‘Abbey Road were disgusted’: George Martin’s son Giles on AI and the Beatles’ legacy

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Giles Martin would make a great Bond villain. The stern face on screen is smooth, the hair neat, the accent a slightly sinister brand of British. He’s sporting a black blazer and turtleneck, a red poppy in his lapel and stroking a white cat, I imagine, just out of frame.

“Soon, complete control of the Beatles’ legacy will be mine,” I expect him to thunder from his Abbey Road office. “I shall remix and augment their hallowed catalogue as I please, until their sacred memory lies in ruins!” He doesn’t say this, of course, despite some of the more cynical commentary that earlier this month greeted “the last Beatles song”, Now and Then.

Giles Martin.Credit: Alex Lake

He’s suffered the old guard of huffy purists grumbling about authenticity since 2006, when he became de facto successor to his father, the Beatles’ late record producer, George Martin.

“I thought my house was gonna get burned down,” he says of his first project as his dad’s protégé, a soundtrack for a Las Vegas Cirque Du Soleil show which became the Beatles’ audacious remix album, Love.

“People at Abbey Road were disgusted by what I was doing… The idea of George Martin’s son coming in with no qualifications whatsoever, coming to destroy the Beatles’ entire catalogue was something that people didn’t like very much… I literally thought, ‘I’m gonna get fired for this’.”

Sir George, then in poor health, was initially horrified too. “You’ve gone too far,” he told his son when he emerged from hospital. Then Paul McCartney had a listen. “You should go further,” he said.

Eventually, despite the interloper’s own misgivings about tampering with the sacred texts of his elders, Love was a global smash that led to yet another renaissance for the world’s favourite band — and to an ongoing role for the young musician-turned-remix-maestro in an extremely tight family business.

At the surviving Beatles’ instigation, Giles Martin’s classic album remixes have become a regular event since the 50th Anniversary edition of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 2017, drawing on ever-evolving sound technology to bring old tracks up to speed with modern ears.

With Now And Then still reverberating, this week brings new versions of the renowned 1962-1966 (red) and 1967-1970 (blue) best-of albums: a reliable point of entry for new Beatles fans since they were first compiled in 1973.

“You wrestle with every song because you’re dealing with material that people love and know,” Martin says of the albums’ track lists, expanded with newly selected titles to reflect streaming tastes. “But the early material did pose more of a challenge.”

“People at Abbey Road were disgusted by what I was doing,” said Giles Martin.Credit: Universal Music

The original mono mix of She Loves You, for example, is “basically the quality of an iPhone recording… but what I found amazing is how, with the technology we have now, that challenge can be resolved. Which wouldn’t have been the case even a year ago.”

More than half of the 75 red and blue tracks were remixed using the revolutionary technology developed by Peter Jackson’s team for his 2021 film, The Beatles: Get Back. This audio restoration AI is the breakthrough that allowed Now and Then to emerge from John Lennon’s late ’70s cassette demo. The new song now appears on the blue album.

It’s more heresy to some ears, no doubt, and another flagrant cash grab to the grumbling collectors who must own every mix of everything. But when he pulls up a sacred sound file at Abbey Road, it’s not those people he’s thinking of, Martin says.

“My kids will listen to Spotify and they’ll listen to Fleetwood Mac followed by the Arctic Monkeys, Dua Lipa, Olivia Rodrigo; Carly Simon’s Nobody Does It Better is a favourite at the moment. Music is timeless for them. They don’t think [these artists] come from different decades.

“I love the fact that you can put the early Beatles tracks in that [company] now. The technology, not their performance, does age the records. And I think that’s why later Beatles tracks like Here Comes the Sun and Let It Be are popular on streaming, because they don’t sound as old as the early stuff.”

And the cash grab accusation? “What’s lovely is it’s not down to marketing forces. I had way more A&R meetings over the Rocketman soundtrack [he was music director for the Elton John biopic] than I have done on any Beatles project. Because there’s just a small team going, ‘OK, great’.”

Ah, the team. The family alliance of McCartney, Ringo Starr, Sean Lennon and Olivia and Dhani Harrison appears remarkably solid these days but, well, all things must pass. What happens in 10 years’ time, I can’t help wondering, when AI has cracked the Beatles code and flooded the market with cheap imitations? Surely someone at Abbey Road will be called upon to raid the archives for more authentic ‘new’ material?

“Well, they can do,” Martin says firmly, “but I won’t do it.” On the possibility of a 60th anniversary remix of another Beatles masterpiece in 2025, though, he’s more open to suggestion.

“I haven’t started looking at Rubber Soul,” he says. “But, I mean, you could probably place good bets on me doing so.”

The Beatles’ expanded and remixed red and blue albums are out now.

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