Pete Meaden 3

Pete Meaden holds a distinct place in the story of the mod subculture. Arguably one of the first to define the pure mod lifestyle and to push the joys of modernism overground, to a wider audience.

He was above all an obsessive who believed in mod as a way of life, a means of negotiating the accelerated times that were emerging, as old attitudes to life in post war Britain began to give way and buckle under the emergence of a new decade that craved new influences and the new freedoms they would create.

Obsession is a very Mod word. At its core Mod is obssesed. With clothes, with music, with the minute details of secret dress codes presented as a series of ‘signs’ that once read correctly afforded entrance in to a new and exciting world, a parallel world hidden from the uninitiated.

Meaden loved the life and was zealot-like in his belief that this was the life to live.

Born and raised in Edmonton (in the borough of Enfield, London). As a teenager Meaden worked initially in a restaurent before discovering and hurtling straight to the centre of a newly emerging world. He embraced the new scene, adopting its way of life and discovering he could make it his own. It’s often said that Mods lived for the weekend, that off-duty period away from the confines of work and the straight world. Meaden relished it more than most and set about developing a 24/7 approach to this lifestyle.

Now working by day in an advertising agency on New Oxford Street (a job that in itself was a new type of job revealed by the changing times) Meaden devoted himself to ‘the life’.

When not at work his world revolved around a small area of Soho. From The Scene Club in Ham Yard to The Flamingo on Wardour Street he lived his life exclusively to the new sounds these clubs promoted – the tough, funky R&B and soul sounds emerging from young, black America.

Meadens headlong dive into this world soon saw him ascend to the position of a “face”. Someone others looked up to on a scene that prided itself on individuality and always being one step ahead, in the know.

This new world with its thirst for new sounds the latest looks and new kicks opened up further as Meaden began to get involved in PR for a number of new artists and musicians bursting on to the scene.

“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. 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”.

Hooking up with Andrew Loog Oldham ( a man with not an insignificant amount of style and verve himself) Meaden began to introduce and immerse his new friend in the world of Mod. Already a clothes obsessive Oldham shared with Meaden a love of American Ivy League clothing ( a look co-opted from the colleges of America by the new breed of black, jazz musicians). When not checking out and discovering the newly emerging boutiques offering this look they could be found deep within the Mod underground of clubs, wrapped up in the latest music, their own schemes and dreams all fuelled by copious amounts of Drynamil (Purple Hearts – the Mods amphetamine drug of choice).

The pairs ambition knew no bounds and they joined forces to create a new kind of PR company. They named the new company Image. With our current climate where marketing and highly glossed surfaces are part of the norm it’s hard to imagine how fresh and new this sounded. The slogan for Meaden and Oldhams new company was ‘Feets Ahead’.

With a mix of arrogance and self-belief Oldham landed a job to design an invite for the reception of a soon to be opened John Michael boutique on Bond Street, well known for supplying casual, expensive clothing to those who knew the difference. The brief was tailor made for the newly formed Image. The invite was delivered on a shirt cuff peaking out from under striped suit fabric. A sensational idea, perfect for the times, that announced their new company in style.

Despite this early sucess they failed to push forwards their new agency. There were signs that the Meaden/Oldham partnership (and friendship) was begining to crack. Maybe the pace of Meadens hightened, amphetamine-fuelled lifestyle didnt help (tho’ Oldham wasn’t too far behind on this front). After their proposal for John Michaels Sportique Boutique, so far ahead of its time (featuring a story-line with overtly gay undertones) was thrown out Image seemed to have run its course.

Oldham continued with his career in PR for the music business and would soon hook up with the Rolling Stones to catapult their early career through a series of sensational stories delivered in an ultra-hip prose.

Meaden fell back on his day job at the ad agency, still speeding through the world of Mod. An introduction courtesy of his regular hairdresser (Jack the Barber) however was about to present a new opportunity. A golden opportunity.

Via their manager Helmut Goulden, Meaden was introduced to a young band trading under the name The Who. At the time the band were a fairly robust R&B band, sounding and looking how the fashion of the day dictated. Pete Meaden had his own ideas on how they should look and sound.

