Written by Alan Merrill Sat Sep 24, 2005 8:47 pm
When I arrived in London in late 1973 I had no specific plan. I had jumped ship in anger from my Tokyo based band Vodka Collins as a result of management mishandling band money. Because of this thieving management, although I’d had hit singles in Japan when I got to London I was flat broke with only two guitars (one Hofner bass and one Gibson ES 340 TD electric) and a small suitcase.
My old New York high school friend from way back in 1965 guitarist Jake Hooker had called me in Tokyo and told me that he had a deal for us with the head of Decca records rock and pop division, Dick Rowe, and all I had to do was quit my band in Japan and fly over to England.
Not true at all as I later learned. Jake had actually sold a Marshall amplifier (an amp paid for by Decca) to buy my plane ticket from Tokyo to London. Jake had been signed to Decca’s subsidiary label Deram with a band called Streak. They were dropped after one single release that flopped, “Bang Bang Bullit.”
Streak was a group that Jake and I had started back in 1971 while I was on vacation from Japan and our other member was drummer John Siomos. Jake took the Streak demos that we we had made in New York and parlayed them into a deal in London with totally new players, Ben Brierley and drummer David Wesley (with Paul Varley replacing David later) who were not on the tape. A neat trick since I was singing lead and had written the songs. The deal was done through my friend and contact in London (manager) Tony Hall who I had met when I performed (solo, backed up by a band called the Rock Pilots) for a week on the same pop bill with his act Arrival at Expo ‘70 in Osaka. I had given Jake Tony Hall’s contact information in a mad moment of generosity. Once again it was a classic case of my old saying “generosity killed the cat” in action.
My first meeting with Decca’s Dick Rowe was cursory and direct. I got the feeling by instinct that his relationship with Jake had already soured by the time I got to London. He said he didn’t think that Jake and I could have a successful unit, joking off the cuff that he had said the same thing to The Beatles some years prior, so not to be too disheartened by it. I wasn’t.
I was annoyed at Jake for exaggerating that there was a sure fire deal with Decca. Now that I was in the UK there was no turning back to Japan and I had no money. My back was to the wall.
Reeling back in time. While I was in Japan in 1972 toiling away, Jake had met the legendary Peter Meaden socially and had formed a friendship with him. Jake “the snake” had told Peter about me, giving me the big build up and he told Peter that when I came over to London the band would surely blossom into a world class act. I met Peter within my first few days in London with Jake at a pub in Worlds End, and we hit it off right away. The pub was all the way up at the end of King’s Road, and full of mostly old drunks. We stood out in our rock ‘n roll clothing and drew some barbed pejoratives from the assembled crowd. Peter dismissed them with a wave of his hand and a skyward glance.
Meaden was immediately charming and entertaining. I felt totally at ease with him, his intense energy. I thought at that moment that at least Jake knew someone with credibility who wanted to help us get the band started. It was the first glimmer of light I saw that something might actually happen for our new band in London.
Left-Right: Jake Hooker and Alan Merrill in London, December 1973, New King’s Road- The rehearsal phase at the start of the band.
Peter was quite a character, and the first thing I noticed was that before he spoke even a single word he would form his mouth into a perfect O shape and hold it there for a moment or two, and then he would speak. I haven’t ever seen anyone do this in my lfe, not before or since. It was totally unique to Peter Meaden. We talked about the 60’s mod London scene and The Who. If Peter had any sour grapes about losing management of the band The Who to Chris Stamp, he never said a word about it to me. He loved The Who unconditionally.
What impressed me the most was that he wanted to manage our new band! I mean, this was the guy who had written “I’m The Face” and was a living treasure of London mod rock. The Who’s original manager.
The name Peter Meaden was the stuff of British music legend so I naturally wanted him on board as manager! He was well respected and industry connected. Plus I liked him a lot. Why not?
So it came to pass that Peter Meaden became The Arrows first manager.
The fledgling Arrows rehearsed at Manno’s vast studios on King’s Road, with Peter there listening and offering suggestions. Paul Varley on drums, Jake Hooker on guitar and yours truly on bass and vocals. Peter was very involved in the creative process, offering ideas both musical and band image which we discussed in a nearby pub after rehearsals. He was clearly not going to be a manager who just sat back and collected a percentage.
He would be a hands on manager, involved in all aspects of developing the band. Peter had many ideas about group image, creating very clear cut black and white media persona for each member of the band. He felt that aspect of image was crucial for developing a successful act.
Early Arrows - Alan Merrill at Manno’s winter ‘73 with a Rickenbacker bass from Maurice Plaquet rentals-
Time marched on and around December Jake and I were actively seeking a publishing deal as a writing duo with Peter suggesting places we should try. I needed money badly. My girlfriend was coming over from Japan and I still had no flat (apartment) of my own, living on Jake’s sofa on Mulberry Close. I had to get something soon, some earning situation, or be totally embarrassed when my girlfriend arrived.
We toted acoustic guitars around the publishing divisions of various record labels, not using tapes, and I sang the songs live right there in offices. At Motown, Bell records, CBS, others and finally RAK. Dave Most (real name David Hayes) was the head of the RAK publishing division, and he liked our live presentation so much he wanted to sign us to a publishing deal. He asked his brother, producer Mickie Most (real name Michael Hayes) to come in and when he did Mickie had a whole other idea/agenda after hearing me sing,. That was with a song called “Touch Too Much.” He wanted us to record the song as a single for his RAK record label, and he said he’d produce the record himself. This all happened in one day.
