joe meek: i hear a new world
Record producers aren't the sanest of people. Phil Spector made wife Ronnie drive the streets of LA in a car with a man-sized dummy, and is currently in court, accused of murder. Brian Wilson washed up fat and paranoid in a sandpit. But the oddest studio boffin of all was British. Joe Meek made some of the most spooky-sounding records of the 1960s, and they soundtracked a life that included murder, suicide, inventing goth, communicating with cats, and holding black magic s�ances. He's been called "the Ed Wood of lo-fi".
Joe Meek was born in 1929 in Newent, Gloucestershire, blessing him with a West Country burr for which he was mocked for the rest of his life. His mother had wanted a girl, so she gave him dresses to wear. Joe would set up speakers in a local orchard for workers to listen to as they picked fruit, and had his own ahead-of-its-time mobile-DJ business.
After a stint in the RAF as a radar technician, Joe started to record local musicians and singers. But he was becoming more and more uncomfortable with country living. He was gay, and a gay man in the 1950s didn't only face being beaten up by narrow-minded thugs, but also being arrested. Homosexuality was outlawed. London was a little more liberal. So the bequiffed Joe moved there in 1953.
He took a series of studio jobs. He was a perfectionist, obsessing over sound and equipment, all the time hepped up on the diet pills that helped fuel his long recording sessions. He was irritable and difficult to work with.
Eventually, though, Joe set up his own independent label, Triumph. It was for this label, in 1960, that he recorded his most way-out work, the first-ever concept album I Hear A New World. The world was obsessed with space travel: Satellites and rockets, science-fiction and men from Mars. Tracks on Joe's record include 'Entry Of The Globbots' and 'March Of The Dribcots', and it sounds like a trip through cold, dark space and into the future. He layered sound effects including bubbling water, toilets flushing, radio interference and speeded-up voices over weirdly distorted Hawaiian guitar and layered, shifting spookiness. The record is now regarded as a pioneering work that stands alongside Kraftwerk and Aphex Twin in electronica's history. At the time it just sounded alien. Only 20 copies of the full album were pressed, for promo purposes.
Meek relocated to his most famous recording studio. A small flat above a leather-goods shop on at 304 Holloway Road in London. It was so tiny that string sections played cramped on the stairs, singers recorded their vocals in the bathroom, and whole bands crammed into the minuscule recording room. Loose wires were held in place with chewing gum and matchsticks, and some of the equipment was homemade.
His first big hit on his new RGM label was 'Johnny Remember Me' in 1961, by John Leyton, which featured Chas Hodges (later of crafty rockney duo Chas'n'Dave) on bass. The record went to number one in the charts. It was written by Joe's writer partner, Geoff Goddard. Not only did the pair share an interest in sonic teenage operas but also in spiritualism.
In 1958, Joe had once chased Buddy Holly around London in order to give him a note warning that he would face great danger on 3 February. Joe had received the warning message at a s�ance. Unfortunately, he got the year wrong. Buddy died on 3 February the following year.
Joe was a huge fan of Buddy, and he and Geoff held a s�ance where they contacted him before they recorded and released Mike Berry and The Outlaws' single 'Tribute To Buddy Holly'.
Joe was always looking for a novelty angle for his records, and one of his obsessions was horror rock. He took North London band The Raiders, dismissed their lead singer from the studio with a raspberry (Rod Stewart later went on to some success), changed their name to The Moontrekkers, and made the eerie, creaking 'Night Of The Vampire'. Next, he recorded Screaming Lord Sutch, who would emerge from a coffin on stage, brandishing a skull, with the sounds of windswept cemeteries whirling underneath him. As Sutch's recordings were branded obscene, and not extensively played on radio, the singer took to extreme publicity stunts, such as running through the streets of London dressed as a Viking. Joe loved this.
Joe's biggest commercial success was 'Telstar' by The Tornados. Inspired by the communications satellite launched in 1962, the futuristic instrumental shot to number one in the UK charts, and later the US hit parade in 1965. Joe was especially keen on the bass player, Heinz. He persuaded Heinz to dye his hair shocking blond (based on his obsession with sci-fi film Village Of The Damned, and its cast of sinister Aryan children), and propelled him on his way to a (relatively unsuccessful) solo career.
