NICK MORAN: Lock Stock star brings music maverick's story to life
Islington's Holloway is not an area known for its stars. But, at No.304 Holloway Road, there s a black plaque on the wall that marks the legendary Joe Meek – the world's first independent music record producer. A fascinating north London story, Meek built
Islington's Holloway is not an area known for its stars. But, at No.304 Holloway Road, there's a black plaque on the wall that marks the legendary Joe Meek - the world's first independent music record producer.
A fascinating north London story, Meek built a recording studio in the bathroom of his tiny flat, over a handbag shop on the Holloway Road, and created strange and wonderful recordings that made him a visionary icon of British pop of the 60s.
His story was to obsess actor Nick Moran and, more than a decade ago, he started working on a play of Meek's life (and death in 1967 by self-held shotgun) called Telstar: The Joe Meek Story.
It made it to the West End stage in 2005 and, this month, it is out as a film, directed by Moran.
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The 40-year-old shot to fame as cardsharp Eddy in Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels and, for ages, he was a familiar face on the bad-boy Brit Pack scene.
He first encountered Meek's story one night in the mid-90s when he and a fellow "under-employed" actor friend, James Hicks, staggered drunken into a taxi on the Holloway Road after a night in a pub in Essex Road.
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They saw the plaque that read: "Joe Meek lived, worked and died here" and the seed was sown.
"The cab driver actually pointed out the flat to us and described him as a devil-worshipping old poof who'd written a lot of number one hits and then went on to shoot someone and then kill himself," explains Moran.
"It sounded like a damned good story and James and I started writing almost immediately.'
Meek was a maverick, gay, tone-deaf, speed-addled farm boy who dabbled in the black arts.
In 1961, he wrote and recorded the classic Johnny Remember Me sung by John Leyton.
The next year, he wrote and produced The Tornados' Telstar - the first British pop song to make it to the top of the US charts and become the biggest selling record of its time.
Less than five years later, in a period of lethal paranoia, he shot his landlady and then himself.
"His lousy business sense, emotional instability and sort of stubborn delight in his outsider status gradually took their toll as he alienated everybody he worked with," Moran tells me as we share a pot of tea in Soho.
"We wanted to film his story as it would have been then but 304 Holloway Road wasn't available. So we shot on the other side of the road at No.107, designed by the same architect, which had three empty shops underneath it.
"One became the bank that had been downstairs from Meek's place, another became Mrs Shenton's handbag shop and the third an electrics shop.
"We must have done a good job as people kept popping in to buy handbags and get light bulbs!
"Let's say it was more than a challenge shooting on the Holloway Road, which is hardly peaceful Mayfair.
"It was important that we got the film out in the street and we needed vintage cars and buses and 60s lamp-posts to be in shot and not slip into the 21st century.
"We managed to get it in under �5mil but I hope it looks like it cost �10mil!"
The film was produced by an old friend of his, Simon Jordan, the chairman of Crystal Palace football club, who Moran calls his "Harvey Weinstein figure".
Telstar the film certainly catches the downright shabbiness of London in the early 60s, pre-Beatles, when there was that energy and craziness.
Moran managed to attract a cast of big names for his project.
Con O'Neill, who was Meek on stage, reprises the role. Kevin Spacey pops up unrecognisable as a stiff-upper Major Banks, the man with the money. And Pam Ferris is the unlucky landlady Mrs Shenton.
Gavin and Stacey's James Corden and Ralf Little portray members of the Tornados. Ex-Libertine Carl Barat and former frontman of The Darkness Justin Hawkins also get into the act.
And so does Rita Tushingham and JJ Field, recently seen on stage in Ring Round The Moon, as the blonde singer Heinz Burt.
There's also, uncannily, the oddity of seeing surviving names from that era, such as singers John Leyton and Jess Conrad, plus Tornados drummer Clem Cattini, cast in small roles as well as being portrayed on screen by lookalike actors.
"It was a lot of fun," he laughs. "Bizarrely, while we were shooting a pub up the road, The Admiral Nelson in Holloway Road, had a Joe Meek review on their little stage so, of course, we all trooped along.'
Moran, born in 1968 and brought up on a sprawling council estate in South Oxhey, Hertfordshire, might have missed all that music but he sort of has that easy-going Cockney geezer manner of the time.
He left home at 16 to live in London, lied about his age and blagged his way into Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts in Wood Green.
"The whole concept of going to drama school is completely alien, like being an astronaut, when you come from a council estate where you've spent your Saturdays working in the supermarket, surrounded by a sort of white trailer park mentality and wanting to be a guitarist in a crap one-hit wonder Britpop band. Then suddenly you're poncing about in tights!"
With his deceptive air of insouciant charm, he makes it all sound like one big game.
He's made about 30 films, many of them forgettable, and admits he's made mistakes, shot his mouth off a bit, been in the tabloids too often.
But he lives in Fitzrovia, in a large square with neighbours like Iain McEwan, loves his private life and has a busy professional one, currently directing another film, The Kid, an adaptation from Kevin Lewis's best-selling story of council estates, care and crime in London.
"I can't complain," says Moran. "You've got to keep moving forward or else you start sinking and I think I've still got momentum.
"I'd like to write another play but the trouble is I haven't had any time on my hands.
"I need to disappear in a caravan to the fens for a couple of months and come up with the next one. I have the outline for it. It will be a very dark Elizabethan play, not many jokes in it."
o Telstar is released on June 19.