The meeting came about after Epstein took the Decca audition tapes to HMV on London’s Oxford Street. The flagship record store had a Personal Recording Department on the first floor, where customers were able to have recordings cut to 78rpm acetate discs.
During the lathe cutting process, HMV’s Jim Foy expressed interest in the recordings and, upon learning that several of the songs were Lennon-McCartney originals, asked if Epstein wanted to meet Sid Colman, general manager of Ardmore and Beechwood. The publishing company, an EMI subsidiary, was situated on the top floor of HMV.
Colman expressed interest in publishing the original Beatles compositions, but Epstein made it clear that he was holding out for a recording contract. Colman offered to broker a meeting with EMI producer George Martin, in exchange for which Epstein gave his word that, should the Beatles sign to EMI, Ardmore and Beechwood would get the publishing rights.
It was in April 1962 that I got the phone call from Syd Coleman [sic], a friend and one of the music industry’s nice guys, who was head of Ardmore & Beechwood, the EMI publishing company with offices above the HMV shop in Oxford Street.
‘George,’ he said, ‘I don’t know if you’d be interested, but there’s a chap who’s come in with a tape of a group he runs. They haven’t got a recording contract, and I wonder if you’d like to see him and listen to what he’s got?’
‘Certainly,’ I said. ‘I’m willing to listen to anything. Ask him to come and see me.’
Martin’s diary for 13 February 1962 contained an entry, written by his assistant and future wife Judy Lockhart Smith, stating “Bernard Epstein”. The meeting took place at EMI’s head office on London’s Manchester Square, where Martin heard the Decca recordings of ‘Hello Little Girl’ and ‘Till There Was You’.
To start with, he gave me a big ‘hype’ about this marvellous group who were doing such great things in Liverpool. He told me how everybody up there thought they were the bee’s knees. He even expressed surprise that I hadn’t heard of them – which, in the circumstances, was pretty bold. I almost asked him in reply where Liverpool was. The thought of anything coming out of the provinces was extraordinary at that time. Then he played me his disc, and I first heard the sound of the Beatles.
The recording, to put it kindly, was by no means a knock-out. I could well understand that people had turned it down. The material was either old stuff, like Fats Waller’s ‘Your Feet’s Too Big’, or very mediocre songs they had written themselves. But… there was an unusual quality of sound, a certain roughness that I hadn’t encountered before. There was also the fact that more than one person was singing, which in itself was unusual. There was something tangible that made me want to hear more, meet them and see what they could do. I thought as I listened: Well, there just might be something here. At least it’s worth following up. I did not do handstands against the wall and say: ‘This is the greatest thing ever!’ I simply thought it was worth a shot.
Epstein’s recollection of the meeting was somewhat more positive, although it took several liberties with the truth. Martin did not offer The Beatles a recording session until May 1962, and Epstein left this first meeting without much to be optimistic about.
George Martin was very helpful and discussed the difficulties of the record business, and the problems I would meet if I was going to be persistent, and said ‘I like your discs and I would like to see your artistes.’ Wonderful news and we fixed a provisional date there and then. Martin I liked immensely. He is a painstaking man with a magnificent ear for music and a great sense of style. I do not think he could produce a bad disc.
Also at the offices I established an instant friendship with Judy Lockhart Smith and there was an atmosphere about the place which gave me tremendous hope. George, a tall, thin elegant man with the air of a stern but fair-minded housemaster had up to that time been doing good work with Peter Sellers on the famous and extremely successful L.P.s, but not very much with the new hard-driving beat music which was to sweep the world. He had a fine reputation, however, as a dedicated arranger, composer and oboist.
I liked the way he listened to the discs, his long legs crossed, leaning on his elbow, he rocked gently to and fro and nodded and smiled encouragingly. Judy also smiled her delicious smile and I sat with a face like stone as if my very life was at stake. In a way it was.
George had commented ‘I know very little about groups, Brian, but I believe you have something very good here’ and this to me had been the highest praise.
George also took the trouble to discuss the quality in this voice and that. He liked very much ‘Hello Little Girl’ recorded many months later and many hits later by the Fourmost – one of my Liverpool groups – but at that time it was merely one of many Beatle samples.
George also liked George Harrison on guitar and was excited about Paul’s voice. ‘He has the most commercial voice of the lot,’ he commented and this is probably still true, though each Beatle has an equal amount to contribute to the total disc content.
We shook hands on the coming session and though there was still no contract, I left E.M.I. as the happiest Liverpudlian in London and I hurtled North with the wonderful news. I had phoned the Beatles to say I was arriving with news and when my train arrived at Lime Street the four of them were waiting on the platform – an unusual event for they are not sentimental people given to waving people off or to welcoming them back.
‘Well,’ said George. And eight eyes looked at me with scarcely-suppressed excitement.
‘You have a recording session at E.M.I. as soon as you like,’ I said and to celebrate we sped to the National Milk Bar in Liverpool where we got intoxicated with power and Coca-Cola and four packets of biscuits. The Beatles were beside themselves with delight and relief.
Although the memoirs of Martin and Epstein stated that a first recording session was the result of this meeting, it was far from assured. The 6 June 1962 session only came about after Kim Bennett, a record plugger working for Admore and Beechwood, expressed an interest in the Decca recordings and took them to EMI House to play to the label’s A&R men.
Bennett left disappointed, but suggested that Sid Colman approach EMI’s managing director Len Wood with the proposal that, if Armore and Beechwood were to fund the costs, EMI could put out a Beatles record. Wood, however, declined the offer.
That could well have been the end of the story, were it not for a series of unlikely events. Martin had separated from his first wife Sheena, and was having a clandestine relationship with Lockhart Smith. The news came to the attention of Wood, who was appalled by their conduct. Martin had also pressed hard – unsuccessfully – for royalties on his productions during contract renewal negotiations, which had not endeared him to EMI management.
Wood’s revenge was plotted during a meeting with Colman. The Ardmore and Beechwood manager had asked again why Wood had blocked the proposed Beatles recording session. Wood hatched a plan to offer the band a recording contract, which would give A&B their desired publishing rights to ‘Like Dreamers Do’. And George Martin would be given the undesirable task of working on the session.
EMI invited Epstein to a second meeting with Martin, which took place at 11.30am on Wednesday 9 May 1962 at EMI Studios, Abbey Road. On that day Martin gave Epstein the news he had craved for months: The Beatles were finally to be offered a record deal.