Abbey Road Meets... Sir George Martin

05 October 2012

To coincide with the 50th anniversary of Love Me Do's release, we put your questions to Britain's most celebrated producer Sir George Martin.

It goes without saying that Sir George has had a spectacularly longstanding association with the studios, from the early fifties when he joined EMI/Parlophone to work on orchestral music and comedy records, to his life-changing work with the Beatles, as part of what is probably the greatest producer/artist collaboration there will ever be.

Most recently he starred in Produced by George Martin, a feature length career-spanning profile originally broadcast on the BBC in 2011, which is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.

We were overwhelmed by the hundreds of questions submitted via Abbey Road's Facebook and Twitter and had a tough time picking the best ones to put to Sir George. Thank you to everyone who participated!

Here's the interview in full:

Today [5th October] is the 50th anniversary of the release of Love Me Do/P.S. I Love You. Will you being doing anything to celebrate this milestone? – Liam, via Facebook
Not really. I might have a good glass of wine tonight.

Sir George, I was wondering in what ways your earlier work on classical and comedy records helped prepare you for your work with The Beatles? – Myles, via Facebook

It helped a great deal. My training at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama gave me a good solid foundation for what was to come, and in the comedy field, working with artistes like Peter Sellers, Bernard Cribbins, Rolf Harris etc, I had to improvise a lot to build up pictures in sound.

Can you single out the one, most important factor that made you interested in the Beatles? - @evaflyborg, via Twitter

Their charisma. I simply fell for them as wonderfully engaging people.

Do you still have that tie that George Harrison didn't like? - @PennyLane1963, via Twitter

No, we auctioned it for charity and it fetched a huge sum.

Sir George, I know you helped the Beatles with arranging and some composing, but did you also play some instruments on any of their albums? – Dave, via Facebook

Lots of keyboards: ordinary piano, “wound up” piano sounding like a harpsichord, Hammond organ, synthesisers, mellotron etc. The most notable piece is of course the solo in “In My Life”.

How does it feel after all these years to hear those Beatles songs that you worked on again and again on the radio? – Eddie, via Facebook

I am afraid I don’t listen to the radio much these days, so it is not a problem, but it's great to know people still enjoy the work that we did and that younger generations are finding it for themselves.

Do you keep in contact with Sir Paul and Ringo? – Marcie, via Facebook

Absolutely. Ringo is often abroad so I tend to see more of Paul, but we all do catch up with one another from time to time.

If you had the chance to record and produce any Beatles record today with current tech, which would it be and why? – Jim, via Facebook

I would hesitate to go back over old ground, and I doubt that modern technology would improve them.

When did you understand that the Beatles’ music would become immortal? – Dario, via Facebook

Never. I'm grateful that people still like it of course, but immortality was never our aim.  We worked hard and simply tried the best we could at the time.

Sir George, if you could take one piece of modern recording equipment back in time to use on your sessions, what would you take back and why? – Marie, via Facebook

Computer technology - making editing so much easier and quicker than using a razor blade or brass scissors.

What was the most interesting/difficult challenge you solved in the studio you're most proud of? - @dreamstatemusic via Twitter

Solving the problem of joining the two bits of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever” which were in different keys and different tempos. John, of course, took it for granted that it could be done. It wasn't easy but it worked.

Do you think that the limitless technology of today actually gets in the way of creativity? – Paul, via Facebook

It can do if you let it. It is easy to get obsessed with the tools instead of the music.

You've worked with some pretty talented vocalists; how do you feel about the use of pitch correction and "auto tuning" in music made in the last decade? – Nate, via Facebook

I don’t really approve. The odd bit of tweaking is OK, but even then I have heard great artistes who have sung out of tune and still sound wonderful. Sinatra, for instance.  It is human, not mechanical. Likewise, I can think of some singers who do not sound good to me no matter how spot on they are.

George, could you comment on the 'iPod generation' and our increasing exposure to highly compressed audio (files). Should the record industry be also encouraging an interest in 'hi-fi' audio, particularly with the younger generation? – Dave, via Facebook

This is a heck of a problem, because a huge number of young folk only listen with buds stuck in their ears. The compressed sound is not good and if it is loud it can damage their hearing - damage which may not show itself until much later.

It's inevitable what you'll be most remembered for, but excluding The Beatles what would you like to top the list? - Darren, via Twitter

A toss-up  between the Mahavishnu Orchestra - John McLaughlin - and the group America; very different but I loved working with both of them.

If you hadn’t been a producer, what could you have seen yourself doing instead? – Cam, via Facebook

Designing aeroplanes. I had a competition with Jimmy Webb once, to see which one of us could build the best paper plane. Jimmy was a very experienced glider pilot and knew what to do, but I relished the challenge. He tells the story of what happened on the "Produced by George Martin" DVD.

How did you react when you found out that you were being knighted? – Jackie, via Facebook

I was gobsmacked. I could not imagine why I had been chosen. But I am very proud.

If there was one album you wish you could have produced what would it be, and how would you have done it differently? – Faul, via Facebook

Impossible to answer. There are so many candidates from The Beach Boys to Streisand and Sinatra.

What was it like working with the Goons? – Andrea, via Facebook

Crazy of course but fun. You had to be on your top form to deal with them.

Sir, name at least three things that make a hit record. - Louie, via Facebook

Great music. Great lyrics. Great production.

What’s the longest recording session you can remember? – Jak, via Facebook
There were so many long nights and days, even before the Beatles. Sometimes it just takes time.

Sir George, how do you know when "it" happens? That take that makes you say "we have something going on here now". – Kevin, via Facebook

Gut instinct. I have always relied on my inner voice and it never let me down. In 1952 I produced a track called "Mock Mozart" with Peter Ustinov. I thought it was good, but EMI refused to put it out.  My boss at the time, Oscar Preuss, supported my instinct and persuaded a reluctant EMI to issue it as a single. It sold like hot cakes and was my first big hit.

Sir George, do you ever wish you could go back and do it all over again? – @Pogie_joe, via Twitter
God, no!