George Martin

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Last update : 13/01/21

Deafness Research UK is the only national charity dedicated to helping deaf and hard of hearing people through medical research. Devoid of government funding, the organisation relies on monetary donations and fund raising events to continue its world-leading research into deafness and hearing loss.

Over the past few years there has been a slew of journalistic and academic articles about the threat to young people of loudness via excessive use of personal stereos. Musicians also, have hardly escaped lightly from the high decibel, ear splitting sound levels regularly generated at rock concerts. An advice booklet produced by a campaign group called HEAR (Hearing Education and Awareness for Rockers), maintains that 60% of inductees into the ‘Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’ are hearing impaired.

Sir George Martin, the world’s best known record producer, suffered from progressive hearing loss and tinnitus, and wore two hearing aids. By his late 60’s, years of listening to huge monitor speakers in confined spaces had taken its toll. The man who titled his 1979 autobiography “All you need is ears,” had to virtually make do without his two most treasured possessions. Nevertheless, by his own admission, it had been a great life…

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In 2003, Martin published “Playback,” essentially volume two of his memoirs, but few were able to justify the rediculously high asking prive of £234! A touching, affectionate lookback over the producer’s career, it’s never self revalatory, and all rather redundant in view of the excessive cost and few surprises scattered amongst the text. Predictably aimed at the diehards, it’s precisely this group of fanatics who would have been the most disappointed. The initial print run was two thousand, and the occasional copy surfaces at astronomical prices. Whilst reviewers took issue with the text – heavily skewed in favour of his non-Beatle related production work – there’s nevertheless some interesting anedotal material about his early life. Early struggles with scarlet fever and the Luftwaffe; and the internal squabbles with the pennypinching EMI over his salary are mildly intriguing. The fascimiles of office diaries and letters hint at an individual burning the candle at both ends – his production work would spend 37 weeks at number one in 1963 – but there’s little here to suggest anything but a genial and affable man, despite his driven personality.

His most important contribution to popular music has been a sense of adventure, and an awareness of the sonic possibilities of the recording studio as a workshop. In that respect, meeting The Beatles was like a holy summit between kindred spirits.

‘‘When I joined EMI,’‘ he recalls, ‘‘the criterion by which recordings were judged was their faithfulness to the original. If you made a recording that was so good that you couldn’t tell the difference between the recording and the actual performance, that was the acme. And I questioned that. I thought, O.K., we’re all taking photographs of an existing event. But we don’t have to make a photograph; we can paint. And that prompted me to experiment.’‘

Some of his ideas found outlets in the comedy records he made, starting in the late 1950’s, with Peter Sellers, Flanders and Swann, Spike Milligan and Beyond the Fringe (which included Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller).

‘‘Nowadays people don’t think of aural images,’‘ he said, ‘‘because we’re so incredibly conditioned by television and computer screens. But in those days there was no television, or very little, and when people listened to records they could imagine what was going on. So you would create a sound picture by means of — well, if a couple was walking in the park, you’d have a little crunch of gravel, birds in the background, the faint hum of traffic.’‘


Various aspects of Martin’s life have now come under close scrutiny in recent years. These include the circumstances around which he came to record The Beatles, and how they were inextricably linked to an emotionally turbulent time in his life. Even to admit in future interviews that the decision to sign the group had not been his would have reopened wounds, in addition to prompting further investigation into the actual circumstances of his life at the time. He therefore chose to promulgate a myth in order to safeguard his second family from press intrusion. Yes – he had met Brian Epstein in early ’62, yes – he had listened to the Decca audition tape and yes – he detected a certain ‘something’ in the raw quality of the performances, but no – he did not instigate an audition test for the group on June 6, 1962. Frankly, he would probably have had nothing further to do with the group.

