Martin Birch, the producer whose bright but heavy sound was applied to classic albums from Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and more, has died aged 71. No cause of death has been announced.
Whitesnake frontman David Coverdale tweeted: “It was with a heavy heart that I just verified that my dear friend and producer Martin Birch has passed away… Martin has been instrumental in my life… helping me from our first meeting. until Slide It In… My thoughts and prayers to his family, friends and fans. “
Birch was born in Woking, Surrey, in 1948, and first worked as an engineer, earning credits on the first albums of Faces and Wishbone Ash, as well as Jeff Beck’s Beck-Ola. He also began the first of many long-standing relationships with Fleetwood Mac, working on five albums between 1969 and 1973, and Deep Purple, working on 11 albums with them, including two UK No 1s, Fireball and Machine Head.
He continued to work with Wishbone Ash, the engineering of their progressive classic Argus, and from the mid-1970s he established his pop-leaning hard rock aesthetic where heavy rhythm sections and intricate guitar lines – often two at a time – would be rendered with great clarity.
He worked on several albums with Rainbow, Blue Öyster Cult, and Whitesnake, and helped Black Sabbath refresh their heavy metal sound after Ronnie James Dio took over from Ozzy Osbourne on vocals. Birch produced his albums Heaven and Hell (1980) and Mob Rules (1981). Bassist Geezer Butler said he was “really sad” to hear of Birch’s death, while Dio’s widow Wendy said: “he was a genius producer and a dear friend of Ronnie. May he RIP ”.
Birch’s most enduring partnership, however, came with Iron Maiden, with whom he began working exclusively in the 1980s. Starting with their second album in 1981, Killers, Birch produced a series of nine classics until ‘in 1992, Fear of the Dark, three of them reaching UK No.1, including the classic The Number of the Beast. Birch described them as “my favorite group to work with… there is a great unity and no one tries to stand out individually from the team”.
Birch retired from the music industry after Fear in the Dark at the age of 42.