Friday, 17 February 2017


We used to live at the Hammy-O in the Eighties. Night after night, hanging out at the back of the crumbling Art Deco, garishly ghost-crammed cavern, behind the sound desk, backs to the wall, beer bottles in hand, that old, mouldy carpet glueing itself to the soles of our boots, the dank corridors, the shabby backstage, the unthinkable bogs (that still are). I must have seen a thousand gigs in what was once the Gaumont Palace, everyone from Kid Creole and the Coconuts to Blondie to Hot Chocolate to Michael Schenker to Duran Duran to Kylie to Bruce to Elton to Mott the Hoople to Japan to Billy Idol to Depeche Mode to KISS to Asia to Pink Floyd to Quo to Genesis to Dire Straits to Ian Dury to Aha to Queen to Kate Bush to Michael Ball to Riverdance... the rest escape me. Labatt's brewers nabbed and Apollo'd it in the early Nineties. By the time it had been snapped up by Carling, I was tucked up at home with three kids, wistfully wondering. Remembering.
There were countless owners and deals and renovations and glorifications to come... not just for me - (ha: today would have been my twenty first wedding anniversary; imagine) - but for that majestic venue too. Yet whatever they tried to make of it, it was always the Hammy-O. Now that most of the good old live music venues around London have bitten the dust, it is more precious than ever. Where else have we got? it's the Borderline Soho, Ronnie's at a pinch, or a train, boat or plane out to Greenwich Peninsular. The acoustics are exquisite at the Indigo 02, sure. But we who were young once are schlepping beauties and stranded by car park turmoil come the end.
Perhaps I long to be old enough to have witnessed Buddy Holly's UK shows at the Hammy-O in 1958... shows that turned out to be his last here. Or to have experienced Ella Fitzgerald and the Duke, Tony Bennett and the Count, or Louis Armstrong. Or a boy named Sue, how do you do. Or Simon Napier-Bell’s prototype Yardbirds, with Eric. Or one of the Fabs' thirty-eight gigs across twenty-one nights there, '64 into '65. I know a few who did. Those old snaps inside the Who's Quadrophenia album tell the tale. Kinda.
Last night, I remembered my first night. 3rd July 1973. Neat little schoolgirls jumping a train from the net-curtained suburbs, discarding navy pinafores and maroon-and-white-striped ties behind closed carriage doors, emerging in jewel velvet loons and studded platforms and make-up... 'What do you know about make-up, you're only a girl ...' There we were, up on screen, flat-streaming-faced and glitter-weeping, at least versions of us, screeching 'David! David!', a damp, desperate choir, longing to be as one with the one on our bedroom walls.
Consumed by the madness, in life-threatening need of relief and self-reinvention, Bowie finished off Ziggy and the Spiders that night. Our innocence died with them. We had invested so much, had compromised who we were, had made ourselves a laughing stock in the playground by keeping ourselves only unto weird, strange, shockingly androgynous, beautiful, thin him. It was over.

The whole story is in my book, 'Hero: David Bowie'. The story as I now know it. There was no story back then, that night, that desperate ending. There was only bereavement.

Monday, 9 January 2017


Ziggy Stardust may have made David Bowie a star, but the wretch proved Frankensteinian. Eclipsing his creator from the moment he was fully formed, Ziggy subsumed Bowie and might have wound up destroying him, had not David decided to kill him and his arachnids first. Those closest are invariably the last to know.

By 1973, he knew he’d struck gold. Overnight stardom had taken almost ten years, but here he now was, all things to all people: a superstar on both sides of the Atlantic, worshipped as a teen idol, revered as a rock star, lusted after as a bi-sex symbol, hailed as some philosophical guiding light. He’d scuppered them all, this ruthless ransacker, this rag and bone man, this vampire. He had sucked the veins of all in his path, and was now gorging on the ultimate resource: his own self.

