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Mark Wirtz: Savannah, Georgia, United States, 2007
September 3, 1943 |
|Residence||Georgia, United States|
Mark P. Wirtz born (September 3, 1943, Strasbourg, France) is an Alsatian pop music record producer, composer, singer, musician, author, and comedian. As a producer, Wirtz's most famous output is from the mid to late 1960s, when he worked at Abbey Road Studios with Beatles engineer Geoff Emerick, under contract to EMI. Wirtz is chiefly known for the never-completed A Teenage Opera concept album. Another track by Wirtz, "A Touch of Velvet, A Sting of Brass" under the name Mood Mosaic, became well known in Germany as the theme tune for Der Musikladen and was used by some radio stations and DJs in the UK as ident, notably Dave Lee Travis on Radio Caroline.
His signature style has been described by Mojo magazine as "Phil Spector scoring Camberwick Green", a sound most perfectly encapsulated on Wirtz's masterpiece, "Grocer Jack (Excerpt from A Teenage Opera)". This 1967 hit single is a densely orchestrated psychedelic marvel, which tells the whimsical and sad tale of an old man ("Grocer Jack"), who dies unappreciated, except by the children who loved him and miss him.
A Teenage Opera
Only four songs were ever finished before a concerned EMI pulled the plug on the project. (RPM, with Wirtz's direct involvement, pieced together all surviving songs from the unfinished project and issued it on CD. The completed Teenage Opera songs all feature similar themes as "Grocer Jack", usually based around elderly craftsmen carrying on with their outdated traditions (a weatherman, a steam train driver) to the ambivalence – and sometimes ridicule – of the community. The project has been likened to a British Smile, due largely to its near mythical status as a "lost" master work, but also because of the singularity of its creator's strange and magical vision.
Mark Wirtz began his music career while studying art at London's Fairfield College of Arts and Sciences. A friend, with whom he was sharing a flat in neighbouring Wallington, recalls those days: "Three things already stood out in him at the age of seventeen: his prodigious talent as an artist – he could paint original work in the style of any of the grand masters; his natural ability as a musician – he could pick out any tune on the piano by ear; and his zany sense of humour – he idolized the comedian Jerry Lewis."
He studied drama at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, when his college rock band, The Beatcrackers, were signed to a recording contract in 1963 as Mark Rogers and the Marksmen by EMI producer Norman Newell. By 1965 Wirtz had started his first independent production company, releasing records that have since become enduring classics.
In 1967, Wirtz accepted EMI veteran producer/A&R chief Norrie Paramor's offer to join EMI Records as in-house producer. Working at Abbey Road Studios alongside the Beatles and Pink Floyd (the latter whom he was instrumental in signing to the company), Wirtz wrote and produced landmark recordings by artists such as Keith West, Tomorrow, and Kippington Lodge. Most notably, he reached global success with his production of excerpts from the first rock opera, A Teenage Opera. Though never allowed to be completed or released as an entire work, the opera's excerpts "Grocer Jack," "Sam," "Weatherman," and "Theme" became trail-blazers.
Wirtz was married to singer Ross Hannaman for a period of time. Together, they wrote and recorded the song "Barefoot and Tiptoe" under the name The Sweetshop, erroneously believed to have been from A Teenage Opera. Wirtz and Hannaman divorced in 1969, at which time Wirtz teamed up with poetry writer Maria Feltham to record Wirtz's concept album, Philwit and Pegasus, for composer Les Reed's Chapter One label.
In 1969, his creative freedom restricted by drastic, corporate, A&R policy changes, Wirtz resigned his post at EMI Records to return to independent production. Associations with Larry Page's Penny Farthing label (Samantha Jones, Kris Ife and Les Reed's Chapter One label (Philwit & Pegasus, Roger James) followed, during which Wirtz formed a co-writing partnership with Ife with collaborations ("Learning 2 Live With Love," MWET/Spyderbaby (2005); "One Night Stand" MWET/Anthony Rivers" (2005), and the Cooking For Cannibals soundtrack album (2007). In 1970, Wirtz left the shores of Britain for Los Angeles, California to accept an invitation by his fellow expatriate producer and friend Denny Cordell to work with him at Hollywood's Shelter Records. In 1973, Wirtz signed a writer/artist/producer contract with Capitol Records for whom he recorded two acclaimed albums, Balloon and Hothouse Smiles (both released under the name "Marc Wirtz").
