Any superstitious fears which E.M.I. recording manager George Martin may have had about the figure 13 must have been dispelled in the last 13 months. One year and one month ago George heard The Beatles for the first time--just as he was about to begin his 13th year with the E.M.I. group of labels. Despite his instant enthusiasm about the potential of The Beatles, George could never have imagined that this quartet (plus a neat little Beatalion of other Liverpoplian combos) would make him the nation's most successful hit-disc producer of 1963.
At London's Guildhall School of Music George had equipped himself with a sound, solid background of musical know-how before he joined E.M.I. His studies at the School had included composition, conducting and the oboe. 13 years ago his first tasks for the E.M.I. organization ranged from recording classical music to the traditional jazz of Humphrey Lyttelton. He also brought himself to the attention of the company's top executives by picking out and purchasing for British release an unusual little record entitled "The Happy Wanderer" by The Obernkirchen Children's Choir!
Most of George's 12 years of pre-Beatles studio activity were concentrated upon comedy and off-beat album material although a number of his disc productions--particularly Matt Monro's "Portrait Of My Love" plus "My Kind Of Girl," the Rolf Harris hit "Sun Arise" and the Bernard Cribbins best-seller "Hole In The Ground"--made pop headlines and sold in vast quantities.
He produced plenty of original cast stage show souvenirs including albums of "Beyond The Fringe" and "At The Drop Of A Hat"; he was responsible for that all-time Peter Sellers favourite "The Best Of Sellers." George broke through the unreasonable barrier which appears to prevent most comedy singles reaching the upper segments of the Top Twenty. Prime examples of his success in this line are the Peter Sellers/Sophia Loren jackpot winner "Goodness Gracious Me" and Charlie Drake's "Boomerang" ditty.
Today George Martin finds himself in the thick of the Mersey beat battle. On an average of once a week he supervises energetic studio sessions which produce Parlophone and Columbia singles capable of rivalling each other in the charts and of jostling each other for pride of place at the very top of the hit parade.
"My basic attitude to pop recording technique is unchanged," says George. "I have always looked about for something new, something different. What I really like about my new association with the Merseyside units is that a producer can become more personally involved with groups in the studio. With a solo artist there is a musical director who builds up his orchestra from assorted session musicians. One's ideas are pretty well fixed in the orchestrations. On the other hand the recording of groups allows one to work very closely with the artists. The arrangements are sorted out and modified on the studio floor during the actual sessions."
George agrees that the looser time schedules help. Session musicians stay for agreed periods of playing time and even when additional expenditure does not seem of primary importance the atmosphere of the whole production can become a little tighter, a little less free, with stricter clock-on-the-wall deadlines to be met.
What are George's ideas on the essential qualities of a Number One hit? "First of all" he declared with a familiar twinkle in his eyes "it should sell a quarter of a million copies! Also it should have a good tune, intelligent lyrics which have a personal directness about their approach and it should be slightly different from anything else which has gone before. Finally it should have a good beat to bind the whole arrangement together."
What differences have the current Liverpool Silver Disc winners made to George's professional life? The twinkle returned: "I get a few more sour looks from people who belong to other record companies and I've had my office re-decorated!"
Unlike most of the ultra-busy Mersey artists he records, George has not been obliged to decrease his number of leisure hours. He follows a number of absorbing pastimes and he lists some of them in this order of merit:-- (1) music (2) painting (3) laughing (4) swimming in warm water (5) eating (6) drinking good wines. The varied types of recorded music he prefers to hear for pleasure range from Andre Previn's "Like Blue" to Ravel's "Daphnis and Chloe" and from album material by Matt Monro to sets of tracks by The Beatles.
In the first six months of 1963 George Martin produced a total of six records (five singles and one LP) with Brian Epstein's Liverpool groups. Each and every one of those releases reached the Number One spot. If he carries through this astonishing record of 100% success into the early part of 1964, George will notch up 13 top pops in 13 months . . . which is more or less where we came in!