The Ziggy Stardust tour rolled relentlessly around Britain, a maelstrom of performances, TV appearances, radio, press, and fandemonium. Then America, Canada, Japan. Come 3rd July, the thriller. The Hammersmith Odeon, west London, staged the final night of the tour now fondly remembered as ‘the Retirement Gig’. The place was heaving with three and a half thousand fans. There must have been as many again outside as were crammed within. A film crew was present, and the stars were out: the Jaggers, the Rod Stewarts, the Ringos. David had finally made it into rock’s upper echelon. He was now one of them. ‘All the Young Dudes’. ‘Oh! You Pretty Things’. ‘Moonage Daydream’. Freaky costume changes galore. At one point he emerged with that now legendary astral sphere on his forehead, which we found out later, from the magazines we pored over, had been created by make-up artist, Pierre La Roche. ‘Let’s Spend the Night Together’: ‘This one’s for Mick!’ he announced. Ronson or Jagger? Maybe both. Rock royalty graced the line-up, the great Jeff Beck joining them on stage to play along with ‘The Jean Genie’ and ‘Love Me Do’. ‘Round and Round’, and David on harmonica. ‘Suffragette City’, ever my favourite. ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ at one point, thank you and goodnight, some upstart leaping onto the stage, a minder chucking him off again. Hammersmith had been heaven. Then, out of the blue, we went to hell.

‘Not only is this the last show of the tour,’ cried David, just when it couldn’t get any better, ‘but it’s the last show we’ll ever do!’

Say what, was somebody, come again, he’s only joking right, wait, did he just go, why? NOOOOOOO! The whole place was screaming, there was a stampede for the stage, I was small, I hung back, I couldn’t find my friend, I wanted the toilet. And the band, wide-eyed, it looked as though it was news to them, played on. ‘Rock’n’roll Suicide.’ You couldn’t make it up. I cried. Most of us did. Hysteria, pandemonium, a throat-cut split-second. However good the show was, and I think it was, I was stunned. I remember only that moment. I recall precious little of the music, not a step of the journey home. I heard later that Kid Jensen confirmed it on air. Read later about the after-show, some crass, jumped-up luvvie-fest they were referring to as ‘the Last Supper’, at the Regent Street Café Royal of all places, where I’d been twice with my parents dressed in the same itchycoo gold lamé trouser suit and matching pumps, for a wedding and a bar mitzvah, which says it all. David and Angie apparently lorded it, pressing flesh with ex-Beatles and Barbra and Britt, with Hollywood legends and Cat Stevens and boisterous Lulu.

Even Keith Moon, not known for his fondness for togged-to-the-nines civilisation. Imagine. My schoolgirl mind boggled. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang, but a whimper. Had David worked so hard for so long for it to end like this?

‘It was fun while it lasted,’ David said, post-Ziggy. ‘I had a certain idea of what I wanted my rock’n’roll star to be like. I’ve gone as far with that as I possibly can. The star was created, he worked, and that’s all I wanted him to do. Anything he did now would just be repetition, carrying it on to the death.’

But there was a sense of loss in his words only four years later.

‘It soured so quickly, you wouldn’t believe it,’ he lamented, looking back. ‘And it took me an awful long time to level out. My whole personality was affected. I brought that upon myself … and it became very dangerous. I really did have doubts about my sanity.’

Yet Hammersmith Odeon was the only place to be. Ever. We were there. This was David’s pinnacle, his build-to moment, the culmination of all that he’d slaved to achieve. I have so often thought, what wouldn’t I give to relive that precious moment one last time.

Now, I’m about to. You can too.

