartney wrote and sang the title song.

The Beatles Anthology

Martin oversaw post-production on The Beatles Anthology (which was originally entitled The Long and Winding Road) in 1994 and 1995, working again with recording engineer Geoff Emerick. Martin decided to use an old 8-track analogue desk to mix the songs for the project—which EMI found out an engineer still had — instead of a modern digital desk. He explained this by saying that the old desk created a completely different sound, which a new desk could not recreate. He also said the whole project was a strange experience for him (with which McCartney agreed) as they had to listen to themselves chatting in the studio, 25-30 years ago.

Martin stepped down when it came to producing the two new singles reuniting McCartney, Harrison and Starr, who wanted to overdub two old Lennon demos. Martin had suffered a hearing loss, and left the work to writer/producer Jeff Lynne of ELO fame.

Cirque du Soleil and Love

In 2006, Martin and his son, Giles Martin, remixed 80 minutes of Beatle music for the Las Vegas stage performance Love, a joint venture between Cirque du Soleil and The Beatles' Apple Corps Ltd. A soundtrack album from the show was released in 2006.

Other artists

Martin has produced recordings for many other artists, including contemporaries of The Beatles, such as Matt Monro, Cilla Black, and Gerry & The Pacemakers, as well as the band America, guitarist Jeff Beck, sixties duo Edwards Hand, Ultravox, country-singer Kenny Rogers,Cheap Trick and Yoshiki Hayashi of X Japan.

Martin also worked with the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Gary Glitter. He worked with Glitter before he was famous, and recorded several songs with him in the 1960s under the name of "Paul Raven." He also produced the 1974 album The Man In The Bowler Hat for the eccentric British folk-rock group Stackridge.

Martin worked with Paul Winter on his (1972) Icarus album, which was recorded in a rented house by the sea in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Winter said that Martin taught him "how to use the studio as a tool," and allowed him to record the album in a relaxed atmosphere, which was different from the pressurized control in a professional studio.

Associated Independent Recording (AIR)

Within the recording industry, Martin is noted for going independent at a time when many producers were still salaried staff—which he was until The Beatles' success gave him the leverage to start, in 1969, Associated Independent Recording, and hire out his own services to artists who requested him. This arrangement not only demonstrated how important Martin's talents were considered to be by his artists, but it allowed him a share in record royalties on his hits. Today, Martin's Associated Independent Recording (AIR)—established in 1965—remains one of the world's preeminent recording studios. Martin later opened a studio in Montserrat, in 1979. This studio was destroyed by Hurricane Hugo ten years later.

Music from James Bond series

Martin has also directly and indirectly contributed to the main themes of three films in the James Bond series. Although Martin did not produce the theme for the second Bond film, From Russia with Love, he was responsible for the signing of Matt Monro to EMI just months prior to his recording of the song of the same title.

Martin also produced two of the most well-known James Bond themes. The first was "Goldfinger" by Shirley Bassey in 1964. Despite producing the film's theme that became a hit single, Martin did not take part in the movie's score or the 'James Bond Theme' by Monty Norman or John Barry.

In 1972, Martin finally had a crack at composing, arranging and producing the music for the entire film of Live and Let Die. Apart from scoring a successful chart entry for the title song itself (by McCartney), Martin also composed one of the most colorful and funky Bond scores that served as a precursor to the music of 1970s blaxploitation films.

Books and audio retrospective

In 1979, he published a memoir, All You Need is Ears (co-written with Jeremy Hornsby), that described his work with The Beatles and other artists (including Peter Sellers, Sophia Loren, Shirley Bassey, Flanders and Swann, Matt Monro, and Dudley Moore), and gave an informal introduction to the art and science of sound recording. In 1993 Martin published With a Little Help from My Friends: The Making of Sgt Pepper (published in UK as Summer of Love: The Making of Sgt Pepper, co-authored with William Pearson), which also included interview quotations from a 1992 South Bank Show episode discussing the album. Martin also edited a 1983 book called Making Music: The Guide to Writing, Performing and Recording.

In 2001, Martin released Produced by George Martin: 50 Years In Recording, a 6-CD retrospective of his entire studio career, and in 2002, Martin launched Playback, his limited-edition illustrated autobiography, published by Genesis Publications.