In November 1963, Joe's world was shaken. He'd been into cottaging - picking up boys for sex in public lavatories - for a while. It was a habit he'd acquired while accompanying bands on tour. On 11 November he was caught red handed, soliciting in the men's room in Madras Place in London. He appeared in court the next day, and was found guilty of 'persistently importuning for an immoral purpose'. Joe was convinced he'd been set up. Not least because the accuser was an old man. As he said to his office boy, Patrick Pink: "I don't go chasing old men with watch chains dangling from their waistcoats - I go after young trade. Who wants a fucking old man?" The case was reported in the newspapers as a small news story, but it was big enough for Joe's business associates and band charges to notice. It was an embarrassing blow for him. It also opened him up to blackmail - something that local boys took mean advantage of.
The hits continued, bands such as The Honeycombs were popular. They hit the top 10 with the tub-thumping 'Have I The Right'. But Joe was growing more troubled. He necked diet pills, which acted like speed and had him bouncing off the walls of his studio. His songs were the subject of two copyright cases, which made him even more stressed and irritable. He was convinced (with some justification, following the discovery of a transmitting bug in his studio) that other studios were spying on him. His behaviour grew more erratic. And his obsession with the dark arts festered.
The producer took to wandering London cemeteries, making field recordings and trying to capture spirit voices on his reel-to-reel tape recorder. During one of his forays around Highgate Cemetery he literally bumped into 'High Priest' David Farrant. Farrant was a keen vampire-hunter, and in 1974, in a case heard at the Old Bailey, was accused of grave-robbing.
Joe also took a trip to Warley Lee Farm, which he had heard was haunted. As he and his friend approached the house, a cat came up to them. Their tape recorder was running, and they were astonished as the cat started talking to them in a semi-human voice. They claimed to have had a conversation with the cat, mainly consisting of "hellos" and "help mes". Sadly, the friendly feline then reverted to purrs. On listening to the tape, the evidence is certainly scant, to say the least. He lent the tape to the Society for Psychical Research. Joe was also convinced there were unaccountable voices on song recordings he had made. And he further believed 304 Holloway Road was haunted, and that his furniture would dance. Too many s�ances and drugs perhaps?
At the start of 1967, Joe's paranoia, diet-pill habit, and frenzied work schedule were beginning to bubble over and burn. He was taking anti-depressants, and was now having to compete with records as sonically advanced and complex as George Martin's work with The Beatles, and Johnny Franz's recordings with the Walker Brothers. He owed money to many of his artists. All it would take was one catalytic event to push him over the edge.
In January 1967, a suitcase containing the horrifically mutilated body of Bernard Oliver was found in Tattingstone, in Suffolk. Oliver was a rent boy, and Joe knew him. Joe realised the police would want to speak to him about the murder, and panicked. By 2 February he was a wreck. But still he agreed to do a recording session, a long-promised date with his faithful PA Patrick Pink. Patrick recalls that Joe's paranoia during the session grew worse and worse. Patrick went upstairs at midnight. Joe had another visitor that night, however. Ritchie Blackmore, who went on to fame and success with Deep Purple and Rainbow, was a member of The Outlaws, and rented a flat from Joe. He was on tour, but Joe was friends with his German wife, Margaret. She came round later that night, and is convinced Joe had been indulging in the black arts. She tells how Joe said: "There's somebody around me - I can feel it. There's somebody in the air." She believes that Aleister Crowley's spirit was lurking in the flat that night. Margaret also describes how a picture Joe had painted, of a woman crying, was "full of blood... like someone tried to get some blood in it. It was like someone said goodbye to something."
The next day Joe was in determined mood. Patrick found him burning papers and paintings. He finished Patrick's tape, hands shaking, and his paranoia ramped up so high he had his shotgun propped against his door. Patrick went upstairs to tell Joe that Michael, a young boy who often helped them out, was at the house. Joe told Patrick to tell him to "fuck off" and to send up Violet Shenton, his landlady, from her flat downstairs. Violet went up to Joe. Patrick could hear shouting, scuffling, mentions of a "book", by which he presumed Joe was talking about his rent book. Patrick continues: "I was in the office when I heard a big bang. It was such a fucking big bang. I was stunned. I rushed out and Violet was falling downstairs and I sort of grabbed her as she came to the bottom, and felt her. I was sitting on the stairs with her flapped over me... I saw the blood pouring out of these little holes in her back. And she died in my arms - I'm bloody positive she went still. I had quite a bit of blood over me. Her back was just smoking."A few seconds later, Patrick saw Joe rush out of the room. He shouted to Joe: "She's dead!" Joe reloaded the gun, and shot himself. It was 3 February. The same date that, as predicted by Joe, Buddy Holly died.