Visit and grab them while you can: to a unique screening, on Thursday 16th February, of the concert film shot by D.A. Pennebaker, of that legendary gig, in the very venue where it took place. This will be the first time the film has been aired for over forty years. And there’s more: DJ duo the Smoking Guns, breakthrough band Animal Noise, and some relevant unpredictables. On your marks …

Monday, 26 December 2016


My patience is stretched, now. I find myself wanting to herd all these bleaters yelping about the 'malevolence' of 2016 for 'taking' so many cherished stars away from us, and bang their unthinking heads together.
Let's go again. Time is intangible. It is an illusion, a construct, a concept. It doesn't exist. It was invented by man, just to keep track of all that we are up to. It varies, in fact, depending on your point of view. You can make a day longer than a year whenever you want to. Try it. You can make it last a lifetime in your mind: that's what baby births, wedding days, anniversaries and the so-called 'big birthdays' are about. Time is no more than an abstract measurement, a scale by which we chart our existence. It is supposed to give shape to the way in which we go about things, and to make life easier. As such, it is not to be blamed for the things we would rather had not happened; an excuse for devastation we cannot explain.
So another one bites the dust. Time - 2016 - is, of course, to blame. Get real. We're talking 'timing', not 'time', in this instance. George was always the first to say that 'timing is everything'. The suggestion that he may have taken his own life on Christmas Day, as some are saying, is therefore not so far-fetched. George was an extreme control freak, a planner, an obsessive. The significance of the designated birthday of our Lord will not have been lost on him. He created 'Last Christmas', one of the great modern Yuletide classics, to link his name indelibly with the season. Every Christmas, for evermore, we will now remember and give thanks for George on Christmas Day. The arrogance, though breathtaking, should be forgiven.
I spent enough time with George and Andrew Ridgeley in the Eighties. We worked together on numerous occasions. His former manager, Simon Napier-Bell, and his Sony publicist Jonathan Morrish, remain two of my most cherished friends. I have other close pals who went to school with George in North London. On more than a few occasions, I got to glimpse the real Yog. He was a tormented soul who lived a damnable lie for longer than he was able to be true to himself. He never came out to his family while his mother was still alive. He felt compelled to wait until she died to be open and honest about his orientation.
The self-deception of his youth was a cancer to him. The self-inflicted damage would not be repaired. George admitted to a void, created by his distance from his parents and wider family, which generated unbearable deprivation. He acknowledged that he sought adoration from complete strangers, in order to try and fill that void. The harder he tried, the less he found himself able to compensate. He did not know the true meaning of peace. He accepted that his need to become an artist was a cry for help. He agreed that he was desperately insecure, and that he was addicted to applause. He fell in love with Elton John at a very young age. Performing his Elton favourite, 'Don't Let the Sun Go Down on Me' on stage with his idol was, he said, the pinnacle of his career. The pair later fell out, made up, fell out, made up, in that intensely emotional manner that tends eventually to become the downfall of superstars.
George pressed the self-destruct button years ago. He gave in to his desires, and even did time for them. He lost out in love, giving away his whole heart, and having it returned to him in shreds. Few can recover from that, least of all those whose every nerve ending is exposed to and raked over by millions of needy fans, dependent on his music and demanding, ever demanding, answers about love and the meaning of life that he was never equipped to give.
This is how I want to remember him: at Live Aid, 13th July 1985. George was twenty two years old, in his exuberant prime, thrilled to be part of the greatest show on earth, and lapping up every blink of it. I watched him at point blank range that day, getting everything he needed in the giving of so much ... if only in that moment. At least he had that. At least we still have the music. God rest him.

