Friday, February 03, 2006

Joe Meek: Sounds From Beyond

Joe Meek was one strange cat. A pioneering record producer in the early 1960s, whose biggest hit was 'Telstar' by The Tornados in 1962 (allegedly Margaret Thatcher's favourite song!), and who developed studio techniques such as compressing, echo and reverb which he turned into outlandish sound effects for his productions for various solo artists and bands. Joe Meek's work was not all the less revolutionary considering he worked low-budget in his own home studio, a converted livingroom and bathroom combination in London.

Meek was heavily into the occult and a believer in extraterrestrial life (he is said to have seen a UFO once, which became an inspiration for 'Sky Men' single he produced for Geoff Goddard). Such Meek-produced songs as Joe Leyton's 'Johnny Remember Me' have an eerie air of supernatural, and he explored horror themes on The Moontrekkers' 'Night of the Vampire' and Screaming Lord Sutch's 'Jack The Ripper'. In 1960 he produced an outer space-themed concept album I Hear The New World with a band called The Blue Men. Meek's strange new worlds were populated by such races as Globbots, Saroos and Bribcots, whose Smurf-like weird chants -- along with tons of sci-fi sound effects and sounds oddly predating future's ambient music -- were heard on the album. This sort of audio quirkiness is not anything odd for the fans of Aphex Twin (who has namechecked Joe Meek as one of his influences), but apparently Meek's vision was too far ahead of its time, since bar some tracks published as an EP, this album was shelved for decades.

Joe Meek was a troubled soul, being a closet gay in a time when this was still considered a crime, and with a general paranoid mindset on the verge of schizophrenia, which his experiments with LSD probably did not make any easier.

Despite such later successes as the freakbeat classic 'Crawdaddy Simone' by The Syndicats (which can be found on Nuggets II 4-CD box), Meek's career was on the wane by the mid-1960s. Under circumstances still not totally clear, Joe Meek (who had become obsessed with black magic and Aleister Crowley) committed suicide on 3 February 1967 after having shot his landlady first.

Listen to Joe Meek's demo tracks