Michael Meade burst onto the Newcastle music scene in 1969 with a driving ambition to be a successful band manager. After running a small studio in Sunderland named Torino Sound, he also wanted his new studio in Newcastle, ‘Studio 1’, to be the best in the area.
Michael Meade was a charismatic character with an easy going nature that enabled him to get along with all kinds of people. His personality coupled with his business acumen were sure signs that he would become a successful music entrepreneur in the northeast and beyond for many years to come. But somehow that didn’t happen. Somewhere along the line Michael Meade developed a Jeckyll and Hyde side to his personality that would eventually contribute to his decline and horrific death.
My personal involvement with Mickey Meade was mainly in his role as the manager of one of my sixties bands. I liked him as a person and, for the most part, as a manager in spite of the reputation that music managers had in the sixties. Because of what had gone on in the music industry in the mid-sixties a lot of musicians, including myself, had a deep distrust of their managers.
During the sixties many successful bands and artists were ripped off by their managers. Some of the unscrupulous managers of that era were Don Arden (the Small Faces), Allen Klein (the Stones and the Beatles), Colonel Tom Parker (who took fifty per cent of Elvis’s earnings) and someone with strong northeast connections; owner of the Club A’Gogo, Mike Jeffery. Jeffery is alleged to have swindled both The Animals and Jimi Hendrix out of most of their earnings.
Agents and record company bosses didn’t fare much better than the bands’ managers when it came to taking advantage of their clients. But to be fair, in some cases the extent to which bands were cheated may have been exaggerated. In the fifties and sixties it would have cost management a lot of money under the “payola” system to get their acts to the top. Many palms had to be greased to get an artist’s records played on the radio and promoted to the UK charts. The money invested could hardly have been put through the books as a legitimate expense so would have to have been skimmed off their client’s earnings. In effect, managers acted illegally in the interest of their clients. They took personal risks so probably expected a little more than their agreed percentage.
So did the same things happen to local sixties bands in the northeast but on a lesser scale? Well I can only speak from my own personal experiences of playing in local bands between 1965 and 1972. With some managers I never felt as if I was being paid a fair proportion of the performance fees. Money was often withheld for a variety of reasons. One particular manager was a married man with a bit-on-the-side. His plan was to take the band to London, escape from his wife and find fame and fortune with his girlfriend in tow. I can definitely say that I didn’t receive much money during the time I was with that band between January and March 1968. I guess someone had to pay for his double life.
Some of my bands were unmanaged. Gigs were mainly through the Birchall Entertainment Agency. Ivan Birchall was a true gentleman. He was also very trusting to the extent that he allowed a band to pick up performance fees from the venue on the night of the gig and pay him his commission at a later date. I never once heard any suggestions that Ivan was dishonest.
I have to say that Michael Meade was different to all other managers I had encountered in the past. If you didn’t know Mike Meade then this blog may not interest you. If you are still reading I should warn you that the story has a very gruesome end to it.
I first met Michael Meade as a member of the northeast band Sneeze. Sneeze was formed in January 1969 out of several bands from the Ivan Birchall stable.
For a few months we didn’t see the need for a manager. Ivan was providing us with a lot of work – as many as six gigs week. Then in May 1969 things changed in the bizarre way. After a gig at Northern Counties College on 2nd May 1969 an obese character approached us and introduced himself as “Don”. His opening gambit was along the lines of – “Well I hope you guys have all got passports. You’re playing in Hamburg in a fortnight’s time. The month after you’re touring the States.”
A couple of us recognised the pure bullshit coming from Don’s mouth. As for the rest, they swallowed everything that he said hook, line and sinker.
After a few more carrots Don arranged to meet the band in Sunderland the following day.
The next day we all turned up at a meeting, which took place at a studio called Torino Sounds on Silksworth Row Bank, Sunderland. The owner of the studio was Michael Meade but at that particular meeting he kept a low profile. During the meeting Don outlined his plans for Sneeze’s first world tour.
Sometime later, Don took us to the office of a gentleman named James ‘Tappy’ Wright. Tappy had been the road manager for The Animals in their heyday. In May and June1969 he was trying to establish himself as a booking agent in direct competition with Ivan Birchall. To give his agency more credibility, he nominally linked himself to ex-Animal Alan Price, calling his business the Wright Price Agency. Tappy Wright’s office was on Great North Road. To impress potential clients, Tappy had several of The Animals gold discs on his walls. Just like Don, Tappy promised Sneeze some well-paid gigs, but nothing outside the Newcastle area.
