THE TORNADOS STORY
The only serious challengers to the Shadows merely lasted as long as their console svengali, independent record producer Joe Meek. By the late 1950's the talented Meek had forced his way onto the music production scene, and was enlisted by the owner of Saga Records whose new label, Triumph boasted to make "records for the hit parade." Hits came almost immediately: The Fabulous Flee-Rakkers with "Green Jeans" (would have been bigger save a pressing-plant strike), then top ten with Michael Cox’s "Angela Jones". Distribution difficulties persuaded Meek to break from Triumph and he moved into his maisonette studios above a leather shop in the Holloway Road, London. From there finished productions would be leased to the major labels of the day (Decca, Pye, Parlophone, Columbia and HMV). Along the way he struck up a fruitful partnership with songwriter Geoff Goddard who displayed a knack of turning out memorable, wistful tunes who supplied a string of original sounding hits, often brilliantly realised by Meek.
Instrumental backing was provided by Meek's original in-house band the Outlaws until their own chart success meant a replacement band was required for studio work. Lead guitarist Alan Caddy (recommended by Meek singer Michael Cox) and drummer Clem Cattini, both of whom had served in Johnny Kidd’s Pirates (1959-61) replied to adverts. Rhythm guitarist George Bellamy was a session player while Heinz Burt on bass (complete with dyed blond hair like Jet Harris of the Shadows) was one of Meek’s protégés. The group went out on the road as the Charles Blackwell Orchestra, with supplemented by Pete Newman and Pete Cotton on Saxophone's, and as the Tornados backing one of Britain's biggest stars Billy Fury. Attempting to emulate the organ sound on Dave "Baby" Cortez's "Happy Organ", Meek had purchased a Clavioline, a small battery operated electronic keyboard that foreshadowed synthesisers.
It featured heavily on the producers' 1960 concept album "I Hear A New World" but had been little-used since. The instrument was monophonic, i.e. could only play one note at a time but Meek added plenty of compression and echo producing a far livelier sound. removed from mothballs it featured on the mid 1962 Tornados debut on Decca, "Love And Fury" (doff of the cap to Billy Fury) which Clem Catinni now considers to be "the first disco record" thanks to the minimalist melody and a distinctive percussion style taken straight from "Johnny Remember Me". A keyboardist was required to carry the economical melody, so Heinz recommended Norman Hale from his previous group, the Falcons. He only appeared on the topside, however, he was soon replaced by Roger La Vern (real name Jackson) after falling out with the quick-tempered Meek.
The second single broke them into the big league, although it wasn't the original choice. A gale-force version of "The Breeze And I" was witheld after discovering the Fentones were about to release their version (which charted). The technology-minded Producer was watching the firsr trans-Atlantic broadcast on TV via the new communications satellite. Tone-deaf but suitably inspired, Meek composed a new number in homage to "Telstar" and, as with other self-written numbers, he la-la'd the melody over a backling track, in this case Mike Berry's "One More Time"). As usual, Alan Caddy arranged it for the band.
The Tornados raced from Great Yarmouth (where they were appearing in a series of shows) to Meek's studio and had time to record the backing track and overdub the guitar breaks before having to race back in time for a stage appearance. Thus it was Geoff Goddard who stepped into the breech and played the clavioline melody-line. The resulting, quintessential, 60’s instrumental ushered in a new "electronic age" of music and anticipated many of the electronic ventures of a subsequent and less innocent pop generation. As a point of order, although Goddard played the melody lines Roger LaVery DID APPEAR on the record, having played the piano parts everywhere else in the record that were very much as important as the melody to the overall sound.
"Telstar topped the domestic hit parade in the autumn of 1962 but unbelievably did likewise in the USA where no UK group, not even the Shadows, had made any headway. The records' penetration over in the US helped Meek’s boys play a crucial role in paving the way for the "British Invasion" of US charts just a year later. It would have been better had a capitalising tour of North America not been unwisely cancelled. George Bellamy's "Ridin' The Wind" was recorded earlier than "Telstar" but was selected as the US follow-up after appropriate storm noises had been added to it. Decca even put a man in the States to publicise this and other releases but was withdrawn after their new stateside single barely scraped into the US top 100, not at all helped by no band to promote it, a real missed opportunity.
1963 was another
good year for the Tornados with "Globetrotter", "Robot" and "The
Ice Cream Man" making number 5, 17 and 18 respectively. Also flattering was the
plethora of copyist groups that sprang up, notably the Volcanos with their
"Polaris" and the Federals with "Boot Hill". Meek's desire to record
Billy Fury at his studios plus Fury's own dis-satisfaction with his
backing group led to a coup for Meek. The Tornados backed Billy onstage and a
Decca-produced live album followed. While the services of Britain's latest instrumental
sensation doubtless assisted Fury the Tornados were definitely in his "Shadow,"
tied to a uncompromising contract with Fury's manager Larry Parnes.
Typically, Fury had centre-stage throughout the act, the exception being the
Tornados "solo spot" where they played their current hit before quickly retiring into the
background, a very unsatisfactory arrangement for what was arguably the hottest UK act of the moment.
Unfortunately, one effect of the less-than-maximum exposure the band were receiving was that follow-up record sales were affected. The group's UK follow-up single, a jaunty, "jingly", Christmas-flavoured number entitled "Globetrotter" (probably in reference to Santa himself) was kept back, as in Decca's view it would eat into the more-than-healthy sales "Telstar" was still generating. This was a short-sighted view as the publicity gained by having two high-charting records in the Top Ten at once would have been tremendous, but this view was only challenged once the Beatles disproved that sales would suffer with multiple releases, if handled sensibly. During this time, Meek's services became ever-more called upon as the major studios suddenly re-discovered his potential as they had once before in the wake of John Leyton's no.1 smash "Johnny Remember Me".
