THE BLURT BULLY PULPIT: Nine Years And Three Thousand Miles To Joe Meek

Help finance the documentary about the lunatic genius record producer and godfather
of DIY recording.

 

BY SUSAN STAHMAN

 

Ed. Note: Last week we told you
about A Life in the Death of Joe
Meek
, a biopic about the late, legendary 1960s record producer
and songwriter. Well, with just a few hours to go, the filmmakers have raised
$33,705 toward their $40,000 goal. That means that they need to raise $6,295 in
order to receive
any funding at all
from Kickstarter. That means that
Blurt readers helped filmmakers Susan Stahman and Howard Berger raise $10,000
last week alone. Stahman submitted a special guest column for our artist-penned
series
“The
Bully Pulpit
” in hopes
of raising more money for the film. Go to the film’s Kickstarter page and cough
up some dough, won’t you? It is definitely BLURT-approved.

 

 

 

 

We were approximately 3,000 miles apart and completely dissatisfied with our
respective careers, when we finally made the decision that would change and
shape of the rest of our lives to date. “Are we gonna do this? Let’s do
this.” That was in the fall of 2003.

 

After nearly a decade in the making, with the two of us as the only
production crew, it’s more than safe to say that A Life in the Death of Joe
Meek
is no longer just a music documentary about the UK’s first independent
pop record producer. First conceived as a narrative (inspired by a ’95 Pulse magazine article we had read on the pioneering producer), it didn’t take long
for the film to grow fairly strong legs of its own and stumble into an endless
creative rabbit hole. We quickly realized the story we wanted to tell was not a
simple biography, but actually a compendium of fascinating, dovetailing lives
and an illustration of a fragile, emotionally savage world we were given the
privilege to uncover instead. This process of discovery and documentation has
been far richer, more interesting, and more rewarding than either of us could
have imagined.

 

Joe Meek (a rural Newent farmer’s kid who, straight out of the womb, grew up
obsessed with sound and recording) is quite a perplexing figure – a creative
agitator and forward-thinker having most recently gained the posthumous honor
of being named the #1 record producer of all time by NME, beating out
undeniably huge contemporaries such as Quincy Jones, Phil Spector, and George
Martin who, ironically, used to be Meek’s supervising producer during his early
days as top engineer at IBC Studios. At that time, in the late 1950’s,
recording practices were literally — strictly — by the book (his boss was
Allen Stagg, the man who notoriously shut the power off on Pink Floyd during
the recording of Dark Side Of The Moon at Abbey Road at the exact minute their
session exceeded the studio’s daily hours of operation). Joe ignored the
directives of studio heads-of-staff and the “scientists down in the
cellar” in the technical department and, instead, employed extreme
techniques to catapult, front-and-center, the sound of his recordings. One
prime example can be heard on Humphrey Lyttelton’s “Bad Penny Blues”.
Joe’s use of close mic-ing on the piano and drum-brushsticks was a radical
approach that not only got the track into the Pop Top 20 (trad-jazz never made
it to the pop charts), but also went on to directly influence “Lady
Madonna” by the Beatles and their producer, George Martin (Humph told us
that though George Martin was the credited producer on the “Bad Penny
Blues” session, he wasn’t present – it was Joe’s show all the way).

 

How was Meek rewarded for such bravery and commercial-oriented insight? He
was eventually alienated in the workplace through the use of an encouraged
homophobia (Joe was gay during an era when it was criminal to be so) as a tool
to force Joe’s decision to move on.

 

By the early 1960s, after having broken away from the major studios, Meek
was recording #1 chart hits from his own independent converted home studio in a
then-dodgy area of London.
One of those hits included his masterpiece, “Telstar” by the Tornados
(a song that he had written and a group that he assembled) which is still the
most internationally successful and covered pop instrumental ever recorded.
Despite his many lasting contributions to the music recording industry and to
the various developing genres and cultures of the pop/rock universe, Meek’s
tragic death and murder of his devoted landlady (at his own hand) kept his story either largely unknown by the general
public or tightly wrapped in cloak of mystery, sensationalism, or just plain
misinterpretation.

 

After conducting over 100 interviews with those closest to him, including
friends, family, colleagues, critics, and a few huge musical artists (including
Jimmy Page, Steve Howe, Alex Kapranos, Keith Strickland, Edwyn Collins) who
both worked for him and/or were inspired by him – we are closer than ever to
being ready for the film to see the light of day. Despite wanting to snag a few
more essential interviews (David Bowie, Rod Stewart and Ritchie Blackmore have
proven temporarily elusive), and needing a whole lot of post-production work,
we are confident we now have enough in the project to drive home the fact that
there is much more here than meets the previously jaundiced eye. As previously
stated – Meek’s story is not just a music documentary. It’s a movement. A
movement for inspired upstarts, towards radical thinking and corporate disruption. Most importantly, it’s a film that celebrates
the independent spirit, not only through its subject, but through its
completely self-financed, DIY production.

 

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