However, by the spring of ’62, Martin was financially maintaining his former matrimonial home, renting an apartment for clandestine meetings with his secretary Judy Lockhart Smith – who would subsequently become his second wife – and ill advisedly antagonizing E.M.I.‘s management with improved pay demands; senior board members who, in fact, were well aware of his contravention of the social mores of the day. So The Beatles ultimately had three men to thank for their E.M.I. contract – Sid Coleman of Ardmore and Beechwood, song plugger Kim bennett, and EMI Managing Director Len Wood. Thanks to the unstinting efforts of the foremost Beatles researcher Mark Lewisohn (who lists his sources), we now know what actually transpired. The Beatles were signed to a recording contract, because Sid Colman wanted the publishing rights to the Lennon & McCartney originals, ‘Love of the Loved,’ ‘Hello Little Girl’ and especially ‘Like Dreamers Do,’ which he had heard on the Decca audition tape, and envisioned a hit single to be paired with another original composition. But since Coleman ran an EMI publishing company, Ardmore and Beechwood, EMI had to sign The Beatles to a recording contract for Colman to secure those copyrights. Right after he met with Epstein, Colman spoke to his right-hand man, a tireless song plugger, Mr. Kim Bennett, who also heard great promise in ‘Like Dreamers Do.’ Colman, and especially the persistent Bennett, lobbied EMI’s A&R men (the men who signed acts to recording contracts) to grab this Liverpool band with the weird name, but nobody cared.

Then, Bennett suggested to Colman, “Why don’t you go across to Len Wood and say that if EMI give us a record, we’ll pay for its cost. Because it’s a group, it’ll be a straightforward musical production. No orchestra. We’ll have got two copyrights for the next 50 years, plus maybe a royalty on the record.”

Len Wood initially demurred, but when Martin subsequently asked his boss for a raise and astoundingly – a royalty of the records he was producing – E.M.I.‘s managing director refused both requests whilst seeking to put this upstart in his place. Despite his huffing and puffing, the beleagured George was compelled to accept a new three year fixed salaried (only) contract.

Coleman would subsequently pitch Wood The Beatles idea again, and this time he said yes. Bennett recalls, “After a short, stunned silence, I said, ‘Oh? Who’s gonna do it, then?’ [And he said,] ‘George Martin.’ “The Beatles record,” Bennett explains, “was going to be made as a gesture to Sid, to give Sid Colman a sop. Len was going to bow to our wishes at last.”

And stick it to George Martin, who had no idea what was going on until Wood ordered him to sign The Beatles. Both Ron Richards, Martin’s assistant, and Norman “Hurricane” Smith, a balance engineer at Abeey Road studios (who would engineer The Beatles’ records through Rubber Soul) corroborate this story. “L.G. Wood didn’t approve of people having affairs,” he says. “L.G. virtually ordered George to record The Beatles.”

None of these revelations detract in any way from Martin’s production work with The Beatles. One can also sympathize with his efforts to secure a royalty rate, whilst equally understanding E.Mi.I.‘s reluctance to open such a “can of worms.” From today’s perspective, the collapse of his first marriage and his subsequent affair would be routine fodder for the tabloid press, but back in the early 60’s this was scandalous behaviour indeed. It is easy therefore, to understand his airbrushing of certain facts, yet over the course of more than half a century, this distortion of the truth would label Decca’s managing Director Dick Rowe, with the unenviable title of “the man who turned down The Beatles.” In reality, George Martin had seen no more in the group than his counterpart.

The following link is further testimony to Martin’s unwavering allegiance to distorted history. With Paul McCartney in attendance at a 2010 live interview with the BBC’s Andrew Marr, the ever affable Martin would maintain that he granted an audition test out of sympathy for the Beatles’ manager, so crestfallen did Brian Epstein appear after he confessed to finding little of any real merit in the Decca audition tape.

If George Harrison was heard to say in a London High Court in 1998 that ‘in an effort to tell what they know, people often tell more than they know,’ I might add that ‘individuals who wish history had been different can come to believe that it was different.’

