Written by Daniel James Parry
Foxley mourns the loss of infamous record producer, Sir George Henry Martin CBE, a man often referred to as ‘The Fifth Beatle’, due to his extensive work on each record produced by The Beatles.
The news was broken by close friend and Beatles drummer Ringo Starr on social media platform Twitter (@ringostarrmusic) on the morning of the 9th March, 2016 in a tweet that lovingly cited ‘God bless George Martin peace and love to Judy and his family love Ringo and Barbara George will be missed xxx’
Sir George Henry Martin was born in Highbury, London on the 3rd January 1926. His passion for music began at an early age, as his family received a piano when George was just six years old. At the age of eight, Martin had just eight piano lessons, before continuing his passion by teaching himself to play.
As a child, George attended several schools, including ‘a convent school in Holloway’, St Joseph’s elementary school in Highgate, and St Ignatius’ College in Stamford Hill, which he won a scholarship to attend. Speaking about his early roots in music on BBC Radio 3 in 2007, Martin commented “I remember well the very first time I heard a symphony orchestra. I was just in my teens when Sir Adrian Boult brought the BBC Symphony Orchestra to my school for a public concert. It was absolutely magical. Hearing such glorious sounds I found it difficult to connect them with ninety men and women blowing into brass and wooden instruments or scraping away at strings with horsehair bows. I could not believe my ears!”
At age 21, George attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he studied Piano and Oboe, graduating in 1950, quickly ascending the ranks into the BBC’s classical music department before joining multinational recording company EMI in the same year, arguably one of the greatest names in the history of music. George served as the assistant to Oscar Preuss, the Head of EMI’s Parlophone Records, between 1950 and 1955. In his early years with the company, he worked with a variety of comedians including Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan, as well as Jonathan Miller and Peter Cook. George would later work with comedians Bill Oddie and Bruce Forsyth.
George’s relationship with The Beatles began in 1962 through Sid Coleman, who worked at Ardmore & Beechwood, who informed him of Brian Epstein, the band’s manager. By this point, The Beatles had been turned down by Decca Records, and George’s comedy records had brought him considerable success, as well as a number one hit with the Temperance Seven and minor successes with Jerry Lordon, Shane Fenton and Matt Monro.
George met with Epstein in February 1962, where he listened to a tape recorded at Decca. George has previously stated that the band musically were unpromising, however he enjoyed Lennon and McCartney’s vocals, and later described how he enjoyed the band’s personality, after, upon being asked what they did not like about their audition at Abbey Road which George listened to later, George Harrison replied ‘well, your tie for a start.’
And so, George wrote up a contract from EMI which offered the band one penny per record sold, to be split amongst the four Beatles under the notion that the record label had ‘nothing to lose’. After the release of ‘From Me to You’, George suggested the royalty rate be doubled, with nothing in return, an offer which was generally unfavourable with EMI.
The Beatles recorded their first track, ‘How Do You Do It’, a cover of another of George’s acts, Gerry & The Pacemakers, on the 4th September. Lennon and McCartney were unwilling to release the track as it was not one of their own compositions, however George believed it would be a certain hit, and he was right. This was followed a week later by ‘Love Me Do’, where session drummer Andy White played the drums and drummer Ringo Starr provided accompanying percussion, about which he was ‘not pleased.’ However, due to a mix up at EMI, the single carried the version upon which Starr had played drums. Martin would later describe Starr as ‘probably the finest rock drummer in the world today.’ Love Me Do peaked at number 17 in the British chart, a success which began the regular collaboration of The Beatles with Sir George Henry Martin. He regularly composed, arranged and produced scores for the band, including on track Eleanor Rigby, and on feature films Yellow Submarine and A Hard Day’s Night, which earned him an Academy Awards Nomination.
The Beatles are not the only quintessentially British claim to fame that George had the pride of producing; he was responsible for signing Matt Monro to EMI before he recorded ‘From Russia with Love’, and he produced Shirley Basset’s ‘Goldfinger’ in 1964, and ‘Live and Let Die’ by Paul McCartney and Wings in 1973, for which he composed and produced the film’s score. In recognition of his services to the music industry and pop culture, George Henry Martin became Sir George Henry Martin CBE in 1996.
Sir George is survived by his wife of almost fifty years, Judy Lockhart Smith, and his four children.
Rest in power, Sir George.