Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music


MARTIN, George

(b 3 January 1926, London; d 9 March 2016) Producer. WWII service in Fleet Air Arm, three years at Guildhall School of Music, worked in BBC music library, then as assistant to Oscar Preuss at EMI's Parlophone label. Saw a gap for comedy records and filled it with Peter Ustinov, Peter Sellers and Bernard Cribbins (top 30 hits '62 with 'Hole In The Ground', 'Right Said Fred', 'Gossip Calypso'); he also produced Scots dance band leader Jimmy Shand, leading UK jazzman John Dankworth, no. 1 hit 'You're Driving Me Crazy' for trad band Temperence Seven; dabbled in skiffle with the Vipers whom he spotted in a coffee bar (three hits '57) but turned down Tommy Steele. When the Beatles approached him '62 they'd been turned down by majors; he turned them down at first, but recognised their raw talent, encouraged them to change drummers and the rest is history.

Many years later Epstein said that the goal had been to make a recording that sounded like the original; he saw that a record producer was not restricted to taking a photograph, but could paint. He produced other Brian Epstein acts who needed more, not less, from him: he double-tracked Billy J. Kramer to to get hits from his thin voice and found success for Cilla Black in spite of an unremarkable voice; he made 3 no. 1 hits in a row for Gerry And The Pacemakers: from April '63 Martin productions were no. 1 UK 39 out of 52 weeks. He was arranger and keyboard player for the Beatles but soon became a sounding-board for Lennon and McCartney's ideas; he had taught them to harmonise their songs, and persuaded them to jolly up 'Please Please Me', which they had been playing like a dirge in imitation of Roy Orbison. Then his classical training was valuable as they played with strings on 'Yesterday', 'Eleanor Rigby', 'Tomorrow Never Knows' and on to 'Strawberry Fields Forever'; he reached an acknowledged apogee of 4-track recording technique with Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band '67, using three soon-antiquated machines: he created such sound effects as that at the end of 'For The Benefit Of Mr Kite', for which a tape recording of a steam organ was cut into many small pieces and reassembled. He left EMI '65, told that he did not qualify for a Christmas bonus on top of his salary of £3000, although his productions had earned the company £2m that year, and he was about to become the most famous record producer in the world.

He formed Associated Independent Recordings, retaining the Beatles (but receiving only 1% royalty); until then he had not even got credit on LP sleeves, and his move significantly raised the status of producers in pop. Ron Richards (produced the Hollies) and two others joined him in AIR, whose studios in London and (later) Monserrat were among the best in the business. He continued to produce McCartney post-Beatles, also working with America, Jeff Beck, UFO, Kenny Rogers and others, also retaining a foot in MOR with Ella Fitzgerald and Neil Sedaka. He tended (as with America) to work with an artist over a span of albums, building rapport; inevitably none of these have equaled the Beatles' spectacular fame, but Martin nevertheless remained in the forefront of his trade. He outgrew his premises and by '93 had built a new facility at Lyndhurst Hall in Bellsize Park in North London, a disused church so decrepit it had been used as the set for Jim Henson's Monster Movie; among the first acts recorded there were Henry Mancini and Dire Staits. In '94 he produced a hit album of Gershwin by Larry Adler and guests, and was chairman of Crystal FM (backed by Chrysalis), seeking one of six London radio franchises to be awarded by the government, in Crystal's case to broadcast Adult Contemporary, and also live acts from Lyndhurst Hall (they failed). Suffering from loss of hearing, he retired after In My Life '98, a set of Beatle covers by the likes of Goldie Hawn and Sean Connery, described by one critic as 'spectacularly misguided ... Martin began his career producing comedy records [and] ended it the same way.'