You Say Goodbye: A tribute to George Martin
The years have come and gone, as have two of the Beatles. They brought us beautiful music, music that will be left behind for years to come. My mother began my lifelong love affair with the Beatles, the most fruitful of my life.
It led to me making a pilgrimage to Liverpool when I lived in England, spending three days on what can only be described as a pilgrimage, after years of having devoured every bit of Beatles literature that I could lay my hands on, that friends sent me, that relatives sent.
Cassette tapes lay around the house, in the cabinet behind the push-in bed in my parents’ room. They lay in the car, the car my mother drove me around in every day. Two of my favourite things – listening to the music my mother had playing around the house, and her driving me around. The only two things that could really calm baby me.
The music, those beautiful string arrangements. They appealed to my mother, in her thirties, they appealed to me in the single digits. My mother had listened to them as a child, my uncle had grown up with them. They were loved. They are loved.
Their faces, John, Paul, Ringo, and George. The four lads from Liverpool. We’ve all read the stories of the Cavern Club. Of Germany, of their debauchery in and out of European borders, and we’ve enjoyed them.
But before all of that, they were a struggling, albeit immensely talented set of lads whom nobody wanted to sign. Rejected, spurned, like an amorous lover who kissed like a fiery Italian but was tossed by the wayside regardless.
Until George Martin. The Beatles were being managed by the talented and tragic Brian Epstein, who has also been called the Fifth Beatle for his pivotal role in their careers. And there was this trained musician, this civil engineer with movie star looks, who would be their saviour.
But they had been repeatedly rejected, turned down by Decca Records. He didn’t think they were ‘that great’, but loved the Lennon-McCartney sound, as one does.
It was Epstein, the legend says, whose eager nature was the final step in convincing Martin, at Abbey Road Studios, to give the Beatles – who did not yet have a Ringo among their ranks, an audition.
And it was George, George Harrison, who joked around with Mr. Martin and sealed the deal.
He was behind the scenes on some of their biggest, earliest hits. Love Me Do, From Me to You, all of which started that brilliant enduring craze otherwise known as Beatlemania.
The first album I ever heard, strangely, was Yellow Submarine – brilliantly arranged and orchestrated itself, and my mother, whose favourite album is A Hard Day’s Night, played that again, and again, and again, and we’d sing along together on the paisley carpet in her bedroom, both of us sitting cross-legged and rewinding the cassette.
Later, when I was older, we got a 3-in-1 CD change player with a radio antenna and cassette deck. The greatest! We’d sit there and change CDs and arrange them on our CD rack.
That album is special and beyond. My mother had a flat tyre one evening as we were driving back after dinner, and we went at all of 10pm to have that flat repaired. I was humming And I Love Her, one of my favourite songs, and my mother, who doesn’t sing or play music herself, finished the line for me and we had a good chuckle at it and sang on the way back home. It’s a memory even she may not remember, but one I cherish.
The Beatles were famously known for not all being trained musicians – but Martin, a musical prodigy who played piano, oboe, guitar and a number of other instruments – and was properly musically trained – filled that gap for them.
They were like a tapestry – a beautiful tapestry, albeit one with holes in it, holes that needed to be patched, darned, to Come Together. And that thread, that tailor, that magician was named George Martin.
Many who listened, and listen to the Beatles may not know the little things – that it was Martin who had to wheedle McCartney into accepting a string quartet on Yesterday, when Macca wanted only an acoustic rock sound. The result is evident, and when the song hit No.1, maybe Martin felt vindicated.
He arranged their most beautiful work. Penny Lane (the second Beatles song I ever heard) and that lovely little trumpet that I remember dancing to on that same old carpet.
Now, back to A Hard Day’s Night. It was one of the albums we had lying around the house, and possibly my mum’s favourite one. The film was re-released in Indian movie theatres, and my mother simply HAD to go. I went with her.
I had only ever heard the songs, never actually watched the film. I did. I fell in love, too.
It’s one of my favourite limited edition DVDs, one I ended up buying in my late teens many years after the incident, but I’ve watched the film a million times.
That bit when Ringo goes off by himself, falls in a puddle, down a well? Those funny little bits of music behind him, behind Paul’s grandfather? That was all George Martin, who also composed in secret.
Also perhaps my favourite Bond film of all time, as a massive fan of Paul McCartney (obviously) and Roger Moore (whom I still have a crush on!), Live and Let Die, was scored by Martin as well.
He was like a second father figure, said Paul McCartney, in a touching tribute to the man who, only 15 years his senior, had guided and held his hand through a dog-eat-dog world, and truly, it may be said, got their talent to hit the stratosphere (and go to outer space, quite literally).
Every time I pick up my guitar, or play my piano, I think of my love for music that started when I was a toddler. When my fingers glide across ivory or strings, and when that first bar of Here Comes the Sun comes to life, that spirit, that love, that was the Georges at work.
Their mentor in both music and life, Martin outlived half the band he had nurtured and seen grow. Remastered their music, which was truly also his.
The Cute Beatle famously said “If anyone deserved the fifth Beatle tag, it was George (Martin). Martin played that off, saying it was Neil Aspinall (their longtime roadie) who deserved that title, but it was always George.
Help, we need somebody.
Help, not just anybody.
Help, you know we need someone, they cried out.
That someone was George Martin, and now he’s left home, with that lovely music in our ears and in our eyes.
Thank you for everything.