It was a bit overwhelming because Mickie was one of the biggest producers in the industry. He could practically guarantee success for an act.
After the meeting with the Most Brothers, we talked to Peter Meaden and he told us vehemently, with much physical animation, that it would be a mistake. His arms waving about he extolled the drawbacks of signing with Mickie. He’d make us into a teenybop act, Peter said, visibly dismayed. He then said that if we signed to RAK he’d have to bow out of the picture.
"Why?" we asked, more than a little disappointed.
Although he said he’d remain a friend and supporter of the band, Peter said there was no way that he’d feel comfortable working with Mickie Most. It simply wouldn’t work. He didn’t elaborate.
Well, I needed to earn some money and fast. My shoes literally had holes in them from walking the streets of London looking for a publishing and recording deal. Mickie had already offered the band a small retainer to live, so we signed with Mickie Most and Peter Meaden immediately bowed out of The Arrows situation.
I was able to get a flat of my own with the money and Mickie Most took us into the studio.
We approached other management, because things were getting serious. Barry Krost, who managed Cat Stevens made a disparaging remark about not wanting to “chase pennies from pop hit singles” and making a face, he passed. Then we tried Ian Cassie and Dave Crowe, who managed Barclay James Harvest. They were ineffective in getting us a deal.
Mickie Most then said he’d manage the band himself.
Ironically, Dave Crowe would work for RAK records a few years later.
Well, Arrows had a top ten hit with Mickie’s song choice, Chinn and Chapman’s composition “Touch Too Much,” and I hadn’t even been in London 6 months from Tokyo. My girlfriend arrived from Japan, and I had a nice flat waiting for us to share at The Nell Gwynn House on Sloane Street, just off of the King’s Road. I would run into Peter Meaden from time to time, and he never disguised how disappointed he was that the band Arrows, who he knew as a real rock ‘n roll band right from the start had sold out to the teen market basically for rent money and a retainer.
The last time I saw Peter was in February 1976, and I’m happy to say that we had a terrific time together. Arrows had two hit singles by then and I had split up with my Japanese girlfriend, and was living in Notting Hill Gate at Campden Hill Gardens. Peter was managing the Steve Gibbons band, and he invited us (Arrows) to go see them open up for Lynard Skynyrd. We all met at the Portobello Hotel and rode the Gibbons band tour bus to the Rainbow theater where the show was booked. I sat next to Trevor Burton on the bus, and for me it was one of those surreal rock ‘n roll moments, my having been a big fan of his band The Move. Peter was standing up in front of me and Trevor, holding on to seats for balance as the bus rolled. He was excitedly explaining to me that Trevor was the band’s “leather boy,” an image that Peter had conjured up for him. Trevor was acting out that look in clothing and attitude, leather clad head to toe, chewing gum and with a motorcycle cap topping it off. A look that would be oft copied by bands like Judas Priest when the heavy metal scene came to pass.
When we arrived, we all got off the tour bus and entered the venue, The Rainbow Theater in Finsbury Park, London. Then Peter suggested we have drinks at the backstage artistes bar. It was a small dark green hued room with a wooden bar and stucco walls, where Peter was holding court telling stories to us and others assembled at the small bar.
Then it was time for the Gibbons band to take the stage, so Peter took us out to our seats he had reserved for us all. The band were very good, and to me the bearded Steve Gibbons looked like Hercules, a Cine Citta film hero. The band didn’t really have a cohesive look (uncharacteristic for a Meaden managed act, I thought) but their set was excellent.
When Lynard Skynyrd came on, the Gibbons band came out and filled the empty reserved seats around us and we all watched the show together.
I liked the two Skynard guitar players, and they all played and sang well. It wasn’t my taste in music, I liked British bands, but I could understand their appeal to a certain faction of rock fans.
After the show we all piled in to the Gibbons bus again, and were off to a post show party at a Greek restaurant. We were joined at the restaurant by members of Bad Company, so there were then four bands sat around at various tables, The Steve Gibbons Band, Bad Company, Lynard Skynyrd, and The Arrows. The food was good and we all drank Ouzo, wine and beer.
After dinner all of the bands destroyed many plates, as is the tradition in Greek restaurants, then some tables were pushed over, then windows were cracked, not Greek tradition. We were asked to leave.
The party moved to the Portobello Hotel, the bus and driver now gone home we needed to take taxis. The bar at the Portobello was open 24/7. All the bands knew where to go for drinks after hours. This was one of the most popular spots. We were moving, this hoard of drunk and disorderly musicians, to a new location.
Bad Company members Simon Kirke and Paul Rodgers were drunk beyond hope and reason, and aggressively started turning over tables, yelling at the hotel restaurant attendants, one of whom was my Notting Hill Gate upstairs neighbor Cheryl Newton. My landlord T.S. Herring actually owned the hotel as well, so I was on thin ice.
We were once again asked to leave, as it was explained that there were actually guests sleeping upstairs in the hotel.
A hotel staffer (Alan “Rag & Bone” Jones) commented that we all looked like a scene out of the horror film “Night of the living dead.”
Morning was breaking. After saying a boozy thank you to Peter Meaden for a fantastic night, I said goodbye and got into a taxi back to my flat nearby in Notting Hill Gate.
I never saw him again.
(editors note: Peter Meaden died of suicide in 1978.)