The Online Mod/ern/ist Archive

archive of original modernist recollections and information .
we are glad to hear from anyone with memories of the time, but we do not rewrite history .

19 Aug 2008

The Ace Face's Forgotten Story - Part One

Social revolution on Speed, Side Vents & The Scene club.

"I'm the face baby
Is that clear?
I'm the face
if you want it.

All the others are third class tickets by me

Baby is that clear?"

Pete Meaden for "The High Numbers" (1964).

The late Pete Meaden was he man who introduced The Who to the hardcore mod cult of 1963. He became their manager, christened them The High Numbers, and wrote their first record. These interviews uncover the sometimes disturbed visions of one of the leaders of the original mod movement.

By Steve Turner. (New Musical Express 17th november 1979).

Typing by Àlex M. Franquet.

(The story was reprinted in NME's Originals Mod issue - but some bits were missing ... so here's the first part of the unabridged article )

Towards the end of his life, Pete Meaden told me that he'd read an interview in which Nik Cohn, writer of the story that becaume "Saturday Night Fever", attributed the origins of the tale to his own memories of Shepherd's Bush mod society circa 1963.

In particular, it was from this experience that he took the idea of "The Face", an idea which focused itself in the movie when Travolta swept into the 2001 Odyssey disco to hushed whispers and respectful glances. Travolta was The Face.

The connection Meaden was making was that if the Goldhawk Club equalled 2001 Odyssey, and if The Face equalled The Face, then Pete Meaden was John Travolta. The last time something like this had happened was when The Who released "Quadrophenia" in 1973. He had listened to it and thought: "I am Jimmy. Townshend's writing about me!"

Even if neither connection was justified, Pete Meaden deserved to feel that he was the stuff of legend. After all, it was he who saw the possibility of calculatedly making a rock group the focal point of a teenage revolution. The Who, being the group. The mods, being the teenage revolution. Without his style, his "suss", it's doubtful whether The Who would carry the cultural weight they do today and it's doubtful whether Modism would have spread so far, so fast.

What Meaden had was a flair for image, a love of music and a gift for gauging the spirit of the times. What he didn't have was organisational ability and a tough business edge. His shortcomings saw him virtually giving The Who's management away just as the group were making it on the strength of his ideas.

I first met Meaden in the summer of 1975 when I was researching for a book, "A decade of The Who" (Fabulous Music Ltd.) After a series of 'phone calls, I tracked down the man nobody had heard of for years. He was a patient in a mental hospital just outside London.

Our first talk together on the 'phone got us off to a good start and resulted in the two interviews combined below – one of which took place in my flat, the other back at his room in the hospital. He’d talked to the press only once before and it was as though all the accumulated history was bursting out now he’d found someone to listen. He also seemed to feel that he’d found an opportunity to establish his role in the history of The Who.

Later I talked to Pete Townshend who admitted that there have been no Who as we know them today if it hadn’t have been for Meaden. Daltrey was too quick to confirm his role. “He didn’t really have to force his ideas on us very hard. He thought we could pick up on the mod thing and he was right because mods had no focal point at all and The Who became that, we became the spokesmen. When Kit and Chris took over management they basically just took Meaden’s ideas and made them bigger”.

I saw a lot of Pete Meaden during the three days following our interview. It was a time during which he pulled himself together after years of drug abuse, a nervous breakdown and a divorce. He got back into the music business co-managing The Steve Gibbons Band along with Who manager Bill Curbishley. A decade or more after The High Numbers, here he was back again in The Who camp.

The last time I saw him was in June 1978, when he came along to hear me read my poetry at a small theatre club in Waterloo. He was full of smiles but there was a vacancy behind it all. We went for a drink and his conversation was disjoined, abstract. All I can remember now are some apocryphal visions of the end of the world and some questions about religion: “Who’s the one then – Meher Baba or Jesus?”

Within a month, he was found dead in bed of barbiturate poisoning. He was 36 and back living with his parents in the home where he’d dreamed up The High Numbers and written “I am the face”. The coroner passed an open verdict although close friends feel that Meaden knew too much about drugs to die of a careless mistake.

It seemed a very mod place to die, a cramped terraced house in an Edmonton cul-de-sac, and also a very mod way to die. Before his death he’d been feeding in ideas to the writers and producers of Quadrophenia. I think he would have liked the result but I can’t imagine him being more than amused at the mod revival: the spirit of modism was after also much against re-creating the past. Modism was pushing forward.

- Where do we begin?

- Existing is what it’s all about because with society as we know it breaking down, I think that survival is of the utmost importance. It’s all very well being immensely talented, having a good time and making great music – but not being able to sustain it. This sustaining bit is the most important of all, and The Who are survivors. That’s what I’m interested in, what I’ve always been interested in. There was a long period of time when The Who didn’t have any hit records at all, but their music is survival music, by the pure power of sustaining, sustaining power. That’s what you have to say about The Who. This is what I built on in the first place. I say I, because I think nodody’s had more effect on their career, as I did, in putting together The High Numbers. I met them with a guy called Bob Druce and another feller called Helmut Gordon. Bob Druce was an agent who booked them and he said he had a contract on The Who in his desk. I was introduced to The Who by my barber, via a friend of mine who was a mutual friend called Phil The Greek. Phil The Greek was later to appear on television on Ready, Steady, Go! with a loaded sawn-off shotgun, you know? He was one of the great legends of folklore and pop history.

- Do you think the Mod thing is still alive?

