Saturday, 25 October 2008

Joe Meek: The Definitive History

Joe Meek (born Robert George Meek; 5 April 1929 — 3 February 1967 in London[1]) was a pioneering English record producer and songwriter acknowledged as one of the world's first and most imaginative independent producers.
His most famous work was The Tornados' hit "Telstar" (1962) audio clip (help·info), which became the first record by a British group to hit #1 in the US Hot 100. It also spent five weeks atop the UK singles chart, with Meek receiving an Ivor Novello Award for this production as the "Best-Selling A-Side" of 1962.
Meek's other notable hit productions include "Don't You Rock Me Daddy-O" and "Cumberland Gap" by Lonnie Donegan (as engineer), "Johnny Remember Me" by John Leyton, "Just Like Eddie" by Heinz, "Angela Jones" by Michael Cox and "Have I the Right?" by The Honeycombs, "Tribute to Buddy Holly" by Mike Berry. Meek's concept album I Hear a New World is regarded as a watershed in modern music for its innovative use of electronic sounds.
Joe Meek was also producing music for films, most notably Live It Up! (US title Sing and Swing), a 1963 pop music film starring Heinz Burt, David Hemmings and Steve Marriott, also featuring Gene Vincent, Jenny Moss, The Outlaws, Kim Roberts, Kenny Ball, Patsy Ann Noble and others. Meek wrote most of the songs and incidental music, much of which was recorded by The Saints and produced by Meek[2].
His commercial success as a producer was short-lived and Meek gradually sank into debt and depression. On 3 February 1967, using a shotgun owned by musician Heinz Burt, Meek murdered his landlady before turning the gun on himself. Aged only 37, he died eight years to the day after his hero, Buddy Holly.
1 Biography
1.1 Pre-London years
1.2 London 1954-1959
1.3 Triumph Records
1.4 304 Holloway Road
1.5 Murder and Death
2 Meek's legacy
2.1 Artists Meek recorded
3 Tributes and references
3.1 Songs
4 "Telstar - The Joe Meek Story" - play and film
5 Documentary film
6 Photography
7 Literature
8 References
9 External links

[edit] Biography

[edit] Pre-London years
A stint in the Royal Air Force as a radar operator spurred a life-long interest in electronics and outer space. From 1953 he worked for the Midlands Electricity Board. He used the resources of his company to develop his interest in electronics and music production, including acquiring a disc cutter and producing his first record.

[edit] London 1954-1959
He left the electricity board to work as a sound engineer for a leading independent radio production company that made programmes for Radio Luxembourg, and made his breakthrough with his work on Ivy Benson's Music for Lonely Lovers. His technical ingenuity was first shown on the Humphrey Lyttelton jazz single "Bad Penny Blues" (Parlophone Records, 1956) when, contrary to Lyttleton's wishes, he 'modified' the sound of the piano and compressed the sound to a greater than normal extent. The record became a hit. He then put enormous effort into Denis Preston's Landsdowne Studio but tensions between Preston and Meek soon saw Meek forced out.

[edit] Triumph Records
In January 1960, together with William Barrington-Coupe, Meek founded Triumph Records. The label very nearly had a #1 hit with Meek's production of Angela Jones by Michael Cox. Cox was one of the featured singers on Jack Good's TV music show Boy Meets Girls and the song was given massive promotion. Unfortunately, Triumph, being an independent label, was at the mercy of small pressing plants, who couldn't (or wouldn't) keep up with sales demands. The record made a respectable appearance in the Top Ten, but it proved that Meek needed the muscle of the major companies to get his records into the shops when it mattered.
Despite an interesting catalogue of Meek productions, indifferent business results and Joe proving difficult to work with eventually led to the label's demise. Meek would later license many of the Triumph recordings to labels such as Top Rank and Pye.
That year Meek conceived, wrote and produced an "Outer Space Music Fantasy"' concept album I Hear A New World with a band called Rod Freeman & The Blue Men. The album was shelved for decades, apart from some EP tracks taken from it.

