‘Sound Pictures: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, The Later Years, 1966-2016’

❉ Life begins at 40 in the second volume of Kenneth Womack’s biography of the legendary producer.

“At a time when The Beatles and their engineers remained components of youth culture (each in their twenties), the older and decidedly more adult Martin may have seemed that bit squarer. But Martin had a professionalism and cool nature that the Beatles always turned to for expertise. Martin did so often out of love, more than work.”

Life begins at forty a Beatle once said, and when George Martin turned forty in 1966, his career renaissance had really begun. Kenneth Womack begins his second volume of the Beatles producer’s life with the excellent Rubber Soul behind him and the game changing Revolver weeks ahead of him. It’s a book that uses the cinema and audio verité that Martin frequented in metaphorical reference to describe his work with The Beatles, fitting for his conceptual works on Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road, two decidedly cinematic albums.

In an era where Mark Lewishohn researches John Lennon’s background back to 19th century Dublin and Peter Doggett scrutinises the legal decisions that finally ended the Liverpudian four piece, it is nice that some due has finally been served onto George Martin, the band’s sounding board and dearest friend. Martin was a man easy to mock (Kevin Eldon didn’t need to look far for his Big Train material) and easy to criticise (Ringo Starr forever grumbled how he was relegated to tambourine on Love Me Do and Geoff Emerick thought he gave himself a great deal of credit away from the operators). Even the Beatles chief songwriters rarely gave him his deserved due, Lennon famously attacked Martin in the Jann Wenner interview with the barbed “we made him”, and even Paul McCartney, traditionally the most diplomatic Beatle in interview, sneered that Martin could never have made Sgt. Pepper with Gerry and the Pacemakers in the Barry Miles book.

At a time when The Beatles and their engineers remained components of youth culture (each in their twenties), the older and decidedly more adult Martin may have seemed that bit squarer. But Martin had a professionalism and cool nature that the Beatles always turned to for expertise. Martin did so often out of love, more than work. Though Starr claimed his critically derided Sentimental Journey was to appease his parents, he privately asked Martin to work on the album as a means of giving Starr direction after the band’s break-up, a direction Martin would again show McCartney in 1980 as work commenced on Tug Of War to show him a new lease after the slow dissolution of Wings. However upset Martin might have been by Lennon’s cruel remarks (which Lennon himself later distanced from in a 1975 interview) or by not being asked to produce the “Threetles” songs (that honour went to Jeff Lynne instead in 1995), Martin maintained a professional demeanour at all times, never entering into the public salacious, and Womack pays tribute by avoiding the salaciousness of Martin’s life. This is a book about his work.

Womack writes about Martin’s post Beatle career with interest too, detailing contributions to Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow, America’s Holiday and his compositions for a starry led rendition of Under Milk Wood (a musical production about Dylan Thomas). But he knew it was his role as Beatle producer that proved his enduring legacy, and one he took seriously, whether producing covers for Robert Stigwood (a project he came to regret), sifting through the many outtakes for the Anthology series or collaborating with son Giles on the 2006 Love soundtrack. Martin’s calm persona and sheer workmanship manifested in many ways working with the sixties visionaries. Taking a holiday midway through The White Album (leaving Chris Thomas room to produce certain tracks), Martin’s absence focused the group and when he returned, conducted a full twenty four hour session to sequence, band, and cross-fade thirty-one Beatles tracks, including the McCartney snippet “Can You Take Me Back?”, which, Womack argues, is the track-listing which  made the double album the success it is. He has a point- Mind Games, Red Rose Speedway and Living In The Material World featured many strong songs, but were hindered by the lack of album structure in each case. It took someone with more seriousness and even temper to bring the musical genius The Beatles undoubtedly possessed to their true fruition.

Sound Pictures isn’t as revealing as prequel Maximum Volume (which spoke of Martin’s pre-Beatle career, including his time in World War II and working on the excellent Goons records). But it is a testament to the craft and dedication Martin brought to the music which guaranteed a splendid time for all – as does this book!


‘Sound Pictures: The Life of Beatles Producer George Martin, The Later Years, 1966-2016’ by Kenneth Womack  is slated for publication 4 September 2018, RRP £20.00. For more information visit https://kennethwomack.com/ and https://www.orphanspublishing.co.uk/

Eoghan Lyng is a writer, part time English teacher, full time lover of life.

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