Another sad post today … Sir George Martin has left us at the respectable age of 90. It may have been more expected than when David Bowie passed away two months ago (see my tribute including my renditions of my favorite Bowie songs “Life on Mars” and “Starman” here). But still. Very sad indeed. We’re talking “the fifth Beatle” (Yes. Discussion over. He’s the one!).
You probably already know what an amazing impact he has had on popular music and if not, begin with checking out for instance these 10 moments. So for now, I will spare you my lecture about his life to some other time.
Also, you probably already know that The Beatles mean the world to me. If nothing else, I made it perfectly clear in my four thousand(!) word long blog post from last year about the day I met Paul McCartney. There you can read about my Beatles obsession including links to for instance when I recorded at Abbey Road. So I will spare you that too.
But just to make it clear: The Beatles mean the world to me (and to many more millions of people). And George Martin meant the world for the Beatles. So in this post, I thought I’d share you my personal memories from my encounters with Sir George Martin.
Already back in 1992 after my band The Merrymakers had recorded our first EP “Andrew’s Store” on Ola Håkansson’s label Stockholm Records we were – like most bands who make their first recording – amazlingly proud of our achievement. So proud that we thought “we just HAVE to let George Martin and Paul McCartney hear this”. Wonderfully juvenile and naive if I may say so myself. We probably already knew when we put the two CD copies in the mailbox back home in Piteå with destination London that the more probable destination was the trash can in some secretary’s office. So you can only imagine our surprise when we got a letter back some time later from George Martin himself!!?
Today the letter was made public for the first time ever on the Merrymakers Facebook-page. Here it is:
He replied!!! We couldn’t have been more honoured. A “no” from George Martin was one of the biggest moments in our career at that point. It’s true that Bob Dylan had passed on receiving our demo a few months earlier when I tried to hand it to him (another story for the future). His only words were “what is this?”. So with a “what is this?” from Bob Dylan and “I don’t have time to listen” from George Martin one could almost say that we were “dancing with the dinosaurs”. (It wasn’t until our hero Andy Sturmer of Jellyfish – the second best band ever! – decided to work with us a few years later on our album Bubblegun that our luck turned for real, at least for a while, but that’s another story…)
On to the next episode: In 1994, in my last year at the university, I played and sang the role of Paul McCartney in an insanely ambitious project – the world premiere of Sgt Pepper Live. We performed the whole album both in a choir version and in an original version featuring the three of us in The Merrymakers in the roles of John, Paul, and George. We ended up going on tour with an ensemble of more than 150 people from my hometown of Piteå, via Stockholm (with a show at Cirkus) to Liverpool’s Empire Theatre to perform for an audience including John Lennon’s first wife Cynthia and the mayor of Liverpool.
In the preparations for the project back in 1993, together with the other two members of the “Sgt Pepper Board” (who were also my teachers at the time), Mikael Långs and professor KG Johansson, I got the wonderful opportunity to actually meet George Martin at his then newly built Air Studios Lyndhurst Hall. I was twenty-three then. (Exactly half of my age right now by the way). And it was one of the biggest moments of my life that far. Already then I had spent thirteen years completely manic about everything Beatles. And here I was at a MEETING with the fifth Beatle himself.
In the written part of my last year’s project at The School of Music in Piteå (where I work nowadays – see my staff profile here) the full story about our dealings with George Martin can be found. But in short (or actually not so short, sorry… it’s for the grandkids!) this happened:
Mr Martin arrived slightly late for our meeting. He was extremly friendly and nice. A true gentleman. He took us on a tour around the premises. It was a surreal experience to have him show us around the newly constructed Air Studios. At the time, unfortunately, I wasn’t as interested in studio construction as I became later (when we built our own studio and became producers in the 00’s). At that moment I was much more fascinated about being so close to the man who was so close to the Beatles. So it was kind of difficult to concentrate on his demonstration of the studio doors and stuff like that.
Here’s the only existing picture of myself and George Martin:
The studio was not yet quite finished, but very impressive nonetheless. After the tour we sat down to tell him all about our project and about the school. About our musicians and audio engineering program and about our “orchestral weeks”. How we were planning to put up the Sgt. Pepper Live project. That we were planning to direct a lot of teaching at the university around The Beatles and so on.
He noted that it was not an easy task we had taken upon ourselves and immediately got into the more tricky parts: “How are you going to do with a song like, say… Within You Without You?” he asked. (Harrison’s “Indian” track on the album). But of course we had a plan for that as well. KG responded that we planned to bring in musicians who mastered various Indian instruments (including players from Gothenburg and Umeå), and possibly use some samplers and synthesizers as well. (I later bought a tamboura in London only to use in that particular song. Turned out impossible to keep in tune but it looked great!).
He wondered what we wanted him to do if he would come and we explained that it was very much up to him. We told him that we intended to have seminars about the Beatles and that we would be absolutely delighted if he would like to conduct one of those. And that we would love to see him as a conductor at the concert as well. Possibly for some of the works that he himself had written (like for instance the Yellow Submarine suite). He, just like us, did not think any conductor would be needed on the Sgt Pepper songs
He asked if we had seen the documentary about the recording of Sgt. Pepper, which of course we had. (Remember, kids, this was way before everything was available. Long before YouTube, leaked multi track masters, isolated tracks, and all that kind of stuff…).
