Paul or John... which Beatle made Sir George Martin "swell with pride"?

Tom Dunne recalls intervewing the band's reknowned music producer during a visit to Dublin in 2002

Paul or John... which Beatle made Sir George Martin "swell with pride"?

Tributes to the record producer known as the Fifth Beatle, Sir George Martin, are placed at The Cavern, Liverpool following his death aged 90. Picture by: Peter Byrne / PA Wire/Press Association Images

It’s hard to put into words what the loss of Sir George Martin means. The fifth Beatle okay, but what does that even mean? Well, at one point in 1962 stood four men with impressive raw talent. At another point in 1967 stood the same men, but who were now the most-feted, revered songwriters of their generation. They could not have made that journey, that transformation, without Sir George.

They could not have changed music, changed how artists use the studio, changed how sleeves are designed, how orchestras are recorded, how instruments are recorded, or even how we think about composing, without Sir George. We might have got something, but not that, not the moment the world went into glorious technicolour.

Sir George brought two wonderful skills to the table. Firstly, he was versed in the world of classical recordings, he could help The Beatles add strings and wood and keyboards to their songs. And he could then help arrange these new additions. He could, and often did, even play the instruments for them, like the piano on lovely Rita or the harpsichord on Fixing a Hole.

"With John you just never knew what he would bring in" - Sir George Martin told Tom Dunne in 2002

But his second skill was almost more important. He was a gent. He was never overbearing with young men who could easily have been threatened by his vast experience. He listened and made gentle suggestions, suggestions which The Beatles quickly came to see as valuable and worth taking on board.

He suggested speeding up Please Please Me, which the band had seen as a slow ballad. He suggested adding strings to Yesterday, and he scored and conducted the strings on Eleanor Rigby. He scored Live and Let Die and helped cut the tape to splice together the two takes of Strawberry Fields forever.


There was a warmth and genuine fondness in his dealings with The Beatles. He loved them like particularly over-achieving sons. I interviewed him in Dublin in 2002. I asked him about both Paul and John’s respective gifts. Paul’s was melody he told me, an incredible gift, but when it came to John, his chest visibly rose and you could see him swell with pride. "John," he said, and then sighed, "with John you just never knew what he would bring in."

It was this pride in their gifts, coupled with his skills and his typically British, mannered, politeness that made him literally the perfect man in the perfect place for them. Very often with talent we say their reach exceeds their grasp. With Sir George at the helm we were assured that this would never be the case with The Beatles.

Paul McCartney famously hummed the piccolo trumpet solo on Penny Lane to George for him to write out and pass to the trumpet player. And together they explained to the orchestra on A Day in the Life, that they wanted them to loosen up a little, not follow classical conventions, and literally, despite their training, go with the flow a little.

Those stories speak volumes of the warmth that must have existed within the walls of Abbey Road, Studio Number 2. John may have been famously dismissive of his role in The Beatles, asking in 1971, “So what’s he doing now?" But with all due respect to John I don’t think that was the point. It was what he did then, from 1962 to 1969, for which we must be eternally grateful.