[edit] 304 Holloway Road
Meek went on to set up his own production company known as RGM Sound Ltd (later Meeksville Sound Ltd) with toy importer, 'Major' Wilfred Alonzo Banks as his financial backer. He operated from his now-legendary home studio which he constructed at 304 Holloway Road, Islington, a three-floor flat above a leather-goods store (currently empty).
His first hit from Holloway Road was a UK #1 smash: John Leyton's Johnny Remember Me (1961). This memorable "death ditty" was cleverly promoted by Leyton's manager, expatriate Australian entrepreneur Robert Stigwood. Stigwood was able to get Leyton to perform the song in several episodes of the popular TV soap opera Harpers West One in which he was making a series of guest appearances. Meek's third UK #1 and last major success was with The Honeycombs' Have I The Right? in 1964, which also became a number 5 hit on the American Billboard pop charts. The success of Leyton's recordings was instrumental in establishing Stigwood and Meek as two of Britain's first independent record producers.
When his landlords, who lived downstairs, felt that the noise was too much, they would indicate so with a broom on the ceiling. Joe would signal his contempt by placing loudspeakers in the stairwell and turning up the volume.
A blue plaque has since been placed at the location of the studio to commemorate Meek's life and work.

[edit] Murder and Death
Meek was obsessed with the occult and the idea of "the other side". He would set up tape machines in graveyards in a vain attempt to record voices from beyond the grave, in one instance capturing the meows of a cat he claimed was speaking in human tones, asking for help. In particular, he had an obsession with Buddy Holly (claiming the late American rocker had communicated with him in dreams) and other dead rock and roll musicians.
His professional efforts were often hindered by his paranoia (Meek was convinced that Decca Records would put hidden microphones behind his wallpaper in order to steal his ideas), drug use and attacks of rage or depression. Upon receiving an apparently innocent phone call from Phil Spector, Meek immediately accused Spector of stealing his ideas before hanging up angrily.
Meek's homosexuality - illegal in the UK at the time - put him under further pressure; he had been charged with "importuning for immoral purposes" in 1963 and was consequently subjected to blackmail. In January of 1967, police in Tattingstone, Suffolk, discovered a suitcase containing the mutilated body of Bernard Oliver, an alleged rent boy who had previously associated with Meek. According to some accounts, Meek became concerned that he would be implicated in the murder investigation when the Metropolitan police stated that they would be interviewing all known homosexuals in the city.
In the meantime, the hits had dried up and as Meek's financial position became increasingly desperate, his depression deepened. On 3 February 1967, the eighth anniversary of Buddy Holly's death, Meek killed his landlady Violet Shenton and then himself with a single barreled shotgun that he had confiscated from his protegé, former Tornados bassist and solo star Heinz Burt at his Holloway Road home/studio. Meek had flown into a rage and taken the gun from Burt when he informed Meek that he used it while on tour to shoot birds. Meek had kept the gun under his bed, along with some cartridges. As the shotgun had been registered to Burt, he was questioned intensively by police, before being eliminated from their enquiries.
Meek was subsequently buried in plot 99 at Newent Cemetery in Newent, Gloucestershire. His black granite tombstone can be found near the middle of the cemetery.

