So far in the beginners guide , we have focused on artists or groups……………Here, the approach is different…………….In The Joe Meek Story, the artists are secondary, it is the producer and the techniques he pioneered that had the influence on modern music.
Joe is an unsung hero whose influence has extended far beyond his time into much of he music of today………….
Robert George "Joe" Meek was born on 5 April 1929 in Newent, Gloucestershire. He was no born into an educated or rich family and had no real connections with the world of music.................indeed Joe Had no formal training in music and remained until his death totally unable to play any form of instrument.
Joe’s early life was pretty uneventful until he came unto London in 1955..............His first steps into the world of mass communication was only to service TV sets and to become involved in the screening of potential advertising films ..............In these heady days of the 1950’s England had not yet produced commercial TV .
In the late 50s , Joe began to enter the world of recorded music via radio sessions and recording....
At first he was only a simple engineer but he did contribute some milestone recordings :
- Track :Bad Penny Blues Humphrey Littleton
So what is so interesting?
Well for those who can tell , this is one of the first records on this side of the Atlantic to feature close miking of the saxophone………….
By the way Paul McCartney was real grateful to this record as it formed the backbone of Lady Madonna!!
By now Joe was getting regular work as a studio technician and he was beginning to have quite a say in the production methods that were used on the recordings he was involved in.
- A notable production from him was: Gary Miller’s cover of Garden Of Eden
Compare this with others around at the time, this has so much presence, there backing leaps out and hits you, the affects are well used and have depth.
Try this version and see how flat and plain the production was……. It’s a slightly different musical approach but, the production is so tame!)
Joe soon decided that he wanted to take a bigger part and persuaded PYE records to let him produce in his own right………….
With fuller control Joe started to evolve his full blooded style, however, he was still limited by what a recording company expected…………..IN the late 50’s only the men in white coats interfered with the equipment, the producer was more of a director ( For me detail read George Martin’s All You Need Is Ears”
Joe wanted to interfere with the actual process, he was an experimental electronics expert and started to build his own equipment to custom build the sound and the production. Joe built and used his own limiters and was able to develop the sounds instruments made in the recording process.
This made his records have an edge and sound all of their own which was light years ahead of the standard sounds being produced at the time.
As the sixties dawned Joe began to produce his production led tracks:
So Joe took the next step to give him control, he formed his own record company……..Triumph Records.
One Of his early successes was
- Angela Jones
Again lets compare it with another versioner version: Johnny Ferguson
Joe Meek / Micheal Cox
Listen carefully to this, it is a much cleverer production, to start the production is multi-tracked and not near live in the studio, the miking is close and immediate , the xylophone is distorted to give it edge , there pizzicato strings are not strings but distorted recordings of a wooden block, Joe’s version outstripped the sales of the other versions in the early weeks but then Joe ran into a problem, because he was an independent producer, he had no control over distribution , so his company Triumph records simply ran out of pressings and the record stalled and fell down the charts.
About this time, Joe set up his own studio at 304 Holloway Road………….This was not grand building but was instead a simple set of apartments above a leather shop.
Quickly Joe realized that the way to achieve his aims was to lease his recordings to the major record companies, this freed him from the controls that particular studios could have over him. As his records were quickly in demand, the companies were prepared to look beyond his unorthodox techniques and buy the record rights from him. This he became one of the first independent record producers who, was free to work for whoever he wanted. This meant that Joe’s product was spread over many different labels…………in general his works can be traced by the fact that his trademark of “An RGM” production appeared on the label , but this was not always the case and for years many key Meek productions lay unidentified……………indeed some still do.
Joe’s best works date from this period of around 1962 to 1967.
Often his work was lost to the charts , not because of lack of quality but because his artist were not mainstream names , instead they were simply vehicles for his work. AS a result it has not always been possible to include youtube links but I have tried hard to finds as many gems as I can.
The most obvious track from this period was one of Joe’s biggest successes
- Telstar By The Tornadoes ( Not on this the Label credit to RGM!)
