Acclaimed by many as the UK’s Phil Spector, Joe Meek was born on 5 April 1929.
His first love from childhood had been electronics, and this stayed with him during his stint in the Royal Air Force where he was a radar technician.
When demobbed, he became a sound engineer with IBC Studios in London, before moving to the Lansdowne Studios. While working behind the scenes he wrote songs for Tommy Steele, and with the royalties he received he started Triumph, his own record label.
In the 1960’s he produced hits for Lonnie Donegan, The Honeycombs, John Leyton and others, but his single greatest achievement was writing and producing The Tornados‘ Telstar, a UK and US Number 1 hit in 1962.
Meek had built his own recording studio in a flat above a shop at 304 Holloway Road in North London, and there he experimented with echo, overdubs and various other effects to achieve a sound unique on the British scene.
By late 1963 he had much to smile about. Once the laughing stock of his rivals for daring to make pop hits in his home studio, the #1 success of both Telstar and John Leyton‘s Johnny Remember Me was enough to silence any critics.
And so, on the night of 11 November, Meek strolled to the gentlemen’s lavatories of Madras Place, London N7 for a spot of recreational ‘cottaging’. This being 1963, homosexuality was still illegal in Britain but Meek was no stranger to the thrill of illicit gay sex in public toilets.
Unfortunately, he picked the wrong place and the wrong time to be hanging around for rough trade – the conveniences were under police surveillance, and no sooner had Meek “smiled at an old man” than he was arrested by an undercover police officer.
The producer was formally charged the next day at Clerkenwell Magistrates Court for “persistently importuning for an immoral purpose”. He was fined £15, but the cost to his career and mental health was to be far greater.
In the aftermath of his arrest, his already rampant paranoia increased, exacerbated by drug abuse and blackmail threats (homosexuals being a favourite victim of extortionists until the law changed in 1967).
Within three years, the hits dried up as Meek resisted pop’s changing trends. He was found dead on 3 February 1967, with a bullet wound to his head, at his home studio. After shooting his landlady, Mrs Violet Shenton, he had turned the gun on himself.
He was known to have been depressed about his recent lack of success, but it seems no coincidence that the date of his probable suicide coincided with the eighth anniversary of Buddy Holly‘s death – Meek had been an obsessively devoted Holly fan all his adult life.
Various lurid tales have been linked to Meek during the last few months of his life, including the horrific story of the Suffolk murder and mutilation of a 17-year old gay friend of Meek’s named Bernard Oliver, just weeks before his death. No firm connection was ever made.
Meek’s funeral was held in Newent and attended by 200 mourners. One of his last productions – The Cryin’ Shames’ Nobody Waved Goodbye – was played at his service.