Initially, Patrick was arrested. There was utter confusion. Headlines screamed about the scandal. Barbiturates, amphetamines and dexadrine were taken from the flat. The case went to court, and the coroner came to the conclusion Joe had killed his landlady then committed suicide. He said, "Why he should do this, we don't know. He just did it." Joe was buried in his hometown of Newent. Despite interviewing more than 100,000 people, the Suffolk police never caught the suitcase murderer.
Today, Joe's legacy lives on. The Joe Meek Appreciation Society have held events in the pub on Holloway Road near Joe's house. There's a plaque on the wall of the flat where he recorded his hits, although it's usually obscured by a 'to let' sign. His records have been re-released and cited as influences by modern electronica artists. And his very strange life story means he won't be forgotten."
(kate hodges, bizarre magazine)
"If you need any further proof of how unfair life is, stop someone at random in the street and ask them who they think was the first truly independent music producer of the modern age—and then slap them in the face, hard, when they say ‘Phil Spector’. I’m not arguing that that little mansion-ridden speed-freak wasn’t important, just that he wasn’t flipping first. No, that dubious honour is held by Joe Meek, the UK’s very own sonic pioneer, in some ways the absolute antithesis of Spector, in others, his spooky twin.
Born in England in 1929, Meek was an electronics prodigy who built his own television set in 1943 at the age of 14, a technological achievement on a par in 2004 with your classmate asking you if you want to come round tonight ‘to play with this fusion reactor I just knocked together’. It’s perhaps unsurprising then that Meek gravitated towards geekdom upon leaving school, being offered a job in 1956 at the then state-of-the-art studios at Landsdowne House in Holland Park, London. However, while in less than ten years the working uniform of the nascent producer would be ripped jeans and t-shirt, in the stuffy world of 50s Britain producers were required to wear…lab coats…in the studio. Meek quickly got sick of this atmosphere and set up his own three-floor recording studio and apartment over 304 Holloway Rd, London in the beginning of the 60s. It was here, in the kind of bizarre circumstances that urban legends are made of, Joe Meek shot first his landlady and then himself, in 1967, ending forever his one-man music empire.
So why was Meek important? I’d argue that he deserves his dues as the first man to embody what it meant to be truly ‘indie’ in the West, for both in business and aesthetics Meek had complete control. Technically, as a producer, he presented a different vision to Spector; while crazy Phil’s wall-of-sound techniques resulted out of a mash of mono, Meek was working in glorious stereo, separating each instrument and track even as he poured more and more bizarre sounds into the mix (like rattling chains, winds and reverb-soaked howls on the Moontrekkers’ “Night of the Vampire”). But I really think that the main reason to give Meek props in 2004 is his finest hour, “I Hear a New World”. Originally meant as a kind of demonstration of stereo recording techniques, it’s a surf-psych-rock classic that reminds you of a half-dozen things at once; the incidental music to The Prisoner, Morricone’s soundtracks, Eno’s early ambient music, Ween, John Barry, Alvin and the Chipmunks...While Meek’s way with twiddling knobs is in evidence on all of the early 60s Britpop that he was involved in, “I Hear A New World” is simultaneously a technical tour-de-force and a record that can still sounds as, well, ‘out there’ as it surely did almost 50 years ago."
