I've Just Seen A Face
Personal appearances by Sir George Martin

| Playback Launch, Sydney 2002 | Gold 104 FM, Melbourne 2002 | Concerts and Links (Page 2) |
Their production will be second to none
Sir George Martin launches his autobiography Playback
Dinner With Sir George Martin, Westin Hotel, Sydney, 11 October 2002
Review ©
Philip L Kerr

Sir George Martin launched his autobiography, Playback, in Sydney on 11 October 2002.

Playback is the latest in a series of Beatle-related limited editions from Genesis Publications. Earlier releases in the series include autobiographies from George Harrison, Derek Taylor, Ravi Shankar, Michael Cooper, and Astrid Kirchherr and Klaus Voormann.

Playback is released in a limited edition of 2000 copies, each signed by Sir George. Befitting its price ($AU880/$NZ1050/£GBP234/$US375), the ‘illustrated memoir’ is a lavish production. Along with Sir George’s text, the 328 page book contains many photographs and reproductions of historical documents, such as Sir George’s studio notes and his score for ‘Eleanor Rigby.’

The book comes in a wooden box in the shape of a speaker cabinet, along with a CD of tracks illustrating the breadth of Sir George’s work. The Beatles do not themselves appear on the CD, but are represented by an orchestral version of ‘Here, There and Everywhere.’ Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr each contribute forewords to the book.

Playback was launched at a dinner in Australia. Why Australia? ‘Because we asked for it’, says the book’s New Zealand based publisher David Hedley. The launch venue was The Westin in downtown Sydney, auspiciously sited on the corner of George Street and Martin Place -- although the organisers did not seem to have noticed this fortunate coincidence!

Master of ceremonies was veteran performer and keen Beatles fan Glenn Shorrock. In 1966 Shorrock’s first group, The Twilights, travelled to England seeking international fame, and found themselves recording at Abbey Road while The Beatles were working on ‘Penny Lane.’ A decade later, Shorrock did achieve worldwide success with The Little River Band, and again there was a Beatles connection: George Martin produced their album.

When Shorrock announced the arrival of Sir George and Lady (Judy) Martin, the 400 guests stood to applaud. ‘Please don’t ask Sir George for his autograph’, the MC appealed, mindful that he had spent the previous hour cheerfully signing copies of his book for a long line of fans.

Over dinner the guests were treated to samples of Sir George’s work, both recorded and live. A string quartet played two of his own compositions, plus two Beatles songs on which he had demonstrated his gifts as an arranger, ‘Eleanor Rigby’ and ‘Yesterday’. A taped montage of highlights from Sir George’s pre-Beatles career, featuring comedy tracks from the likes of Peter Sellers, Bernard Cribbins, Charlie Drake and Rolf Harris, ended with the crashing final chord from ‘A Day In The Life’. Excerpts from Sir George’s 30 number one hits -- a solid gold collection that included the Bond theme ‘Goldfinger’ and America’s ‘Sister Goldenhair’ -- then served as a prelude for the man himself.

Glenn Shorrock’s introduction of the guest of honour prompted a second standing ovation. ‘This is a dinosaur you’re looking at’, said Sir George in typical self-deprecating style, and then took his audience back to his childhood.

Evacuated from North London to Biggin Hill early in World War II, the teenage George decided that ‘aeroplanes are fantastic’. On reaching enlistment age, he signed up for the Fleet Air Arm. Thankfully, the end of the War spared him from active service in the Asian theatre. ‘Good timing has always been an important part of my life’, he observed.

After his discharge, George did not agonise over his choice of civilian career. ‘Music has always been in me’, he said. Moreover, it was the only thing he knew about. Ignoring his father’s advice to find a secure job in the Civil Service, he studied music at the Guildhall School, and earned his living by playing the oboe.

And then came the break that would make Sir George a household name: a ‘day job’ with EMI, starting on £7/4/3 per week. Before long, he was applying the inventiveness for which he would later become renowned to the production of comedy records. ‘Much to the bemusement of my bosses’, he said, ‘these records were successful’.

So successful that, at the tender age of 29, George was promoted to head the Parlophone label. ‘It was a heady wine’, he said. The small label was struggling, and its wunderkind head ‘had to keep feeding it’. He did so by combining business with pleasure: ‘The comedy bit was the thing that kept me sane’. His work with stars such as Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan earned him a name as ‘the comedians’ producer’.

Abbey Road was a ‘toyshop’ for the inventive producer. ‘I loved all the techniques of sound’, he said. In an era when the producer’s role was assumed to be the faithful reproduction of the artist’s live performance, George realised that he could ‘make sound pictures’. Instead of producing an aural ‘photograph’, he could create something totally new, a ‘painting’.

For one Peter Sellers session, George was required to provide authentic Indian backing music, using then-exotic instruments such as tabla and sitar. ‘All that early stuff helped when it came to the Beatles’, he remarked.

