Sir George Martin - Beyond The Beatles

The name of Sir George Martin is synonymous with The Beatles. Often described as the fifth Beatle, his musical input and technical guidance was a dominant presence throughout their recordings, and he was as much a part of their sound as the four Beatles themselves. Sir George is, today, recognised as the most significant and influential record producer ever, and is respected and instantly recognised throughout the world.

 

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Sir George with The Beatles

 

Notwithstanding his achievements with The Beatles, Sir George Martin produced and worked with a huge list of performers in a variety of genres and styles. Here Digger looks at some of this other work and, 'with a little help from' Sir George Martin himself, examines some of the substantial and impressive catalogue of Sir George's other 'non-Beatles' output from the sixties.

 


 

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After a prodigious start as a talented and natural musician as a child, George Martin entered early careers as a quantity surveyor and at the war office. He then saw military duty as a pilot in the Fleet Air Arm, although, thankfully for the benefit of all of us, he never saw combat, with the war ending before he could join the fray. George Martin left the service in 1947 and headed for the prestigious Guildhall School of Music in the City of London. He graduated and joined the BBC's classical department and then, in 1950, EMI's then very minor label Parlophone.

At that time Parlophone was predominantly a classical label, a genre which was, and arguably is, George Martin's first love, but it also produced a great number of novelty and comedy recording for the stars of the day. George Martin produced many of the greatest 'children's favourites' of the period, as well as more adult-orientated comedy.

 

As well as novelty and comedy, George was also recording jazz, classics, folk, skiffle, choirs and film and TV themes. It was during this period that he established himself as a studio wizard. He merged his classical training and intimate understanding of how music works and behaves with an ability to maximise the effect of the recording equipment and techniques that were available at the time, and in many cases creating new methods and means to produce the right sound. With George Martin now at the helm, Parlophone soon altered from a poor relation in EMI's stable of labels to one which was producing a lot of hits. 

 

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 Bernard Cribbins

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Rolf Harris
Spike Milligan
   
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Terry Scott
Charlie Drake

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Peter Cook & Dudley Moore

 

I asked Sir George some questions about his comedy and novelty productions...


Digger: The list of comedy names you produced is hugely impressive.... The Bernard Cribbins songs, which I adore, have a number of sound effects on them, such as footsteps and screwdrivers. Were these made in a similar way to the effects on BBC radio? 

Sir George: Absolutely.  In fact, I worked with the BBC radio-phonics workshop on a number of occasions.  I also went out into the field (literally and metaphorically speaking) to record sound – always looking for different ‘colours’ and ‘textures’ to use.

Digger: Peter Sellers covered The Beatles' A Hard Day's Night. Can you tell us a little bit about the creative thought processes behind that hilarious version?

Sir George: He just wanted to do a Shakespearian take on the song. He excelled at character voices and just had a great sense of drama, fun and timing.

Digger: Were there obvious frictions in the studio between Peter Cook and Dudley Moore?

Sir George: Not when I worked with them other than it being part of their act from time to time.  It was very cutting edge given what other mainstream comics/entertainers were doing at the time.

Digger: Was there obvious chemistry between Peter Sellers and Sophia Loren?

 

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Sophia Loren

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Sir George with Peter Sellers



Sir George: Professionally yes – they worked really well together.  I think Peter may well have imagined that there was more to come “off camera” so to speak, but Sophia was not like that in the slightest.  A lovely lady, I remember those sessions with great fondness.

Digger: Did you adopt a different approach to recording comedy as compared to the production of popular or classical music?

Sir George: Every project is different, even within the same genre.  You have to try and make the best technical recording as possible, but also something that has the ‘honesty’ of the artist at it’s heart.  Something that will connect with an audience.

Digger: What comedy records/acts would you like to have produced that you didn't?

Sir George: I have worked with some of the greats and I am happy with that.

Digger: Who were the biggest jokers during recordings and what did they get up to?