In the documentary he sat and pulled the faders on a mixing desk and showed what was on the different channels of Sgt. Pepper. He said he would be able to do something like that “live”. For us it sounded like a dream. Talk about a distinguished guest speaker for our sound engineer students!
In any case he would be able to help us with some sheet music, he said. But first he wanted us to send some more information about the school including a recording of the rock band and the orchestra. Before we left he promised to give us an answer before the end of April (this was mid-March). His exact quote was: “If I say yes, you will be happy and if I say no, I will give you a good reason why.” To us, it sounded like the perfect deal.
As if this wasn’t enough, he casually asked us if we were “busy” Saturday. Luckily we weren’t so he invited us to a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, where a string quartet performed works by George Martin (and a few other very famous, but also very dead composers). He had the tickets sent to our hotel by motor cycle courier. When the day arrived it turned out we were seated right next to George and his daughter (luckily we had limited our intake somewhat of pints at the pub earlier that day!). I remember running out to the bathroom just before the concert started and in the empty lobby George Martin himself arrived as one of the last guests. When he saw me, he recognized me from the meeting a couple of days earlier, so he greeted me happily with a smile and a little wave. A big little moment for me. It was like we were sort of “mates” (well… in my mind, that is…).
We had every reason to be pleased with our visit. I was very taken by the whole thing. After we came back we sent him more material as we had agreed upon so he could listen to both the school’s orchestra and a couple of Merrymakers tracks so he would get an idea about our vocal abilities. The following months we were eagerly awaiting his decision. Unfortunately, he didn’t keep his promise to respond in April. Here I will spare you a lot of details about how kept faxing his (very kind) secretary Shirley Burns, how she recommended us to make our way to Malmö in the fall to meet him in connection to a concert he was involved in with the Malmö Symphony Orchestra. (He still hadn’t given us his final decision but he had at one point, just after coming out of the mixing of Pete Townsend’s then recent staging of the rock opera “Tommy”, sent a promising letter saying “he would like to be able to come”. Whatever that meant …).
The event in Malmö was overseen by Swedish Beatles expert Staffan Olander who kindly had invited us there. Unfortunately we got the feeling we were kept at arm-length’s distance (Olander probably wanted to let Martin rest between concerts…?). So we felt obliged, having spent some tax payer’s money to get there, to find a reason to “run into him” in a hotel lobby only to hear (during the somewhat awkard encounter) that he was incredibly busy with upcoming shows in South America and Japan and that he wouldn’t be able to give an answer. So we went home back north, still without knowing what to expect. The chase went on for another couple of months until finally (after many more twists and turns) were were told by Mrs Burns that he wasn’t going to be able to make it. The reason this time was a rather good one. He was again (for the first time since the sixties) involved in recordings with no less than The Beatles … !!! It was Beatles Anthology time!
The good news, except the memory for a life-time that it became for me to have met this incredible man in person, was that he kept the promise to borrow us some sheet music. He offered us to use the original(!!!) sheet music for the Yellow Submarine suite (on Spotify here on the second half of the Beatles Yellow Submarine album). Mrs Burns wanted us to send someone over to London to pick them up. (We didn’t even dare to ask them to put them in the mail). It took couple of weeks before they she had them in her hand though because Mr Martin kept forgetting to bring them into town from his home outside of London. She told us it was the first time the sheet music were lent out without Mr Martin himself being present. I got the task to fly over to London to pick them up. (One of my shortest trip abroad ever). And so, only two days before the project started, I came home with the original score of the Yellow Submarine suite written with pencil by George Martin himself. We thought it was an event worth celebrating or at least made special. So I instead of being picked up by car from the neighboring city Piteå, only a 40 minute ride by car, I was instead picked up at Luleå Airport in a private plane by the other board members (KG and Micke who has a private pilot license).
It was a memory that would last a lifetime for me. And a memory that would last a lunchtime for Georgre Martin (as The Rutles probably would have put it…).
Well, well… since then another twenty-three years have passed. And many other exciting things have happened. But I wanted to have this special memory written down (thanks for making it all the way down here!). I was daring the day would come when George Martin no longer would be with us. And today that day came. All I can say is thank you so much for putting so much incredible music down to tape! It will live on for many generations to come! R.I.P. Sir George Martin. Please say hello from all of us to John and George up in pop heaven!!!
Below you can find a couple of photos from the Sgt Pepper Live concerts. (The home-coming shows at a sold out sports arena in Piteå were recorded on multi-track and filmed by multi-camera. I am working since more than a year on finding a way to have it mixed but unfortunately I haven’t been able to find anyone willing to finance the project yet. An approximate amount of 30-50′ SEK would be needed. The board at the Department of Music And Education at Luleå University of Technology, unfortunately said no when the Sgt Pepper Board applied for funds. And the Curt Boström foundation as well. But I guess if the world have waited more than twenty years for a decent mix it can probably wait a little longer…)