Sir George Martin gave a talk in aid of Deafness Research UK at Kings Place in London on 28 April 2010. He took part in an hour-long conversation with BBC presenter and author Andrew Marr, before answering questions from the audience.
In 2009 Sir George became its vice president, and has lent his name to their campaigns and activities. The night also included an auction of special donated items, and VIP ticket holders received a signed and dedicated photograph of Sir George.
During the conversation with Andrew Marr, Martin spoke about subjects including his time in the air force, his first roles at EMI, and how he worked as a producer with a wide range of performers. The bulk of the talk was inevitably about The Beatles, and he told a series of warm and witty anecdotes about “the boys”.
Among the subjects Sir George touched upon were:
- That he wasn’t impressed with The Beatles’ first demo which Brian Epstein played for him in the hope of securing an audition. When Martin told Epstein it wasn’t much good, he allegedly looked so crestfallen that an audition was offered out of sympathy.
- A description of the early, slower version of Please Please Me, with Martin singing a fragment while tapping a ‘Be My Baby’ beat on the stage. He apparently told The Beatles if they doubled the tempo it might be workable, but confessed he didn’t expect it to sound like it eventually did. He confessed his claim after the recording, that they’d just made their first number one, was bluster but turned out to be true nonetheless.
- The frustrations of having little time to record The Beatles amid their touring schedule. Martin said Brian Epstein used to offer him “an afternoon next Tuesday” to record, so he was naturally delighted when The Beatles stopped touring and devoted more time to the studio.
- Strawberry Fields Forever/Penny Lane was held off number one by Engelbert Humperdinck’s Release Me as record shop owners had to fill in sales returns, and often mentioned one song and not the other.
- The Beatles would have made it without George Martin, the producer claimed. John Lennon, Paul McCartney and George Harrison were such natural talents, he said, that they would have found a way eventually.
- When recording Abbey Road, each of The Beatles worked hard, though often separately, to make the album good. It was a happy time, although with a sense that it was to be their final work.
- John Lennon initially refused to take part in the Abbey Road medley, but once he saw what McCartney and Martin were working on, he suggested “I’ve got something that’ll fit in there”. Despite claiming he was only interested in rock, Lennon’s song Because was cited by Martin as being removed from that.
- The idea for the zebra crossing cover shoot for Abbey Road was “probably Paul’s idea”, a fact confirmed by McCartney from the front row.
- When making the Yellow Submarine soundtrack score, Martin was given a rough cut of the film by director George Dunning to work to. Upon delivering the score, he was told by Dunning that most of it would be cut anyway.
- The most important elements in a recording is the song, and by extension the songwriter. The next most important are the performers, followed by the producer and engineer.
- Barbra Streisand is far more attractive in the flesh, apparently. The pair once considered working together on a musical project, but were unable to make their schedules coincide.
- Sophia Loren flirted with Martin during a transatlantic flight, by rubbing her leg against his. “I may not be paid too much,” he recalled thinking, “but my job does have its compensations.” She apparently flirted with everyone in the studio while recording Goodness Gracious Me with Peter Sellers.
- At a dinner once, Martin chatted to Neil Armstrong about his time in the air force, not realising his true identity. Martin described Armstrong as “one of my heroes”.
- A signed set of Andrew Marr’s six published books.
- A painting of Devon by Marr.
- Three signed box sets of Produced By George Martin: Highlights from 50 Years in Recording.
- A set of ACS T1 in-ear monitor headphones, moulded to the winner’s ears.
- A photo opportunity with Sir George.
- A snare drum head signed by Ringo Starr.
- A limited edition lithograph, one of only 500 made, of the score to Yesterday.
The box sets each raised around £1,000. The snare head went for £1,800, and the lithograph was sold for £10,500. The audience was a mix of Beatles fans and charity patrons and supporters, and people were evidently willing to dig deep for the worthy cause.