We found Joe Meek the way he found Buddy Holly.
Meek was an Independent British music producer and songwriter during the 1960’s. He was best known for producing some of the most popular hits of the time, including No. 1 hit ‘Telstar’ by the Tornados, and John Leyton’s ‘Johnny Remember Me’. He has become a cult icon in the music world for his use of unusual techniques in the recording and mixing of his songs.
Meek believed in the occult and the super natural voices from the other side. He often set up tape machines in graveyards in an attempt to record voices from beyond the grave. He was certain that he had found the voice of Buddy Holly in the meows of cats, which he claimed was speaking in human tones.
We believe that we have recorded his voices and some of the residue of his sounds from various parts of London. It needed a careful plan and an attentive ear, to be able to gather the resonance of his sounds. We drew out a map of graveyards that he visited around Holloway Road, public toilets where he met his many lovers in the dark and his own house where he recorded his famous pop-tracks. We started by collecting objects which were likely to have been used by Meek to make sounds: corrugated fiberboards, metal ashtrays, a comb moved over a table edge, marbles on a baking tray, punches against the door, kicks against the bathtub, feedback, artificially made short-circuits, even intentionally detuned instruments may be heard sometimes. We carried our objects, instruments and microphones to Regent’s Park, Highbury, Camden town and Hampstead Heath public toilets to record the ring of these objects within the resonance of these spaces, which Meek visited often. Meek’s personal life was repressed, as during the 60’s it was illegal to be with another man. He was even arrested in 1963, “smiling at an old man” in Madras Place, a notorious cottaging area near Highbury. He took it personally, and was quoted as retorting, “Why would I smile at a fucking old man?”
We next visited 304 Holloway Road, the notorious flat where he lived and worked. He built his own studio here and did some crazy recordings using lo-fi techniques in which the whole house became like an instrument. The acoustics in the bathroom were used to add reverb and delay onto his songs. He even custom-built a reverb unit from the spiral springs of an old fan heater. He sped up the voices of his singers and usually backed them up with female singers. We waited for half day under his house on a bench, which is inscribed with his name… in the hope of recording ambient sounds of his space. Unfortunately nobody opened the door but instead we encountered a stranger who walked up to us and offered us peaches. The offer wasn’t as surprising as his confession to make peach tarts for his land lady. Now, believe us! How rare is the co-incidence of a stranger expressing his gratitude to his land lady at the door of Joe Meek who ended his own life after shooting his land lady!
Joe Meek was there…he was there behind the graves in the graveyards…between the many high tonal human voices of cats.
The presence of him was real, while we were researching his life we got to hear that the Joe Meek Society was having their one and only annual meeting at the same time. We were thrilled by yet another co-incidence and decided to attend this cozy event at a pub close to his home. There were members from all over Britain gathered to listen to a few rare un-released versions of Joe-Meek tracks. Their conversions spoke of nuances of his practice, his rigour, passion and madness that we captured and bought back to the basement and converted onto a tape.
For our installation we decided to distribute our field recordings along with the conversations of the Joe Meek Society onto different physical tapes and install it in a bathroom. Our aim was to bring back Joe Meek into the Senior Common Room toilet at the Royal College of Art. We used technology that overlaps the time that Meek existed in backed with our own…to explore the continuity of his presence. We used 2 ipods, 2 diskmans, 3 walkmans, one of them plays back slowly, 2 cassette recorders.
A few sounds were playing from the separate sound objects/speakers around the toilet. The sounds panned between them. The composition was 45 mins long to fit a cassette length. This also allowed space for the individual sounds to exist. We had to bounce all the tracks individually, work out a timing algorithm for playing the separate tracks from the sound objects to recreate our composition.
We wore our own screen printed Joe Meek T-shirts. The ghost was in the Meekian methods and in the voices of the men (Joe Meek Society) who adore him. It was an amalgamation of spirits and systems that helped us sculpt a Joe Meek world of sound and music.