Finally, a recent '60s favourite is JOE MEEK, the first successful, fully independent record producer in the U.K. He was barely known in this country, but was an unseen hand in ruling and shaping pop music pre-Beatles in England on a scale the size of Phil Spector ‚ except that his taste was wierder. As a producer, not only did he not play any instruments, but apparently he couldn't sing very well either...yet he was very exacting in getting the sounds he wanted out of musicians. He not only sang the notes to a keyboard person, but was very specific as to how he wanted the keyboard to sound. He was fascinated with Outer Space, and one of his songs which is best-known in the U.S. was the TORNADOS' "Telstar" instrumental; it has an organ sound like no other. And as soon as he found a skiffle band with Hawaiian guitar, there was no stopping him. Remember, "Exotica" was an America-only phenomenon. The only English Martin Denny release I've seen had a generic ocean photo, probably xeroxed off a Mantovani album. Yet here was someone persuing the same outer reaches, but from a completely different angle!
His fascination with sci-fi and ethereal sounds and other-worldly female voices and Outer Space is so unique ‚ you can tell a Joe Meek record a mile away. He recorded the instruments way into the red so that even drums distorted; he used all kinds of wild echo and reverb. I read that not only did he use everything but the kitchen sink ‚ he even recorded in the kitchen sink the sound of running water, blowing bubbles, drinking straws, and half filled milk bottles played by spoons! He also used the teeth of a comb across an ashtray, electrical circuits shorted together, etc. He had problems getting along with mainstream music industrial powers, but eventually got his own studio together above a leather store. It was on three floors, so some instrumentalists would literally be playing on different floors, with the console on the third floor.
Joe Meek also recorded a full-on electronic exotica album called I Hear a New World, credited to THE BLUE MEN, and he also recorded SCREAMING LORD SUTCH (whose autobiography Life As Sutch was published in 1991). The British equivalant of early Alice Cooper, Sutch ran for parliament as a candidate for the National Teenage Party in 1963, and has done numerous pranks, outrageous live shows and records-well worth reading about.
There's a book out, The Legendary Joe Meek, by John Repsch. Meek was obsessed with Buddy Holly ‚ to the point of trying to communicate with him on a ouija board, asking for guidance when he recorded. Apparently he got caught in a mini-version of the Michael Jackson Scandal; in those days it was scandalous to be gay. He became very paranoid, and near the end of his life he was even questioned about the dismemberment murder of a boy he apparently knew, which led him to believe the cops were out to frame him. In '66 he shot his landlady to death and then turned the gun on himself-on Buddy Holly's birthday. There was a BBC documentary on him, and now a number of his CD's have been re-released. A favourite is "Have I The Right?" by THE HONEYCOMBS, which sounds like no other record. A later record by The BUZZ is absolutely stunning for its sinister atmosphere.
here's some feelings of others about "i hear a new world":
"Recorded in 1960 and then lost until 1991, Joe Meek and The Blue Men's, I Hear a New World was arguably the first concept album of its kind, delivering musical answers to questions about the final frontier.
Essentially this album was written about a sonic journey into space 10 years before humans landed on the moon. Lets put this in the context of the era: 1960 and space? People still had concepts of planets made of cheese and little green men with glass helmets wandering about (feasting on human Flesh and wailing on short-necked guitars)."I wanted to create a picture in music of what could be up there in outer space," Meek said in an interview.
A nontraditional artist in every sense, Joe Meek was a producer who didn't play or sing on this or any other album. He was also a deeply troubled man. Meek suffered from depression and paranoia and was known for explosive tantrums. A closeted homosexual, Meek was once arrested for soliciting for "immoral" purposes after he apparently made a pass at an undercover policeman in an era when public scorn, fear and anger buried homosexuals under social taboos and criminal law.But Meek's swirling, unpredictable emotions seemed to contribute to his creativity. Thought of as somewhat of a studio mad scientist, he became a legend for experimenting with stereo technology and with any effects he could conjure up. Meek was making British rock history before the "invasion," years before The Beatles would even release an album.
Mostly instrumental, a New World contains songs about waterfalls on the moon and gatherings of dancing aliens. The sped-up Martian lyrics can only be compared today with songs by Alvin and The Chipmunks or perhaps the Lollipop Guild from The Wizard of Oz; cheesy by today's standards, but pretty cutting edge for the time."Yes! This is a strange record,'' Meeksaid. "I meant it to be."
The album landed in the wasteland outside pop culture, failing Meek's attempts to market it as a demo album for stereo equipment salespeople. In the next few years Meek's life began to unravel. Then, in Feburary, 1967, he fatally shot himself in the head after shooting his landlady in the back. I Hear A New World vanished after Meek's suicide. Thirty years later, RPM records picked it up and released it in its entirety .
