A treasure trove of 3,000 tapes from the early days of guitar pop has been uncovered, chronicling the works of the man dubbed the UK's answer to "wall of sound" creator Phil Spector.
The collection was amassed by Joe Meek, a volatile genius who shaped some of the biggest chart hits of the early Sixties with stars such as David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Status Quo and Tom Jones passing through the doors of his studio. The cache, known as the "tea chest tapes", includes master recordings of many of the string of number one hits he created, as well as unheard sessions which never saw the light of day.
But fans of the charismatic record producer are now concerned that the uncatalogued boxes of 10in reels are simply rotting away as they oxidise and age. With the approach of the 40th anniversary of Meek's death, fans and artists who appear on the tapes are demanding the recordings are properly preserved to protect his legacy.
Musician Clem Cattini of The Tornados, whose Meek-produced single "Telstar" was the first US number one by a British group and the favourite record of Baroness Thatcher, said: "It would be a terrible shame if this stuff, some of which has never been heard, was to be completely lost." Meek's biographer, John Repsch, added: "Leaving them there rotting year after year is just a terrible waste."
Meek, who played no instruments himself but had a brilliant ear for sound, built up his ramshackle studio in a split-level flat at 304 Holloway Road, north London. His unconventional recording methods became the stuff of legend as he sought to create new effects.
He would record vocals in the toilet, or put the string section on the stairs, to create the right sound, twist screws that weren't meant to be touched on the mixing desk and bash tacks into the hammers of his piano to alter its sound.
John Leyton, who scored a number one hit in 1961 before appearing in films such as The Great Escape and Von Ryan's Express, said: "His studio was in a very dank maisonette and there were cables and tapes all over the place. It was an absolute mess. When I got there I thought, 'So this is the glamour of showbiz.' It just didn't seem at all professional, and I thought nothing was going to come of it, but people were always amazed by the results."
Meek, who was gay and had once been arrested for importuning, became increasingly unpredictable as his fame grew. As well as being obsessed with the spirit world, he also became fixated by the idea that he was being bugged by major record labels. He would often record the private conversations of guests to his home when he stepped out of the room to find out what they said about him.
In February 1967, long after his hits had dried up, he committed suicide, moments after murdering his landlady. His equipment was sold off to pay his debts and a huge cache of tapes was sold to businessman Cliff Cooper - who had performed in a Meek band, The Millionaires - on the proviso that he held them for the study of the producer's methods.
Mr Cooper has held on to the collection ever since, but many Meek fans are now angry that the tapes - said to include sessions featuring Bowie, Jones and Stewart, as well as thousands of hours of unheard recordings - are crumbling away. Campaigners say if work is done now they can be preserved.
Mr Cooper told The Independent on Sunday: "I do feel guilty that this has gone on for so long but I was advised that it could be a litigation nightmare. I would love to do something with them. I intend to over the next few weeks."Reuse content