- I wonder actually where all the old Mods went. They’re probably all in garages, second-hand car outfits, scrap-yards, something like that. ‘Cos there’s such a thing as Mod Suss – you know – sussing out a situation. That’s what Mods are about – suss out a situation immediately, its potential, controlling it. Rather than letting the potential control you. So I would think they’d get in the car game – that’s were most money is made very quickly.

- Are you in touch with some of your old mates?

- Yeah, one’s a coke dealer, one’s in prison, and another one’s Phil The Greek, the guy who appeared on TV with a shotgun with The Who on Ready, Steady, Go! who was a great Mod leader of them all. Pete Townshend and I talk about him often.

The black girls are Mod chicks of today. Those little spade chicks you see running round in stacked heels and wedges, wearing sort of Ossie Clarke clothes. The blacks were always there in ’64, there weren’t so many of them – they were late-night kids like us – you’d go out on a three-day bender, you know? Hit out on a Friday night, high on speed, down to Ready, Steady, Go!, down to The Scene Club, dance all night till Saturday morning. Saturday, you’d go shopping, to buy a pullover, or scarf, or something – pair of socks, ‘cos your feet hurt dancing all night in Desert boots. And then all through Saturday night again at The Scene Club all through to Sunday morning, that’s when the come-down comes down, ‘cos you can’t sustain it much more than three days, two nights. Three days and you start heading home to Mama’s place, you know ‘cos you live at home, you can’t afford to live anywhere else. And then you crash, round about Sunday morning, if you can get a lift home to North London, where I was. And that was the life – It was the most amazing sort of life you could imagine – it was so amazing.

- What do you mean when you say ‘you got The Who together?

- I got them together in that I love the life so much. I got The Who and I dressed them up in Mod clothes, gave them all the jingoism and all the paraphernalia of Modism, boxing boots and fashionable things, right on the buttom, timing just right, ‘cos timing is where it’s at.

- You were already a Mod by then?

- Yeah, I was a Mod. It was my life. There was as little club called The Scene, just a Ham Yard, off of Great Windmill Street, and there, on several nights a week the greatest records you can imagine were being played. There were records like “Ain’t love good, ain’t love proud” by Tony Clarke; Major Lance’s stuff; Smokey Robinson, early Curtis Mayfield’s Impressions stuff, you know, which was eminently danceable by people who where not emotionally involved with other people. There was a lack of women in those things. I mean we all dig women, but if you are in the West End, you know that you pay for your women, and well, you don’t get them, ‘cos the girls that come up are mysteries, right. You get girls that come up and dance around, little girls that just dance around in the pubs, just having a little dance, just having a little groove. The records were played by loud over those big speakers, like fairground speakers, and in a small room, which was what The Scene Club was, with concrete walls, so it comes bouncing back, hitting off the floor – there was no wooden floor, hits off the ceiling, so you’re getting saturated with sound, and then they start pulling down the stops, you’re getting a psychedelic record in ’64. So you’re picking up on the body all the time. This is what Mods are about, they’re very physical people. Drynamil is a drug for Mods, because it’s a functional drug, it’s a drug you can work on, you can steal in the shops on it, do all the things you need to do, you can dance on it – you lose all lack of confidence, you lose guilt. It opens up the capillary vessels of the body, therefore, with the aid of this drug you have your own society, you have Nirvana, in a single purple heart pill. Plus you got your togs, which is your clothes, you have the confidence, plus you have the sustaining power three days up, two nights up. I think it’s a groove, I think it’s fabulous, man!

- When did you first notice all this happening?

- When my doctor gave me Drynamil for anxiety. She gave me the original Drynamil, the original Purple Hearts. And I went back that night to my place, my parent’s house where I was working from, and I took one. It’s probably doing something physically way down your system and you don’t notice it. Then, suddenly, Bang! I was free! I was unburdened by chains of resistance. I was able to write and draw and do all the things I wanted to do, without the restraints of normal civilisation bothering me, like feeling it’s late, and having to go to bed. It was just as simple as that. I sat up through the night and finished the book in that one night.

- Were pills very popular then?

- No, well this is how I discovered them. This was 1962, actually.

- So the Mods weren’t in existence then?

- No, they weren’t in existence, but Jack Kerouac was. So anyway, I took the Drynamil. I finished the book that night and I was up for three nights trying to wear my energy off. My own personal feeling is that the debt you have to pay for drugs is too much to compensate for taking the drug in the first place. I always say don’t take the drug whatsoever. A few smokes, a few beers, speed a little bit now and again, be careful with anything else. That’s all.

- Did you sort of think that you were the king Mod at the time?

- No. I was the feller who saw the potential in Modism, which is the greatest form of life-style you can imagine – it’s so totally free – totally anti-family London – In so much as that there were lonely people having a great time. Not having to be lonely, not having to be worried about relationships, being able to get into the most fantastic interesting, beautiful situations, just out of music. You could dance by yourself, you could groove around. I saw this as a weekend. I mean, imagine this, on a Friday night I would go to Ready, Steady, Go! groove around there, and one weekend I had three people on there: I had The Crystals, Chuck Berry and The Rolling Stones – doing publicity for those three people. They used to say, The Weekend Starts Here and weekend would begin there. I would get my speed and go down there, I would go up to the Green Room, and watch my people, that I was working for having a great time at television. There’d be all the faces and people I knew. A face is just someone you recognise, you might not even know his name, but he’s known as a face.

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