Pause and reflect. What are we to think, or say? The ‘fifth Beatle’ had his day. He turned ninety in January, and had been ailing for years. Full hearing left him long ago. Most of the hits were but memories in his head. He couldn’t listen to them anymore. Death at the end of such a remarkable life is not sad. It is a moment, a blip, a gasp, and then we move on. No tears are necessary. Sir George Martin will live forever, of course, through all the music.
He was born George Henry Martin in Holloway, north London, on 3rd January 1926. His parents were both ‘skint’, and not at all musical. His carpenter father was often out of work, and sold newspapers on street corners in order to be able to feed his family. When they acquired an old piano, his elder sister had lessons. George learned to copy her, and taught himself. By the age of fifteen, he was running a dance band.
He attended several different schools before his family moved to the suburbs, when he landed at Bromley Grammar. He worked as a quantity surveyor and as a clerk in the War Office before joining the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy in 1943. He trained as a pilot, but never saw action. After demobbing in 1947, he resumed his education at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, where he studied piano and oboe. He could neither read nor write music when he got there, and had to cram composition on the quiet for three exhausting years.
On his twenty second birthday, he married his first wife, Jean, against his mother’s wishes. ?She never got over it, and died three weeks later. Her death haunted George for the rest of his life. The couple had two children together, but the marriage never stood a chance.
George’s first job, in the BBC classical music department, was short-lived. He moved to EMI in 1980, as an assistant to Oscar Preuss, head of the Parlophone label. He inherited the top job five years later, and made his name producing comedy and novelty records for the likes of Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan and Rolf Harris. In 1962, Brian Epstein brought him the Beatles, having been turned away by virtually ever other record company in the land. George and the boys were made for each other.
The Beatles phenomenon kick-started the British Invasion of America. George, meanwhile, was also recording Gerry and the Pacemakers, Matt Monro, Bernard Cribbins, Cilla Black and many others. He had also fallen in love with his Parlophone secretary, Judy Lockhart-Smith. He divorced his wife eventually, guilt-torn, and married Judy in 1966. They had Lucy and music producer Giles together. Giles took on the Martin baton, and still runs with it.
The Beatles stopped touring. Sergeant Pepper was released. Brian Epstein died. The boys recorded their album Let It Be, but not with George. They hooked up with him one last time, for Abbey Road. George launched his own recording facility, AIR Studios, and worked with many other artists, including UFO, Jeff Beck and Neil Sedaka. He and Paul McCartney resumed their relationship in 1982, when George produced Paul’s Tug of War.
The greatest tragedy was George’s loss of hearing. It spelled his early retirement from the studio. But amazingly, he continued to conduct orchestral concerts of Beatles music all over the world, and gave lectures on the making of Sergeant Pepper. He was knighted in 1996, and helped organise the live concert to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s 2002 Jubilee.
What shall we play today, in George’s memory? The following songs all deal, if only obscurely, with love and loss:
“Let It Be”
“The Long and Winding Road”
“Within You, Without You”
“Across the Universe”
My personal favourite? McCartney’s “Here Today”: the love song he wrote to John Lennon during the awful aftermath of his murder, the two boyhood friends having fallen out, and having never had the chance to reconcile.
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