“The effect that my dad’s death had on Paul and Ringo, for instance…There’s this bond and the sad thing about it is that it’s dying. The one thing that lives on is the music and one thing that I can do is help it live on. That’s the way it works”.
In light of the sad passing of the legendary producer Sir George Martin in March this year, an added poignancy hangs over director Ron Howard’s new film The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years. Featuring material dug out from the vaults (both seen and previously unseen), it is a film that is an invigorating and illuminating traipse through the Beatles story during their time as a live outfit; on the road and making waves amongst the hysterical screams of a world seduced by the Fab Four from Liverpool.
Entrusted by all the surviving members to carry on his father’s work, Giles Martin has overseen the music production on Howard’s film. In the process, he has scrubbed up the Beatles Hollywood Bowl show; taking out crowd noise etc, to offer an enticing new window into the live performances at the centre of the live circuit mania.
By his own admission in the interview below, he’s probably worked on their material, both solo and as a group, for longer than his father did. With frank candour and fresh insight on the Beatles, Martin tells us, “There wasn’t as much acrimony as a lot of people think”. As for his father? “I miss him”, he tells Greg Wetherall.
How far were you through the project when your dad sadly passed earlier this year?
I was about halfway through. The thing is about my dad is that I knew he was going to die for a long time. He was ill for a time and we talked about things; and, well, life goes on.
The weird thing was that I took a week off after he died and then when I came back to work, his was the first voice that I heard in the first thing that I played back, which was a little bit strange, especially if you’re in a room full of people. There are two worlds. There’s the public world and the personal world and they’re two very different worlds, yet you still live in the same body.
But, he was aware of the project. We talked more about the technical constraints… he mixed the Hollywood Bowl in 1977, and I’ve remixed it now when working on the audio for the film. I talked to him a bit about the technical challenges that he knew about and the things that I wanted to do to address the problems that he had (faced) way back then.
Do you feel that you overcame them?
Yeah, well we developed some new software. We cleaned things up. If you listen to the new Hollywood Bowl and the old Hollywood Bowl, the difference is like night and day. I miss him and I miss not talking to him about it. But, at the same time, he was 90 and had a good life.
Knowing that he was ill for some time, did that inform your decision to step in and work on Eight Days a Week?
No, I was asked to do the film before (he was ill), but even when he was right as rain, he was still old. I have been working with Beatles stuff for longer than what he did, which is really perverse! It’s one of those things; I am honoured enough and lucky enough to be trusted by them to work on the material. And the same for the film. I don’t take it for granted. I don’t hear about a new Beatles film coming out and go, “that’s great! That’s my summer sorted out!”
Am I right in thinking that growing up there was a conscious effort by your parents to shield you from the Beatles music?
They didn’t really ‘shield’ me. It was just that they weren’t listening to it. The thing that I understand about successful people – of which I am not one of them – is that they’re very, very competitive and they move on very quickly. My father had already moved on to other things and the Beatles were something that he did in the past. They didn’t actively rush to the dial if a Beatles song came on the radio and turn it off or give me a thousand lashings for listening to Sgt Pepper or something! It didn’t happen that way. It was more that it just wasn’t such a big thing.
How do you feel that he viewed it? Was he worried about his legacy and whether that work overshadowed everything else that he did?
Do you know what? He did. He did worry about that. When I was growing up, it was a thing where he would say, “I didn’t just do the Beatles, you know?” I think he had more number one records than anyone else. Of course, a lot of those were with the Beatles, but even without the Beatles he still would have been a very successful producer. There was Jeff Beck, Shirley Bassey, Cilla Black, Billy J. Kramer, Gerry and the Pacemakers and all of the comedy stuff. I think he was looking for his next Beatles for a long time.
That said; as he got older, I guess you look back on life and say, “do you know what? I actually did something pretty amazing” and, especially when I was growing up, the Beatles weren’t as big as they are now. He certainly never thought that you and I would be talking about them 50 years on. They made the records to be listened to and adored for that period of time until they made the next record. And here you and I are now talking about them 50 years on.
