George Martin

Sir George Martin CBE was The Beatles' producer, arranger and mentor, who signed them to EMI and worked on the vast majority of songs throughout their career.

The early years

He was born George Henry Martin on 3 January 1926. At the age of six his interest in music was piqued by a piano which the Martin family acquired. Two years later he persuaded his parents to let him have lessons, though he only had eight due to disagreements between his mother and the teacher. Following that, Martin taught himself to play piano.

He went to a number of London schools as a child, including St Joseph's elementary in Highgate and St Ignatius College in Stamford Hill. When St Ignatius pupils were sent to Welwyn Garden City as evacuees during the war, the Martin family moved from London and George enrolled at Bromley Grammar School.

His passion for music grew throughout his school days, which included a memorable performance from the BBC Symphony Orchestra conducted by Sir Adrian Boult.

It was absolutely magical. Hearing such glorious sounds I found it difficult to connect them with 90 men and women blowing into brass and wooden instruments or scraping away at strings with horsehair bows.
George Martin

During the war he worked briefly as a quantity surveyor and a clerk in the War Office, and in 1943 joined the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy. He remained there until 1947, becoming a pilot and commissioned officer, though he didn't see combat during the war.

George Martin, Dick James and Brian EpsteinMartin used his war veteran's grant to enrol at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama between 1947 and 1950, where he studied piano and oboe, and the music of Ravel, Rachmaninov, Cole Porter and Johnny Dankworth. Coincidentally, his oboe teacher was Margaret Asher; she was the mother of Jane Asher, who had a relationship with Paul McCartney in the 1960s.

In 1948, on his 22nd birthday, George Martin married Sheena Chisholm. They had two children, Alexis and Gregory, but later divorced. In June 1966 he married Judy Lockhart-Smith. They also had two children, Lucy and Giles.

After graduating from Guildhall he worked at the BBC's classical music department, and in 1950 joined EMI as an assistant to Parlophone boss Oscar Preuss. At that time Parlophone, a German EMI imprint, was largely seen as a novelty label of little relevance.

When Preuss retired in 1955, Martin took over as head of Parlophone. His greatest successes came with comedy and novelty records from artists including the Goons, Rolf Harris, Flanders and Swann and, most successfully, the Beyond the Fringe show, starring Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett and Jonathan Miller.

In 1962, using the pseudonym Ray Cathode, Martin released an electronic dance single called Time Beat, recorded at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Keen to capitalise on the burgeoning UK rock 'n' roll scene, he began looking for a group to work with.

With The Beatles

Martin was told about Brian Epstein, who was managing a pop group that had been turned down by the majority of labels including Decca. He arranged to meet Epstein on 13 February 1962, where he heard the Decca recordings, which he thought "unpromising". He did, however, think well of John Lennon and Paul McCartney's vocals.

The pair met again on 9 May at Abbey Road, where they agreed a contract without Martin having met The Beatles or seen them perform. The contract, which he felt gave him "nothing to lose", promised The Beatles a royalty of one penny for each record sold.

George Martin agreed to sign the contract only when he had heard an audition from the band. This took place on 6 June 1962, produced by Ron Richards with engineer Norman Smith. Martin was not present at the session, but did meet the band and listened to the recordings. While he thought the band's original songs below par, he was impressed by their wit: when he asked them if there was anything they didn't like, George Harrison replied, "I don't like your tie". From then on the session was filled with jokes, which warmed Martin towards them.

The Beatles returned to Abbey Road on 4 September, with new drummer Ringo Starr, for their first session with George Martin. He made them record How Do You Do It, which the band reluctantly agreed to, along with Love Me Do and a slower version of Please Please Me.

Unhappy with Ringo's drumming, Martin made them re-record Love Me Do a week later with session drummer Andy White. When it reached number 17 in the charts, Martin brought them back into the studio to record a follow-up.

Please Please Me was recorded in November 1962. At the end of the session, he addressed the band from the control room, telling them: "Gentlemen, you have just made your first number one record."

Many early Beatles songs were rehearsed and arranged on the spot in the studio, immediately prior to recording. As The Beatles' confidence and curiosity in the studio grew, George Martin encouraged them to experiment, and gradually the old conventions of recording was questioned and often discarded.

Martin acted as the band's arranger, and he played piano on a number of songs from the release of the Please Please Me album. He suggested adding a string quartet to Yesterday, and scored other songs including Eleanor Rigby and Penny Lane.

He was also called upon to offer solutions to the musically-untrained Beatles' often wayward requests. These included the splicing together of two takes, recorded in different keys and tempi, of Strawberry Fields Forever, the circus noises on Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite!, and the realisation of the orchestral climaxes during A Day In The Life.

As George Martin was unable to write the score for She's Leaving Home, Paul McCartney asked Mike Leander instead. Martin was hurt, but nonetheless conducted the orchestra and produced the recording.

