How We Met Cilla Black And Sir George Martin
Sunday 29 March 1998
GEORGE MARTIN: It was the early part of 1963, when I was running the Parlophone label for EMI, that Brian Epstein told me of a girl singer he had who he thought was absolutely brilliant; soon after, he brought her along to Abbey Road. She was very trendy: mini-skirted, great legs, a typical product of Carnaby Street, with a mane of bright red hair.
Cilla was an unusual girl, a real mixture, full of contradictions. She was very confident, even then, but I think underneath that bold front I detected a bit of fear. She had this extraordinary voice which was very strident, and yet when she spoke it was soft and rather shy. She almost had two voices, and she didn't have a great deal to say to begin with. But she made up for that later on.
From the start she was very easy, very nice to deal with, almost a perfect artist for the recording studio, because she took advice and didn't feel uppity that people were telling her what to do. She learnt very quickly, she was a model of good behaviour in the studio.
The first record we made - a song written by the Beatles, called "Love of the Loved" - wasn't a hit. It wasn't until the second record, "Anyone Who Had a Heart", a Burt Bacharach song, that she broke through, and that was a tribute to Brian. He brought that back from America and played it to me. My first reaction was that it was an ideal song for Shirley Bassey, who I was recording at the time. I'd cast Cilla in the role of the rocker. Brian said: "No, I don't mean for you to give it to Shirley Bassey - give it to Cilla." I said: "Do you think she could cope with it?" Brian replied: "I'm absolutely certain she can." So we tried it and of course she did a wonderful job.
We hit it off pretty well and liked each other from the word go. I've always been friends with the people I record with, and some people you get more friendly with than others. The age difference - about 17 years - never meant anything. As for the great cultural divide, Britain is Britain and I get on fine with people no matter where they come from. Quite often after a recording session Judy and Bobby would join us and we'd go and have a bite to eat. It became a social thing. Then we started going on skiing holidays together; we had riotous fun. We went to Lech in Austria, for quite a few years running before Cilla had children. On the last occasion she was pregnant and I remember being a bit scared about it.
We used to be a lot closer, but cir- cumstances have made us drift apart. It's a major effort to get together socially, unless we happen to be in London at the same time. That's what we tend to do; we go to functions, TV shows and charity dinners. But we had an excursion as a foursome to Paris recently to see Paul McCartney on his concert tour. Paul was so pleased to see us all backstage; we sat around for hours nattering about old times, had dinner afterwards, and flew back to England in Paul's jet.
My daughter once said to me: "I don't know how you and mummy are so happy, you obviously are, but I don't understand it because you've got nothing in common." What an extraordinary thing to say. I replied: "Oh come on, that's nonsense, we've been together for many years." She proceeded to list all the different things we liked: "You like boats, she likes racehorses ... " She was right. You can say that about Cilla and myself. But it doesn't matter, it's not as though we're trainspotters.
Cilla is warm, home-loving, private, friendly, and tremendously good at what she does. She's not a showbizzy person who throws parties; at home she's very much a mother and a family girl. The fact that she's such a famous person isn't anything to do with home - at home she's mum. That's one of the great things about her: she hasn't changed at all with all the success she's had. Yet she has fulfilled all the early potential I saw and more. She has done better than I'd ever dreamt.
CILLA BLACK: It was the summer of 1963. My manager, Brian Epstein, had got me an audition with George Martin in London. Obviously George wasn't aware of my existence, but I was aware of his - he'd signed up the Beatles.
I came down on a Sunday to EMI studios in holiday time; I still worked as a clerk typist in an office and hadn't given up my day job. I took my two weeks summer holiday and came down with Brian and Bobby. Brian took us to a pub round the corner from Abbey Road Studios for a stiff brandy. On reflection, that was to calm Brian's nerves, not mine - I was fairly confident. I was 19; it never occurred to me that this man wasn't going to fall in love with me and my talent.
When I got into the studios, of course, and met George, he was the most gorgeous thing I'd ever seen. I liked the older man at the time. It was like meeting the Duke of Edinburgh: God, this was royalty! He looked very similar to the Duke, though now I think he's better looking than the Duke of Edinburgh.
