sun 21/04/2024

Music Reissues Weekly: Joe Meek And The Blue Men - I Hear A New World Sessions | reviews, news & interviews

Music Reissues Weekly: Joe Meek And The Blue Men - I Hear A New World Sessions

Music Reissues Weekly: Joe Meek And The Blue Men - I Hear A New World Sessions

How a landmark in British experimental pop was created

A new world, as seen on the cover of 1960's 'I Hear A New World' EP

March 1960’s I Hear A New World EP was British pop at its most extraordinary. As its liner notes put it, it was “a strange record”: one seeking to aurally reflect life on the moon and in outer space. Musique concrète, pop and studio-only sonic manipulation were rolled into one. Its creator was producer Joe Meek.

However, barely anyone heard the EP. There was a low pressing run of maybe just 99 copies as fewer-than 100 avoided purchase tax. An album was planned and around 25 test pressings were made. It never came out. A second EP went no further than the printing of some sleeves. The EP which was made wasn’t even really for sale: copies were sent to shops as a stereo demonstration record.

Joe Meek And The  Blue Men - I Hear A New World SessionsLike Meek himself, I Hear A New World achieved legendary status. The full album was first issued on CD in 1991 with audio taken from one of the test pressings. Various editions – none using master tapes – have appeared since then.

Now, thanks to the emergence of what are dubbed Meek's “Tea Chest Tapes” – gone into by this column last year – more music relating to I Hear A New World has emerged. What’s on the smartly packaged 10-inch album I Hear A New World Sessions – An Alternative Outer Space Fantasy has never been heard before. Master tapes from rehearsals for I Hear A New World and its recording sessions are used. Amazingly, it's become possible to witness the creation of this landmark in British experimental pop.

Some steps back. I Hear A New World appeared on the then-new independent label Triumph Records. Meek was its in-house producer and songwriter. Triumph’s February 1960 first single was Peter Jay and the Blue Men’s Buddy Holly-ish, Les Paul-ish “Just Too Late”. Its next 45 was the sappy, Craig Douglas-slanted “Magic Wheel”, which also sported that Buddy Holly flavour plus a dose of Adam Faith and an unusual pedal-steel solo. Triumph had just one chart single: the glutinous “Angela Jones” by Michael Cox, which got into the Top 40 that June. It was also the label’s last release.

When the I Hear A New World EP (pictured below left) surfaced in March 1960, Britain's pop charts were clogged with sentimental singles like Adam Faith’s “Poor me”, Cliff and the Shadows “Voice in the Wilderness”, Lance Fortune’s horrible “Be Mine”, Guy Mitchell’s “Heartaches by the Number” and The Everly Brothers classy “Let it be me”. In contrast, Marv Johnson’s “You Got What it Takes”, Johnny Preston’s “Running Bear” and Frankie Laine's "Rawhide” were peppy but not anything to get too steamed-up about. Such was the market Triumph was addressing. Except for Meek's curious hobby horse recordings, that is.

I hear a new world epTriumph folded towards the end of the year as Meek left to become independent. Despite this upset, it’s hard to see how the label would have lasted. Its roster of instrumentals, novelties, pap and country-tinged pop would not have made waves. Nothing was quite good enough.

Amongst all this, Meek poked at the boundaries of the pop status quo with his unique, off the wall and totally chart unfriendly – as he put it – “outer space music fantasy”.

Sessions for the ultimately stalled I Hear A New World project had begun in late 1959 (before Meek was at Triumph) and went on into early 1960. What was recorded was more about the overall impact and atmosphere than catchy tunes. Even though only the EP was issued, the approach subsequently leaked into other releases: the speeded-up voices heard on a Triumph single titled "Happy Valley"; four of the ...New World melodies were recycled by Meek for future releases by The Outlaws; 1962’s "Telstar" drew on his fascination for the extra-terrestrial.

Joe Meek And The  Blue Men - I Hear A New World Sessions_tape boxOn I Hear A New World and other Triumph releases, Meek used an evidently malleable London country/skiffle band West Five. For the outer-space project they became The Blue Men – the EP was credited to “The Blue Men directed by Rod Freeman”. On its sleeve, Meek was candid about the record’s oddness. The new I Hear A New World Sessions 10-inch album offers a mind-boggling first-ever opportunity to hear how the project was created and then evolved.

Works in progress are collected: “Orbit Around the Moon (Take 1)”, “Entry of the Globbots (Take 2)”, “Love Dance of the Saroos (Take 1)”, “Glob Waterfall (Early Version)”, a rehearsal of “Magnetic Field” and alternate versions of “Valley of the Saroos” and “Dribcots Space Boat”. Wild sound effects are interlaced throughout. All of it comes direct from the master tapes with superb sound quality. A check against an original pressing of the I Hear A New World EP shows greater punch, immediacy and clarity here – there would be as Meek would overdub and overdub, copy and copy from tape to tape before arriving at a finished master. So these session tapes would, of course, sound better than the original EP (and there is nothing wrong with the sound of that).

Going into exactly what is on I Hear A New World Sessions – An Alternative Outer Space Fantasy would spoil some astounding surprises. Suffice to say, this is very amazing – as is seeing Meek's doodles and writing on one of the tape boxes where he jotted to-do lists (pictured above right). Anyone interested in Meek, the outer edges of British pop and musical boundary pushing in general has to hear this important release.


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