Sunday, 18 December 2016


Twenty-four years ago tonight, our lives fell to pieces when my father Ken Jones fell under a train. He was the Independent’s chief sportswriter at the time, and was making his way home from the office Christmas party. He’d done the sensible thing: he’d left the car at home, and was taking the train. A few had been cancelled. There was a platform-change announcement at London Bridge. A stampede up the stairs, over the bridge and down the other side. My father, a compact Welshman, was swept up in the maelstrom and hurled down onto the rails, just as the train was pulling in. It took them more than four hours to cut him from the wreckage. What was left of his right arm, and his writing hand, was left behind.
He still hears the voice of the nameless paramedic who talked him into holding on, into clinging to life. To this day, he suffers searing phantom pain in the arm that isn't there. He has lived for almost a quarter of a century as a one-armed bandit. He continued to travel the world as one, well into his seventies, covering major prize fights, football matches, summer and winter Olympic Games. He only retired when they made him, and he could still kick them senseless for that.
Ken is eighty-five years old, as sharp as a scythe, and bored, much of the time. On a cocktail of class A meds, he phases in and out of the moment. He spends half the day on an oxygen generator for emphysema. We still have fierce bouts over politics and sport. He never has fewer than five books on the go, everything from Ancient Rome and Shakespeare to contemporary biographies (he's partial to Bowie at the moment), and ever the poetry of Dylan Thomas.
He lost a part of himself, that bitter night. But he became somehow more of himself because of it. In many ways, utterly random and brutal though such accidents are, it was the making of him. I've been looking at that raw, tragic stump for two and a half decades, now. It still shocks me to recall what happened, longer ago than the births of my children. It breaks my heart to this day. But then I remember, he's still a whole dad. No less of a complete, confounding jigsaw puzzle of a man for want of a single absent piece.
Hallelujah, Noel, be it heaven or hell. Go easy out there, this coming week. Hang back from the edge. Stay behind the yellow line. Keep off the roads, if you can. Run for the shadows, but not for the train. Never, ever, run for the train. There will always be another. You might not be as lucky as Dad. Which is the way he sees it. Always has. It must be what saved him.
So this is Christmas. A brave and joyous, hopeful 2017 to you all. It's worth keeping in mind that life can turn on a sixpence, be demolished in a heartbeat. All we can do is love passionately, live honestly, and do what we do to the hilt, while we still can.

Sunday, 10 April 2016


It boils down to the ten thousand hours: the time it is said to take to become good at our chosen pursuit. This theory arose out of ground-breaking work undertaken by Dr. K. Anders Ericsson at the Florida State University. You’ve got to put the hours in, and that’s that.

It got me thinking. Ten thousand hours equals four hundred and seventeen days. It may not sound like much, but it sure is a lot. There are only a hundred and sixty eight hours in a week. We spend, on average, around fifty of those merely sleeping. If we devote, say, forty hours a week just trying to get good at something, that’s a little over two thousand hours per year. At that rate, it takes a good five years to become passable at your craft. How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practise.

But there’s more to it than that. Anyone at all can spend the time. What makes the difference is talent. It’s not just practise that makes perfect. It’s perfect practise. Kids who get a guitar for Christmas, hone a few tunes, give it their best shot, can be as good as anyone who has been doing it all their life, is the 21st Century message. But it’s not true. Most of us are better off fantasising, singing ‘I Will Survive’ or ‘The Power of Love’ into a hairbrush in the bedroom after a hard day’s wine.
It takes guts to get up in front of a roomful of strangers, open your mouth and sing. It’s one of the very hardest things to do. We all know the shows that have deluded the masses into thinking that anyone can do it. They can’t.

Michael Armstrong can. This was apparent after the first time I saw him perform live, as the warm-up act for Leo Sayer at London’s Hippodrome last autumn. Some of the songs were familiar, especially the Billy Joel numbers. Others were new and unique and seemed truly heartfelt, when I heard them after the gig. Eh? I confess to having dismissed Michael at first as any other pub singer - I was gossiping with my friends David Stark and Anita Maguire at the time, and didn’t pay too much attention. But then I took the album home, and actually listened to him.