Martin - who had left EMI's employment in 1965 but continued to work in a freelance capacity - became greatly in demand with other artists, and was unavailable during a number of sessions for The Beatles and Let It Be. He did, however, score the Yellow Submarine soundtrack and produced the band's final album, Abbey Road.

George Martin autograph, 2010After The Beatles' break-up, George Martin continued to produce a range of artists via his company Associated Independent Recording (AIR). He worked with Jeff Beck, Tom Jones, Celine Dion and many more, and in 1979 opened a studio in Montserrat.

In 1994 and 95 he oversaw the post-production of the Anthology albums, once again working with The Beatles' engineer Geoff Emerick. He used an eight-track analogue mixing desk, which he felt had a truer sound than its modern digital counterparts. He did, however, decline to produce Free As A Bird and Real Love, saying his hearing wasn't up to the task.

In 2006 George Martin and his son Giles embarked on an ambitious remix project of The Beatles' songs for the Cirque Du Soleil's joint venture with Apple Corps. The result was the Love album, which contained extracts from over 130 Beatles songs. It included a new orchestral score, written by Martin, for a solo demo of While My Guitar Gently Weeps originally recorded by George Harrison in 1968.

24 responses on “George Martin

  1. pat

    “Unhappy with Ringo’s drumming, Martin made them re-record Love Me Do a week later with session drummer Andy White.”

    Not true. If you watch Anthology, both Starr and Martin agree that Martin had booked Andy White to replace Pete Best, because Martin didn’t like Best.

    Ringo actually showed up to play on Love Me Do, but Martin had already booked White. Martin said “I don’t even know who you are” to Ringo. He said he was burned once (with Best). He was going to use Andy White.

    Ringo played on the second recording of Love Me Do. This is all spelled out clearly if you watch Anthology when Best was replaced by Starr.

    1. Joe Post author

      Pete Best played during the first EMI session on 6 June 1962; Ringo played on 4 September; Andy White on 11 September. George Martin booked White because he didn’t want to take any more chances with the song (as you quote, “I don’t even know who you are”), as the 4 September version – featuring Ringo – wasn’t satisfactory.

      As for Anthology, Ringo says Andy White was pre-booked because of Pete Best, while Paul McCartney says George Martin didn’t like Ringo’s drumming (“to George he was not as pinpoint as a session guy would be”). Either way it seems clear that Martin was unhappy with Ringo’s drumming, otherwise he’d have used him on the third Love Me Do session.

      George Martin didn’t even produce the 11 September session featuring Andy White; Ron Richards did. Martin only arrived towards the end, when they were recording an early version of Please Please Me.

  2. Jammy_jim

    Has anyone read Martin’s book “All you need is ears”? Wow! The book reeks of cynicism and negativity aimed at everyone — but Paul. Most glaring are his harsh critiques of George (seems to have changed his tune for the Scorsese film). For example, he waves off “Something,” one of the greatest most beautiful songs ever written, as `so simple, really…’ Simple? Hardly. A masterpiece? Definitely.

    1. Matt

      “Something” is a masterpiece largely because of Martin’s arrangement. I first saw this song in a book of 100 easy listening classics before I ever heard the record and could not possibly imagine how you could arrange it to make it sound any good. When I first heard the record I was stunned by the genius of the arrangement.

      1. Rocky

        Yes, George Martin’s arrangement did add to the beauty of Something. However, if you listen to any version stripped of the orchestra that accompanies it on Abbey Road, it’s still a beautiful and stunning song.

        Listen to the Something version on Anthology 3. It’s already powerful enough with George simply singing and playing the guitar. If you still don’t believe me, listen to the earlier takes, such as takes 27 (you can find them on youtube). If that still doesn’t do it, listen to his version on George Harrison’s Live In Japan album. The coy introduction, the organ. It’s still an immaculate song without the arrangement.

        I don’t disagree that Martin’s arrangement was fantastic; it was beautiful, and complimented the song perfectly. However, I feel as though Harrison deserves the credit for making “Something” and masterpiece, not Martin. Just food for thought! I’m so glad that George Martin let young Harrison help conduct the arrangement when it came time for recording it.

  3. David

    Is there any film of George Martin playing piano on any Beatles tracks? Especially on some of the rockers?

    Not that I’m denying it’s him: I just think it might be amusing, and illuminating, to see him playing 12-bar rock ‘n roll!

  4. Justin

    George Martin lucked out by being The Beatles producer, and he’s turned it into a life-long career. Before them, what was he doing? The bottom of the barrel stuff like comedy records. Was he instrumental in getting them to realize their sound in the studio? Yeah. That doesn’t mean that he has the right to milk it out for the last 40 years.

    1. Joe Post author

      What a mean spirited comment. Yes, he lucked out by meeting The Beatles, in the same way The Beatles lucked out by meeting him. It was a fantastic turn of events which resulted in some amazing music, which may not have happened if they’d never met.

