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Joe Meek (Photo: David Peters, JMAS)
Joe Meek (1929-1967)
By John McArdle
Newent born Joe Meek was a pioneering record producer who became infamous for his eccentric behaviour and experimentation with instruments. Now a new film about his life has been released...
This weekend (25 October 2008) a new film about the life of Joe Meek is to get its world premiere at the London Film Festival. The movie called 'Telstar' stars Con O’Neill, Kevin Spacey and Pam Ferris. Click on the link on the right for more details.
Born Robert George Meek on April 5 in 1929, Joe grew up in Newent in the Forest of Dean.
As a boy he began experimenting with old radios and record players by taking them apart and seeing how they worked.
Sometimes this resulted in Joe creating his own recording equipment, a fascination that would continue throughout his life. He would often put speakers in the trees so local cherry pickers could listen to the radio as they worked.
Joe began taking his mobile record decks to dances in the local area as a budding DJ, and later he would join the RAF as a technician and as a radar operator, a job that allowed him to satisfy another fascination of his, outer space.
In 1953 London was calling, Joe moved to the capital and found a job at IBC Studios where he would learn the basics of being a recording engineer.
Ever the experimenter he would add his own sonic touch, the results of his experiments in his Newent home, on various songs - more often than not without the permission of the artists who he was recording!
These experiments resulted in techniques that modern musicians take for granted - such as removing the front skins of bass drums and moving microphones close to the instruments.
It was Joe who pioneered these techniques, however by his later standards these would seem tame.
Joe would have a hand in creating some of the biggest hits of the time – and worked with well known artists such as Lonnie Donegan, Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey, Gene Vincent, Frankie Vaughan, Acker Bilk, Anne Shelton and Tom Jones.
His most famous song "Telstar" which was recorded with The Tornados earned him both an Ivor Novello Award and the title of becoming the first ever single recorded by a British group to hit #1 in the US Billboard chart. The single also spent five weeks at the top of the UK charts.
Other hits Joe had a hand in included John Leyton's "Johnny Remember Me" and The Honeycombs' "Have I the Right?" which was another #1 in the UK charts and entered the US charts at #5.
However "Have I the Right?" would be Joe's last big hit. Joe had gained a reputation as being difficult to work with, he was very controlling and would often become angry and violent if musicians didn't do as he told them to.
On one occasion he stormed in on Mitch Mitchell, who would later go on to play for Jimi Hendrix, with a shotgun and screamed: "If you don't do it properly I'll blow your f***ing head off".
Joe's fascination with the unknown would take a darker turn when he would experiment with the occult. He would engage in séances and leave recording equipment in graveyards to try and contact his hero Buddy Holly.
Joe's death would occur exactly eight years after that of Holly - on February 3rd 1967. On that day Joe got into one of his regular arguments with his long suffering landlady Violet Shenton, concerning the noise levels coming from upstairs.
They also argued about the amount of back rent Joe still owed. His anger getting the better of him Joe picked up his shotgun and killed Mrs Shenton before turning the gun on himself.
It was thanks to Joe Meek's experimentation that techniques such as echo and reverb would be introduced into popular music, a technique used by virtually every artist or band ever since.
It's his pioneering spirit that should be celebrated on the up coming anniversary of his death, rather than the tragic events that so often overshadow his achievements.
last updated: 24/10/2008 at 16:19
Have Your Say
What was it about Joe Meek that made him so special? Would today's pop music have been the same without his influence?
Chris Hedger ( Singer/Guitarist for The Hotrods)
James H Dowbiggin, Toronto
Hinton J. Sheryn (Author/Lecturer..Mining).
mr p mcgrath
Marion at Liss England
Doug Kilroy(Bass guitarist for "The Hotrods")
billy kuy (ld.guitarist The Outlaws}
Patrick Pink (Joe's assistant)