Something in their aggressive appearance and delivery sparked an idea in Meaden. Until that point the Mods soundtrack had been the latest, rarest soul sounds from the US from labels like Stax and Motown. Here was a band who could encapsulate the aggression and articulate the frustrations of the Mods, a band they could call their own. Meaden set about introducing The Who to the world of the Mods.

With financial assistance from Goulden (to the tune of £50) Meaden immediately blew the cash on what else? Clothes. More than anything else clothes defined the Mod scene.

“I mean, I was known as the low-budget man, so I thought, ‘Great, man, here we go another low-budget number’. Fifty quid I got this time, to make a supergroup out of. I spent it all on clothes, of course, ‘cause togs are the only things that keep a mod together. It’s like he’s a bag of protoplasm, smashed out of his head on the street. With his togs and a few pills inside him, he’s God. He’s as much God as you or I, he’s as heavy as you want him to be.”

Meadens enthusiasm was contagious and The Who were fully onboard. So much so they changed their name (at Meadens suggestion) to The High Numbers and soon set about recording a single with lyrics by Meaden and tunes based on a couple of recent soul 45’s Meaden copped from Scene club DJ Guy Stevens. “Got Love If You Want It” by Slim Harpo became “I’m The Face” and “Country Fool” by The Showmen became “Zoot Suit”. Meaden hustled the hell out of the record but to no avail.

His idea for a full-on Mod inspired band did however continue to gain momentum. As the band moved forwards, putting the masters plan in to action Meaden seemed to show early signs of struggling under the pace at which he was living, essentially his almost continual ingestion of pills was begining to take its toll. As The High Numbers fast-forwarded, fully taking their cues from the Meaden-inspired concept Peter himself seemed to be heading for self-destruction in his quest to live his life at the pace his concept of Mod demanded.

After being aproached at one of the bands gigs by a couple of film producers, Meaden went in to overdrive, his hipper than hip spiel sparking an interest in the band way beyond them appearing in any film. Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp had soon wrestled the group away form Goulden and took charge of their affairs. Whilst the group remained loyal to Meaden his state of mind started being questioned due to the quantity of drugs he was taking.

Meaden had been the man in the know, with a head full of ideas and concepts but his incoherence and zig-zagging thought process was now deemed a hindrance. He was finally ousted from the circle and paid off for the staggeringly small sum of £150. Meaden walked away from the band he had such a strong vision for and the band were again called The Who.

The conundrum of Meaden story is the very lifestyle he believed in, had come to epitomise began to conspire against him, began to negate his vision and ideas. Drug dependency robbed him of the very thing he excelled at, the ability to excite and convince others his latest plan was the only way forward.

Meaden continued to work in and around the music business for the next few years but never again would his mod vision approach the clarity and brilliance of his High Numbers, mod band for mods idea. After battling with constant drug addiction he was tracked dwon in 1975 by Steve Turner, an NME journalist who prised the story of his formative years and dreams for Mod from him, demonstrating that his clarity of thought and intelligence may not have been lost completely.

Seemingly on a sort-of road to recovery Meaden was briefly involved as part of the production team for The Who’s Quadrophenia film. Charged with sourcing authentic locations from the original scene he seemed to be if not back on form, at least back in the game. Any optimism for the future however was short lived and in 1978 Peter Meaden sadly, died from a barbituate overdose at his parents home.

Meaden more than anyone epitomised and sought to introduce the Mod lifestyle to a wider audience. His idea not simply to exploit but simply to open peoples eyes to something he believed in so strongly. Ultimately Meaden, once out of control, took it to the very edge and ended up paying a hefty price. A sad outcome for sure but one that did not mean Peter Meadens enthusiasm for all things Mod was wrong. Over the proceeding years the Mod lifestyle has continued to excite and inspire, proving the point that Meadens point that here was something, another way of living, that was worth getting obssesed over.

“Modism, Mod living, is an aphorism for clean living under difficult circumstances”

Peter Meaden

© subbaculture 2011

Some of the research for this piece came from these excellent books.

There’s a good piece by Eddie Piller on Meaden/The Who/Quadrophenia here

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