He was tall, very slim, and had such an incredible charm that I was just besotted. His voice has this great resonance and I was totally disappointed when I found out he's really a cockney. He told us in a roundabout way much later - "I'm just as common as you."
George and Judy accepted all of us Merseybeat bunch for what we were, warts and all. We had an accent but they didn't care. They were interested in us as people, and for our talent. That was great for us; prior to that most well-spoken people we came across used to look at us sideways. Our gut reaction was to say "Are you looking at me or tuning a brick?" It was terrible! But we helped to break down those barriers on radio and TV, thank God.
The thing about George was that he never talked down to you. He wasn't patronising, just talked to you on the level, on a one-to-one basis, even though he knew everything. We'd gone from teachers and tutors to an older, experienced, guy, who commanded respect that we'd never had for our elders before. However much we loved our parents this man never talked like a mother or father, he listened.
I didn't know anything about music and musicians; George knew best, that was my attitude. He listened to my voice and said, quite rightly: "She doesn't have a rock'n'roll voice; she should do big ballads. She's so young, just stands there and hardly opens her mouth and all this sound comes out, like she's singing in the Mersey Tunnel." He was incredibly sharp and perceptive, he's always been that way. I've worked with some incredible producers and, hand on heart, I can honestly say I've never met anyone quite like George.
Spending time together outside of work just seemed natural. I was very lonely in London: I'd left my family and friends behind, and in those days there weren't the sophisticated motorways there are now. George and Judy lived seconds away from the studios, in Manchester Square. Judy would often pop over around lunchtime to collect George and we'd all go out to lunch. At the end of a long day he was always the one who asked: "Where are you going now? Where are you going to eat?" Bobby and I would say, "We're going to the Golden Egg in Leicester Square," and George would reply, "No, you don't want to go there", and introduce us to a trendy bistro. What a kind man. Then the skiing holidays in Lech followed. We became closer on one of these skiing holidays when I broke the news, on the slopes, that I was three months pregnant with Robert, our first son. Now we had something in common - Judy had not long had Lucie, her eldest. Also Judy was more accessible than my mum, who had remained in Liverpool. She talked about what to expect; advised me on doctors, even - when Robert was three months old - what school to put him down for!
Showbusiness is a funny thing - commitments permitting, we can go for long stretches without seeing each other and then, when we do, it's an emotional reunion and we both feel we shouldn't leave it too long until the next one. With good friends, the love you feel for them, and the quality of conversation you have when you do see them, compensates for any gaps. Those things never fade; it doesn't matter if I saw George yesterday or 10 years ago, the feeling is always "It's so great to see you", and no one else exists. It's the same with Paul, Ringo or George, it always feels like we saw each other yesterday.
George isn't a gossipy person; he's discreet. If you approached him and said "I'm telling you this in confidence", it wouldn't go any further. He is of the old school: reliable, British and stoical; he's perfect. George is Jack Hawkins in all those old war films. To every recording session I'd usually take three female backing singers. I've never met one backing singer who did not fall in love with George Martin. He's an incredible flirt and I think he'd own up to that himself. He loves being told that he's gorgeous. It's not a bad thing, he adores the company of women.
I've never had a cross word with George. I don't like arguments, they upset me, and if anyone upsets me I can't go back. I'm a black and white type of person, there's no in between for me. It takes an awful lot to upset me, but once someone has I can't retract, even if that person goes down on one knee. The closest we've come to an argument was when I was banned from a game of Ludo for being unruly and competitive.
George will always be George; he's not really changed. That hair is still the same, he's looking a bit more like Max Wall every day. He is a gentle character, an enormous talent with a gentle personality. A great teacher and diplomat. If I wanted to record again, the first person I'd ring would be George. I'd ask: "Do you think I should be doing this?" But, alas, those days are gone. He says he's retiring, but I think he'll be producing and composing until the day he dies.
If George wasn't in my life there would be a tremendous loss of fun. Talent comes first, it always has with me, then fun and laughter. The friendship is there and it's solid. We have a lot of history, no one can erase that. As for the future - when I'm retired we're all going to tour the coast of Turkey on his boat.
The albums 'George Martin: In My Life' (Echo Records) and 'Cilla: 1963- 1973, The Abbey Road Decade' (EMI, three CDs) are both out now.
To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthdaybooks
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