[edit] Meek's legacy
Despite not being able to play a musical instrument or write notation, Meek displayed a remarkable facility for writing and producing successful commercial recordings. In writing songs he was reliant on musicians such as Dave Adams, Geoff Goddard or Charles Blackwell to transcribe melodies from his vocal "demos". He worked on 245 singles, of which 45 were major hits (top fifty or better).
He pioneered studio tools such as multiple over-dubbing on one- and two-track machines, close miking, direct input of bass guitars, the compressor, and effects like echo and reverb, as well as sampling. Unlike other producers, his search was for the 'right' sound rather than for a catchy musical tune, and throughout his brief career he single-mindedly followed his quest to create a unique "sonic signature" for every record he produced.
At a time when many studio engineers were still wearing white coats and assiduously trying to maintain clarity and fidelity, Meek, the maverick, was producing everything on the three floors of his "home" studio and was never afraid to distort or manipulate the sound if it created the effect he was seeking.
Meek was one of the first producers to grasp and fully exploit the possibilities of the modern recording studio. His innovative techniques -- physically separating instruments, treating instruments and voices with echo and reverb, processing the sound through his fabled home-made electronic devices, the combining of separately-recorded performances and segments into a painstakingly constructed composite recording -- comprised a major breakthrough in sound production. Up to that time, the standard technique for pop, jazz and classical recordings alike was to record all the performers in one studio, playing together in real time, a legacy of the days before magnetic tape, when performances were literally cut live, directly onto disc.
Meek's style was also substantially different from that of his contemporary Phil Spector, who typically created his famous "Wall of sound" productions by making live recordings of large ensembles that used multiples of major instruments like bass, guitar and piano to create the complex sonic backgrounds for his singers.

[edit] Artists Meek recorded
He passed up the chance to work with David Bowie, The Beatles (the latter he once described as "just another bunch of noise, copying other people's music") and Rod Stewart. John Repsch, in The Legendary Joe Meek recounts that upon hearing Stewart sing, Meek rushed into the studio, put his fingers in his ears and screamed until Stewart had left. He preferred to record instrumentals with the band he sang with - The Moontrekkers.
In 1963 Meek worked with a then-little-known singer Tom Jones, then the lead vocalist of Tommy Scott & The Senators. Meek recorded seven tracks with Jones and took them to various labels in an attempt to get a record deal, with no success. Two years later after Jones gained popularity with the worldwide hit It's Not Unusual in 1965, Meek was able to sell the tapes he'd recorded with Jones to Tower (USA) and Columbia (UK)[3]. Meek also recorded the following artists:
Screaming Lord Sutch and The Savages, The Tornados, The Honeycombs, The Syndicats, The Buzz, Mike Berry, The Outlaws, The Moontrekkers, Gene Vincent, Billy Fury, Deke Arlon and The Offbeats, David John and the Mood, John Leyton, Geoff Goddard, Petula Clark, Lonnie Donegan, Humphrey Lyttelton, Diana Dors, The Blue Men, Tom Jones, Tony Dangerfield and the Thrills, Heinz and The Wild Boys, Dave Adams, Joy and Dave, Chico Arnez, Jimmy Miller and the Barbecues, Mike Preston, Emile Ford and the Checkmates, Chris Williams and the Monsters, Lance Fortune, Peter Jay and the Jaywalkers, Yolanda, Big Jim Sullivan, Ricky Wayne, George Chakiris, Michael Cox, Frankie Vaughan, Iain Gregory, Danny Rivers, Gerry Temple, Cliff Bennett and the Rebel Rousers, The Charles Blackwell Orchestra, Don Charles, The Stonehenge Men, Andy Cavell, The Dowlands, Houston Wells and the Marksmen, The Packabeats, Jenny Moss, Burr Bailey and the Six Shooters, The Checkmates, The Saints, The Cameos, Sounds Incorporated, The Puppets, The Beat Boys, Mike Sarne, The Ambassadors, Pamela Blue, Glenda Collins, The Sharades, Roger LaVern and the Microns, Gunilla Thorne, Kim Roberts, Billie Davis, Freddie Starr and the Midnighters, Shade Joey and the Night Owls, Flip and the Dateliners, Valerie Masters, Alan Dean and his Problems, The Blue Rondos, Peter Cook, Jess Conrad, The Saxons, The Shakeouts, Bobby Rio and the Revelles, Peter London, The Four Matadors, The Cryin' Shames, The Riot Squad, The Millionaires, The Impac, Shirley Bassey, Anne Shelton, Kenny Graham and the Satellites, Tommy Steele, Chris Barber, The Fabulous Flee-Rakkers, Carter-Lewis and the Southerners, Brian White & The Magna Jazz Band, The Ferridays (Scorpions), Ray Dexter and The Layabouts, Neil Christian, Kenny Hollywood, Jamie Lee and The Atlantics, Toby Ventura, Wes Sands, The Thunderbolts, Silas Dooley Jr., Bobby Cristo and The Rebels, Malcolm and The Countdowns, The Diamond Twins, The Hotrods, Charles Kingsley Creation, Danny's Passion, The Classics, The Manish Boys and Joe Meek himself...