What comes across with brutal clarity is that here is a man who has devoted his life to music, but who simply hasn’t had the breaks. He grew up on a diet of the Beatles, Neil Diamond, the Bee Gees, even a smattering of Led Zeppelin when his Mum wasn’t looking. His parents’ record collection, effectively, just like the rest of us. He speaks movingly about music having unlocked his soul when he was still a small child, of his youthful yearning to express himself through songs. But the odds were against him. His family was not musical. Undeterred, he learned to play the drums, scraped together the wherewithal for guitar lessons, and taught himself piano. He began to write, and started his own band. They pubbed and clubbed and rocked around the clock, and wound up eventually with some support engagements at the historic Shepherds Bush Empire, no mean one. Then reality kicked in. It was time to leave school, and to start earning a living. His builder father enticed him into the family firm. Michael pulled his weight, but felt himself beginning to wane. The work sapped not only his strength, but his soul.

A wife, a home, a family. All the usual. The dream grew distant. The economic crash took its toll on his father’s business, as well as on his health. Then, out of the blue, an introduction to music PR Lisa Davies led to the recording of a three-track EP, which meandered, in turn, to positive attention from the been-there, seen-that music media. Michael suddenly found himself moving among musicians he had once idolised, including Paul McCartney and Mark Knopfler. Working closely with Lisa to promote the great artists and acts on her roster, Michael even began performing with the likes of Cliff Richard and Chris de Burgh. With Lisa’s help and encouragement, and with input from Keith Bessey, famed for his work with the Ramones, 10CC and Elton John, Michael set about recording his debut album, mostly in the garage, with less than no money. But then the magic set in. The harder we work, the luckier we get. Not many could persuade musicbiz legends such as Albert Lee, Peter Howarth - current lead singer of the Hollies - Stephen Walters and Elliott Randall to perform on an unknown’s debut. But Lisa Davies can.

Chances are you have already seen Michael Armstrong talking about his eponymous offering on the television, or heard him on the radio. You may have seen him out on the road, with Beverley Craven or the aforementioned Howarth, Vonda Shepard or Carol Decker and T’Pau. But he’s not over-selling himself. He’s not a rich or famous rock star, by any means - and by his own admission is a yellow brick road away from becoming one.

‘It is an industry in decline,’ he points out. ‘Only a handful of artists actually sell records these days. There is no investment in new music. There is no development of  new artists. It is all about instant gratification, reality TV, and here today, gone tomorrow. And yet, despite all this, we carry on. It’s in our blood, it’s in our hearts, and it’s in our dreams.’

Michael put in his ten thousand hours. He’ll put in another ten thousand, and ten thousand more, if he has to. He’s not inclined to give up, he’s not that kind. His integrity and dedication are humbling. It’s the musical equivalent of banging your head against a brick wall, and he knows it. I predict that there will come a time when you'll recognise him instantly, from those precious first few bars. I’ll be there with a bottle of Bollinger, cheering from my front row seat. In the meantime, catch him and the exuberant Peter Howarth. Let them throttle you with their talent. It’s what they do.

Michael Armstrong: The Album is out now.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016


What is it about rooting for the underdog, cheering for the little guy? We all do it. Perhaps it's because there is something more human, more 'normal', more frail about an underdog. Something more like us. Success often appears to mean more if it's something that's 'not supposed' to happen. It is certainly often the case that the underdog exerts him or herself more. They've had to make so much more effort, even to come last. Perversely, it is because the odds are stacked against such figures that we so often convince ourselves that they can win ... even when they don't stand a chance.

The universal desire for the no-hoper to triumph is the irresistible theme of new movie 'Eddie the Eagle'. I saw it last night, and blubbed buckets. Sentimental it so is, pressing all the buttons to get us behind the protagonist, who overcomes both physical disability and poverty to fulfil his lifelong dream of becoming an Olympian. We all know the true story of Eddie Edwards, the first competitor to represent Great Britain in Olympic ski jumping. Back then, in Calgary, 1988 (my father was there, reporting for the late Independent), Eddie was our record-holder, finishing last in the 70m and 90m events. But his perseverance, courage, lack of backing - other than money filched from his Mum and Dad's savings set aside to buy a new van - captured the world's imagination and gave Eddie his fifteen minutes. A mere quarter of an hour that resonates sublimely to this day.

