Martin Birch. RIP.

Or should I say Martin Birchtree, Enginearole, as he was memorably credited on one Machine Head tape reel…

1970 was a cracking year to be let loose in the record shops, seeing how far my pocket money would go. I bought Deep Purple In Rock of course (Engineer on Hard Lovin’ Man? Martin Birch) but did explore other bands, and one of the first singles I picked up was Fleetwood Mac’s Green Manalishi. Engineer? Martin Birch.
A mate at school then brought Thank Christ For The Bomb along to play a track from one day (in form assembly of all places) by The Groundhogs (to be outdone by Split later that year, an astonishing audio experience). Engineer? Martin Birch. Another lad was raving about the track Phoenix by a new band called Wishbone Ash. Engineer? Martin Birch.
And that was just 1970.
What I’m trying to say is that Martin’s name has been on my radar most of my music buying life. And the same happened with the next generation of rock fans as his credit began to appear on a raft of post-Deep Purple projects like Whitesnake, Rainbow and PAL. The following wave of heavy metal again drew on Martin’s skills, in particular Iron Maiden (though by now he was credited as Producer, Engineer, Mixer, Tape Op and Technician!). After which he hung up the earphones in his early 40s and left the business.
Despite that early retirement, the extensive list of studio projects he got through is remarkable when you start to look carefully through it, albeit for many Deep Purple fans it is Machine Head which will be the one he is probably most remembered for. I and a few others have literally been going over every felt pen mark on the album’s tape boxes this last week or so to try and glean the tiniest bit of new information from them for the upcoming biography. Indeed it is with a heavy heart that I will close the file on my laptop where I had begun a list of niggling questions I was hoping to put to him shortly (Derek Lawrence called him up last year on my behalf – they’d kept in touch, explained what we wanted, and got an OK to call, on the proviso to “tell him I’m very unlikely to remember anything very much!”).
The sixth member of Deep Purple? It’s a soubriquet which he certainly deserved thanks to his handling the rest of Deep Purple’s classic era (and in a couple of cases even beyond).
It’s unusual for studio personnel to become as well known as the musicians they work for, but judging from the astonishing coverage Martin Birch’s passing (at just 71) has generated among the papers and news sites today, as well as rock fans, we’re not the only ones for whom his work has resonated so strongly.

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9 Responses to “Martin Birch. RIP.”

  1. Mohan Thampi Says:

    An iconic recording engineer whose body of work of work speaks for itself. For us Deep Purple fans, he was well know from LP liner credits regularly from Deep Purple, Rainbow, Paice Ashton Lord, Whitesnake, Jon Lord, and Roger Glover albums. His ability to set up and record their unique sounds in the studio which did not differ from their live performance definitely must have inspired confidence in the musicians. Virtually a sixth member of DP. Never overproduced albums unlike many other bands and their producers where was wide chasm from the studio and live performances. Not much known about him personally outside of recording as he did not pursue celebrity status or lifestyle unlike quite a number of his contemporaries. The DP In Rock dedication for “Hard Lovin’ Man” calls him a catalyst showing the high regard the band had for his recording abilities. Gone but not forgotten for recording immortal music.

    While reading various internet postings on Martin Birch’s passing, came across a 2019 interview with Shoshana Feinsten who has high regard for Martin Birch. Very interesting and informative biographical interview which describes about her time in the 70’s with DP and Rainbow from her perspective in the interview link below:

    http://suwalkiblues.com/christopher-willow-presents-interview-with-shoshana-feinstein/

  2. David Tedds Says:

    What a drag.  What’s disconcerting to me is that the age of some people dying is getting close to mine.  As Steve Hackett once put it, “We’re in the drop zone.”

    • simon robinson Says:

      Yes, there is that. Though given how precarious life is at times it’s amazing so many of us make it that far. Martin would have seemed a grand age at one time, less so to us in our Sixties!

  3. Bernard Maasdijk Says:

    Very true words. First record I ever bought: Long Live Rock ‘n’ Roll, slightly later 24 Carat Purple and after that an avalanche of albums with Martin Birch in the control room: In Rock, On Stage, Made in Japan, Made in Europe, Heaven and Hell, Rising, Live…in the Heart of the City, Killers, BOC’s Fire of Unknown Origin, Number of the Beast, MSG’s Assault Attack. Almost all of these records I still like the sound of and still give a regular spin. Exception: Maiden’s No Prayer for the dying. Got rid of it almost as soon as I got it, but that may not be on account of Martin Birch. You did well, sir.

  4. davidstoddard55deeppurple6 Says:

    A part of the DP family – thoughts are with all who knew him 🎸

  5. Chris Lee Says:

    The balanced and touching post I’d expect from you. He’s left one hell of a CV, and from what you hear was a very well liked and respected man

    • simon robinson Says:

      I was sent this nice quote in from Don Airey which seems to sum Martin up for many musicians, an interview on Metal Express Radio spotted by David Browne (https://www.metalexpressradio.com/2020/08/28/don-airey-deep-purple-if-jon-lord-hadnt-been-a-musician-hed-have-been-a-great-foreign-secretary/): “I worked with him on Cozy Powell’s Over The Top and on Bernie Marsden’s first solo album. You didn’t really notice him in the studio. He was very quiet and the opposite to Bob Ezrin. He was very firm and ready for the take and when it came, he’d get it. I remember when we did Over The Top, Cozy and I decided to get Jack Bruce from Cream to come and play bass and he’s such an incredible player. He’d been having a lot trouble with a couple of producers in the studio who said his bass playing wasn’t good and his sound was too old fashioned and he came to us a bit nervous. Jack came in and Martin asked him to play a few notes which he did and Martin just said “OK, thanks” and Jack went “Was that it?” and by doing that Martin was able to reassure Jack and in 10 seconds he gave him his confidence back.”

  6. Danielz Says:

    Very true. A nice obituary. There are, as you say, very few engineers that get to a memorable status. Martin Birch was always someone who I remembered in those iconic albums. He leaves a great legacy with the product he worked on. 71 years old is no age these days – such a shame…

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