by Driver 67
The phone rings. I pick it up.
“Paul. It’s George Martin.”
I’m 25 years old. There aren’t many people who can make me feel like a slavering child. But on the top 10 list of those who could, George Martin holds at least three of the places.
“Hallo George. How are you?”
Oh, come on! Did you expect Oscar Wilde?
“Yes, I’m fine, thank you Paul. I need a favour from you.”
George Martin. Needs A Favour. From Me.
George left EMI after having it thrust in his face that a) he was just an employee and b) that he was responsible for a huge percentage of the company’s profits.
The employee thing came up because he had tried to persuade the management that the farthing a record they were paying The Beatles was, in the circumstances (world domination), perhaps a little too parsimonious?
He was made to feel he was being disloyal, and should be a good soldier.
The final straw came over lunch with head of the company Sir Joseph Lockwood. George thought he deserved a rise.
I’m not going to re-read the whole of his autobiography, All You Need Is Ears, for confirmation of this (go read it yourself) but as I remember it Lockwood agreed to only a part of the rise George thought he was due.
And in doing so, he tried to pep George up by telling him what a great job he was doing. All those hits. All those albums on the chart. All that lovely money rolling into EMI.
As a motivational talk it ranks up there with the very best, don’t you think?
So in 1965, George left EMI, taking with him his colleagues John Burgess and Ron Richards. Together with Peter Sullivan from Decca they built AIR Studios. They also managed to keep most of the acts they were producing for their previous employers – most notably, of course, The Beatles for George Martin.
Now it’s 1974 and I have a session booked in at AIR Studio One with CBS signing Asha Puthli, the only woman I’ve ever known who mistook rudeness for desire.
“Dahlinng. I know why you insult me so. You want to FUCK me.”
I digress. Here’s George’s problem. At the same time I’m booked in with Asha, he now has a session booked with The Mahavishnu Orchestra, jazz guitarist John McLaughlin’s ambitious multi-ethnic and cross-genre project.
Trouble is, as well as the members of The Mahavishni Orchestra, McLaughlin wants to get the London Symphony Orchestra involved. Suddenly, a session that would comfortably fit onto 24 tracks in Studio Two, requires Studios One and Two, and 48 tracks. George is going to sync the equipment in both studios and make the first 48-track recording I’ve heard of. Didn’t know such a thing was possible.
On top of all that, to pull it off he needs Geoff Emerick to engineer, and I’ve specifically booked Geoff on my session, in Studio One.
“So, Paul. Is there any way you could move your session to another day?”
This is tougher than it sounds. I’ve booked my favourite band, Kokomo, to lay down the backing tracks, and Kokomo has some busy session musicians among its nine members.
To add to the logistical problems, Asha Puthli is struggling with work permits and may, at any time, be asked to leave the country.
On the other hand, George Martin is asking for a favour. So it takes me about 30 seconds to pretend I’m really struggling with it, and, gosh, this is hard. But, “Yes, I can do that, George”.
“Paul, thank you so much!”
And then he says: “I owe you one.” Gentleman George, as always.
The Mahavishnu recordings, released as Apocalypse, made history. My recordings with Asha Puthli, not so much.
But those sessions did go ahead a week later, with Kokomo and Geoff Emerick. Geoff took such pride in setting the studio up for a nine-piece band, who were going to play live. He was thrilled. So thrilled, he thanked me for booking him!
You have no idea, he said, what a pleasure it is to hear musicians playing together like this, rather than building the tracks one or two instruments at a time (which had become the norm as producers sought more ways of taking the ‘room’ out of recording, separating each instrument completely from its bandmates).
They were a joy those sessions. As for Asha Puthli, her work permit failed to materialise, so I took her to a studio in Cologne, West Germany for some of the most miserable vocal overdubs I’ve ever been involved with.
By this time I think she detested me, and I can’t say I blamed her. We simply couldn’t establish any rapport, and having had to drag myself to Germany, I just wanted to get it over with.
Still, the four songs we recorded made it onto an album that was released as She Loves To Hear The Music, where my name appears alongside the producer legends that are Teo Macero and Del Newman.
And to give her credit, I’m putting up Asha’s own song, You’ve Been Loud Too Long. After all, consider the connections: it was recorded in George Martin’s studio; Sgt Pepper Emmy-winning Geoff Emerick was behind the board, and John Lennon’s arranger find John Barham provided the strings. That should be enough Beatle/George Martin connections to satisfy anyone. And the icing on the cake is Kokomo’s fabulous funk.
Asha’s vocals, after all this time, bear testament to her professionalism. She could have phoned it in, but she didn’t. At one point, during the German sessions, she was struggling with Neil Sedaka’s Laughter In The Rain. “I hate this song! I never want to hear it again”, she said. Amen to that, I thought. And then on we went, two stubborn pros, looking for magic and refusing to be defeated.
Forty years later, despite its tortuous genesis, the album, I’m astonished to discover, is available on iTunes. And it’s ok.
And George Martin? He never did repay that favour.
Well, unless you count the kudos every time I get to tell this story.
Actually, yes. That’s payment enough.
So thank you, George. For everything. For those classic Peter Sellers records, Bernard Cribbins Right Said Fred, The Goons, Flanders & Swann, Sophia Loren, Cilla Black and Beyond The Fringe.
Oh, and those Beatles records. They are definitely worth a mention.
Yes, you changed the landscape. We are forever in your debt.