Eddie never qualified for any championship or Olympic Games again. But he had his moment. Books, videos, commercials and pop records followed. I remember accompanying him to Finland on a press trip (I was there for the Daily Mail) when his single 'Fly, Eddie, Fly' made it to Number One there. He was the most personable, modest and kindly bloke, and we did have a laugh.

The dream faded in a blink. The limelight dimmed by dawn. For all his opportunities, Eddie wound up bankrupt in 1992. His response to that was to study for a law degree, flying in the faces of those he felt had wronged and misrepresented him. He went on to present radio and TV, won the ITV diving show 'Splash', and commentated for Channel 4's ‘The Jump’. Last I heard, his wife had left him and he was back working as a plasterer, reluctantly retracing his father's footsteps. I hope with all of my heart that this movie turns his fortunes around again. He should at least negotiate a new edition of his autobiography.

So they take creative liberties with the story. Nothing new, they do this with Shakespeare. The film's icing is heartthrob Hugh Jackman as Eddie's fictional coach, Bronson Perry, a one-time ski-jumper himself who fell off the side in every sense, and turned to drink. He is reeled reluctantly into Eddie's orbit and given another stab at glory, if only reflected. Welsh young'un Taron Egerton (‘Testament of Youth’, ‘Legend’) captures Eddie's gauche, long-sighted (literally) determination perfectly. Keith Allen, another Welshman, (love it) as Eddie's dad, leaves all the menace of the Sheriff of Nottingham behind to bring working-class long-suffering and acceptance of lot in life to the part. Jim Broadbent delights as the classic BBC commentator, while Christopher Walken, he of the unique face and other-worldly stare ('Pulp Fiction', 'Hairspray') is a wrencher as Perry's old coach. The Eighties soundtrack, curated by Gary Barlow, is perfect. As a 'child of the Eighties', I would say that, wouldn't I. Well it's true. They deploy every trick: 'Cool Runnings', the classic film about the Jamaican bobsleigh team at the same Olympics, is paid homage to throughout. I could even hear echoes of my all-time favourite flick, 'Field of Dreams'.

'Eddie the Eagle' flew all the way to the Sundance Festival in January, where it received its world premiere. Released in the US first, by 20th Century Fox, it's just out in the UK, distributed by Lionsgate. I'd go as far as to say that it stands as a metaphor for what it means to be British. I am bursting with pride for my old Fleet Street cohort Sean Macaulay, who wrote the screenplay, more than a decade ago. As he says, of Hollywood, 'You never know what can happen if you play the long game.' Eddie's philosophy in a nutshell. We must keep at it.

Monday, 14 March 2016


SIR GEORGE MARTIN CBE  3rd January 1926 – 9th March 2016

He was the world's most celebrated producer and I was an office dogsbody when I met 'the fifth Beatle' in 1980.

He stopped me in the lobby of Chrysalis Records, off Oxford Street, where I worked in the art department. George ran AIR Studios from there. The recording business he'd co-founded owned a huge facility overlooking Oxford Circus, and had been acquired by Chrysalis for a mint.

My leather mini, tee shirt and battered boots were no match for his dapper get-up. George, into his fifties and still an upright 6' 2”, sported a striped shirt and navy tie. Grey hair fringed his collar, and his crinkled blue eyes shone.

'Come into my office and see someone you know,' he grinned.

John Burgess, Managing Director of AIR and former producer of Freddie & the Dreamers and Manfred Mann, played alongside my father, ex-pro footballer Ken Jones, in charity soccer outfit Showbiz X1. The team comprised former athletes, entertainers, agents and managers. Sean Connery, Jimmy Tarbuck, Des O'Connor and David Frost turned out for them during the Sixties,  when the crowds topped 30,000. George and John had been colleagues for years, having met at Abbey Road Studios as employees of EMI. I hadn't set eyes on John, who died last year, since I was small.

