I was lucky to meet George Martin, who turns 87 today, on two occasions. The first was at the recording session for the original cast recording of the Broadway show “The Who’s Tommy”. It was at the now-defunct Hit Factory here in New York, and I was happy just to shake his hand and be a fly on the wall, watching a master at work.
The second time was at the party for the launch of the album. It was at New York’s old China Club, and at some point midway through the evening I found Sir George standing by himself. I seized the opportunity and reminded him who I was and we chatted for quite some time. It was obvious to me that Sir George was having some trouble hearing me, which was distressing to say the least, but as a die-hard fan I was just happy to talk about The Beatles with the architect of the bands’ recorded sound. Martin was charming and gentlemanly, but he really brightened when talk turned to The Goons and his recordings with America, Jeff Beck and the Mahavishnu Orchestra. In fact he talked and talked to the point that it struck me that maybe no one had ever asked him about anything he’d done other than his work with The Fabs.
And this is exactly the thing that makes the new documentary “Produced by George Martin”, out now on Blu-ray and DVD, so great. The film is a hodge podge of George’s career, jumping from The Beatles to Montserrat to The Goons to his early life and education and back again. In some instances this approach can be disastrous, but here it works spectacularly. The film was originally produced to great acclaim in 2011 for the excellent BBC series “Arena” (the BEEB has some great clips posted), which has a well-deserved reputation for digging a little deeper than your average PR-oriented show. Typically, “Produced by George Martin” is no exception.
So instead of the usual talking heads we get loose, informal conversations between George and (his son) Giles Martin about ambition and luck, Sir George and Monty Python’s Michael Palin about making seminal comedy records, and familiar, less restrained than usual interplay with Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr.
Fans of The Fabs will of course be most interested in these bits – McCartney reminiscing about Brian Epstein ordering up “phallic delicacies” at a Paris celebration and Ringo professing his love and admiration for Martin’s wife Judy – but as this isn’t a chronological telling of Sir George’s life you’re bound to learn something about this remarkable man. In fact, after what seems to be years of John Lennon’s once angry diminishing of Martin’s role in his bands' (that's right) achievements being accepted too much by the public at large, relegating Martin to the often silly “Fifth Beatle” title, it’s especially nice to revel in the breadth and scope of Sir George’s career, and yes, his fundamental part of The Beatles’ sound and story.
This article is copyright 2012 by Jeff Slate. It appeared originally in another form in Beatlefan Magazine. No part may be reprinted or referenced without permission and/or attribution. All rights reserved.