Spectropop remembers

TONY MEEHAN (1943 - 2005)

As the drummer with the Shadows, Tony Meehan helped to lay the foundations for British rock'n'roll, both backing Cliff Richard and on a long string of instrumental hits recorded under the group's own name. John Lennon once claimed that before Cliff and the Shadows, there had been nothing worth listening to in British music. As the first backing band to emerge as stars in their own right, the Shadows were early trailblazers for the beat-group boom that eclipsed them. After leaving the group in the early 1960s, Meehan teamed up with Jet Harris, and the duo enjoyed a brief series of hits. He also went into record production and was present, as a Decca staff member, at the infamous audition in which the label turned down the Beatles.

Born Daniel Joseph Anthony Meehan in Hampstead in 1943, he began playing the drums at the age of 10. By 1956 he had a regular gig drumming with a dance band in Willesden and was also playing timpani with the London Youth Orchestra. His parents had hoped that he would train as a lawyer, but in 1958 he took what was intended to be a gap year, when he was offered a job drumming for £25 a week in a touring show. In the event, the tour collapsed, but Meehan never returned to school, drumming in dance and cabaret clubs and in a band called the Vipers with Jet Harris.

By the beginning of 1959 Meehan and Harris had both joined Cliff Richard's band, the Drifters. They soon became the Shadows after the American vocal group also called the Drifters threatened legal action. Richard's first hit, "Move It", featured session musicians, but Meehan and the group were soon backing the singer on such hits as "Living Doll", "Travellin' Light", "Please Don't Tease" and "The Young Ones". He also appeared in several of Richard's films, including Espresso Bongo (1960) and The Young Ones (1961), in which he played himself.

On the initiative of EMI's Norrie Paramour, in 1959 the group was signed to the label in their own right. Their first two singles appeared under the name the Drifters but it was as the Shadows that they had their first hit in 1960 with the instrumental "Apache". Featuring Meehan's crisp drumming behind the trademark lead guitar of Hank Marvin, the record topped the charts for six weeks that summer and dislodged their own lead singer's "Please Don' t Tease" from the No 1 spot. In a golden run between 1960 and 1961, Meehan played drums on a seemingly endless run of further Shadows hits including "Man Of Mystery", "The Stranger", "FBI", "Frightened City" and "Kon-Tiki".

However, at the time pop music was not regarded as a serious career and the life expectancy of beat groups was short. Even at the height of Beatlemania, Ringo Starr famously said that when they stopped having hits he was going to run a hairdressing salon. When Meehan was offered a job at Decca Records as a trainee producer in October 1961, he jumped at the opportunity and was replaced in the Shadows by Brian Bennett.

His first hit production for Decca was Louise Cordet's "I'm Just a Baby", and he also played on records by John Leyton, Frank Ifield and Billy Fury. Less memorably, he was one of the Decca Records team present on January 1, 1962, when the Beatles auditioned at the label's West Hampstead studios. They were impressed to meet a former member of the Shadows, but Meehan's Decca bosses Dick Rowe and Mike Smith turned the band down.

Despite missing out on working with the Beatles, he was content in his new backroom role and had no intention of returning to the spotlight. But in 1963 he received a call from Jet Harris. His old friend had also left the Shadows and, switching from bass to lead guitar, had enjoyed a brace of solo hits with "Besame Mucho" and "The Man With The Golden Arm". He suggested the pair should team up again and, with Meehan producing and playing drums and Harris on guitar, their first single "Diamonds" (which also featured two future Led Zeppelin members, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones) went to No 1 in the British charts. It was followed that same year by "Scarlett O'Hara", which made No 2 and was only kept from the top spot by the Beatles' "From Me To You". A third hit, "Applejack", went to No 4 in the autumn on 1963, but after Harris was seriously injured in a car crash the duo broke up. Meehan fulfilled their outstanding contracts as the Tony Meehan Combo, releasing a solitary single, "Song Of Mexico", which scraped the lower reaches of the Top 40 in 1964, before he returned to a production and A&R role at Decca.

In later years he worked with a variety of different artists, including Roger Daltrey of the Who, co-writing and contributing arrangements to his 1977 album, "One Of The Boys". Nicknamed the Baron by colleagues for his appreciation of the finer things in life, Meehan reappeared occasionally behind his drum kit and backed Cliff Richard at his 1989 Wembley Stadium concerts. In recent times he had pursued his studies in psychology and psychiatry. Both were lifelong interests and were listed as his hobbies in a 1961 Shadows tour programme.

He died from head injuries sustained from a fall at his London home, and is survived by his wife, Sue, five sons and two daughters.

(From The Times)

Daniel Joseph Anthony (Tony) Meehan, drummer/A & R man: born March 2nd, 1943 - died November 28th, 2005.