J.Repsch: The Legendary Joe Meek Published 2003
The Manish Boys

[edit] Tributes and references

[edit] Songs
British punk Wreckless Eric recounts Meek's biography and recreates some of his studio effects in his song "Joe Meek" from the album Donovan of Trash:
On the second floor of number 304
Above a handbag store and the heavy roar
Of traffic rolling down the Holloway Road
A one time bedroom housed the studio of Joe Meek
Where he conjured with the sound of another world
That Tin Pan Alley thought was too absurd
But miles of wire and recording tape
Brought fortune fame and no escape for Joe Meek
As he stirred up the sound of a hurricane
Joe Meek
Called upon forces from beyond the grave
Joe Meek
Suffered alone for his madness and pain
These were the only rewards that the hit parade
Held in store for Joe Meek
Joe Meek [4]
According to some, the song "Green Door" alludes to Meek. "When I said, 'Joe sent me,' someone laughed out loud behind the green door".[5]
The Marked Men, a Texas punk band, have a song titled "Someday" with lyric: "Joe Meek wanted all the world to know about the news he found."
The Bleeder Group, a Danish alternative rock group has a song on their second album Sunrise, called "Joe Meek Shall Inherit The Earth"
Matmos, an Electronic duo, have a song on their 2006 album The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of the Beast called "Solo Buttons for Joe Meek".
Pluto Monkey, British left field artist, released a three track CD single on Shifty Disco featuring the tracks "Joe Meek" and "Meeksville Sound Is Dead"
Swing Out Sister include a short instrumental named "Joe Meek's Cat" on their 1994 album Shapes and Patterns, inspired by Joe's 1966 ghost-hunting expeditions to Warley Lea Farm during which he allegedly captured recordings of a talking cat channeling the spirit of a former landowner who committed suicide at the farm
Graham Parker's 1992 album Burning Questions includes the cryptic "Just Like Joe Meek's Blues"
Sheryl Crow claimed that her song "A Change Would Do You Good" was inspired by an article she read about Joe Meek
Jonathan King recorded a song about Meek called "He Stood In The Bath He Stamped On The Floor".[6]
Johnny Stage, Danish producer and guitarist released an album in tribute of Meek, entitled The Lady with the Crying Eyes featuring various Danish artists, on 3 February 2007
Dave Stewart and Barbara Gaskin recorded the song "Your Lucky Star" dealing with the life and death of Joe Meek, released on the 1991 album "Spin".
The Spanish label Spicnic released in 2001 a tribute CD, "Oigo un nuevo no mundo. Homenaje a Joe Meek" , featuring various Spanish bands. [7]
Trey Spruance from the band Mr. Bungle has stated that the 10 part song/instrumental "The Bends" from their album Disco Volante is inspired by Joe Meek's music. Specifically "I Hear a New World".
Thomas Truax regularly performed his Meek tribute "Joe Meek Warns Buddy Holly" on his 2008 tours, a song apparently about Meek's supposed warning via spirit-writing predicting Buddy Holly's death. A single and accompanying video is scheduled for release on February 3, 2009, the 50th anniversary of Holly's demise, also the date of Meek's suicide.

[edit] "Telstar - The Joe Meek Story" - play and film
Telstar, a stage play by Nick Moran and James Hicks, premiered in 2005, is a dramatisation of Joe Meek's his life and starred Con O'Neill as Meek and Linda Robson as his landlady.[8] It is now being made into a film starring Kevin Spacey, Nick Moran and Martine McCutcheon with O'Neill reprising his stage role[9][10].