Born in 1926, Martin was part of more than one successive generation for whom divorce was heavily frowned upon. In personally escaping the stigma of being officially classified as a “bastard” by one month only, I had first hand evidence of how uncomfortable a subject like divorce could be amongst my own parents. As an adult, it would never have bothered me anyway, for how can any innocent child be a bastard? But such common knowledge would have marginalised any child of the 60’s at school, and no amount of changes in the law would have dispelled commonly held convictions. Nevertheless, the Royal Commission had been set up in 1951 as a response to pressure both within and outside Parliament for a change to the laws on divorce which, following the implementation of the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1937, permitted divorce only on the grounds of matrimonial fault evidenced by adultery, cruelty and desertion for 3 or more years. The disruptions and social change generated by the second world war, combined with changing attitudes toward the natureof marriage in which it was seen increasingly as a companionate union rather than a binding legal duty, led to the demand that marriages should be terminated if relationships ‘broke down’ rather than as the consequence of a matrimonial offence. Nevertheless, despite this shift in legal due process, Martin’s behaviour towards another E.M.I. employee would have curried precious little favour with a devout churchgoer like Len Wood, quite the contrary in fact. After the publication of Lewisohn’s book “Tune In Vol 1” in the fall of 2013, Martin would remain tight lipped about these revelations for the remainder of his life. Having commended Lewisohn’s tenacity and commitment to ‘the truth’ in previous Beatles book publications by the said author, what else could he possibly have done? But spare a thought for Dick Rowe. The Decca audition tape captured little if anything of the group’s “Cavern on-stage fire,” and the decision to sign the local Dagenham based Tremeloes made sense.

Recommended listening

Desert Island Discs (31/7/82)

Produced by George Martin - 50 Years in recording (6 CD Box Set) 2001

This commemorative box set contain tracks that date back to Sir George’s earliest work, beginning in 1955 and then traversing his entire career up to his post-Parlophone days recording acts like America, Jeff Beck, Jimmy Webb and John McLaughlin.

It’s an attractive package complete with CD embossed authentic and historic Parlophone labels, in addition to a large booklet with an extended essay from Mark Lewisohn.

A 24 track cut-down single disc of highlights from the box set would be issued five years later, and whilst the commercial considerations would be obvious, the collection couldn’t possibly do justice to martin’s long and varied career.

Recommended viewing

Produced by George Martin (2011)

In 2011, Sir George Martin, who signed the Beatles to his Parlophone label and produced all but one of their albums, was the subject of a BBC documentary, ‘Produced by George Martin.’

Utilising rarely-seen archival footage, as well as new interviews from, amongst others, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr, Monty Python’s Michael Palin and Jeff Beck, the story unfolds in pleasing fashion, recounting his life in music for a fraction of the cost of his 2003 memoirs.

Martin’s son Giles conducts several interviews, and at one point is charmingly admonished by his father for trying to make him admit that he was ambitious. It’s a telling moment, and an aspect of his personality worth exploring further.

McCartney recalls a dinner in Paris hosted by Epstein where they were served “phallic delicacies,” whilst Ringo recalls a collective male interest amongst the group in Judy, now Lady Martin. Michael Palin discusses The Goons with Sir George. And throughout the programme there is a strong sense of just how extraordinary a person George Martin is. He remains the modest patrician, the polite innovator, and the man whose suggestions helped to change popular music (at one point, he explains how McCartney’s staccato verses for “Eleanor Rigby” reminded him of Bernard Hermann, which led him to the sawing orchestral arrangement – Psycho out of Father Mackenzie!)

An additional 50 minutes of bonus interviews with other notable producers like Rick Rubin, T-Bone Burnett and Jimmy Webb, flesh out the subsequent DVD release, but it’s all unecessary padding and commercially driven by the need to financially tempt those individuals who taped the original BBC “Arena” broadcast. I’ve happily resisted.

