Martin Benge has an impressive list of people to call when he needs a little help from his friends.
Mixing with The Beatles, running the famed Abbey Road Studios and working with Australian legends like Slim Dusty are snippets of the Vincentia resident’s amazing life.
Martin was recently presented with the Studio 301 and Audio Technology’s Producer/Engineer Lifetime Achievement award.
Beforehand, he also received Australasian Sound Recordings Association’s Lifetime Achievement Award for sound recording.
The words Abbey Road Studios even now evoke a magical time in music history.
Inside the magical Abbey Road studios
The Abbey Road Studios are almost mystical in pop culture and Martin was right in the mix.
“I think Abbey Road was the Mecca of sound recording and music - it had to be,” he said
Abbey Road opened in 1932 as a classical music studio for orchestras.
“Contrary to popular belief I was not there in 1932 but I did have a long stint there,” he said.
He was at the famed studio initially for eight years in the 1960s and came back in the 1990s for another four-and-a-half years.
“I had a bit of a gap - well 22 years when I was in Australia and when I went back they put me in charge of it from 1993 to 1997,” he said.
Even in the 1990s the studio still held its mystique.
“The artists who have recorded at Abbey Road are legendary,” he said.
The Beatles, of course, as well as Pink Floyd, Dame Vera Lynn, Glenn Miller, Cliff Richard, Radio Head, Oasis, The Rolling Stones and even the Spice Girls are all part of the Abbey Road family.
Martin doesn’t claim to have recorded all the big name Abbey Road stars but was definitely around them while they were in the building.
“Some artists I got to know quite well and others were passing acquaintance really,” he said.
Abbey Road was a hub of creativity.
“In one studio you could have the London Symphony Orchestra in the big room recording symphonic music with one of the great conductors, then you might have the Beatles in studio two recording Sgt. Pepper, while Pink Floyd was in studio three doing Ummagumma while someone like Max Bygraves doing some mixing in another studio,” he said.
“You would have a constant cross-fertilisation between these artists all in the studio at the same time.”
Hanging with the fab four
Martin did one recording session with The Beatles in 1967.
“I did Across the Universe with John Lennon and the boys in studio three but I was not their regular engineer - I was deputising for Ken Scott who could not do this session because he was sick. So George Martin [often known as the fifth Beatle] and the guys decided they would give me a go,” he said.
“It’s a nice thing to have under your belt – a Beatles session and it does not get better than that.”
So was Martin’s favourite Beatle?
“Well l know Paul better than the others and I had more to do with him. He is a good guy,” Martin said.
When he went back to run Abbey Road The Beatles were considering doing the anthology project which was about releasing everything, including outtakes, which had never been released.
Things like the old mixing desk and the tape machine were all used and Martin was instrumental in putting the project together.
Sir Paul wanted to use his studio in Sussex but Martin knew it had to be in Abbey Road.
“I just felt, and I think George Martin agreed with me, that really it should be done at Abbey Road because that is where the recordings were made originally,” he said.
“I think the guys finally came to that conclusion and they got on board with it and it was nice to work with them again.”
He then stressed again there was much more to Abbey Road than just The Beatles.
All in a hard day’s work
Martin said he has so many stories that he could easily write a book.
However, humility is one thing that stands out with Martin and many people would not know about his amazing journey in life.
“I did a job I loved and I was lucky to get paid for what was originally my hobby,” he said.
“I have had some great opportunities and I think I have been very lucky to, first of all, to get an apprenticeship with EMI and to get the opportunities along the way to pursue a career in recording
“Things could have been so different if had not managed to get that job - I might have ended up doing anything
“If you can get a job and work in the field which you are passionate about and you are really interested in then it is a gift.”
The third recipient of the award
The lifetime achievement award was sponsored by Studio 301, which used to be the old EMI studio, and Audio Technology magazine, the bible for recording engineers and producers.
The news he was going to get the award took him by surprise when he got a call from Ron Haryanto, the manager of 301.
Mr Haryanto told the Vincentia resident they had been talking about the lifetime achievement award and had decided they had found their winner.
“You could have knocked me down with a feather - it was completely unexpected,” Martin said.
