In a short, tumultuous life and career, Joe Meek (1929-1967) moved pop into the space age with his innovative use of the studio. The producer-engineer experimented with overdubs, reverb, and sampling in an era when it wasn't commonplace; his 1962 composition and production of "Telstar" for The Tornados became the first record by a British rock-and-roll band to reach No. 1 on the U.S. Hot 100. The Ivor Novello Award winner crossed musical paths with such artists as Tom Jones, Petula Clark, David Bowie, Shirley Bassey, Billy Fury, and Lonnie Donegan and produced hits for The Honeycombs, John Leyton, Michael Cox, Mike Berry, and others. Sadly, Meek's depression and mental illness - he reportedly suffered from schizophrenia, paranoia, and bipolar disorder - were untreated. Following a 1963 conviction on a charge of "importuning for immoral purposes" in London, the gay Meek was subject to blackmail. At a time when homosexual acts were illegal in Great Britain, the pressures of living a closeted life also took a toll. The groundbreaking music-maker's life ended in a murder-suicide on February 3, 1967 when he took the life of his landlady following an argument over unpaid rent and noise emanating from Meek's apartment. He then turned the shotgun on himself.
At the time of his death, Joe Meek left behind thousands of recordings in tea chests. In 2020, Cherry Red Records purchased this treasure trove and began to digitize the material. Various vinyl titles have been released, and now the label has begun releasing artist anthologies in the CD format. Heinz's The White Tornado (5 CDs) and Glenda Collins' Baby It Hurts (3 CDs) are fascinating and remarkably comprehensive collections drawn from the Tea Chest Tapes, painting full portraits of Meek's work with the artists at his famed 304 Holloway Road studio. (Another volume in the series has recently been released from David John and The Mood, though it hasn't yet reached TSD HQ, and another is on the way from The Tornados.)
German-born, U.K.-raised Heinz (real name Heinz Henry George Schwarz, or Heinz George Burt; sources vary) (1942-2000) came into Joe Meek's orbit when the young man answered an advertisement placed by the producer seeking guitarists. Meek wasn't interested in Heinz's rudimentary musicianship but rather in the 19-year-old's good looks and magnetism. He built The Tornados (of "Telstar" fame) to showcase his new discovery; Heinz would play bass. Meek also used his studio gifts to mask the fact that his protégé wasn't a consistent singer, either; he would often be double-tracked with a guide vocal and/or sped up to sound even younger. Exploring Heinz's debut (and only full-length) album Tribute to Eddie, originally released on Decca in 1964, The White Tornado: The Holloway Road Sessions 1963-1966 contains original-speed recordings plus instrumental sessions, guide vocal tracks, and demos. Tribute saluted late singer Eddie Cochran, and the single "Just Like Eddie" (heard here in numerous versions) earned him a top five entry on the U.K. Singles Chart. Future Deep Purple guitar hero Ritchie Blackmore played on the track.
Among the revelations of the Tea Chest Tapes is that the Cochran tribute's title song was originally about another fallen rocker, Buddy Holly. All told, two full discs explore Tribute to Eddie from seemingly every angle. The set then continues with two discs of singles sessions; if a master tape didn't make it into the tea chests, however, it's not included here. That means only half of Heinz's complete singles are featured in finished form. There's more than enough to enjoy, though, as Meek kept such a voluminous archive. The fifth CD offers Demos and Curios from the prolific producer and artist, including a rough take of John Leyton's "Johnny, My Johnny," a demo of the standard "Fever," and stabs at "I Got a Woman" and "Come On, Let's Go." One of the more fascinating aspects of the set is listening as Meek attempted to change with the times; a cover of Bob Dylan's "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" is among the highlights. Heinz never recaptured the success of "Just Like Eddie" in a post-Beatles world, though. Upon Meek's death in 1967, he retreated from his recording career but remained a performer until his death in 2000, often performing on '60s revival bills.
The White Tornado is housed in a clamshell case with each disc in an individual sleeve. It has a 20-page booklet designed by Paul Bevoir with liner notes by the late Rob Bradford and collection curator/compiler Richard Anderson. Martin Nichols and Alan Wilson have impressively restored and remastered the audio.
Unlike Heinz, big-voiced singer Glenda Collins began her career before meeting Joe Meek. She had released three unsuccessful singles on Decca when she auditioned for the producer at Holloway Road. Though he was rarely drawn to female artists or girl groups, he was so impressed that he not only signed her - he reportedly even considered marrying her! Between 1963 and 1966, they released eight well-crafted pop singles, yet none reached the top 40 of the U.K. Singles Chart. The first one of those on Baby It Hurts: The Holloway Road Sessions 1963-1966, Meek's "I Left My Heart at the Fairground," has all the hallmarks of his finest productions, with carnival sounds and effects setting it apart from the typical pop fare of the day. The song is presented in its final master as well as in alternate takes, two demos, and an organ overdub here - all adding insight into how Meek built a production from the ground up. As he had with Heinz, Meek sped up Collins on numerous singles which are presented here as originally recorded. The title track by Billy Page, from 1964, is a dramatic showcase for both Collins' husky pipes and Meek's impeccable way with a timeless pop arrangement with just enough quirkiness around the edges.
Ritchie Blackmore took the ripping solos on songs such as "Feel So Good" (an alternate solo version of which is also included) and "Thou Shalt Not Steal," a girl group-meets-garage record that - like much of the material here - deserved a wider airing. Collins was capable of showstopping balladry and perky, uptempo numbers; the emotive "Something I've Got to Tell You" is one of her finest moments in the former category, with a strong Ivor Raymonde orchestration. It shows up various times here, too, in a stripped-down instrumental take and a track of isolated overdubs intended to shine a spotlight on London's top session players who frequented 304 Holloway.
Typically for Meek, he recorded as much material that remained unreleased as that which did. These rarities on Disc 3 of the 3-CD box, has fun covers of Bobby Darin ("This Little Girl's Gone Rockin'") and Mel Tillis ("Walk on Boy") as well as an entire mini-album from Glenda and fellow Meek clients The Riot Squad. (Meek produced The Riot Squad between their Larry Page era and their David Bowie days!) The Glenda/Riot Squad sessions yielded versions of such familiar hits as "Dancing in the Street," "Can I Get a Witness," "I Who Have Nothing," and even "You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Loves You" and "Lover Come Back to Me."
Glenda Collins is still recording today; her most recent album was released just last year. Baby It Hurts is a comprehensive look at her distinctive sound in those halcyon days. Craig Newton has provided the liner notes in the 20-page booklet; the box has again been compiled by Richard Anderson, designed by Paul Bevoir, and restored and remastered by Martin Nichols and Alan Wilson.
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