Written by Liz Buckley

Arts

7 Wonders: St George Martin

Liz Buckley‘s back in charge of the Standard Issue playlist and this time she’s talking the patron saint of British music.

The Beatles and George Martin in the studio in 1966.

Just another day in the studio: George Martin and The Beatles, creating masterpieces no doubt, in 1966.

Just as when The Beatles were awarded their MBEs and commented that those initials stood for their ever-loyal and appreciated manager “Mister Brian Epstein”, so in turn, I think it fitting that Saint George’s Day in England should henceforth stand for Saint George Martin’s Day.

There has been none more English, gentlemanly or saintly than Sir George Martin – a figure England can truly be proud to call our own, with achievements far more definite than this highly unbelievable dragon story the other bloke seems to have bandied about. I expect it started as a pub story and just got out of hand; he’s probably got to stick with it now.

Having once been in the Navy, he also worked for the War Office. Deliberately changing his London accent to a well-spoken, sweet honey-tone after hating hearing himself speak on recorded audio, the young, handsome George Martin used to dress smartly for the recording studio in suit and black tie and then cycle to the office complete with clips around his ankles.

Ever polite, with impeccable manners and decorum, he remained stately about the lack of credit (and money) Parlophone were initially giving him for his successes and went on to marry the office secretary, Judy Lockhart-Smith, ‘Posh Judy’ on whom The Beatles admitted to all having a collective crush. He was far more than an English knight, then, but a real life James Bond complete with his own Moneypenny. In fact, he even later scored Live and Let Die, just to make sure you’d see him that way.

George, as he was simply known before I sainted him, signed The Beatles when no one else would touch them, giving them free studio time at Abbey Road and a shot at impressing him in person when other labels had turned them down flat.

Signing them to the then-fledgling Parlophone label, he became so central to the band’s sound and development throughout the 60s, that he alone was the true claimant of the ‘fifth Beatle’ title. Paul McCartney called him a “second father”, with John Lennon explaining Martin had truly helped them develop a language through which they could express themselves.

Even when they dallied from George just the once, late in their career to experiment with producer Phil Spector for the 1970 Let It Be album, it’s very telling that in 2003 McCartney remixed and remastered the whole album as he’d always been immensely unhappy with it. John Lennon might not have felt so strongly, but I’d hardly say John’s “When I heard it, I didn’t puke” is exactly praise for the original LP. There was just no replacing their man George.

“It was The Beatles who thought Martin was ‘far out’ rather than the other way around. The piccolo trumpet on Penny Lane? George Martin’s. The circus oompah feel of For The Benefit of Mr Kite? Martin’s.”

The effect Martin had on the band’s sound, image and output cannot be overestimated. When he sped up the lead ballad on the band’s debut Please Please Me album, the foursome were unsure what he was doing but trusted his judgement. “Gentlemen, you’ve just made your first number one record”, he announced. They only had to wait four short months to see he was absolutely correct.

But this was just the beginning. It was George’s idea to add strings to Yesterday. Paul was sceptical but always interested to hear what could be done; Yesterday is now one of the most successful – and the most covered – songs of all time.

Thought Strawberry Fields Forever was the result of The Fab Four’s drug-addled hippie nightmares? Incorrect: the song’s trippiness is the result of Martin realising Lennon’s verses and chorus for the song were out of time and pace with one another and the most interesting way to repair the time signature was the tape loops, reverses and swirls you hear on the finished version.

It was The Beatles who thought Martin was ‘far out’ rather than the other way around. The piccolo trumpet on Penny Lane? George Martin’s. The circus oompah feel of For The Benefit of Mr Kite? Martin’s. The desperately sad strings punctuating Eleanor Rigby? Martin’s. He conducted a full orchestra for A Day In The Life. He arranged and scored the whole of Yellow Submarine. With every song, his influence is gargantuan.

Breathless yet? It’s not all about The Beatles for Saint George: he produced more than 700 songs in his lifetime, including records for Dame Shirley Bassey, Matt Monro, Gerry & The Pacemakers, Cilla Black, Elton John, Ultravox, John Williams, Celine Dion, Cheap Trick and more.

That’s not all. Prior to his association with The Beatles, George Martin was primarily a comedy producer and made seminal comedy records with Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Bernard Cribbins – in fact it was The Beatles’ joint sense of humour that had first drawn him to the band.

This is a man who not only helped create rock’n’roll as we know it, he helped create alternative comedy too. Basically, he made everything you like and everything that ever came after, possible. He made a world of which we are all a fan. RIP Sir George Martin, you bloody saint.

Sir Paul McCartney’s obituary for Sir George Martin (1926-2016): “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.”

@liz_buckley

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Written by Liz Buckley

Department manager at an independent record company. Liker of Frank Sinatra and Nick Cave. Very sudden laugh. Pasty but tasty. Quite tired.