Joe Meek, the unsung father of ambient?

I (lol) went to see the new British film Telstar at the Holloway Road cinema the other day. It was a little sinister afterwards, coming out and realising that the horrific events of the film took place only metres down the road.

I had a vested interest in how the film turned out, having seen the west end show more than 10 times times (as you do when you’re seeing someone that’s in it – repeated viewings are inevitable). But anyway, Nick Moran’s production was an excellent one then, and the big screen version doesn’t disappoint. There’s a lot more in the way of special effects, flash-forwards and nice visual touches. And Con ‘O Neil is as astounding now as he was on the stage. But on the whole, despite the moments of comedy, it’s still a very draining, downer of an experience. By the end you’re left wondering, did Meek really have no redeeming features whatsoever? And you want to weep for the poor people whose lives he completely sabotaged. The worst victim being poor long-suffering Patrick.

One thing which really struck me about Joe Meek was that, as much of an arsehole as he was, he was ahead of his time. Not just in terms of musical production, but in terms of his approach to advertising. All the way through, the film charts – albeit critically – his creative ways of marketing each of his artists. He drew huge chalk arrows on the ground all over central London, pointing to the venue where his band (The Tornados?) were performing. He had Screaming Lord Such running around in costume as Jack the Ripper, which today you’d think of as an experiential campaign, or stunt. And there were various other ‘madcap’ ideas of his, which I’ve now forgotten but you get the idea.

It got me thinking – although Mr Meek was stupid enough to turn down the Beatles, he was pretty innovative in terms of how he promoted his artists. The terminology didn’t exist then, but you might say that he was an unwitting pioneer of ambient and guerrilla marketing. Or you might just dismiss him as a belligerent fool.

After the film I took a stroll down the shops to see where the old Mrs Shenton shop was. It’s now a garish orange supermarket called the Holloway Express. But just above it, there’s a somber black plaque to commemorate the late Joe Meek. Sobering stuff.


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