[edit] Documentary film
A Life in the Death of Joe Meek, an independent American documentary,[11] by Howard S. Berger and Susan Stahmann premiered on 24 January 2008 on the Reel Music Film Festival (Portland, Oregon). The production, which began shooting in 2003, includes over 60 interviews with Meek's family, close friends, associates, musicians and pop culture movers and shakers such as Alex Kapranos, Keith Strickland, Edwyn Collins, Liam Watson, Huw Bunford and Simon Napier-Bell.
The Very Strange Story of the Legendary Joe Meek A 1991 UK TV-documentary from the "Arena"-Series. Often repeated on BBC4 in the UK, the last time being 5 September 2007 [12].

[edit] Photography
Clive Bubley: Images of Joe Meek - a series of photographs of Joe taken both in the flat and outside 304 Holloway Road, shortly before he died. (All photographs copyright © 1966 Clive Bubley) [1] [13]
David Peters - Has the only genuine colour photographs of Joe, 2 taken in his studio and 1 in his lounge. details e-mail;

[edit] Literature
John Repsch: The Legendary Joe Meek (UK; 1989, Jul 2003) ISBN 1-901447-20-0
Barry Cleveland: Creative Music Production - Joe Meek's BOLD Techniques (USA; Jul 2001) ISBN 1-931140-08-1
Nick Moran with James Hicks: "Telstar - The Joe Meek Story", (UK, Oberon Books 1/2007) ISBN 9781840025880 [14]

[edit] References
^ Joe Meek
^ Live It Up! at the Internet Movie Database
^ "Tom Jones' Visual Discography". B.J. Spencer. Retrieved on February 3, 2007.
^ Untitled Document
^ Brian Boyd "The truth behind The Green Door" The Guardian 8 September 2006
^ Video: "He Stood In The Bath He Stamped On The Floor"
^ Spicnic label website
^ BBC news, 11 Nov 2006: "Rhys Ifans to play '60s pop mogul Meek"
^ Telstar at the Internet Movie Database
^ A Life in the Death of Joe Meek (documentary) at the Internet Movie Database
^ Arena: The Very Strange Story of the Legendary Joe Meek at the Internet Movie Database
^ Joe Meek - Holloway Road. High resolution images for reproduction can be supplied. Please contact Clive Bubley for details, e-mail: clive(at)
^ Oberon Books
Tony Kent Holloway Road Hit Factory (Interview, 2007) enter Joe Meek in search box, to find the only 3 colour photographs taken of Joe Meek at 304 Holloway Road, these are copyright David Peters

[edit] External links
Joe Meek at the Internet Movie Database
Photo of Meek's grave
BBC Music Profile: Joe Meek
Biography by John McCready (Mojo Magazine)
Joe Meek: Portrait of a Genius feature Fan site with list of recordings The Joe Meek Appreciation Society Robert George Meek Appreciation Society (a different group, founded in 1966)
Joe Meek at Discogs Clive Bubley: Images of Joe Meek, 1966
Gay Great From Fyne Times Magazine
Meek, Joe
Meek, Robert George (birth name)
English record producer
5 April 1929
Newent, Gloucestershire, England
3 February 1967
London, England
Retrieved from ""

Life on the big screen

Telstar the Meek Cover

Telstar by the Tornados

All the stars in the sky

Do you come here often

Blackpool rock

Riding the wind

Life on mars

A life in the death of Joe Meek

The Joe Meek Story

The Joe Meek story pt 2

The strange story of Joe Meek pt 1

The strange story of Joe Meek pt 2

The strange story of Joe Meek pt 3

The strange story of Joe Meek pt 4

The strange story of Joe Meek pt 5

The strange story of Joe Meek pt 6

The strange story of Joe Meek pt 7

Joe Meek

1 comment:

  1. I have compiled it from a variety of sources. These include my own and joe meeks personal collections, reference books and numerous websites. I do not attempt to claim that it is totally definitive as it seems that every week one of joe ever popular tracks appears somewhere in the world on a Compact Disc compilation.