Tony Meehan

Original drummer with the Sixties instrumental group the Shadows
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The Independent Online

Daniel Joseph Anthony Meehan, drummer: born London 2 March 1943; married (five sons, two daughters); died London 28 November 2005.

The early Sixties was a golden age for instrumental records, with hits for Duane Eddy, the Ventures and Johnny and the Hurricanes, as well as middle-of-the-road acts like Russ Conway and Bert Weedon. The Shadows were the foremost exponents of the instrumental and a huge influence on the groups which followed them. The drummer Tony Meehan was a founder member of the Shadows, playing on early hits including "Apache", which stayed at No 1 for five weeks in 1960, as well as several with the young Cliff Richard.

Terry Smart was the drummer on Richard's first hit, "Move It", in September 1958. But by the following January, Smart had joined the merchant navy and Meehan, with Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch and Jet Harris, formed Richard's backing group, called the Drifters. Within weeks, Meehan, still a teenager, was playing on the best-selling live album Cliff. As Richard had laryngitis, the Drifters were given solo numbers, including the instrumental "Jet Black". Meehan also played on Richard's chart-topping hits "Living Doll" and "Travelling Light" (both in 1959) and "Please Don't Tease" (1960). When the American band the Drifters took exception to the name, they became the Shadows.

Early in 1960, a young writer, Jerry Lordan, had written an instrumental, "Apache", and passed it to the guitarist Bert Weedon. When its release was delayed, Lordan, in a fit of pique, took it to the Shadows instead, who recorded it with their producer, Norrie Paramor. Paramor preferred the naval tune "Quartermaster's Stores", thinking it was more commercial, but played both songs to his daughters, who preferred "Apache".

The atmospheric record established the echo-laden sound of Hank Marvin's lead guitar and, in August 1960, the single replaced "Please Don't Tease" at the top of the charts. It should have been a major US hit, too, but the Americans preferred a cover version by the Danish guitarist Jorgen Ingmann.

"Apache" stayed on top for five weeks, and the Shadows had further hits in the following 12 months with the theme from a series of films from Edgar Wallace stories, "Man of Mystery", "FBI", for which they introduced their crossover steps, and "The Frightened City". They returned to No 1 with "Kon-Tiki" in October 1961.

Meehan appeared in the Cliff Richard film The Young Ones (1961), and was on the group's first solo album, The Shadows, released that year. He co-wrote its opening track, "Shadoogie" and also wrote "See You In My Drums", which featured a lengthy solo. Despite a cover that looked like a knitwear catalogue, the album topped the LP charts that September.

Meehan was quick-tempered and regularly arrived late. The rest of the Shadows sometimes started without him. When he arrived an hour late, Welch commented, "Heck, if Thor Heyerdahl can get to Tahiti on time on the Kon-Tiki, you can make it to Leeds." In October 1961, Meehan was replaced by Brian Bennett and a few months later, Harris was sacked for heavy drinking.

Meehan was born into an Irish family in Hampstead, London in 1943. Their house was bombed during the Second World War but Meehan escaped injury. At the age of 10, he was given a drum-kit for Christmas and in 1956, he formed a skiffle group with friends in the Scouts. He became relatively proficient as a drummer, although he planned a law career.

In 1958 Meehan ventured into Soho and at the Two I's coffee-bar in Old Compton Street, he saw Hank Marvin, Bruce Welch and Jet Harris playing together and joined them for a couple of numbers. As a result, Meehan became the resident drummer at the Two I's for 15 shillings a night. He backed such up-and-coming performers as Adam Faith, Wee Willie Harris and Mickie Most. Meehan joined Harris in the final line-up of the skiffle group the Vipers, who were coming to terms with rock'n'roll. Soon afterwards came the opportunity to form a new backing group for Cliff Richard.

After leaving the Shadows, Meehan worked for Decca Records and produced Louise Cordet's hit single "I'm Just a Baby" (1962), which was written by Lordan. Jet Harris had two minor hits and then teamed up in 1963 with Meehan to record Lordan's instrumentals "Diamonds" (reaching No 1), "Scarlett O'Hara" (No 2) and "Applejack" (No 4). When Harris was involved in a car accident that September, he was so annoyed that his manager still wanted him to appear on the ITV show Ready, Steady, Go! that he hid in Brighton for three months. Meehan mimed to his drumming without Harris by his side, and the partnership was over. Meehan formed his own band, the Tony Meehan Combo, which included John Paul Jones and John McLaughlin, and had a minor hit with "Song of Mexico" in 1964.

Meehan worked as a producer for John Leyton, Billy Fury, Richard Anthony, Frank Ifield and Tim Hardin, and also for his brother Keith in 1969. The biggest selling album he produced was Roger Daltrey's One of the Boys (1977).

In the mid-1980s, Meehan discussed making a comeback with a Jerry Lordan instrumental, "Life Story", with the producer Stuart Colman, but it never happened. He did, however, reunite with Cliff and his original Shadows for "The Event" concerts at Wembley Stadium in 1989, and in later years he attended Shadows fan conventions.

Spencer Leigh

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