In the moment with George Martin
George Martin was producing records in 1950. He worked his way up the corporate ladder, and in 1962 he was acting as a sort of Principal over a small number of recording studios. One morning he popped into a booth and asked how the audition session went. The engineer said he hated the drummer; he was unrecordable and the songs were only so-so. Martin listened to the tape and then, like a good Principal, stepped into the studio to chat with the prospective students. He asked them if there was anything at all they didn’t like and George Harrison immediately said “Well, I don’t like your tie.”
We all know what ensued, and Martin was charmed.
Let’s face it, they were charmers all; young and on a romp. Having established a working relationship immediately meant there was time for Martin to recognize these interesting people’s musical strengths. I think he decided the guitar work was incredible.
It always was.
The drummer was immediately cut and a boy with a remarkable sense of steady time replaced him. He was already a whimsical sort; he fit right in. Remember, John said the Beatles were bastards. This might be the moment he was pointing to.
I like to think George Martin recognized George Harrison as by far the most fluent guitarist he had yet to work with. He goes after and captures George’s smooth consistent and effortless flow.
Paul once said that George Martin was the only man who should ever be regarded as the fifth Beatle. How quickly those shimmering guitar parts began to be caught in their full glory on tape. By the time the American album Something New came out the sound was rich and full of possibility. They were all swept up in a learning curve, the teacher too.
Martin invested himself in all of it. He must have loved it when the Beatles were scheduled to be in the studio. He contributed as much as anyone; he was always there in mind and spirit with a little obbligato he had scored out last night for piccolo trumpet.
Acoustic guitars are difficult to record. When the Beatles headed in that direction Martin mastered the technique; all this time Martin’s own stereophonic world was expanding.
As the music demanded more Martin provided more. Imagine what time and effort it took just to find the exact right tape of crowd noise in a swell to start Sergeant Pepper’s, one of those very rare moments when an album immediately rises up and begins to tell its story.
It was a total team effort. That’s how we got to the moon and that’s how the Beatles managed to produce music that could land us there from the scenic route.
When George Martin was producing Jeff Beck’s Wired he mustered all of his George Harrison wisdom to seek out that guitarist’s lair and take a vivid musical portrait of him. “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” remains a mastery of live sound; Beck roaming and stalking something in a perfectly blue setting.
George Martin was always in the moment, and putting you there as well.
Michael James has been a professional guitarist and Public School music educator for over forty years