Is I Hear a New World a piece of musical history? The brain child of a genius, a madman? If Meek's work can be resurrected, understood, even inherited, modern DJs, swimming through stacks of obscure records, will be the artists who do it."
(shane stornanti, inversion magazine)
"This is bonkers, weird noises, tirelessly self-indulgent, probably brilliant engineering-wise for its time. I find it riddled with a sort of naive Englishness too, which is kind of charming, but it is completely bonkers and not a little odd. If you're a Joe Meek fan, you'll probably think this is the nuts, if you've never hears of Joe Meek you'll probably think it is nuts. Extra bits on the CD are nice."
"Joe Meek and the Blue Men's I Hear a New World is astonishing. I was expecting a laughable, novelty collection of late-50s beat music with zappy noises, but it's not that at all. It's closer to Brian Eno's ambient experiments than anything on contemporary pop radio. It's frequently gorgeous, sometimes very silly, but always interesting, not least because of the mystique that surrounds it - at the time, only parts of it were released, and as Joe Meek's reputation grew following his suicide in 1967, it was hailed as something of a great lost masterpiece by people who hadn't heard it. The title track is eerie. It's supposed to set the tone for a journey into space, but with lines such as 'I hear a new world / haunting me / how can I tell / what's in store for me', it's hard not to think of Joe Meek's eventual mental disintegration. The photograph of him on the sleeve- frightened, hunted-looking - doesn't help. The album has a loose theme of a trip to the moon to witness the strange beings that inhabit the satellite, such as the fun-loving Globbots and their despondent neighbours, the Sarooes. It was intended as a showcase for Meek's production talents, and uses a strange mixture of effects, found sounds, varispeeded voices and Hawaiian guitar to produce a set of ambient songs which wouldn't have been out of place on Chris Morris' Blue Jam. It's mostly instrumental, although some of the songs feature high-pitched chanting to represent the inhabitants of the moon. Entry of the Globbots and March of the Dribcots, in particular, would not be out of place on the soundtrack to a children's television programme, and the whole album has a wide-eyed innocence that seems at odds with the seedy pop scene of the time. Standout tracks include The Bublight, Valley of No Return and Valley of the Saroos, all of which combine soaring, beautiful tunes with an eclectic, fragile-sounding production. Whether due to the limitations of the recording tape or because Meek wanted it that way, the music sounds airy, with lots of bass and lots of treble and not much in the middle, as if you're listening to it over a radio that isn't quite tuned in. Magnetic Field starts off with a series of pulses before turning into shambolic folk music, but with Hawaiian guitar. It's important to understand that this isn't some amusing novelty record. Bits of it are genuinely excellent and work well today - The Bublight, in particular, is basically Brian Eno's Apollo, but in 1960. As you listen to it, remember that Revolver, never mind Sergeant Pepper, was still seven years away - coinciding, as the sleeve puts it, with Meek's 'final career move'. Elsewhere on the album there's a short film clip of Meek in the studio, convinced that his attempts at founding a record label were squashed by the majors, and a lengthy monologue in which Meek - softly-spoken, halting - describes his life and works for use in radio interviews."
"Joe Meek is certainly an unique character. Obsessed with sci-fi and the paranormal, he aspired to greatness, but his genius wasn't known in his lifetime. Meek was an auteur and one of the most unique figures in popular music history. He should've been made a millionare by the Tornados' hit single "Telstar", but a resulting lawsuit kept that from happening. The best, most accesible introduction to Meek's work is definatly the "It's Hard to Beleive" compilation. If you considor yourself a Meek fan by that point, you may want to check out this unique and surrealistic album. It was possibly, as the other reviewer mention, rock's first concept album (pre-dating Zappa's "Freak Out"). All the songs deal with a journey to moon, and what life may be like on it. It is a bizarre vision to say the least, which includes sped-up voices of space creatures, armies of "Globbots", and plentiful sci-fi noises and sound effects. It is apparent that Meek had really lost his mind by than, which means if you're into outsider music and bizarre records, you'll love this. If you're expecting it to be full of "Telstar"-like rock 'n' roll, you'll be dissapointed. I enjoyed it, but it's certainly an aquired taste."