Meek, Mild and Manic
"Telstar" is such an iconic song that you only need to hear a few seconds and you know what you are listening to and if you've never heard it before the minute you hear it, it grabs your attention because it is interesting, this strange symphony of sounds. And just as interesting and strange is the story of Joe Meek, the record producer who recorded the song with "The Tornados" in his studio/flat above a bag shop in London. Meek was homosexual in a time when it was illegal, he was creative but eccentric, angry and prone to depression and despite being the man behind many iconic songs ended up not only with nothing but killing himself. The unfortunate thing is that "Telstar: The Joe Meek Story" is so chaotic that it doesn't do Meek's story justice especially if you didn't live through the 60s when Meek made his name.
Now I will be honest I didn't even know who Joe Meek was before I watched "Telstar: The Joe Meek Story" and I doubt I am alone because whilst "Telstar" and other songs such as "Johnny Remember Me" and "Have I the Right?" are well known the name Meek isn't unless you lived during the 60s. But the good news is that "Telstar: The Joe Meek Story" does a reasonable job of telling us who Meek was and establishing how eccentric he was. We learn all about his homosexuality, the visits to Hampstead Heath, his turbulent relationships with the recording artists he worked with as well as those who were just friends. And we also learn how things went wrong, his huge investment in his lover Heinz Burt, the court case which froze the royalties for "Telstar" and how as things spiralled out of control Meek descended into a reclusive, depressive state.
The trouble is that whilst we learn all about Meek, his fascination with the occult and his revolutionary way of recording songs, which have influenced pop music ever since it feels chaotic. The opening scene where we watch musician Geoff Goddard show up at Meeks studio is so chaotic that it almost feels like a drama class with people assigned contrasting characters with them speaking over each other with once in a while Major Wilfred Banks played by Kevin Spacey shouting something. Maybe that was how it was, maybe Meek's life and his way of recording was this chaotic but it makes it hard to follow. And to be honest there are times where it seems to lose the flow, jumping from one dramatic moment to the next, as if it was just a collection of explosive incidents and makes it that little bit harder to follow.
Yet you still end up watching because Joe Meek was a fascinating, creative and eccentric character and as we hear him record various songs you begin to realise how many great songs he was behind such as "Johnny Remember Me" and "Have I the Right?". And when we witness Joe and Geoff at the genesis of "Telstar" there is something simply magical about it, making the hairs stand up on your arms as you see this iconic, revolutionary piece of music take shape. And it has to be said whether you know the name of Joe Meek or not you soon discover that he worked with some young musicians who went on to become huge names, there is Chas Hodges who became part of Chas & Dave, guitarist Ritchie Blackmore and John Leyton who went on to star in Hollywood movies also recorded with Meek. It certainly makes you realise how important Meek was to the musical landscape.
Now for British audiences "Telstar: The Joe Meek Story" takes on another layer of entertainment because it features so many British actors in various roles. There is James Corden, Ralf Little, Pam Ferris, Justin Hawkins and even a small role for Jimmy Carr plus there is the more recognizable name of Kevin Spacey as Major Banks. But understandably this is a movie all about Con O'Neill as Joe Meek and whilst I have no idea how Meek was O'Neill delivers this fascinating character. We have this eccentric talent, this edgy and demanding producer who seemed to go from being nice to abusive in the blink of an eye, a man who was brilliant but had no idea about running a business or how to treat people with respect. It is because O'Neill delivers this edgy character that you keep on watching even when things are at their most chaotic.
What this all boils down to is that for someone who doesn't know the name Joe Meek "Telstar: The Joe Meek Story" is fascinating because you realise what a huge contribution he made to popular music, not only in the various songs he produced but also in those he worked with and in some cases didn't, ironically suggesting the Mersey beat was a fad. But it is a chaotic movie and whilst you do get to know who Meek was and how whilst creative he was depressive it is at times hard to follow.