You don’t think there was a dawning realisation at the time…
No, at the time they just wanted to be bigger than the Beach Boys or the Supremes or whoever was next. That was the ambition.
We tend to look back on the 1960s as being a fertile period for popular music. We maybe look back on the mid-90s as being a great time for guitar bands etc. Do you think that it is that competitive streak and the quality of competition that gives rise to these great eras of music?
I think competition does bring great music. I talked to this artist about being in his band and he said 20% was about being in a band with my mates and 80% is trying to be bigger than U2. And that’s it. Even my father… when I won a couple of Grammys for Love, he said to me, “How old are you?” and I said, “35”, and he goes, “I’m just trying to work out whether you’re younger than what I was when I won my first Grammy”. Always in competition! I said, “Dad, you produced the Beatles!”
Even now, working on Paul McCartney’s last album, and you can see a competitive streak. The problem that he has is that he has to compete with himself.
When you work with him, does he talk much about the Beatles period?
No, not at all. We refer to the speed of work and that sort of stuff though. The funny thing about working with Paul is that he is one of the few people who has compared me to my dad, because he knows us both so well. He knows that I know how the records were made, so if he says, “I want to get that snare drum to sound like ‘this’”, I know what he’s talking about.
Looking forward and not looking back is the key. I know that sounds ridiculous when talking about the Beatles, but when doing the music for the film, I’m not thinking, “What would they have done then?”, but “What can we do now to actually make people feel as though they’re watching the Beatles”.
I think that proves that only you could really take this challenge on properly…
I think it suits people that I do this, in some funny way. Here’s the thing, and I think this is what I think you mean: I don’t think I’m any better than anyone else. My father was George Martin and he was the legendary George Martin that produced the Beatles. He was a brilliant man and a brilliant producer. Therefore, me working on the records means that I’m not trying to be George Martin or trying to take over the Beatles legacy, because he’s there and he’s that backstop. If it were someone else, they’d probably be running more freely, in a way, and using it as a calling card, saying “I now do the Beatles stuff”, which is something I’d never say. Does that make sense? Whereas with me, they just say, “that’s George Martin’s son, so that makes sense”, so that ticks a box.
At the same time, because there is all that heritage, legacy and all the things that you’ve got to put there, you do act in a different way. It’s not as though I’m going to do this to further my career in any way. It’s not as though I hang around bars in LA and say, “Guess what my next project is?” I don’t do that. I just get on with it. And the people around me are like that as well – all the engineers and everything – they’re all the same; it’s not some big thing.
You’re casual enough with it not to be overawed by it, but at the same time, you’re going to handle it with enough care to be sympathetic to your father’s legacy, and the band’s legacy and all the different relationships you had with those people.
Thank you. That’s very kind. You’re actually right. It is funny when you’re saying about ‘not being overawed by it’, as it sounds as though you’re being disrespectful, but of course you’re not. You have to get your hands dirty and make it sound good.
That was always my attitude. In fact, when I first came to work with Beatles stuff, which was the Love project, places like Abbey Road shut the door in my face, because I was the son of George Martin coming along and cutting up the tapes; the very tapes that had been held in high esteem for all these years. Why let this brash posh kid come in and suddenly have his way with it? It was just disgusting (to them). I have to say, I think that in many ways they had a good point. But the fact of the matter is that it came out and people liked the innovation. I’m not very good at not being… I mean, I get bored. I have to think of new ways to do stuff, and that suits the Beatles and I think that’s why they like me. It’s not as though I would ever do something that I thought was too staid or a ‘legacy’ product. I’m not very good at the re-mastering. That’s not really my speciality, because it doesn’t appeal to me.
I have to admit that I prefer the version of ‘Because’ on Love to the original. It really showcases the vocal harmonies.