Rhythm of life (3 part series) Discovery Channel 1997

Recommended reading

All you need is ears (George Martin) 1979

George Martin’s autobiography is highly readable and interesting for any fan of popular music. It should be noted that this book is not an in-depth discussion of how Beatles records were made, but more of an overview of Martin’s larger career, well at least up until 1979. That’s a pivotal year, the last full one that Lennon would see out, the very last in which the world could cling to every tantalising nugget of news about a possible Beatles reunion, yet coincidentally, one in which interest in the group would be at its lowest ebb; an unfortunate moment in time therefore, for Martin to issue his autobiography. His own personal stock was hardly at its highest, especially following his musical production involvement in the ill fated big screen incarnation of “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

Still, it’s an entertaining read, full of personal aecdotes and ruminations on the astonishing changes in recording technology which had taken place in the preceding twenty nine years since the young Martin had began his career at EMI studios, Abbey Road. The book avoids an ‘outdated feel,’ due in no small part to Martin’s prescience, as the author successfully anticipates the technological advances to come, including the rise of digital recording and compact discs.

Fans interested only in The Beatles should look elsewhere, but anyone interested in a larger view of various aspects of the recording industry will be fascinated.

Maximum Volume - The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin - The Early Years 1926-1966 (Kenneth Womack) 2017

The first of two volumes, “Maximum Volume” traces Martin’s early life, from an impoverished childhood, through WWII, to becoming head of EMI’s Parlophone Records.

There, he made waves in British comedy and saved Parlophone from ruin with records from the likes of Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan. Then one day, whilst he was waiting to discover the next Cliff Richard, an old white van pulled up in front of Abbey Road Studios and out stepped four thin and weedy musicians with a peculiar band name.

As this dramatic story unfolds, the book transports you into the Studio 2 sessions with the Fab Four – Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr – and their innovative producer, ‘Big George’. Maximum Volume offers an intimate insight into the meteoric rise from the early days at Liverpool’s Cavern Club, to film deals and world tours.

Naturally, the narrative flags in places, particularly when Womack recounts well known tales of Beatlelore. In essence, the book’s primary strengths bookend the period ’62-‘66 by detailing his early years and long standing contractual fued with EMI Managing Director Len Wood.

A tribute to the industry giant, the book explores how Martin shaped The Beatles’ incredible body of work and defined the modern concept of a record producer in the process.

Sound Pictures - The life of Beatles producer George Martin - The Later Years 1966-2016 (Kenneth Womack) 2018

Sound Pictures is the second book in the two-part biography of the man popularly known as the fifth Beatle and the follow-up to the award-winning Maximum Volume.

Sound Pictures traces the story of George Martin and the Beatles’ incredible artistic trajectory after reaching the creative heights of Rubber Soul.

As the bandmates engage in brash experimentation both inside and outside of the studio, Martin toils along with manager Brian Epstein to consolidate the Beatles’ fame in the face of growing sociocultural pressures, including the crisis associated with the “Beatles are more popular than Jesus” scandal. Meanwhile, Martin struggles to make his way as an independent producer in the highly competitive world of mid-1960s rock ‘n’ roll.

As Martin and the Beatles create one landmark album after another, including such masterworks as Revolver, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, The Beatles (The White Album), and Abbey Road, the internal stakes and interpersonal challenges become ever greater.

The ever genial Martin, quite naturally, never found another comparable act to produce again. That’s hardly surprising but since he was only 44 when the group split up, there was still a third act to his career to complete. During his post-Beatles years, Martin attempted to discover new vistas of sound recording with a host of acts, including Jeff Beck, America, Cheap Trick, Paul McCartney, and Elton John. Eventually, all roads would lead Martin back to The Beatles, as the group sought out new ways to memorialise their achievement under the supervision of the man who came to be known as Sir George.

This is not a biography littered with salacious gossip. Martin suffered personal unhappiness at the time of his divorce and anguish over its effect on his children, but he and his second wife were clearly a devoted couple for fifty years and one would be hard pushed to find any musician with less than complimentary things to say about him. He was essentially a nice man who sought to self improve and innovate. The Beatles were fortunate to have him.


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