Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b Robert Meek, 1929, Newent, Gloucestershire.; d 3 February 1967) UK producer. His mother had wanted a girl, gave him dolls to play with and dresses to wear until he started school; he emerged from national service as radar technician, went into TV as engineer, thence to records as a balance engineer at IBC studios, one of only two independent studios in London in the mid-'50s. He was an engineer for Pye and Philips; transferred to the other indie, Landsdowne, and worked on early Lonnie Donegan hits. He began writing songs, e.g. 'Put A Ring On Her Finger' for Tommy Steele; designed a new studio for Landsdowne; went freelance and built his own studio above a North London shop, forming his own Triumph label, which was ahead of its time despite a no. 7 hit '60 with Michael Cox's 'Angela Jones'; thenceforth leased work to majors through RGM Sound. Robert Stigwood's actor protégé John Leyton scored a no. 1 with 'Johnny Remember Me' '61, and the team of Meek, arranger Charles Blackwell, writer Geoff Goddard followed up with no. 2 'Wild Wind'. The records were remarkable for being made in a converted bathroom, toilet and living room on second-hand equipment. 'Tribute To Buddy Holly' '61 by Mike Berry and the Outlaws (no. 24) was followed by other hits by the Outlaws and the Tornados, house bands on other Meek records, characterized by overdriven sound.

The Tornados were ex-Johnny Kidd, including Clem Cattini on drums; their 'Telstar' was a USA/UK no. 1 (though writers of a similar French song sued for breach of copyright); it was the first U.S. no. 1 by a British rock act and still the only British instrumental to reach no. 1 in the USA. One of the Tornados later described it as crap, but kids liked the gimmicky sound, and Meek made major-label producers in the UK look silly, because all they could do with their more elaborate studios was imitate each other imitating American pop hits. The records were quite remarkably bad; Meek's echoing productions of pop singers who sounded like any lout in the bathtub had an element of sadness in their badness, a hint of doom as though lamenting their own ignorant boredom. Meek was accused of making stars out of nobodies like Leyton by twiddling knobs, which is exactly what he was doing and what a lot of producers have done ever since.

The rise of Beatlemania was the end; Meek soon had rivals who were more in touch (Shel Talmy, Andrew Loog Oldham, Mickie Most) and George Martin (with the Beatles) teaching himself to stretch his studio equipment to its limits, and despite Tornados follow-ups and a no. 5 for their former bass player Heinz with 'Just Like Eddie', Meek's hits faded after his last no. 1, the Honeycombs' 'Have I The Right' '64. Martin left EMI and they tried to hire Meek, but he was paranoid; he was being blackmailed, sued for plaigiarism and sued by Heinz for royalties; his car had been stolen, he was behind in his rent and had been arrested for importuning in a public toilet. In January 1967 the dismembered body of a gay acquaintance was discovered by a farmer in two suitcases in a hedgerow, and the police questioned Meek. He committed suicide on the eighth anniversary of Buddy Holly's death, shooting his landlady first. 'Telstar' and its like predated synth-pop by 20 years, while the use of backward tape effects and treated domestic noises (such as a flushing toilet) made Meek one of the first in a long line of purveyors of hypnotic rubbish.