Sir George: That would be telling!

 


It was with this background and in this eclectic mix of classical, novelty, comedy, choirs, 'traditional' jazz and balladeers that Martin still recognised the emerging popularity of beat groups and bands and started to look around for a pop act for Parlophone to produce. The Beatles, and manager Brian Epstein, were running out of luck and options with the various London-based record companies, who had thus far turned them down. They almost stumbled by accident into Martin's Parlophone offices for a last-hope audition in 1962. Famously, even George Martin was unsure about them, but he saw and heard something that made him want to persist with them and invite them back into the studios.

 
    

Digger: How would you describe your musical tastes and what is your biggest passion when it comes to the incredibly varied material you have produced?


Sir George: I like good music – simple as that – and trying to produce good music and entertainment has always been my passion and goal.
 
Digger: What do you think of the musical snobbery that exists where, for example, a plaque is put up by the council on a house where Handel lived but not on the house next door where Hendrix lived?

Sir George: Each has their work committed to history for everyone to judge, whether they have a Blue Plaque or not is of no consequence.
 
Digger: If you had ever had to make the choice between classical, popular or comedy recordings, which direction would you have gone in, and why?

Sir George: I always like pushing myself.  I am never happy standing still, so naturally I would be unhappy stuck within the confines of one genre.  There are only 2 types of music, good and bad.  As long as I was doing good music I would be happy.

 

 

Martin thus established his now famous relationship with The Beatles and their manager Epstein who had a number of Merseybeat acts signed to his organisation. So naturally it made sense for George Martin to produce these. Gerry and The Pacemakers, The Fourmost, Cilla Black, Billy J. Kramer and The Dakotas all had a string of hits produced by George Martin, Gerry even having three consecutive number ones (I Like It, How Do You Do It? and You'll Never Walk Alone) and rivalling The Beatles as top Merseybeat group for some time. Of course, many of these hits were also penned by Lennon and McCartney. Parlophone was, virtually overnight, transformed into a hit-making label and the jewel in EMI's crown.

While George Martin was producing The Beatles' early works and laying the foundations for a seven year relationship with them in the studio which would culminate in ground-breaking works like Revolver, Rubber Soul, Sergeant Pepper and Abbey Road, he was still also producing a host of other acts, from Jazz to Soul, from Matt Monro to Merseybeat. He even wrote the, now famous and instantly recognisable theme tune to David Frost's TV programme.

 

 
Digger: On your Cilla Black productions, I was mesmerised by the quality and creative drumming as well as the very unusual time signatures on tracks like It's For You, Step Inside Love and Anyone Who Had A Heart. How hard was it for these tracks to be laid down and can you recall who the drummer was?

 

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Sir George with Cilla and Burt Bacharach



Sir George: I’m afraid to say, that I was ultimately responsible for all the ‘unusal’ aspects of those records.  In those sessions we tried to capture the best feeling for the songs and that’s what we ended up with.  I remember the drummers as follows;  Step Inside Love – Kenny Clarke, Anyone Who Had a Heart - Geoff Lofts.

Digger: If you could go back in time with some modern piece of recording equipment or computer technology to re-do a recording in the fifties and sixties at Abbey Road, what would you take with you?

Sir George: I wouldn’t!  Part of what we did and the fun we had at Abbey Road was exactly because we did not have the equipment to do what we wanted.  Multitrack recording and Pro-tools are fantastic to work with (I could not have worked on LOVE without them), but I enjoyed pushing the envelope with the archaic equipment that we had.

Digger: Of your Merseybeat productions such as Gerry and The Pacemakers, Cilla, The Fourmost and Billy J., which gave you the most pleasure and why?

Sir George: When I wasn’t busy chasing Beatle deadlines I enjoyed all the other work – and for different reasons.  I enjoyed them all.

 

 

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Gerry and The Pacemakers
Cilla
   
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The Fourmost
Billy J. Kramer

 

 


Digger: Having recorded such a phenomenal array of performers, who is missing from the list that you would have loved to have produced?