They took me to lunch. Typical George, treating management and minions as equals. He was as I'd imagined him: quietly funny, endearingly shy. John was the crowd-pleaser, and they were quite the double act. It emerged during the meal that George and I had something in common. We had attended the same school, Bromley Grammar in Kent. Rockers Peter Frampton and Billy Idol went there too. George recalled our school motto, Dum Cresco Spero: I Hope When I Grow.

That December, John Lennon was murdered in Manhattan. George had weathered with dignity endless vitriol from the former Beatle during the Seventies. John belittled  their producer's 'influence' and input, while Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr 'were always sweet.' Implacably loyal, George was of course distressed by the news. There was not even a  funeral at which to pay his final respects. George went to Montserrat, where he had opened his dream residential recording studio the previous year. He sat staring at the ocean and listening to Lennon in his head, he later said. The studio complex, the whole island, would be flattened by Hurricane Hugo within the decade.

I left Chrysalis for Fleet Street, and submitted several interview requests over the years. George never refused.

I hadn't seen him for ages when we convened at the BRIT School in Croydon, South London in September 2011. George was a founding governor of the school that produced Amy Winehouse,  Adele and Jessie J.  The opening of a state-of-the-art studio in his name was to mark the BRIT's 20th anniversary. Then the fire alarm sounded. Everybody out. George and I caught up in the car park. This is the only photo I ever had taken with him.

The last time I saw him was at the Savoy Hotel, for the Gold Badge Awards in October 2012. Doddering, deaf, an old 86, George was honoured by the British Association of Songwriters, Composers and Authors. For the man world-famous not only for the Beatles but for film scores, Bond themes, orchestral arrangements, best-selling books, 30 Number Ones – his final chart-topper was Elton John's reworked Candle in the Wind in 1997, his tribute to Diana, Princess of Wales - innumerable albums and almost half a century in the studio with more household names than any other producer in history, it seemed an understatement.

'I've had a great innings,' he said. 'I know I look decrepit and past-it. But the brilliant thing about growing old is that while you fall apart on the outside, you don't feel any different on the inside. Is it the Irish who say we all have an age at which we 'stop'? I have been 30 years old all my life. I'm with George Bernard Shaw: “we don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing”.'

He was born George Henry Martin in Holloway, north London on 3rd January 1926, to 'skint, non-musical' parents Henry and Bertha. His carpenter father was often jobless, selling newspapers on the street to feed his family. When the Martins got an old piano, his elder sister had lessons. George copied her, bagged a few lessons of his own, and taught himself. By the age of 15, he was running a dance band. He attended several schools, including St Joseph's Elementary, Highgate, and St. Ignatius College, Stamford Hill, before his family moved to the suburbs, and George reached Bromley Grammar.

He worked as a quantity surveyor and as a clerk in the War Office before joining the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy in 1943. He trained as a pilot, but never saw active service. He demobbed in 1947 and resumed his education at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where he studied piano and oboe.

'I couldn't read or write music,' he confessed, 'but they still let me in. I crammed composition for 3 full years.'

His oboe teacher was Margaret Eliot, whose actress daughter Jane Asher would become Paul McCartney's girlfriend. In 1948, on his 22nd birthday, George married Jean 'Sheena' Chisholm, whom he had met in the bride's native Scotland while George was stationed there. His 53 year-old mother was beside herself with grief over it. She died of a brain haemorrhage 3 weeks after the wedding, for which George never forgave himself. Sheena and George had 2 children, Alexis and Gregory.

Employed briefly by the BBC's classical music department, he joined EMI in 1950 as an assistant to  the head of minor label Parlophone. George inherited Oscar Preuss's job 5 years later. He forged a reputation as a producer of comedy and novelty recordings, working with Flanders and Swann, Peter Sellers, Spike Milligan, and Rolf Harris. In 1962, Brian Epstein brought him the Beatles. It was a last-ditch endeavour on the part of the tenacious manager, who had been shown the door by every other record company. The match was obvious. George always declined credit for having 'created' the group,  dismissing the notion that he was ever their 'Svengali'.