Awards and recognition

  • Academy Award 1964 - Nomination Scoring of Music (for A Hard Day's Night)
  • Grammy Award 1967 - Best Contemporary Album (as producer of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
  • Grammy Award 1967 - Album Of The Year (as producer of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band)
  • Grammy Award 1973 - Best Arrangement Accompanying Vocalist(s) (as arranger of 'Live and Let Die')
  • BRIT Awards 1977 - Best British Producer (of the past 25 years)
  • BRIT Awards 1984 - Outstanding Contribution To Music
  • Grammy Award 1993 - Best Musical Show Album (as producer of 'The Who's Tommy')
  • Martin was named the British Phonographic Industry's "Man of the Year" for 1998.
  • He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on 15 March 1999 and into the UK Music Hall of Fame on 14 November 2006.
  • Martin has also been honored with a Gold Medal for Services to the Arts from the CISAC (the World Federation of Authors and Composers) and the Lifetime Achievement Award for Services to Film at Belgium's Flanders Film Festival.
  • In November 2006, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Music by Leeds Metropolitan University
  • He was granted his own Coat of Arms in March 2004 by the College of Arms. His shield features three beetles.
  • In September 2008, he was awarded the James Joyce Award by the Literary and Historical Society of UCD.
Selected Hit records produced or co-produced by George Martin

Records produced by Martin have achieved 30 #1 singles and 16 #1 albums in the UK - plus 23 #1 singles and 19 #1 albums in North America.

* “My Kind of Girl,” Matt Monro (31/7/61, #18)
* “My Boomerang Won’t Come Back,” Charlie Drake (17/3/62, #21)
* “Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport,” Rolf Harris (13/7/63, #3)
* “Little Children,” Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (13/6/64, #7)
* “Bad to Me,” Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (27/6/64, #9)
* “Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying,” Gerry & The Pacemakers (4/7/64, #4)
* “You’re My World,” Cilla Black (1/8/64, #UK1)
* “How Do You Do It?,” Gerry & The Pacemakers (5/9/64, #9)
* “I Like It,” Gerry & The Pacemakers (7/11/64, #17)
* “Walk Away,” Matt Monro (9/1/65, #23)
* “I’ll Be There,” Gerry & The Pacemakers (30/1/65, #14)
* “Ferry Across the Mersey,” Gerry & The Pacemakers (20/3/65, #6)
* “Goldfinger,” Shirley Bassey (27/3/65, #8)
* “You'll Never Walk Alone,” Gerry & The Pacemakers (3/7/65, #48)
* “Trains and Boats and Planes,” Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas (31/7/65, #47)
* “Alfie,” Cilla Black (10/9/66,#UK6 #95)
* “Girl on a Swing,” Gerry & The Pacemakers (22/10/66, #28)
* “Tin Man,” America (9/11/74, #4)
* “Lonely People,” America (8/3/75, #5)
* “Sister Golden Hair,” America (14/6/75, #1)
* “Got to Get You into My Life,” Earth, Wind and Fire (16/9/78, #9)
* “Oh! Darling,” Robin Gibb (7/10/78, #15)
* "Say, Say, Say," Paul McCartney & Michael Jackson (10/12/83, #1)
* "No More Lonely Nights," Paul McCartney (8/12/84, #6)
* "Candle in the Wind" 1997, Elton John (11/10/97, #1)
* "Pure" 2003, Hayley Westenra (#1 UK classical charts, #8 UK pop charts)


* Off the Beatle Track (1964)
* Help! (1965)
* George Martin Instrumentally Salutes The Beatle Girls (1966)
* Yellow Submarine (side one: The Beatles, side two: The George Martin Orchestra) (1969)
* Live and Let Die (producer for Paul McCartney's song and composer of musical score) (1973)
* In My Life (1998)
* Produced by George Martin (2001)
* The Family Way (2003)

Selected discography (as producer)

* Flanders and Swann — At the Drop of a Hat (1960)
* Flanders and Swann — At the Drop of Another Hat (1964)
* Gerry & The Pacemakers — Ferry Cross the Mersey (1965)
* Edwards Hand — Edwards Hand (1969)
* Ringo Starr — Sentimental Journey (1970)
* Paul Winter Consort — Icarus (1972)
* Stackridge — The Man In The Bowler Hat (released as Pinafore Days in the U.S. and Canada) (1974)
* Mahavishnu Orchestra — Apocalypse (1974)
* America — Holiday (1974)
* Jeff Beck — Blow by Blow (1975)
* America — Hearts (1975)
* America — Hideaway (1976)
* Jeff Beck — Wired (1976)
* Jimmy Webb — El Mirage (1977)
* America — Harbor (1977)
* Cheap Trick — All Shook Up (1980)
* UFO — No Place to Run (1980)
* Little River Band — Time Exposure (1981)
* Ultravox — Quartet (1982)
* X Japan/Yoshiki — Eternal Melody (1993)
* Tommy (Original Cast Recording) (1993)
* Celine Dion — Let's Talk About Love (1997)
* George Martin — In My Life (1998)
* The Beatles — Love (2006)


1 comment:

John Boocock said...

Great Blog and a nice mention of Stackridge who incidentally have a great podcast which stretches far and wide musically at check it out and smile!

John B