By George, he’s done it

Producer Giles Martin on getting the music of former Beatle George Harrison just right
Last year, Martin Scorsese released his documentary film George Harrison: Living In The Material World, which traces the life of the late George Harrison, from his early days growingup in Liverpool; to his life with the biggest pop band the world has ever seen, The Beatles; through to his post-Beatle solo career and eventual death in 2001. 

Featuring interviews with Harrison’s widow Olivia, son Dhani, as well as friends such as Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, it was a colourful – if a little rose-tinted – look back through the mirrors of time.

But you can’t tell the tale of Harrison without getting the music right. And to that end, Olivia turned to producer Giles Martin for help. If his name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s the son of George Martin, the man who produced almost every single Beatles record together, they’d also produced The Beatles’ Love albumin 2006 for the Cirque du Soleil show of the same name.

“I’d built up a friendship with Olivia Harrison,” said Martin over the phone. “And when we finished Love, she said to me, ‘Martin Scorsese is thinking of making a film about George’ and would I like you to be involved. And of course I said, yes, I’d be delighted to.”

The result of his work on Living In The Material World isn’t just the musicfeatured in the documentary, it’s also the new album Early Takes: Volume 1, a collection of 10 tracks that are representative of the documentary’s oeuvre.The songs are all demo recordingsor early versions that would eventually be released by Harrison, and Martinwas careful to keep the tone of music as such.

“Quite often, there was no production. Because I think that if someone’s a truly great artiste, which I think George is, then the more you add to them, the further you push the artist away. It’s like someone who’s a naturalbeauty, but then you put a wig on them,” he said.

To get the music done, Martin sifted through “boxes and boxes” of recordings and cassette tapes. “The thing about George was he kept lots of material and didn’t throw anything away. And you can’t listen to cassettes quickly – if you have a C90 cassette, it’s going to take 90 minutes to listen to. There’s no going around that.”

While most fans have lauded this album, some have criticised the fact that more than half the album consists of recordings meant for his 1971 album, All Things Must Pass, and not much else.”But that’s why it’s called Volume 1, isn’t it?” Martin quipped. “If you watch the documentary, which is where the album stems from, there’s a lot of focus on (All Things). The musicdone was meant to accompany the mood of the movie.”

So the big question is: If this is Volume 1, how many more will there be? “Up to Volume 17. I’ll be doing this for the rest of my life!” laughed Martin.”No, we plan on doing (more), but not for the immediate future.”

“And you can’t just put everything out,” he added. “There were interesting things that we found – like George recording his favourite racing cars, or his first sitar lesson with Ravi Shankar – but they wouldn’t make it on an album. It would be a ridiculous album. A concept album, maybe.”

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