'A lot of nonsense was written and said,' he once remarked.

'It was a myth that they were uneducated guttersnipes and that I was this toff who knocked them into shape. In fact, the Beatles and I came from very similar backgrounds. I went to the same sort of schools. Musically, we were all essentially self-taught. As for our accents, mine was as working-class as theirs before I became an officer in the Royal Navy. You can't hang around with such folk without absorbing a bit of posh. I had also belonged to a dramatic society, which helped.  As for the music, I muddled through. I experimented and learned on the job.'

His chemistry with the Beatles arose from the fact that they were enthusiastic Goons fans, he revealed.

'They worshipped Peter Sellers, and knew that I'd recorded him. They weren't exceptional when we began. The magic wasn't instant, it had to emerge. But when they hit the jackpot, it was chaos.'

The Beatles phenomenon was the start of the British Invasion of America, when countless UK acts broke through. Lennon and McCartney were acknowledged as the most important songwriting partnership of the era. It was only the start.

With a backlogged schedule and barely time to go home and sleep - George was also recording Cilla Black, Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas, Gerry and the Pacemakers, Bernard Cribbins and Matt Monro  - something had to give. Now that he was embroiled in an affair with Parlophone secretary Judy Lockhart-Smith, his marriage was inevitably the casualty. He divorced Sheena, and married Judy in 1966. They produced a son and daughter, Giles and Lucy

The same year, the Beatles quit touring, and retreated into the studio. Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, widely acclaimed as the most brilliant LP ever made, was released in 1967.  Brian Epstein died soon afterwards. The Beatles needed George Martin more than ever. But they rebuffed him for the Let it Be album, returning sheepishly for swansong Abbey Road.

George, who had challenged EMI over the injustice of producers not receiving royalties, produced the Beatles' later recordings as a freelance. With John Burgess and two other producers, he launched Associated Independent Recordings: AIR. Post-Beatles, George worked with everyone from Jeff Beck and Neil Sedaka to UFO. He likened the experience to 'having been married for decades and suddenly finding myself free to have  affairs.' He and McCartney resumed their relationship in 1982, when George produced his album Tug of War.

When the lease ran out at Oxford Circus, George established alternative world-class facilities, Lyndhurst, in a deconsecrated church in Belsize Park. Just as he was enjoying work as never before, life dealt the cruellest hand. George was suffering from progressive hearing loss, a condition from which he would never recover.

'The damage was done in the Sixties,' he said, 'when I was working with the Beatles. For 12 to 14 hours at a stretch, I'd be listening to loud sound levels. Nobody told me I was damaging my ears. I later told all my engineers, don't do it! Put plugs in! I didn't really notice until well into the Nineties. By then, of course, it was too late.'

The title of his 1979 autobiography, 'All You Need Is Ears', was rendered a horrible irony.

It hastened his retirement from the studio. He stopped recording, but didn't stop, son Giles stepping in to act as 'his ears'. He conducted orchestral concerts of Beatles music around the world, annotated classical recordings, and gave lectures on the making of Sergeant Pepper. Knighted in 1996, he helped organise the live concert to mark the Queen's 2002 Jubilee, and escorted Her Majesty onto the stage.

In 1998, they released In My Life, a compilation of Beatles songs performed by favourite stars including Goldie Hawn, Robin Williams and Sean Connery.

In 2006, father and son scored a show with Cirque du Soleil which became the celebration album Love, 'a mash-up of the Beatles musical lifespan.'

'I've been so lucky, I really have,' he said. 

'I've worked with and enjoyed relationships with great people, and not only pop stars. And I've never worked for any length of time with anyone I didn't like. Life really is too short.'