Thursday, November 08, 2007


Robert George Meek: born, April 5, 1929, Newent, Gloucestershire ; died February 3, 1967, London

Over in the States you had Phil Spector, but at the same time here in pre-Beatles Britain there was Joe Meek, and what he lacked in business acumen he more than made up for with sheer homespun innovation, and an eccentricity which really got up the nose of the Soviet-style Politbureau which was the U.K. record industry.

Obsessed with the space-race, and determined to have his "Telstar" beamed across the world via sattelite in a global first, what lay at the nuclear core of his production technique was a Heath Robinsonesque collection of unravelling string and knicker elastic, with Meek miking up the bathroom in his (quite literal) studio-flat to create the tub-thumping drum sound which became his trademark. His secret weapon version of the Spector Wall-of-Sound in an imaginary cold war of his own making.

Hounded, like his peer Brian Epstein, for his sexual proclivities, the increasingly paranoid and out of control Meek shot himself dead in 1967 after a squabble with his boyfriend over money when it became clear he could no longer bankroll his obsessive bid for continued chart-topping domination. Or make his boyfriend a rolled gold superstar.

I recently watched an Arena documentary on Joe Meek in which his two brothers expressed their painfully sad recollections on why Joe was seduced and ultimately broken by the stellar lights of otherwordly ambition. Neither sibling was capable of bringing him back down to earth. Asked directly what was their favourite Meek production, one brother smiled fondly and turned to camera:

"The Cryin' Shames. Do you know that one ? That was a nice one. Lovely song."

Or words to that effect.

I can't argue with that. Turn up the reverb and dampen the lights.

Word of caution, though - lest you feel too sorry for Joe, ponder the even sadder fate of his landlady and erstwhile shoulder-to-cry-on, whom he coolly murdered seconds before turning the gun on himself. Classic case of wrong place, wrong time. Just as is the case with Phil Spector, guns and record producers don't make for a good mix.


posted by ib


Anonymous said...

Happy Birthday, Rosa.

The sentiment on today's featured download is not entirely coincidental. Keep surfing !


Anonymous said...

Yes! Meek! Everything Joe recorded is my favorite song. One of the best most distinctive 'sounds' of all time. Can't wait to see this film.

Emmett said...

from Wikipedia:

"Telstar" was the first U.S. Number One by a British group. Up to that point, there had only been three British names that topped the U.S. chart: In May of 1962 "Stranger on the Shore" by clarinetist Mr. Acker Bilk; the second was "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands" by Laurie London (1958), whilst the first was "Auf Wiederseh'n Sweetheart" by Vera Lynn (1952).

(emphasis mine)

P.S. I wonder if Syd was listening to Mr. Acker Bilk?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the comments.

Brendan: Thanks for the movie link. Looking forward to seeing this myself - although i have to confess i'm always full of misgivings when it comes to dramatisations. For that reason alone i can't bear to see the recent recreation of Ian Curtis's Manchester.

I suspected you might be a Joe Meek fan just from dipping into your site. Glad you got a kick out of this.

Emmett: Thanks for clarifying this. Hard to believe the guy wound up broke, when you look at the deals brokered these days.

It would be cool indeed if Syd were listening to "Stranger on the Shore". Always liked that tune.

Casey said...

wow! i didn't see that ending coming!
That was a good post. Props!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Casey. Appreciate the feedback.

Private Beach said...

"Telstar" was the first record I ever owned. Good to see you giving Meek some recognition.

Anonymous said...

Hey private beach, hope you managed to hold onto that copy!

Anonymous said...

Check out:

Anonymous said...

In our interview with the only living witness to the tragedy of Feb. 3, Patrick Pink for our documentary, A LIFE IN THE DEATH OF JOE MEEK, Patrick dispels any image of Joe "cooly" murdering his landlady. He claims that she had been summoned upstairs by Joe to most probably talk him our of a suicide attempt and that's when something went wrong -- most probably the gun going off accidentally. Sorry for those who'd like to believe the tragedy was a premeditated act by a mad genius, but we'll leave that legacy for another genius gun-toting producer...

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the corrobarotory correction there, palmdoorfilms.

I'd rather believe the gun went off "accidentally" myself, too, and that Joe then turned the weapon on himself out of a profound sense of regret. I don't wish to appear in any grand sense judgemental.

Sadly, the end result remains that an entirely innocent party was blasted down the stairs and died from the severity of the wounds inflicted. The question of whether the trigger was pulled intentionally or not is a matter of conjecture more befitting a coroner.