Giles Martin Defends His New Stereo Sgt. Pepper

Inside the Beatles' studio magic and how even history’s most famous album has been improved, with The Son Of Fifth Beatle George.

Giles Martin Defends His New Stereo Sgt. Pepper

SINCE THE EARLY ’90s, when he was brought in to help out on the production of The Beatles' Anthology 2 archive trawl, Giles Martin has been in the family business, and after helming the controversial reimagineering of Beatle songs for the soundtrack to the Vegas stage show Love he’s been the one considered brave or foolish or trustworthy enough to tinker with the legacy. In the year since he lost his father, he’s been busy – constructing (with Abbey Road Senior Engineer Sam Okell) a future-fit stereo mix, and curating an array of unreleased outtakes for the anniversary reissue of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Is ‘why’ a silly question? MOJO’s new Beatles cover. Plus: free 15-track CD of post-Pepper pop.

“No, because that’s the first question I ask myself,” says Martin. “Originally, I was against remixing the Beatles... But there’s a technical answer, which is that the stereo mix was never theirs and the mono mix, which they did themselves and is superior, does sound ‘old’, like it was done 50 years go. But this is one of the most important albums of all time – I don’t want it to ever sound ‘old’. Nor do the Beatles. How is Pepper going to stand next to everything in the streaming world, with people flicking and swiping?”

After finding himself, via a detour into 5.1 surround sound, mixing a new stereo version of Strawberry Fields Forever for 2001’s 1+ audio-visual package, Martin’s methodology for improving the Beatles’ dated early stereo was fairly fixed.

“I’d had this idea about mono’ing the stereos, if that makes sense,” he explains. “Moving the vocals into the centre. It makes it sound more direct and the Beatles are better when they’re more direct.”

Years spent calling up tapes from the Abbey Road archives meant Martin knew the components intimately. Some of his solutions even recall wheezes his father might have brainstormed in the control room of Studio 2.

“I felt a bit like John Belushi in Animal House, with an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other”

Giles Martin

“For Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds, I had this idea of chopping up the keyboard notes so they could be spread across the stereo spectrum. Then you put them all on a plate reverb so the notes don’t sound disconnected. Then I can have the voice in the centre, because I have this stereo keyboard underneath. That’s a good example of mixing ahead in your brain.”

But Martin was only too aware of the dangers of taking too many liberties (“I felt a bit like John Belushi in Animal House, with an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other”) and while many of his adjustments have bolstered Pepper’s heft, and raw volume, some adjustments had to be more subtle.

“…Like on A Day In The Life,” says Martin, “there’s something so intense about the mono. It’s deep and honky, and other-worldly. But the old stereo, with the voice coming from the side, coming from nowhere, there’s something brilliant about that, too. Next to that, voices in the middle sound boring. So with that, it was about getting a balance between ‘mono’ and ‘stereo’. Ultimately, it’s all to do with how the track makes you feel.”

Read more about Martin’s methodology for remixing the Beatles, and his anxieties around curating the outtake material that’s such a part of the new Pepper package’s appeal in the new issue of MOJO magazine – out in the UK now. Check out the full contents: including Jeff Buckley, Chuck Berry, At The Drive In, Paul Weller and more.