Do you know what? We nicked that, because that was on Anthology, I think. I mean, I changed it a little bit. I’ve worked with the Beatles a lot now and worked with their music a lot and the deeper you dig, the more you find. And the more you realise that it’s just them. ‘Because’, for instance – which you’re right, is beautiful – that’s just the three of them singing around a microphone and doing it three times and live. They’re incredibly complex harmonies. The magic of them was actually them and the noise that they made together. It was amazing.
What were your memories of them growing up, because you must have been around them a lot?
Well, not really, actually, because my dad didn’t work with them in the 70s. I met John when I was very young and John was interested in me because I had the same birthday as him. He was very into number 9. Then, Paul, I always knew. Ringo, I know more now than I did then. I was taken to a Simon and Garfunkel gig at Wembley and I went to the loo. A man came in and said, “Hello”. I was standing at the urinal and I said, “hello” back. I was probably a 9-year-old boy or something. He left, and then when I finished, I came out and saw that he was standing by my parents, this guy. My dad said, “George, have you met my son, Giles?”, and it was George Harrison. He said, “We’ve just said ‘hello’ in the bog, haven’t we?” Being a kid, I was terribly embarrassed. I told Olivia (Harrison) this story recently and she said, “Oh, that’s so George!”
Despite all of the crap that’s been written and the stuff that goes on and, for instance, even looking at the Let It Be sessions, which people haven’t seen, and listening to the tapes, there’s not a huge amount of acrimony. Certainly not in the music and when they’re (in the process of) making the music. There was actually a huge amount of love.
The effect that my dad’s death had on Paul and Ringo, for instance… And likewise, John’s death had on my dad, Paul, Ringo and George. And when George passed. There’s this bond and the sad thing about it is that it’s dying. The one thing that lives on is the music and one thing that I can do is help it live on. That’s the way it works.
You must look at the footage in this film and wonder if we will ever see anything like this again?
I don’t think we will and I think that’s okay. The world is different now. The Beatles burst on the scene and the only way you could see them was to see them live. Now we have Instagram and instance (access). It’s neither better nor worse. It’s just different.
Elvis Costello says in the film about bearing in mind that this was all before the social media age. It made me think about it in a different way, because now, the argument could be made that it’s easier to spread word about a breaking artist. On the other hand, we’re also more fragmented.
Well, there’s so much information that it’s hard to specialise emotionally. What I mean by that is to say, “that’s the band I love the most” That passion. It won’t be the same for a number of reasons. For one, the Beatles phenomenon in America was just bizarre. Their records were held back, so they released all of their singles in one go. The exploded in England, but in America they had all of their number one singles come out at the same time. On top of that, they were good looking lads, and they had two, at that stage, and later on three, incredibly good songwriters. There are so many things. It’s so different. And there’s the pace. The requirements now on artists to do social media means that they don’t do as much work.
I remember meeting the A&R guy for Hootie and the Blowfish and he goes, “we did the second album three years later and we kind-of released it too quickly”. It’s interesting. If you look at the Beatles diary on Wikipedia; their diary for 1964 is just bonkers. They made many albums, released a film, toured…
Whilst watching Eight Days a Week, what struck me is that affection, bond and harmony was really apparent. They shared the enthusiasm on the ascent and then the dissatisfaction was shared. Throughout that whole period they remained close.
There wasn’t as much acrimony as a lot of people think. Even by the time of Let It Be, there really isn’t much. I guess compared to most other bands there isn’t really that much. The trouble is that with the Beatles, everything is intensified. They were harmonious. They had to be. They were in each other’s lives. They almost shared, like, the same vein. There was four of them and there wasn’t really an entourage per se. It was a band as a band should be. There was no frontman, which probably made a big difference. There was no emphasis on, “We want to interview Steven Tyler” or “We want to speak to Chris Martin”. With the Beatles, people would opt to speak to any of them. That probably helped ease the pressure and also made it work as a band.
On a final note, will the Let It Be footage be released at any point?
Thank you for your time.
Thank you very much!
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week – The Touring Years is being shown in UK cinemas from September 15. Book tickets now: scnl.co/TheB