Issue: March 6th 1998
Title: Sir George Martin bids farewell to recording career
Author: Andrew Flynn
TORONTO -- Sir George Martin is one of the few figures in the history
of popular music who genuinely deserves to be associated with the all-too-often
used adjective "legendary." When the gentle Englishman signed the Beatles
to their first recording contract in1962, that simple pen stroke ushered
in the golden age of rock.
But 36 years, over 700 recordings and 30 No.1 hits later, Martin says his time as a producer is done. A farewell record, In My Life, will be his parting bow.
"The main factor is that I'm not as good as I was," Martin said Thursday in an interview. "I used to be quite good, but I'm not any more. Good enough to achieve this, but only just -- I'm hanging on by my fingertips."
Martin was in Toronto to appear as a keynote speaker at Canadian Music Week, the country's annual music industry conference. Ever gracious and personable, it's perfectly in character that he would choose to make a polite, dignified exit from the recording business.
"I'm 72, my hearing is going -- I've lost the top end of the register -- and I'm aware that I'm in decline," says the stately, white-haired Martin, whose energetic hands and crisp blue eyes seem to contradict the words as he utters them.
"You have to accept growing old. You're still the same person inside but you're carrying around a load of physical garbage -- it's like being in an old car that constantly needs things replaced."
For his swan song, Martin invited friends to perform some of his favorite but lesser-known Beatles material.
"I've been working for nearly 50 years and a lot of my friends are dead," Martin says with obvious emotion.
"A lot of great people who I've worked with aren't with us any more
and I'm very aware of that -- many great people still are. It isn't just
John Lennon who's died, it's Peter Sellers and Ella Fitzgerald, all sorts
"This, primarily is a thank you to all those people who I've worked with."
Quebec chanteuse Celine Dion perfoms on the disc, as do classical guitar virtuoso John Williams, and former Genesis frontman Phil Collins.
The big surprise -- one that has raised a few eyebrows -- is that some of the performers on In My Life are not musicians or singers but actors.
Martin's choice to work with Robin Williams, Sean Connery, Jim Carrey and Goldie Hawn has puzzled some critics, Martin says.
"There are a lot of purists around saying, 'How can you do this to Beatles songs?'" Martin says with a chuckle.
"But I don't regard them as a holy grail. They're pretty important, but they're not to be left untouched any more than Cole Porter or George Gershwin.
"I'm not trying to make any great music, I'm not trying to break new barriers -- it's too late for that now, it's just gone. This is just a final thing where I'm saying OK folks, this is it. Let's just have a happy time."
Carrey, the rubber-faced Canadian-born funnyman, was a natural selection when he decided to do a version of John Lennon's stream-of-consciousness classic I Am the Walrus, Martin says.
"I chose him because I couldn't think of anyone better to do such a strange and mesmerizing song. I needed someone zany, someone who could put the words over."
Dion was also the perfect choice to perform Paul McCartney's delicate ballad Here, There and Everywhere.
"Of all the singing performances there's no question that Celine Dion is absolutely brilliant," Martin says.
"She loved what we did and she wanted to have the track on her album as well as mine and it wasn't possible because she was coming out with her album and I didn't want to release it.
"I must be the only guy to turn down having a track on one of her records," he says ruefully.
Martin says he chose In My Life as the title track -- and Sean Connery to read it -- because it perfectly captures the emotion he wanted on the disc.
"In a way I've been looking back in my life, which is why I chose this title from John's song," he says. "It's very much part of me because I actually wrote part of it.
"The words are very, very poignant and very apt for me, which is why I wanted them stated at the end of the song -- not sung -- and why I got Sean to come in.
"Hell, if he sang he'd sound like anybody else. But if he speaks it can only be Sean Connery. It's such a tightrope of taste it could teeter over into bathos and maudlin qualities but I think his sincerity comes out."
Though In My Life is to be his last recording "It doesn't mean I'm going to stop working. I've got a lot of other things to do," Martin says.
He says he'll continue to be involved in television specials, concerts, run his studio in London, and get involved in music education.
"And I'll try to enjoy myself," he adds. "I like sailing, I enjoy playing snooker, I would like to start doing sculpture again."
Some facts about former Beatles producer Sir George Martin:
Training: Studied at Guildhall School of Music, England. Played oboe professionally, recording baroque-period classical pieces.
Professional career: Became head of Parlophone label (EMI) in 1955.
Beatles: Signed group to EMI, 1962. Produced all Beatles records.
Little-known fact: His son Giles Martin is member of British band Velvet Jones.
Artists Martin produced include: The Beatles, America, Jeff Beck, Cheap Trick, Ultravox, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, Peter Cook, Dudley Moore, Stan Getz.
Final album: In My Life (Echo-EMI) to be released this month.
TV special: Making of In My Life (Buena Vista) to air in April on CBC.
Guest artists and songs:
Robin Williams and Bobby McFerrin: Come Together
Celine Dion: Here, There and Everywhere
Phil Collins: Golden Slumbers
Goldie Hawn: Hard Day's Night
Jim Carrey: I Am The Walrus
John Williams: Here Comes the Sun
Jeff Beck: A Day in the Life
Vanessa Mae: Because
Billy Connolly: Being For the Benefit of Mr. Kite
Sean Connery: In My Life