United Kingdom (August 12, 2020)—Producer/engineer Martin Birch, who recorded more than 60 albums with classic rock artists across a 24-year career, died August 9 of undisclosed causes at age 71. Long-running collaborations were Birch’s forte, as he worked on multiple albums with Iron Maiden (10), Deep Purple (10, including Fireball and Machine Head), Whitesnake (9), Fleetwood Mac (5), Rainbow (5), Wishbone Ash (3) and pairs of albums each for Blue Öyster Cult, Black Sabbath and Jon Lord, among many others.
Born in 1948 in Woking, Surrey, Birch became an engineer in the late 1960s, earning his first production credit with Gordon Giltrap’s self-titled debut album. The following year, however, saw his career move into high gear as he recorded Jeff Beck’s Beck-Ola, Deep Purple’s Concerto for Group and Orchestra and Fleetwood Mac’s Then Play On, among other projects, kicking off lengthy tenures with the latter two acts.
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Of particular note was Birch’s association with Iron Maiden. Starting with 1981’s Killers, Birch helmed 10 albums for the British metal act, working almost exclusively with the group for the next 11 years. During that time, he recorded numerous band high-points, including its The Number of the Beast album, and helped develop the group’s sound.
On Iron Maiden’s website, band founder Steve Harris recalled Birch, noting, “He wasn’t just a producer; he was a hands-on engineer, too, so he knew how to get a great sound. He was also fantastic at motivating people; he just had a knack of getting the best out of you.” Meanwhile, singer Bruce Dickinson remembered, “Martin was a mentor who completely transformed my singing: He was a psychotherapist and, in his own words, a juggler who could mirror exactly what a band was. That was his special talent as a producer—he was not a puppeteer, he did not manipulate the sound of the band, he just reflected it in the best possible way.”
Birch worked with the group through 1992’s Fear of the Dark, whereupon he retired from the music industry at age 42. Birch’s death was announced online by Whitesnake singer David Coverdale, who tweeted, “It is with a very heavy heart I’ve just verified my very dear friend and producer Martin Birch has passed away…Martin was a huge part of my life…helping me from the first time we met through until Slide It In…My thoughts & prayers to his family, friends and fans….”