Monday 13 October 2008


Jet Harris & Tony Meehan were the unlikely duo who split away
from The Shadows, and then briefly dominated the charts with
two monster singles – “Diamonds” and “Scarlet O’Hara”.
During the long hot Summer of 1963 they also played the
Bridlington Spa Theatre… the first Rock gig I ever witnessed…

Holidaying at Auntie Dorothy’s in Bridlington, and not quite sixteen. Jet Harris & Tony Meehan topping the bill at the Spa Theatre, and I’m determined to be there. The theatre overlooks the promenade and, a little further away, the curve of the harbour where the fishing boats offload their catch. The posters announce a strange ‘Sunday Variety’ bill. Exact details now beyond recall, choreographed dancers, a comedian, and a Big Band swing-style girl vocalist to endure, linked by a wise-cracking comedian, before the bill-toppers. I’m hunched in the circle, looking down on tiers of stall-seats towards a stage framed by lavish velvet crimson curtains. Expectations way-high. 1963 is remembered as the year of the Merseybeat explosion, with first no.1’s from the Beatles, Searchers and Gerry & The Pacemakers. With Billy J Kramer with the Dakotas “Bad To Me” playing on every Games Arcade juke-box along the seafront. But there are other factors still at play. As an integral axis of the original Shadows – both on-stage with or without Cliff Richard, Terence ‘Jet’ Harris & David Joseph Anthony Meehan formed a vital element of the most powerful force in early British Rock ‘n’ Roll, one that dominated the years they shared. Jet’s surly good looks made him a clear visual focal point. The second Shadows single in their own name, in 1959, was “Jet Black”, carrying his name and his deep Duane Eddy bass-lines. Their records were everywhere studied and copied, chord-by-chord, by serious bedroom guitar-obsessives. But, with Hank Marvin’s spec’s appeal and tremolo lead guitar defining the sound, he’d reached the limits of what he could be. Jet was born 6th July 1939 in Kingsbury, Middlesex, Tony in Hampstead on 2nd March 1943. They’d both served apprenticeships with various line-ups during 1958 – Jet with Tony Crombie and the Vipers Skiffle Group, when Cliff recruited them on bass and into the drum-chair respectively for his backing group the Drifters, who drifted into The Shadows, then racked up five huge Top Ten hits in their own right before Tony quit in October 1961. Jet hung in through until March 1962 before he left to attempt a solo career. He had a couple of minor hits – “Besame Mucho” and the ‘main title theme’ from Frank Sinatra’s drug-movie “The Man With The Golden Arm”, before he re-teamed with Tony – who’d been caught up in production-work for Decca. “Diamonds” c/w “Footstomp”, produced by Tony with Dick Rowe, emerged the tail-end of 1962. Written by singer/tunesmith Jerry Lordan, already responsible for Shadows’ no.1’s “Apache” and “Wonderful Land”, it was dominated by Jet’s six-string Fender Precision bass, with his cleanly structured muscular guitar building into brief precise drum-break solos, balancing together into an immaculate showcase for their duopoly. According to legend, Jimmy Page plays acoustic rhythm guitar on the sessions. And as “Diamonds” hit no.1 – ironically deposing the Shadows’ “Dance On”, both John ‘Mahavishnu’ McLoughlin and John Paul Jones were part of the Jet Harris & Tony Meehan stage-band. Maybe they were playing this night? As part of the summer tour they’d played the Margate Winter Gardens 2nd June. Now “Diamonds” opens their too-brief bill-topping set in Bridlington. Blonde Jet personifies the moody sharply-suited proto-guitar hero before they’d even defined the term. Tony, dark-haired, distracting attention during their shared vocals on “Doin’ The Hully-Gully”, the neat dance-fad ‘B’-side of “Scarlet O’Hara” – their second duo single. It was no.2 23rd May, one rung below the Beatles “From Me To You”. Jet switches to amplified acoustic to announce their forthcoming next single, “Applejack”, kicking the flex irritably aside with his highly-polished black patent leather shoe, holding his guitar high for fingering. Some time after the event, after my holiday, it would go on to hit no.4, 26th September (beneath “She Loves You”), but by then more than just the summer would be all over. They’d shared the cover story of ‘New Musical Express’ (17th May 1963) to regale interviewer Derek Johnson with their plans to tackle such new musical territory – plans doomed never to materialise. Speaking about each other Jet claimed ‘as a musician, Tony is one of the best, I have learned musical terms and ways that I never knew existed. He’s a wizard and impresses me a great deal’. Tony responds ‘I have learned a great deal from Jet about stage-work, self-confidence and how to present myself!’ On Saturday 31st August I watch them head the bill on ABC-TV’s ‘Thank Your Lucky Stars’ ‘Summer Spin’ special, with Pete Murray opening the show at 6:05, building though Ronnie Hilton and Jimmy Justice, impatiently waiting until Jet & Tony mime “Applejack into the close towards 6:45. Chris Williams reviewed the single in ‘New Musical Express’ dated 6th September… then, at the end of that same month, Jet’s car horrendously autowrecks into a double-decker bus, mutilating him and girlfriend passenger Billie Davis. His career never recovered. According to legend he managed a final duo appearance on ‘Ready Steady Go’ three weeks later, went home and smashed all his guitars. As Jet drifted obliquely into long dark mythology as Brit-Rock’s first great martyred casualty, Tony slipped more modestly back into studio work. I reluctantly went back to school.

‘Besame Mucho’ c/w ‘Chills And Fever’ (Decca F11466) reaches no.22, 7 June 1962
‘Jet Harris’ EP with ‘Besame Mucho’, ‘Rave’, ‘Some People’, ‘Real Wild Child’ (Decca DF 8502)
‘(Main Title Theme From) The Man With The Golden Arm’ c/w ‘Some People’ (Decca F11488) reaches no.12, 13 September 1962

‘Diamonds’ c/w ‘Footstomp’ (Decca F11563) reaches no.1, 31 January 1963
‘Scarlet O’Hara’ c/w ‘Doin’ The Hully Gully’ (Decca F11644) reaches no.2, 23 May 1963
‘Applejack’ c/w ‘The Tall Texan’ (Decca F11710) reaches no.4, 26 September 1963
‘The Best Of Jet Harris & Tony Meehan’ (CD, 2000) with Jet & Tony: ‘Diamonds’, ‘Footstomp’ (from soundtrack of the film ‘Just For Fun’), ‘Scarlet O’Hara’, ‘Doin’ The Hully Gully’, ‘Applejack’, ‘The Tall Texan’ – Tony solo: ‘Song Of Mexico’, ‘Kings Go Fifth’ – Jet solo: ‘Besame Mucho’, ‘Chills & Fever’, ‘Lonesome Part Of Town’, ‘Again’, ‘Man From Nowhere’, ‘Rave’, ‘Big Bad Bass’, ‘Rifka’, ‘Some People’, ‘(Main Title Theme From) The Man With The Golden Arm’
‘Diamonds & Other Gems: The Complete Decca Singles’ (CD, 2008) track-listing as ‘The Best Of...’ + ‘Wild Child (Real Wild Child)’, ‘Clap Your Hands (Once Again)’ and ‘Rifka (alternate version)’

‘Song Of Mexico’ c/w ‘Kings Go Fifth’ (Decca F11801) reaches no.39, 23 January 1964

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