On 5 June 1962 a fresh-faced 16-year-old started work at Abbey Road as an assistant engineer for EMI. The next day, this son of a butcher from Crouch End was asked to sit in on a session with a group that George Martin was interested in signing. That young lad’s name was Geoff Emerick and the band were called The Beatles. The rest, as they say, is history.
54 years later, the MPG rightly honoured the remarkable career of Geoff Emerick with its ‘Innovation Award’. He was described by The Guardian as the “technical genius behind The Beatles sound”. When he sadly passed away last year, the tributes from the great and the good of the music industry flooded in. Midge Ure credited Emerick with helping “change the way music was produced”. Others called him “the greatest engineer of his generation”.
During his apprenticeship at Abbey Road, Geoff did everything: lacquer cutter, mastering engineer, balance engineer. He worked with everyone from Judy Garland to The Goons. In 1966, still only 20, he was promoted to recording engineer. Having engineered Manfred Mann’s number one hit ‘Pretty Flamingo’, his first session in his new role as engineer for The Beatles was for ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’. That is the equivalent of a professional footballer making his debut in a world cup final – and scoring a hat-trick.
‘Tomorrow Never Knows’ showcases The Beatles at their most experimental and Geoff Emerick as a truly gifted and radically innovative creator of sound.
When John Lennon requested that the studio make his voice sound like the Dalai Lama chanting with thousands of Tibetan monks on a mountain-top, and suggested he be hoisted up on a rope from the ceiling so he could swing round the microphone, Emerick had a connector made to plug Lennon’s vocal track into a revolving Leslie speaker, normally only used as a loudspeaker for a Hammond organ. Emerick was constantly breaking the rules and inventing new techniques with the limited technology available at the time.
McCartney, inspired by Stockhausen, had got The Beatles hooked on making tape loops to bring into the studio. When the overdubbing of the tape loops was done on 7 April 1966, George Martin described the event as “a happening”. He talked about “swinging off the faders”. Giles Martin said that his father, The Beatles and Geoff Emerick “performed on the desk”. Nothing better demonstrates the role of a producer and an engineer as co-creators of sound.
Geoff Emerick’s contribution to how we record music cannot be overstated. By 1973, Emerick picked up his third Grammy in six years. He had worked on a string of Number One hit records with The Beatles. And he went on to act as an engineer and producer for artists as diverse as Art Garfunkel, Supertramp, Elvis Costello, Jeff Beck, Ultravox and Big Country.
If there are any aspiring creatives out there who want to make music, they should take inspiration from Geoff Emerick and work as a producer, an engineer, a mixer. And just remember, on your first day in the studio, you never know who you might be working with the next day. After all, tomorrow never knows…
Michael Dugher is CEO of UK Music (and modestly describes himself as an authority on The Beatles)Back to news