Much of my yesterday was spent watching, listening and reading in the media of the tributes and analysis of the career and influence of music producer Sir George Martin who had just died aged 90.
What struck me in reviewing the media outpourings and my own recollections and judgement, was the extraordinary influence of chance and random-comings-together in the story of George Martin and The Beatles – and possibly in the story of every one of us, if you think about it.
To be blunt (and I say this as a huge admirer) there was nothing particularly special about the course of George Martin’s career to the point in February 1962 when he first heard of, and then four months later came across, these four scruffs from Liverpool via a recommendation from someone he hardly knew.
Okay, he was a talented producer, musician and arranger in the employment of one of the UK’s largest commercial recording companies, but there were probably tens of producers around who were just as, if not more, talented. Martin was just a 36 year-old jobbing middle of the road producer who had a few comedy and novelty record hits to his name but on the face of it was nothing special.
It would be perhaps unworthy to suggest that there had already been better men than he who had auditioned The Beatles and turned them down, as he also very nearly did.
I suppose it’s all down to alchemy.
It may be a cliché to say it but, in order to become what they did, maybe The Beatles needed to come across George Martin just as badly as he needed to come across them.
On the first occasion he actually worked with them, to them it was probably nothing more than just yet another dumb audition in London that their manager Brian Epstein had booked for them amidst a frighteningly-intense schedule of touring gigs already stretching into the late autumn. They’d probably forgotten all about it by the time they’d reached the half way point on their four-hour trip up the motorway back to Liverpool or wherever their next gig was taking place.
For Martin, his couple of hours allotted to The Beatles was simply a half-day slot in an otherwise busy week in which he probably had scheduled two other similar recording sessions, a tricky budget meeting with the EMI finance department, some ‘polishing’ post-production work to do on a Peter Sellers comedy record and a still-unfulfilled need to get out one lunch time or another in order to buy a card and present for his wife’s birthday on the Thursday.
Among the analysis and stories about how and why they got together, my favourite tale – and the one which for me sums up their relationship, or at least the start of it – was George Martin’s own that I saw in a documentary programme about fifteen years ago.
He talked of how he hadn’t thought much of their original musical tapes he was sent, nor of their own (Lennon & McCartney) songs they played to him when they first went into the studio together. To be honest, the episode was bearing all the hallmarks of just another session with just another aspiring pop group carrying every prospect of him reaching a regulation ‘Thanks, but no thanks’ verdict.
At that point they took a break and the boys came up into the studio control room to listen back to the song they had just been working on. At the conclusion of the play-back, Martin asked if there was anything about it that they didn’t like.
In response he had a stark exposure to Scouser wit from the nineteen-year-old George Harrison:
“Well, I don’t like your tie for a start …”