2016 claimed another legend this week when we bade farewell to a very special pair of ears.
George Martin is perhaps best known for being the man that produced much of the Beatles output but his career was actually much more far reaching than that.
Martin joined EMI in 1950 as an assistant to the head of Parlophone records. Parlophone was seen as a small and inconsequential arm of the corporation at that time and Martin assisted in the recording of chamber groups and regional music. When the head of Parlophone retired in 1955 he took over as head of the label. As the 1960s neared he took on a few novelty acts and subsequently worked with Spike Milligan, Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, Bernard Cribbins, Bill Oddie and many more. He wanted to add some rock and roll to Parlophone’s repertoire and had some sway now that the small company had become quite profitable.
I’m not going to dwell too much on his work with the Beatles as we’ve all heard that story. I think, as do so many, that his role in the incredible output of the band was incremental. He added the string quartet to Yesterday, the harpsichord solo to In My Life and those twinkly piano parts to Lovely Rita to name but a few gems. He encouraged the band to experiment with instruments and techniques they would never have encountered. He supported, coaxed and inspired and eventually, all members of the band acknowledged how he had helped shape their work.
I was born into a very geeky muso family and we devoured every radio programme and TV documentary about musicians that we could get our hands on. We had reams of videos and cassettes that we’d recorded with such material, often listening to or watching them over and over. We had an early episode of Radio 2’s Sounds of the Sixties presented by George Martin. He had a such lovely soft voice and gentle laugh. He did sound quite posh – as if he’d just got down from his Spitfire! In it he chose some of his favourite sounds of the 60s and, as I remember, these included some Matt Monro tracks he’d produced and the aforementioned harpsichord solo from In My Life. He revealed how he’d actually written the little two-part invention and played it half speed and an octave lower, before speeding it up to the right speed and pitch. I was blown away!
Throw in the film scores he wrote, the several Bond themes he produced and the countless artists he works with and you have a truly incredible legacy. I admire his inventiveness and his ahead-of-his-time postmodern mixing of high and low art. I like the fondness with which he spoke of all the artists he worked with, his professionality and above all the fact he comes across as a true gentleman of a bygone era.
It is with real sadness I say:
It’s only vintage but I like it!