Old works mates, family and friends watched as was given the award.
“I had about 200 people there - it was great,” he said.
He said the only time a sound engineer is happy with his work is when the musicians, artists and producers listen to a recording and say it’s good.
“You then think, ‘I have done my job’,” Martin said.
“The job of the sound engineer is basic - just to make it sound good, but involved in that process is a whole spiders web of technological challenges.”
He was presented with the award at the studio by the owner Tom Misner, who flew in from Monte Carlo.
The Australian experience
Martin came to Australia in 1971 after he had been travelling around Asia for a year with his with Jeannie.
They came to Australia to see if they would like this part of the world.
He knew there was an EMI studio in Sydney and “knocked on the door” and managed to see the manager, Bill Ramsay, was invited in and became part of the team.
“I had been out of the game for a year and I was busting to get back in,” Martin said.
He went onto work with many legends of the Australian entertainment industry including Slim Dusty, Olivia Newton-John, Chad Morgan and Ross Ryan of ‘I am Pegasus’ fame and he did a lot of work with Mike McClellan.
His favoured music genre, with so much musical experience rushing through his veins, is fusion/jazz rock.
He also “hooked up with and developed a close friendship with jazz composer John Sangster and started a record label called Rainforest Records.
One of their highlights was The Lord of the Rings works – and they did a couple of LPs.
Martin is not doing any paid work now but keeps his hand in as a volunteer presenter for Bay and Basin 92.7 FM.
He does a weekly program on a Wednesday morning at 10am in which he plays anything recorded between 1920 and 1960 with a focus on Big Bands with a bit of early Elvis.
“It’s stuff that is good to listen to - real music with lovely backings, nice songs with nice songwriting,” he said.
“I love that style of music.”
Martin is not a musician but has a go on the bass clarinet.
The early days
He started work in the industry 56 years ago in 1962 in EMI in London as an 18-year-old engineering apprentice.
He always had an interest in anything to do with sound and anything connected with wires and used to tinker with old radios.
Martin’s results at school were not the best and he was “floundering”.
His father Eric said it would better if he got into a training scheme with a really good company.
He had an interview for a job in EMI’s electronics division, not in the record company.
“They interviewed me and told me I was completely unqualified for it and there was no chance of me getting in at that point in time with my limited academic achievements,” he said.
He went to technical college for a year and did electrical engineering and got a diploma.
Martin then re-applied for the EMI job and he got in.
He gives his father part of the credit, along with his own persistence.
He started at the EMI factory - not at Abbey Road.
The apprenticeship was for five years and after two years he badgered the company to send him for a three-month stint at the recording studio.
He wore them down, went up for his stint but was told not to get comfortable because he would be back at the factory where he was learning about electronics.
The first day he walked into Abbey Road Studios he knew it was where he needed to be.
“I just knew I had to move heaven and earth to get a job - this was my environment,” he said.
The musicians, sound and the equipment all engrossed him.
He saw Peter Bown at work and wanted to learn from this well-known engineer and the others at Abbey Road.
“I knew when I saw him working in the studio that I knew that was my job and that was I want to do,” he said.
“It was a dream come true.”
Martin said he made himself useful at the studio and after he finished his apprenticeship he was ‘let loose on recordings’.
“I managed to sit behind the desk and do some recording which was pretty daunting,” he said.
His first solo was an artist test or demo with a new band but he said it was still a nervous and hair-raising experience.
“You had to mix it, record it and get it right in one or three takes,” he said
He can’t remember the name of the band.
His first major project was with the Sidney Bowman Dance Orchestra, which was an old time dance band record.
It went well and Martin copied how other engineers worked after he had watched them in action.
“We learnt from people who were the world greatest engineers in my opinion and at Abbey Road the engineers were the best in the business,” he said
Then he worked with Kathy Kirby, who had a number one hit in the UK with a song called Secret Love in the 1960s.
“I recorded a whole album with her which was a big deal for me to do,” he said.
“Any recording session for me was a privilege but it was still daunting and I would not sleep the night before.”
The job of a sound engineer and a record producer later merged for Martin and he was in charge of the whole process.
We look forward to the book - get writing, Marty.