When "Globetrotter" did finally appeared in the UK it still managed a Top Five placing, however as momentum had been lost, successive releases suffered diminishing chart returns as a result. The memorably stomping beat of "Robot" managed 12 weeks on the chart but only reached number 17, while the different sound of "The Ice Cream Man" came in at one place lower. Both had been written by Joe Meek who needed enough money to buy out his rather restrictive contract with his sleeping partner, Major Banks, to give himself the recording freedom he always wanted. That plan was delayed when a French composer claimed in Court that "Telstar" was a rip-off of his title music for an obscure film about Napoleon. Comparison of the two pieces reveal a short opening run of notes that bear a similarity, from which point the two tunes are entirely different in both melody and feel. Royalty payments (which would have been huge) were halted early on, delaying Meek's early break from Banks.
Meek now made his move with Heinz, who left for a solo career and hit the top five with "Just Like Eddie." He'd previously been subbed by Chas Hodges (of the Outlaws) and Tab Martin while filming "Farewell Performance", but on permanently exiting his replacement was Brian Gregg who'd previously backed Johnny Kidd alongside Caddy and Cattini (1959-61). This reorganised line-up cut "Dragonfly" which departed from previous releases by having Caddy's lead guitar carrying the melody. However, the absence of the Blond-haired focal point plus increasing competition from the Beat boom led to the relative failure of "Dragonfly" which stalled at no. 42 as the Tornados' style looked increasingly Passé. Now a year since "Telstar" and the long-awaited UK LP still hadn't arrived to cash in on the group's success. When it finally did the country was awash with Merseybeat and it lacked the edge in the sound stakes that a much earlier release would have capitalised on. Gregg departed, to was replaced by Ray Randall who'd previously been playing in a number of groups in North London. Lavern left to form his own group, the Microns, recorded "Red Rocket" and vanished from the scene.
1964's first single, "Hot Pot" c/w "Joystick" missed entirely and increased the turnover of group members that started the previous year increasing in regularity as the year progressed and leading to the departure of Cattini, the last surviving original Tornado at the end of the year. Meek then produced "Have I The Right" by the Honeycombs which reached no. 1 and at last he was able to become completely independant, however long-term songwriting partner Geoff Goddard disputed that the song was based on one of his, lost his case and left. Meek's hopes of The Honeycombs' managers / songwriters Ken Howard & Alan Blakely bringing new success crumbled when he rejected new discovery Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich. The pair then took them to Fontana and a string of Top Ten hits. Meek's next move was to rename the Saxons as his premier instrumental outfit for the Tornados' last releases on Columbia. Solid singles as "Granada" and "Pop Art Goes Mozart" were based on a pleasant, if slightly outdated sound, while "Early Bird" harked back to the sound of their million-seller. Whatever, all were unsuccessful.
During 1965 most of the original line-up came together to record "Spacewalk" / "Goodbye Joe" but an enraged producer had them banned from using their original name and the record was credited to The Gemini. It appears Meek took delivery of a four-track tape machine the same year on the never-never in an attempt to tidy up his recording process whilst retaining the distinctive driving bass sound. Although good material still emerged from his studio ("Something I've Got To Tell You" by Glenda Collins, "My Saddest Day" by Reg Austin or the Honeycomb's output, for example) lack of chart action saw a gradual decline in his product being taken up by the record companies. Meek was very dictatorial with them which they tolerated if you give them hits one in a (short) while - the word was if you kick them on the way up they'll drop you fast when you fail. Meek's rising debts and increasing paranoia led to his suicide in February 1967, on the anniversary of the death of Buddy Holly. The Tornados' carried on until their final disbandment in the September of that year.
"Telstar" went on to sell an estimated seven million copies whose frozen royalties would have made Meek a wealthy man, taking the pressure away from his poorly-developed business acumen. The lingering "Telstar" copyright case coupled with hugely increased competition from the Merseybeat Boom (whose raw style he was unable to completely come to terms with) crippled his development. The copyright case was not settled until a year after his death and witheld much-needed funding to enable the development of much-needed better facilities as the major studios invested in the new technologies available. Indeed many ongoing legal wranglings weren't sorted until the 1990's and it was no coincidence that a definitive complete Tornados collection was only released then.
|In the mid-1970s, Bellamy, Burt, Cattini and Lavern reconvened as "The Original Tornados" to evoke some nostalgia with a remake of "Telstar" before going their separate ways once again. Heinz toured on many 60's revival tours but passed away a few years ago. As far as ex-Pirates go, Alan Caddy formed his own record label, playing less himself but sadly died as the new millennium was ushered in. Clem Cattini went into session work and holds the record as having played on 42 UK no.1 hit records, the most by any drummer as well as many other hit records and many hundreds of other sessions. He formed a new Tornados in 1989 featuring a female vocalist. However the loudest cheers are often reserved for the ancient instrumentals, especially Meeks eerie no.1 from those who know the songs, not necessarily the group who made them. In 1993, the Joe Meek Appreciation Society unveiled a plaque to the memory of Meek and his out-of-this-world sounds that were ahead of their time in the early 1960's. During the 1990's there had been an increasing number of Meek-related releases as the legal mess left after his death finally started unravelling. As far as the Tornados are concerned this culminated in 1998's totally remastered "Complete" 2-CD collection which contains all their 60's recorded output. Hearing the cleaned-up "Telstar" and its companions leads the listener to appreciate how far Meek was ahead of his time.