As a youth with my Mod head on, I distinctly remember reading somewhere that Pete Meaden lived in Soho, with only a wardrobe and an ironing board for company. With him being out every night, this was all he needed.
Through reading anything I could lay my hands on back then and hearing the stories that were handed down to us pups on the scene, Meaden was painted as the arch mover, shaker and hustler of that Mod fuelled era. Publicist, stylist, songwriter and manager, he was and remains acknowledged as someone who saw the lasting potential of Mod.
Acid Jazz supremo Edie Piller has described his ideas as ‘setting the standard for the concept of youth-culture-as-art-as-commodity.’
Peter Alexander Edwin Meaden was born in November 1941. A modernist from its early days, he is perhaps best remembered for being the first manager of The Who in 1964, picking up on the band after being made aware of them it is said by his barber.
He then used that self same barber to give a Mod makeover, telling them ‘everybody’s’ got long hair, get yours cut.’ In doing so, he found an ally in guitarist and main songwriter in the line up, namely Pete Townsend. Front man and singer, Roger Daltrey, however was somewhat sceptical at first.
‘The Mod look was very clean-cut, Ivy League, fashion conscious, which was exactly the opposite from the Stones. Peter told us to do it, and he was right. Our personalities didn’t change, we were still a bunch of rotten, dirty-boy rock’n’rollers, but kids began identifying with our short hair and Ivy League clothes, and it just took off from there.’
He also changed their name to the High Numbers and wrote their first single ‘I’m A Face’, which was heavily influenced by ‘Got Love’ by Slim Harpo. The B-side ‘Zoot Suit’ again by Meaden, this time hooked in ‘Misery’ by The Dynamics as its foundation. Only a 1000 copies were initially manufactured and it failed to chart. Mint copies today, go for very decent money
Instead it was as a live act that the band developed their very healthy following in legendary nights at such venues as The Glenlyn Ballroom in Forest Hill and of course, The Railway Hotel in Harrow.
Seeing the full potential of the group, Chris Stamp and Kit Lambert moved in and bought out Meaden for £150, therefore taking over the managerial duties.
The band returned to the name of The Who, and it was clear that Townsend had found his voice, and it was now fully soaked in the Mod lifestyle, delivering the early singles ‘I Can’t Explain’ ‘Substitute’ and ‘My Generation’.
Meaden simply moved on, grafting for, in one capacity or the other, the likes of Andrew Loog Oldham and The Rolling Stones Chuck Berry, Jimmy James and The Vagabonds, The Crystals, Georgie Fame, and Bob Dylan.
Years later, when he read the script of the film ‘Quadrophenia’ he is quoted as saying ‘Townshend’s writing about me, man, this is the story of my life’.
Eddie Piller again ‘the parallels between Jimmy Cooper and Peter Meaden were obvious. A sea of amphetamine, insecurity and paranoia… eventually overwhelms Cooper. This was sadly reflected when Meaden ended his own life with an overdose just before Quadrophenia finished production. His genius was a sporadic thing. Moments of complete clarity in pursuit of the aesthetic commercial ideal contrasted with periods of dark depression. He died without ever seeing the end result on screen.’
Pete Meaden died aged 36 in July 1978 at the home of his parents. A few years earlier he had been an inmate of a mental hospital, his fragile mind affected after years of substance abuse and as a result of nervous breakdown.
He died just a month before Keith Moon. His old band, The Who took care of the funeral expenses, though they did not attend the service.
During the research for this, I detected a distinct split in the camps for and against Pete Meaden. Some have him down as a visionary, constantly looking to convert the non-believers to the world of Mod, whereas others express the opinion that his contribution is overblown and myths and legends have taken the place of reality.
Personally, the fact that the likes of me are still curious enough to be writing about him means he certainly had a very important part of play in that fascinating time. After all, he came up with that immortal phrase, related to Steve Turner of the NME three years before he died
‘Modism, Mod living, is an aphorism for clean living under difficult circumstances.’
No one has ever put it better and no one ever will.
The Mumper of SE5
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