Known as the fifth Beatle for his work with the fabulous four, Sir George Martin was a hugely influential record producer, engineer, composer, conductor and musician. He signed the Beatles to Parlophone records in 1962 where he’d spent the previous decade producing comedy and novelty records for the likes of Peter Sellers, Bernard Cribbins, Terry Scott and Dudley Moore amongst so many others. The Beatles were an attempt to add some rock and roll to Parlophone’s repertoire, which turned out quite well after initially finding them “rather unpromising”. Just before that world changing signing Martin released an early electronic dance single called “Time Beat”, recorded at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop under the pseudonym “Ray Cathode” – his breadth and vision were extraordinary even then. He went on to produce over 700 records.
I had the pleasure of building him a computer back around the year 2000 – the details get a bit sketchy because it’s sort of turned into legend in my head. He wanted a machine to run Sibelius notation software and some realistic orchestral sounds for his compositions. I was running the audio PC arm of Media Tools at the time called Carillon Audio Systems and built him a Windows box with Sibelius and packed it full of GigaStudio orchestral library. We proudly took it down to Air Studios and plugged it in to demonstrate it to George and his son Giles. The demo song didn’t sound too bad but then he wanted to try his arrangement for Yesterday. I loaded it into Sibelius and what came out was the worst sort of General MIDI dodgy sound that you could possibly imagine. Embarrassed, I suggested that I just needed to tweak the sounds a bit and maybe if I took the arrangement away with me I could ensure that the right sounds were selected in the score. George seemed completely fine with that. I spent a week at home working on an original George Martin arrangement of a Beatles song – it was a sort of anxious heaven. In the end I had to write a whole bunch of scripts that selected different sample articulations in response to expression marks on the score so that when it said “legato” the strings samples swapped to legato.
A week later myself and a colleague (looking at you Tom) took the system down to his house in Devon (edit-apparently it was actually near Swindon). This is where it gets a bit hazy but I’m sure we had tea in a tree house at the bottom of the garden and that his studio was through a hidden door in a book case – but I might have imagined it. I do remember that the only gear he had in this room was a Yamaha DX7 and on the wall was a single gold disk for Ultravox. Anyway, we sat down, I booted up the arrangement and in about half an hour he had it sounding 10 times better than a week of my best efforts. We had some more tea and a piece of cake and then we were gone. It was surreal really. That couple of hours has become one of the highlights of my professional career. George and his wife Judy were so lovely, so hospitable and engaging, I felt so welcome in his home as essentially a delivery boy, and I imagine he was amazing to work with.
I had a record I loved when I was a kid called “All Aboard” which was full of old “children’s favourites” such as Right Said Fred, My Brother and Goodness Gracious Me. Looking now through Sir George Martin’s discography it appears that he produced pretty much all the songs on that album. I still have it and my kids love it. Rest in peace, George, and thanks for being such a large part of the music that threads through our lives.