It was with sadness that I heard the news of Sir George Martin’s death.
He was 90 years old in January which made him six months older than myself.
I first met George, as he was then, in 1969 when he commissioned a Sound Control Console for his AIR Studio in Oxford Street, London.
He impressed me at that time with his knowledge of Sound Control techniques. We were newcomers to the professional audio industry and I had a lot to learn about the rapidly growing technology.
Rupert Neve & Company was a little group of enthusiast audio engineers who had succeeded in supplying a number of the new recording studios that were proliferating, not only in London but around the world. Recording equipment, especially the Sound Control Console, was the territory of two or three European and a couple of British companies who provided somewhat prosaic and standardized equipment that lacked the innovative approach of equalizers and other sound processing devices that could be built into the Console as distinct from rather large and unwieldy rack-mounted equipment that had to be connected externally and was, consequently, very limiting and time consuming in set-up and operation. Many of our customers did not know what was wanted or, indeed, what was possible in a small size and at modest cost.
It was refreshing and a pleasure to encounter George Martin who was himself an audio engineer and could discuss and specify the gear that he wanted, arising of course out of his already extensive experience with the Beatles and other artists who were rapidly becoming famous.
During the years from 1969 AIR Studios expanded and equipped their four Control Rooms with Neve Consoles. We became known for our musical sound quality and reliability.
It was always a pleasure to work with George. I learned a great deal from him and, in collaboration with Geoff Emerick, learned how humans can perceive frequencies well above the normally accepted 20,000 Hz. That was usually taken as the highest frequency that humans can perceive.
In 1977 George’s engineers had the task of specifying a console that was to be really outstanding for their new studio on the island of Montserrat. I had been working on new transformer designs and George placed his confidence in me and ordered this magnificent Console which was to be delivered in only 7 months!
While waiting for the new Console to arrive, George and I swam out of a bay on the Island one evening, and hung on, resting, to a mooring buoy.
“I suppose there are no sharks, George”, I asked.
There was a short pause and he replied, “Not till after 5.30!”
“What’s the time now?” I asked.
“5:25” he replied!
We swam back to the beach a good deal faster than on the outward trip!
It turned out that sharks did come into the bay to feed at about this time!
George had become a trusted friend, far more than a customer. I was not a musician and he helped me to understand the finer nuances of his approach.
On one occasion when I had hinted that, perhaps, his main interest lay in popular music, he invited Evelyn and I to come to the studio to see and hear him at work on “Under Milk Wood”, by Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, for which he was composing music.
We went to the studio and George arrived with a sheaf of music sheets that he had been working on in the car on the way up.
The sheets were copied and distributed to the string players of the London Symphony Orchestra who were assembling in the Studio. These gifted artists are probably the only musicians in the world who could play such music at first sight without rehearsal.
It was not only a great experience but an enormous pleasure to watch and listen to George at work.
I remember that one of the Control room monitors had developed a small “buzz”. I was worried that this would worry George, but Jon Jacobs, the mix engineer, told me that George would not be concerned. “He hears through equipment to the music, and not to any shortcomings in the gear”.
Altogether I shall join the ranks of many others who will sorely miss Sir George Martin.
– Rupert Neve, March 2016