This is full of Joe’s trade mark production techniques: (This is the very early 60s)
· High levels of compression, which often completely change the sound of a common instrument.
· Each part is recorded and then multi-layered onto the final mix
· Often an instrument is covered in echo ( Achieved by Joe recording in the small heavily tiled bathroom of the flat.)
· Electronically produced affects.
So what else did he do ?
- The Blue Rondos................ Little Baby
Note the drum sound here , produced by thumping the floor of his studio and recording the sound a few meters away.
Joe was obsessed with the idea of space travel and his releases often reflected this
- The Fleerekkers Theme For The Series Fireball XL5 ( A children’s puppet series on the theme of space travel.)
Again Joe is getting unusual sounds from guitars and drums from his production .
One Of his more famous bands he produced was The Honeycombes ( With an early female drummer)
- Colourslide The Honeycombes
Listen to Honey’s drums sounds here all produced by Joe
The vocal processing is of note too as is the guitar work………….all in 1964
Incidentally Brian Epstein approached Joe To Produce The Beatles ………….One wonders what the results could have been?????????????????
What About This Track?
- Pocketful Of Dreams and Eyesful Of Tears
Listen to the processed drum sound
- Bittersweet Love ……………..The Riot Squad
Joe worked on several projects away from the charts which have only seen the light of day on limited run pressings which change hands in collectors circles for hundreds of UK pounds
One such project was I Hear A New World By The Blue Men………………..This was reissued on CD for the first time by RPM records in the 90s and shows Joe at work again on his space theme. It is an early concept album which explores the idea of life on other planets and what it might sound like.
Largely experimental it shows Joe at work and demonstrates some of the affects he would use in his productions…………….
Three extracts follow
Joe used this experience to enhance his other productions …………….In addition Joe began to develop an obsession with contacting the other side via séances…………..in particular he was convinced that he could communicate with the spirit of Buddy Holly………….. Joe also had several other complications to his life…………………He was gay and had a habit of grooming his artists to this end by promising them success .As a result of his complex life, Joe’ s productions tended to reflect the odder parts of his persona. There is already a suggestion of his thoughts of the other world in Telstar.
- Night Of The Vampires:The Moontrekkers
There is a ghostly connection with
- Johnny Remember Me…………John Layton
As the sixties progressed…..Joe continued with his work but his complex personality and money troubles started to change the man his was………..
Innovation still came thick and fast…………………Many new techniques and sounds came out in RGM productions.
One of the interesting things about Joe’s Work is that much of it relied totally on production and the artist was secondary, as a result some of his finest works are difficult if not impossible to track down .
However there is a very healthy interest in Joe’s work and Many Fine compilations exist:
- 304 Holloway Road ….Joe Meek …The Pye Years……….Volumes 1 and 2
- · RGM Rarities Volume 1 The Rock and Roll Era
- · Joe Meek : Intergalactic Instrumentals
- · RGM Rarities Volume 2 The Beat Group Era
- · Let’s Go: Joe Meek’s Girls
- · The Triumph Sessions ………..Work In Progress.
- · The Joe Meek Story Volume 5 The Early Years
These are but a few:
The end for Joe was complex and sad , in 1967 the pressures of his life became so great that he shot his land lady in some kind of dispute and then turned the gun on himself.
There are some excellent books , films and Radio programs about Joe Meek:
- Film ( 2008) Telstar: The Joe Meek Story.
- · The BBC have an excellent and informative one called “ Holloways Dreams “ ( Three parts often repeated on BBC R 6)
- · Book:The legendary Telstar Man by John Repsch
I’ll end with a track by Heinz:
The legend goes through the generations:
The Silicon Teens 80s cover version:
The world of Joe Meek is much larger than that contained here, this is only to give a feel of what is amuch bigger and very exciting field
Further Reading on Joe Meek
- The Wiki is interesting:
- There is an excellent Joe Meek Web site:
- For the Bilingual this page is interesting and shows that Joe has a following in Germany