Shall Meek inherit the earth?: Margaret Thatcher, EMI, David Mellor, Tangerine Dream . . . none was spared when John Repsch campaigned to found a Joe Meek museum at 304 Holloway Road, Islington, London

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The Independent Culture
JOE MEEK was known as the British Phil Spector. He recorded 'Telstar' with the Tornados (No 1 for five weeks in 1962). Remarkably, he did so in his flat at 304 Holloway Road in north London, home of RGM Sound, where the bathroom doubled as a vocal booth. He was hailed as a sound pioneer - until 1967, when he shot his landlady and then turned the gun on himself.

John Repsch runs the Joe Meek Appreciation Society, has written a biography of Meek and helped make the BBC's 'Arena' documentary about Meek's life. In November 1991, when the lease on 304 Holloway Road came up for sale, Repsch began a campaign to convert the flat into a Meek Museum and replica studio. At first, response was sluggish. Then, very gradually, it slowed down. But if at first you don't succeed, fail, fail again.

I came within pounds 23,000 of it. That was how much a year's lease on 302-304 Holloway Road would have cost. Then it would have been action stations. Get the donated equipment in, bring in volunteer technicians and architects, push Radio 1 and Capital Gold in there for broadcasts, set up a trust, let publicity to do the rest. Joe Meek strikes again.

Money attracts more money. Unfortunately, you've got to have some money there in the first place, and the trouble with the Museum project was that there never was any. Unless you want to include the pounds 25 handshake I got for giving a talk about the project at Irene Watson neighbourhood forum in Islington in September 1992.

Things hadn't seemed desperate in December 1991, though. True, the decision to burst in on the museum front in the middle of a major recession was hardly likely to get me mobbed by a stampede of cheque-waving do- gooders. Nevertheless, I quickly won some friends in the educational sector. When I told the Schools' Examining Boards that Joe Meek's studio would be re-created using the kind of recording equipment and musical instruments that had been there 30 years ago, they were delighted. 'It would be ideal for students of Musical Composition,' they sang. And the thought of egg boxes lining the walls sent Tony Clark (who co-produced Sky's albums and is now technical supervisor at the British School of Performing Arts and Technology) into raptures. 'We would adore to send students down,' he said. 'What you have to release is that original pioneering spirit.' Other colleges agreed and lecturers offered their services.

In January 1992, I got lucky at the National Sound Archive. When I visited their London premises, one of the curators waved his hand across shelves of old sound-recording artifacts saying I could have the lot on permanent loan. From Polygram and elsewhere, more goodies were offered, including a huge, 'plate' echo unit and a handmade Sixties Decca mixer. Optimistic, I began making visits to museums to pinch ideas and gather advice.

Next it was time to call up the record companies and studios. I rang Joe's ex-assistant, Adrian Kerridge, who now runs CTS Studios. His first words to me in nearly three years were, 'I've got no money.' We set a date to call and arrange a meeting, but somehow we never did. Still, there were bigger fish to fry.

Surely the record companies - sitting on pounds 1.25 billion worth of music sales in 1991 - would be more charitable. Decca and EMI had raked in large quantities of Meek-related royalties over the years and this new museum enterprise would generate even more. They were bound to look eagerly upon the plan for Britain's first preservation centre for vintage sound recording equipment . . .

Actually, judging by the constant references to recession and tight budgets, one would have thought the companies were teetering on the edge of the abyss. But EMI, in a fit of breakneck impetuosity that must have caused seismic tremors under their offices in Manchester Square, agreed to stage an exhibition in one of 304's rooms - on the condition that everything was set up first.

Other organisations within the industry were hot on encouragement and cold on hand-outs. When you tried ringing them back, they would be constantly 'out' or 'tied up'. I wrote to the London Arts Board, the British Phonographic Industry, Phonographic Performance Ltd, the BBC, the London Tourist Board, the Foundation for Sport & the Arts, charitable trusts, National this, International that. Letters to the obvious names (Lloyds Bank, Fosters Lager) drew a weak response, while others to John Paul Getty and possibly Meek- influenced rock acts (Kraftwerk, Vangelis, Tangerine Dream, Jean-Michel Jarre) drew no response at all.

In May, I managed to get myself interviewed on Thames TV, Radio 4's Kaleidoscope, Greater London Radio and LBC, and there were pieces about the project in Vox, Hi-Fi News, Replay, Pro-sound News, the Islington Gazette and Islington Chronicle. I also placed an advertisement in the personal columns of Private Eye seeking a 'stinking rich benefactor'. That one produced an offer of more equipment, more moral support, but no money.

One night, I was impressed by the performance of David Mellor on Wogan, as he described his brand new Department of National Heritage. I wrote to him enclosing a copy of my biography of Meek. Two weeks later a reply arrived, suggesting two contacts I had already tried. Hearing that 'Telstar' was one of Margaret Thatcher's favourite numbers, I did the same again with the Thatcher Foundation. She was evidently 'unable to take on any more'. When I eventually wrested the copy of my book back from the Foundation, I also received a brief letter beginning, 'Dear Mr Meek'. I also dropped lines to Mr Patten and Mr Heseltine. Five weeks later Patten's secretary informed me the letter had been forwarded to . . . David Mellor's Department of National Heritage.

By now people were writing to me and asking for jobs in the museum . . . when it was set up. And finally, I managed to win over Southwark Heritage Association, who started petitioning for pounds 15,000 to fund a full feasibility study. Unfortunately, not a penny was forthcoming.

By August, I was blithely telling people 'this project will soldier on and on'. I was bluffing. News came in October that the building had finally been leased to a cycle shop, called CycleLogical. My reaction was a mixture of disappointment and relief. But if anyone else wants to try, the cycle shop lease expires in 2017.

(Photograph omitted)