      You seem to think he did little or nothing before or since working with The Beatles, which seems rather ignorant. And why doesn’t he have the right to speak about his many achievements in the 1960s? If I’d produced Revolver and Abbey Road I’d probably never stop going on about it.

      1. Justin

        I did come off pretty harsh there, and I didn’t voice my opinion very well. I do see the ying/yang aspect of it, they did feed off of each other, at least up until about the White Album. I had just been reading some things where he was critical of them, and at times I get tired of hearing him go on and on about them, and it feels like he’s trying to make a quick buck. Again, I should’ve taken the time to be a little more tactful with my comment.

    2. Anthony

      George Martin used his talent to perfect that of the Beatles. Without him, they probably would have been successful, but not nearly as quickly nor as largely as they are in this life. George Martin emphasized their stronger skills and assisted their weaker ones with his arrangements and deserves to milk their success as part of his own. This is the sole purpose of editors, arrangers and/or mentors; to fine tune the raw talents of their students and turn them into masters of their craft.

  5. Danny

    Ye well said Joe, George Martin did some incredible things with some of the beatles records. And like you say too, The Beatles might have never been successful if Martin had turned them down as well!

  6. paulsbass

    I guess this is Justin Bieber speaking, being jealous about the fantastic achievements George Martin had with the Beatles (and other acts).
    He did as much for them as they did for him. He turned their rough act into something broadly accessable – while allowing them to keep their edges.
    He guided their overwhelming imagination and playfulness into productive and disciplined work – while allowing them to be creative and explore something new every day.
    He provided them with the best musicians and technicians available – and they gave him their best.
    He always trusted them and supported their risky moves, and they never let him down, they always delivered.

  7. JoeyV

    Pretty cool discussion. I’m a student of history and the Beatles are a part of our history. It’s amazing how all of the ingredients came together in this cauldron. I admire how Sir George handled himself in that situation. Indeed all of them proved to me not only how human they were, but how “just like us” they really are. Think about it. They were kids looking for a way out or a better way to live and they had something. A way out! Yes the recording company’s were businesses with rules, formalities, structure and procedures. Each person involved dealt with what was in front of them. It truly is a great story of dreams coming true. Congratulations and thank you Sir George Martin! While doing something you loved, you made the world a better place! joev

  8. berit, norway

    Sooo good to see people being engaged in discussion about the fab 4! They were all four very different personalities, a fact this little anecdode illustrates. Years after the split, when peole were starting to talk of/demand a reunion, Ringo was interviewed on US TV. Asked his opinion on a future reunion, he replied: “Nah, I don’t ever foresee that possibility. As it is we have all the audience of the world. John’s got all the intellectuals, George’s got all the mystics, Paul’s got the teenagers and I’ve got all the mums.” :) YEAH, right! Tell me how I can contact George Martin as I am returning for another visit to Montserrat and have high hopes he’ll agree to rebuild the studio he once had there, or at least assist in promoting this idea to someone serious (reads as Clapton who is/was involved and owns a beautiful housing complex in Antigua). If you’d been to M’serrat you’d know the people there deserve it.

  9. paz

    Even George Martin admits he was not especially impressed with the initial sounds he heard coming from the band…………..but he heard something different that started to hook his interest..a relaxation of the then musical rules… and Paul and John just knew how to make it work…..every time. Thank god lightning struck twice/three times in Liverpool and once more in London with Mr Martin.

  10. Waikato Willie

    there are some people commenting on here who have very little knowledge of GM or the Beatles. Suggest you watch the recently broadcast BBC documentary about George Martin to understand how much he rated the Beatles as a whole, and what he had done previously and has done since.

  11. Joshua Adams

    George martin and brian epstein pretty much created the beatles/ they had their formative period but in 1962 they were molded and became a marketable franchise til their breakup in 69, some tend to disregard that martin and epstein were the brains of the operation and mccartney was the composer that provided the material.

  12. jim mcGuire

    In 1962 the recording session for Love me do- Ps i love you- and please please me George martin after hearing recording from Pete Best wasnt very happy- so ringo recorded those songs and was still unhappy, in an interview with hunter davies he brought in andy white because he had a proven tract record as a session drummer and George worked well with session musicians in the past. in the interview andy whites version where better sounding then the versions by Pete and Ringo. The Ringo version was released on the british charts in 1963 went to #17. George Martin didnt like this because he believed love me do should of been a #1- Andy whites version was released in 1964 world wide was a #1. I belive the beatles changed the music world and as Paul stated thank god george martin was there for us we didnt like the decision to bring in Andy but it worked out in the end.

  13. Julian

    George Martin didn’t think that Love Me Do would go high on the charts. So the fact that it went to number 17 in NME was a positive surprise to him.

  14. beatle1965

    Ringo quoted that he was very upset bringing in Andy white and to this day he still call George Martin a Bugger and has had very little conversation with george since the break up.

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