HMV 363 Oxford Street

This was the Daddio of record shops. HMV 363 Oxford Street, London in the late 1950’s:

The shop plays a part in The Beatles story. HMV, which was then part of EMI, had a small recording studio that members of the public could record songs for their sweethearts. In February 1962 Brian Epstein was in London doing the rounds of the London record companies trying (unsuccessfully) to get a record deal for the boys. He stopped at HMV Records at 363 Oxford Street to get some acetate discs made from the (unsuccessful) reel-to-reel Decca demo. The disc-cutter was Jim Foy who mentioned the group to publisher Sid Colman who in turn mentioned them to George Martin at E.M.I.’s studios in Abbey Road NW8. George gave The Beatles a recording test some months later and the rest is history.

People also bought music there!

You can browse more wonderful photos from HMV in the 1960’s here

The original HMV shop burnt down in 1937 to be rebuilt and reopened 2 years later on 8th May 1939. Sir Thomas Beecham, the famous conductor, opened the store. Here is his speech and photos of the fire.

The original shop was opened in 1921 by Sir Edward Elgar (who also opened Abbey Road Studios ten years later)

The shop closed down on April 2000. A certain George Martin was there to send it on its way with a Blue Plaque.

George Martin documentary review

Thanks to the wonders of the BBC Iplayer I finally watched the Arena documentary Produced By George Martin last night. It was even better than I’d hoped for. If you are in the UK you can still just about catch it here and I’d advise you to ignore the Bank Holiday sunshine for an hour and a half to do so immediately. It went over many familiar tales that make up the George Martin story but also uncovered some things that were new to me:

1. The device of using son Giles to interview his father really worked, with Giles gently needling his father to reveal some of the steely drive that is not always apparent when you meet George (who is one of the most polite, generous and entertaining men on the planet).

Giles teased his father, in the way that only sons who get on very well with their Dad’s can do, into opening up slightly. He revealed glimpses into George’s competitive nature, his workaholism and his very obvious pique at the relatively tiny rewards that EMI offered him as a reward for the phenomenal success that he’d delivered with The Beatles and the other Parlophone acts. The hurt at John Lennon’s comments and behaviour during Let It Be was also palpable.

2. I thought I knew a lot about George’s pre-Beatles career but was delighted to find he’s recorded even more seminal recordings across a range of genres that I’d thought including The Archers theme tune. He really was a key player in inventing the modern recording industry.

3. The scenes where George talked to Paul McCartney were wonderful. The pair of them were incredibly affectionate, respectful and deferential to each other. Clearly old warriors with a lot of shared battle scars enjoying each others company as they reminisced. George remained encouraging to the younger man, gently praising Paul each time he remembered what was happening in the photos they were looking at. I wonder if there is anybody left on the planet who Paul can enjoy this sort of relationship with.  He certainly seemed to value it.

Just as this documentary focussed on George Martin’s contribution to musical history and the wonder-story that was The Beatles I’d like to see more about how Abbey Road Studios and its engineers – Ken Townsend, Ken Scott, Alan Parsons and the rest – helped George and The Beatles make their sounds. Is there anybody out there making a documentary on this? Its Abbey Road’s 80th Birthday in November – would be good timing for such a documenatry.

Produced By George Martin

George Martin:The thinker

There was a recent article by David Hepworth in The Word magazine where he concluded, after listening to the recently remastered Beatles albums, that the group’s recordings – as distinct from their myth – were even more extraordinarily good than is generally recognised. The quality exceeded the (ongoing) hype. Whilst undoubtedly genius was in Abbey Road’s Studio 2 during those six intense Beatle-tastic years, it was not just the song-writers and performers who were channelling it. Revered producer George Martin’s fingers are all over the finished recordings and it’s true to say that the records could not have been made in the same way without him.

There is another chance to see into the world of George Martin when a BBC Arena documentary “Produced By George Martin” is aired on BBC2 on Bank Holiday Monday April 25th at 9pm.

As often seems to be the case when genius is flooding through a situation; much perspiration is also required to deliver on that genius. Like many a veteran of the sixties, the decade passed in a blur for George Martin but his blur was a result of supremely concentrated effort. “My workload was enormous and I had such little time,” he recalls in the documentary.

You can read a nice piece from Jon Savage in the Guardian about the new George Martin documentary here.

The History of Recorded Music trailer. Is this going to be the Forest Gump of documentaries?

The History of Recorded Music is a major documentary series that has had a long and eventful gestation and has been “in post production” for some time; a description which can cover a multiple of sins from a stage in the production process through to the shelving of a project for whatever reason. It aims to tell the story of both the evolution of technology and the industry. I was involved a little bit on a couple of occasions and I got to see what a complicated process it is to make this kind of television series especially as it required many many rights clearances. I also know just how much hard work – and money – a number of people have put into the project. I wish them luck in completing the series.
I do have a concern after watching the trailer (below) which I would like the producers to consider as they complete the work. The trailer presents the history of recorded music to be an almost entirely American story. I appreciate that trailers are made for specific audiences, but this one shows no interviews with people from outside the US, I spotted one clip of a UK act (The Beatles) and an Irish act (U2) and a couple of UK acts (Led Zeppelin, Radiohead) mentioned by the talking heads. And that’s it. 95%++ US only. It even says that Edison invented recording, a fact disputed by the story of the Phonautograph covered on this very site this very week! The USA did play the prominent part in the history of recorded sound, but there is a big world out there beyond their national borders and a lot of interesting and significant stories in the history of recorded music; from Gaisberg to Blumlein to George Martin to Sex Pistols to Kraftwerk to Techno Music to Classical Music (which drove a lot of recording technology innovation) to mention just a few Euro-centric tales. I hope the documentary finds time to include some of them. My biggest frustration with Forest Gump is that the music back drop chosen to represent the 60’s and 70’s included very little if any non-American music. It irritates me so much that I can’t watch the movie because of its one-eyed approach. I hope the documentary itself when it gets completed does not repeat that mistake.