Sir George: I get asked that all the time.  I have been lucky enough to work with the world’s best artists during my time and I am thankful for all that without thinking anyone is missing.  If I was really pushed, I did attend a Sinatra session (at Capitol before my Beatles days) and was mesmerised by how he worked in the studio – what a pro.  Working with him would have been great but that didn’t happen.

Digger: Can you recall what was your brief for the famous David Frost theme 'By George!' and how did you get the job? What was Frost's reaction to the finished product?

Sir George: I guess he must have liked it because he used it!
 
 

Always on the look out for new challenges, George Martin was producing acts like Shirley Bassey, Matt Monro, Tom Jones, as well as looking for new talent. Disillusioned with the EMI system which, incredibly kept him to a pathetically small salary and with little career independence or control, he broke out, along with some fellow producers, to form AIR studios. Their first 'signing' was the amazing British Mod/Soul outfit The Action. With their lead singer Reg King's soulful voice and the band's ability to 'imitate' a black American sound in a British mod style, Martin signed and produced a band that were, once again, very different from other acts he was recording. While achieving a cult status that has endured to this day, the band never experienced chart success.


Digger: The Action are one of my favourite bands. What are your memories of those recordings and which tracks stand out for you?

Sir George: The Action were one of the first bands (if not the first) that we signed direct to AIR.  I loved their ‘mod’ sense of style and their debut ‘Land of 1000 Dances’ was really well received at the time.  Unfortunately, the band did not work commercially.  Perhaps they were ahead of their time?
 


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Digger: Following on from the above, given the fickle nature of the record-buying public and the vagueries of record promotion, could you ever really know what a hit record or group was? I spoke to Shel Talmy who said that a bad song will never make it but a bad group with a great song had a good chance. What's your take on this?

Sir George: No you can never tell – otherwise we’d all be at it!  A good song is vital (although this was more so when we were in the radio-only era.  Although there have always been gimmick releases, now you can have a good hit without a great song, so long as you have the visual image and marketing right.......do you remember that Crazy Frog?)!
 
Digger: Matt Monro was the best balladeer Britain ever had, with Frank Sinatra rating him the same. He had rather idiosyncratic phrasing and timing and I wonder if this ever caused you any problems? What is your enduring memory of Matt and the work you did with him?

Sir George: He was a super man and a great singer.  Sinatra was right and I loved working with Matt.  I get the feeling that he’s currently much under-rated, forgotten even, and I don’t know why.  If you listen back to his records there’s a magic there that’s very rare.  He had super-star quality, no doubt.
 

 

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Matt Monro


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Tom Jones and Shirley Bassey

 

Since those heady days of the sixties, Sir George has produced Paul McCartney (Tug of War and Pipes of Peace), Michael Jackson, Jeff Beck, Elton John, America, Kenny Rogers, Billy Preston, Peter Gabriel, Celine Dion, Phil Collins and Jose Carreras to name but a few. He has received Grammy and Brit awards in abundance and has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the UK Hall of Fame, as well as receiving his Knighthood. He has been involved in several Beatles-related projects, including Anthology and, more recently, Love. 

The terms genius, icon, legend and legacy are all over-used these days for any five-minute wonder. However, in the case of Sir George Martin it can be stated quite categorically that he is a true icon of the 20th century, he is a legend whose genius in the recording studio and his musical associations with The Beatles and others will leave a legacy for future generations to enjoy and marvel at.

 

Digger: How would you describe the state of the British music and the British Music Industry today and who do you rate?

Sir George: There are some great UK artists coming through at the minute and I am glad to see that some of them are doing very well in the US, which is still the biggest market.  The biggest selling UK record this past Christmas across the globe was..........The Beatles LOVE, which is great from my point of view, but also quite scary considering the band split nearly 40 years ago!

 



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Article used with kind permission from

www.retrosellers.com

 

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