In 1975, dropped by Capitol for his refusal to tour or perform publicly, Wirtz signed with ace producer Tom Catalano and veteran publisher Dan Crewe's RCA-distributed TomCat label, an association that was doomed to be a short-lived when the label folded only week's after Wirtz's first single release, "We Could Have Laughed Forever." Having become a parent in the same year, hence home-responsibility-bound, Wirtz dropped his "loose cannon" career pursuits and, under the name of Marc Peters, submerged into the role of "hired gun" session arranger/conductor in partnership with producers including Kim Fowley and Jimmy Bowen. Numerous pop, R&B and country hit records followed, featuring an array of artists as diverse as Helen Reddy, Leon Russell, Vicky Leandros, Kim Carnes, Dean Martin, and Anthony Newley.
In 1979, signed by Russ Regan to Interworld Music/CBS Records as writer and producer, Wirtz returned to the studio to produce his third solo album, Lost Pets, sequentially joined by ace guitarists Richard Bennett and John Beland, keyboard players Alan Lindgren and Tom Hensley, drummers Billy Thomas and Denny Seiwell, and bassists David Hungate and Les Hurdle. In the midst of a session for the only half-finished production, a medical emergency call from his daughter's kindergarten principal prompted Wirtz abort the project and leave the studio. Priority committed to hands-on single parenting of his daughter Nicole, Wirtz vanished into obscurity and a hiatus from the music business that would last for more than twenty years. During those years, after savings had run out and royalties had dwindled, Wirtz took on a gamut of art-alien jobs, including tele-marketer, waiter, maître d', blood-stock agent, interpreter, voice-over artist, undercover agent, seminar leader and eventually sales manager for a Geneva merger and acquisition firm.
While taking acting classes during off-times and in the pursuit of a new career as a novelist, Wirtz also realized a lifelong ambition to be a comedian by studying and performing at Hollywood's Groundlings Improv Theater, to eventually take his first steps onto the stages of Hollywood's comedy clubs, including The Comedy Store and The Improv. In 1996, his daughter grown up and in college, Wirtz moved to Savannah, Georgia, where he kept busy as an award-winning freelance magazine columnist/food- and drama critic, while publishing his first novels, Sisyphus Rocks and Love Is Eggshaped, as well as selling his paintings in a Savannah gallery.
In 2004, giving in to the plea from his by-now Spain-residing daughter Nicole to produce her rock-band leader boyfriend's debut album, Wirtz flew to Barcelona and returned to the studio for the first time in many years to produce Les Philippes' Philharmonic Philanthropy. Before year's end, the band's album was No. 1 in the independent label charts. His music appetite re-awakened, Wirtz continued his rebounded studio activities by subsequently producing his own Mark Wirtz Eartheatre solo album Love Is Eggshaped, Spyderbaby UK's Glassblower CD, and Anthony Rivers' Marked Confidential. Finally, in January 2006, Wirtz found a path back to his comedy dream by hooking up with Jacksonville, Florida's "Jax Comics" group of working comedians, initially working out at the Comedy Zone, then moving on by touring the southeast's comedy clubs in the development of his stand-up comedy act.
In 2010, Wirtz produced an all-new solo studio album, Lost Pets 2, scheduled for international release bv PoppyDisc Records in October 2010. In addition, in February 2011, Wirtz is publishing his novella, Dreamer of Glass Beach, a futuristic fable for all ages.
At the current time, Wirtz resides in Savannah, Georgia, and is working a multi-media project that combines his music, comedy and writing in the form of a one-man show, a new studio CD, and a book – all thematically linked under the collective title, Cooking For Cannibals.