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Telstar and Tchaikovsky

October 31, 2017


I remember my fifth birthday, jumping up and down and nearly seeing myself in the mirror and shouting “I’m Five”, as if this was some significant event. I also remember hearing Telstar coming from my sister’s dansette record player. I wondered how they created the sounds on that record. It sounded like something from outer space. This is hardly surprising, the eccentric producer Joe Meek was obsessed with outer space and UFOs. He was one of the first producer/engineers to really use the studio and an instrument. His eccentricity included his chronic paranoia of being bugged by other record producers who he thought would steal his ideas.


He famously turned down The Beatles, David Bowie and Rod Stewart and yet he is regarded as a huge influence on pop music despite a relatively short career. There are plenty of myths and legends surrounding Joe Meek: ‘Telstar - The Joe Meek Story’ is a very entertaining movie that covers a lot of these, with plenty of people crying out how inaccurate it was. We may never know.


What we do know is that at the age of 37 he shot dead his landlady and then shot himself during one of his rages. He had drug problems as well as a criminal record for being arrested during the era when homosexuality was still against the law.


Another nice piece of trivia: Clem Cattini was the ‘house drummer’ on many of his recording sessions and as well as playing for Joe Meek, Clem Cattini went on to play drums on over 40 UK number 1 singles. Everyone from Lou Reed to Peter Kay - no really, Peter Kay.


Clem Cattini is 80 years old and still recording. What a legend!!


So I was listening to all my sister Barbara’s singles. She was a teenager in the Sixties so she was buying Beatles and Stones records and I was listening to them completely unaware of the cultural significance of what was going on. I used to stand in front of the Hoover (mic stand) and play Barbara’s tennis racket (guitar) and mime to all these records. Which is why I believe it is still only a matter of time before I make it as a rock star.


Radio was a big thing in our house. Family Favourites on Sunday lunchtime was so boring as was Sing Something Simple just after Pick of the Pops on Sunday evening with Alan Freeman.

My favourite show was Children’s Favourites on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Introduced by someone called Uncle Mac, this is where I first heard records like The Runaway Train, Right Said Fred, Tie Me Kangaroo Down and Nellie The Elephant etc. It is such a shame these novelty records are not made anymore.


It was also during my infant era that I got into film music. Apart from the great Disney Soundtracks I remember being taken to see Born Free and thinking the music was the best thing I’d ever heard. Then there were the great Western themes like The Magnificent Seven and High Noon etc. Big broad melodies that hit the spot every time I heard them.


In some ways, film music is possibly one area of popular music that isn’t always directly influenced by the big four: Jazz, Blues, Folk and Gospel. These big orchestral melodies were influenced by the great classical composers or sometimes it was the dramatic incidental music that helped create  some of the brilliant Soundtracks that have emerged over the years. I feel a mix tape coming on!!


My Mum and Dad had one classical album that I loved. It was Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture, I thought having cannons as instruments was so cool. Apparently Tchaikovsky hated it. However there was another track on this album called Marche Slave also by Tchaikovsky. Listen to it today and its gloomy minor key theme just evokes images of people trudging through Russian snow and then it builds up to a symphonic heavy metal stampede that gives me goose bumps still.


So we started this ramble with Telstar and ended with Tchaikovsky. Which kind of proves my point really. I’m not sure exactly what point it is I was proving, but whatever point it was, then I am sure you agree with me that I have proved it.


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