Wednesday, March 09, 2016

George Martin - 'the finest album I ever made'

The production credits of George Martin, who had died aged 90, include all the Beatles' masterpieces except Let It Be. He worked with other artists ranging from the Mahavishnu Orchestra to Celine Dion and Elton John. So ask any rock fan to name the finest George Martin album and the answer is very likely to be Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band or another classic from the charts. But legend has it that the man himself chose as the finest album he ever made a little known LP recorded by a pioneering American ensemble five years after Sgt. Pepper*. Despite the celebrity endorsement the Paul Winter Consort's 1972 Icarus remains almost unknown. Yet you only need listen to the first few tracks - audio sample here - to realise that not only is this a truly great album, but it is also the fountain from which flowed some influential music trends that are still around today. George Martin's production credit coupled with this personnel listing gives an idea of the sheer inventiveness of Icarus:

The Consort
Paul Winter - soprano sax, vocals
David Darling - cello, vocals
Paul McCandless - oboe, English horn, contrabass Sarrusophone, vocals
Ralph Towner - classical guitar, 12-string guitar, piano, Regal, bush organ, vocals
Herb Bushler - bass
Collin Walcott - conga, tabla, mridangam, surdos, traps, kettledrums, bass marimba, sitar

Friends of the Consort
Andrew Tracey - resonator guitar, voice
Billy Cobham - traps
Milt Holland - Ghanaian percussion
Larry Atamanuik - traps
Barry Altschul - random percussion

Janet Johnson, Paul Stookey, Bob Milstein - voices

Despite the low profile of Icarus several individual tracks have gone on to become classics including the title cut and The Silence of a Candle, both penned by Ralph Towner, and Paul McCandless' timeless All the Mornings Bring. Like the Beatles, The Paul Winter Consort contained more talent than it could safely hold and Paul McCandless and the late and great Collin Walcott broke away to form Oregon and in 1978 Wallcott went on to form Codona. Today the Paul Winter Consort continues to make music and release albums under the leadership of its eponymous founder. Read more on Collin Walcott and Codona in my 2009 post, and in another post how Oregon went on to record with the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra of Moscow Radio.

* I deliberately use the wording "legend has it that the man himself chose as the finest album he ever made...". This is because I always try to double-check sources. There are a number of reference to the George Martin quote but I cannot find confirmation of the source. If any reader can help I will make the appropriate changes.
** Band listing comes from Paul Winter's World of Living Music which is rich in resources.
*** Paul Stookey contributes vocals on the final track. Stookey was the 'Paul' of the legendary folk trio Peter, Paul and Mary.
**** But there is a very interesting interview with George Martin about working with the Paul Winter Consort here. It includes the apocryphal story that an audio cassette of Icarus was left on the surface of the moon by a NASA astronaut.
***** Synchronicity (or something): George Martin also produced Elton Johns' 1997 hit Candle in the Wind.

Earlier versions of the post mistakenly said that George Martin did not produce The White Album, whereas it was Let It Be that he did not produce. Thanks go to Cynthia Barger for pointing out that error. This is a revised version of a post from January 2011. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Also on Facebook and Twitter.


Lyle Sanford, RMT said...

I was lucky enough to see the Winter Consort in 1971 - and had and about wore out the Icarus album - had no idea George Martin produced it. The stuff you know (!)

entangledtunes said...

George Martin refers to the Paul Winter Consort's Icarus as the finest album he ever made in his memoir "All You Need Is Ears" around page 259 (I don't have the book close at hand at the moment, but I checked the index for the book on Amazon).

Pliable said...

ET, many thanks for that. You have prompted me to order a copy of George Martin's memoir from our library service.