On first hearing The Beatles, George was struck by their ‘weird sound’, and wondered what to do with it. He signed them ‘on the strength of their personality’ -- a personality evident right from their first session together. When he told the Liverpool lads to speak up if there was anything they did not like, George Harrison replied: ‘Well, I don’t like your tie for a start!’

After recounting that familiar anecdote, Sir George fast-forwarded to late 1966, after The Beatles had ceased touring and ‘were able to develop their talent in a new way’. Their first album had been recorded in under ten hours; Sgt Pepper would take more than 700 hours.

‘Much has been speculated and assumed about the influence of drugs on Sgt Pepper’, Sir George said. ‘I believe firmly it was the influence of The Beatles, not drugs’. He then offered insights into The Beatles at work, aided by clips from the 1992 documentary The Making of Sgt Pepper. Much of what he said reiterated that video and his companion book, Summer of Love, but it was nevertheless fascinating to hear it first-hand.

‘Mr Kite’ had its genesis in a Victorian poster. To create the desired circus ambience, George Martin cut up tapes of steam organs and spliced them together at random. He also played a harmonium while The Beatles took over the role of producer. ‘They made me work so hard!’, he recalled.

The ’24 bars of nothingness’ in ‘A Day In The Life’ were originally inserted purely to separate Lennon’s verses from McCartney’s very different middle eight. Later came McCartney’s idea of filling the space with the sound of an orchestra ascending from its lowest to its highest note. ‘Obviously, I had to do the score,’ said the multi-talented producer-arranger.

Sir George has a soft spot for John Lennon. ‘John often found his inspiration in everyday things’, he recalled. Lennon’s lyrics for ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ reminded his producer of ‘Salvador Dali or Dylan Thomas or Lewis Carroll’. When George and Judy Martin’s daughter was born a month after the release of Sgt Pepper, they named her Lucy.

Just a few weeks after that happy event came the sad news of Brian Epstein’s death. George and Judy were weekending at their country cottage, and heard the news only when they went to the local pub for lunch. ‘Brian had been one of our closest friends’, said Sir George. ‘It was the end of a golden era.’

The Beatles’ golden era did indeed end within two years. Their producer’s golden era, however, continued into the subsequent decades. ‘After The Beatles split up, I was a free man’, he said. And, like a top jockey, he could ‘pick and choose’ his assignments.

Sir George recalled fondly his Montserrat studio, which drew rock’s nobility to the Caribbean: Sting, Elton John, Stevie Wonder, The Rolling Stones, Duran Duran, and, of course, his old friend Paul McCartney. Unfortunately, a hurricane and a volcano devastated the island and put the studio out of business. Sir George is now active in raising funds for the Montserrat community.

‘I’m thinking of early retirement when I’m 80’, joked the 76 year old Sir George, before closing his speech with a quotation from (yes, you guessed it) The Beatles. ‘There are places I remember...lovers and friends I still recall’; ‘in my life, I have loved them all’.

With that, he left the podium to a third standing ovation, heading briskly out the back door to sign more copies of Playback, and leaving his audience to contemplate his words of wisdom over their macadamia nougat soufflés.

Playback Promotional Tour
Gold 104 FM, Melbourne, 2 October 2002
Report by Robert Drossaert

I am pleased to report a meeting with Sir George Martin, today, October 2nd, 2002. He is in Melbourne, Australia, to promote his book, "Playback." At every appearance, I had just missed him. I was beginning to think a meeting with the great man would not happen. Today at midday, he appeared for a live radio interview at Gold 104 FM, in Melbourne. I made sure I was there 45 minutes before; I wasn't going to let this opportunity slip by! To my surprise, there were no other fans around! I was literally the only fan! About 15 minutes before midday the familiar figure of the tall silver haired man strode up to the main entrance - "Welcome back to Melbourne, Sir George!" He was very obliging and signed my Lewisohn "Beatles Chronicle" book for me. He asked me what my name was and I replied, "Robert." "Ahh, Doctor Robert," he said... I almost freaked out!

We exchanged some light banter before he disappeared into the radio station and I told him how I liked what he'd done with John's "Grow Old With Me." He looked fantastic for his age - he was a little slow in moving, but hey, this guy's almost 80! I was genuinely grateful for his time - I told him so and wished him well... Then he was gone. Tomorrow, he won't even remember meeting me. I will remember meeting him, for the rest of my life! What a thrill to spend some moments one on one, with a true legend. Of course now I could compile a list of a hundred questions for him - but I'll never get the chance to ask them now. Don't believe this rubbish about Sir George retiring - he's still as active as ever - he's just choosing his projects more carefully. He's still very much involved with music. What a day! Thanks for the meeting, Sir George! Thanks for the music - and thanks for everything.

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Concerts and Links (Page 2)

Would you like to review one of Sir George's albums, books, concerts or lectures? Have you met Sir George and want to share your story with other fans? Please email silvermind@wildmail.com with your name, location and message. Thank you!

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