We found out at a later date that before our encounter with Don, he had approached Tappy Wright and offered his services as a vocalist. Tappy told Don that if he wanted to be considered as an artist for the Wright Price Agency he should first of all find a backing band and then lose some excess weight. Don promised Tappy that he could achieve both these goals within a fortnight.
Of course, Don had no intention of getting Sneeze work in Hamburg, the States or anywhere else. His plan was to lure Sneeze into becoming his backing band. His plan fell apart the following week at a second meeting in Torino Sounds Studio. “Hey guys, I just want to see how versatile you are. Could you play me the backing for ‘In My Life’ by the Beatles?” So we played it. And Don started singing but in a different key to the band. Everyone fell about laughing.
Poor Don. He must have realised at that stage that his potential career as a vocalist wasn’t going to happen. But Don didn’t give up with the band. Somehow he became Sneeze’s manager for a short while. He recruited one of his mates as a co-manager-cum-roadie and between them they decided that their cut was to be twenty per cent of the gig money. The couple of bookings Don did get for the band were through Tappy Wright who was also taking an agent’s percentage. We knew we were being ripped off but Don’s co-manager was a big bloke and no one fancied a confrontation. We decided to bide our time hoping that an opportunity to dispose of our unwanted management team would turn up.
That opportunity arose a few weeks later at a dance in a Northumberland youth club – one of the gigs that Don had booked for the band. The actual fee for the gig was quite small so Don decided to boost the band’s earnings and his commission by breaking into the youth club’s office and stealing the petty cash box. Enough was enough – Don was given the push that night and we never saw him again.
Michael Meade, who had been lurking in the background throughout Don’s reign, offered his services as Sneeze’s manager with promises of supplying the band with brand new equipment. Michael Meade who was affectionately known as Mickey Torino became Sneeze’s next manager. The first time he showed up at a Sneeze gig was at Barnard Castle on 26th May 1969. He was accompanied by a bodyguard who he had hired because someone had allegedly threatened to kill him.
When we first met Michael Meade none of us were impressed with his image. His dress sense was non-existent and his hairstyle was a throwback to my school days of the early 60s – a side parting with hair flopping over his forehead when the Brylcreem wore off. The members of Sneeze on the other hand had a good up-to-date image.
At the point where Michael Meade’s path converged with Sneeze, the band were playing fairly complex arrangements of progressive songs by the likes of Chicago, Blood Sweat & Tears, Keef Hartley and the Steve Miller Band. Sneeze played at some of the best venues in the northeast such as the Mayfair Ballroom, the Locarno in Sunderland, the Rex Hotel, Haggerston Castle and lots of university concerts and dances in Newcastle, Sunderland and Durham. Sneeze had a good following throughout the region.
When he became Sneeze’s manager, Michael Meade started to go to all the band’s gigs. He became involved in all aspects of the band’s life and routines. He got to know our fans, WAGs, venue managers and members of other bands that played on the same bill. He had no previous experience of managing a band. Prior to meeting Sneeze he had been working mainly as a recording engineer and studio manager.
Meade took to the band ‘life-style’ like a fish to water. Over a very short period his image drastically changed for the better. His clothes became more up-to-date and he had his hair cut in a modern style. With his new image, his good looks and charming personality, he became quite adept at attracting women at Sneeze’s gigs.
In the early months that Michael Meade was managing Sneeze he relocated his recording studio from Sunderland to Windsor Crescent, Newcastle, not far from the Wright Price Agency. He named it ‘Studio 1’. Sneeze began using the studio for their rehearsals. Not long after he moved again to a building on the corner of Jesmond Road and the North Road, opposite the Hancock Museum. In fact the same building that housed Tappy Wright’s office.
The new equipment promised by Michael Meade didn’t happen immediately but after some pressure he announced that he would be supplying speaker cabinets manufactured by Dave Wood from Impulse Sounds, North Shields. They were large orange cabinets copying the style of those produced by Orange Music Electronic Company, which were very popular in 1969.
At a weeklong Sneeze residency at the Newcastle nightclub ‘Change Is’, Michael Meade fell head over heels in love with a member of staff named Pauline. I can’t remember if the love was entirely reciprocated but some of Sneeze’s wily band members took advantage of the situation and found a way to Mike’s wallet through his heart. He was far too engrossed in Pauline to worry about or even discuss Sneeze’s desire for new equipment but through Pauline, band members were able to obtain all sorts. It was a case of “Pauline – could you tell Mickey that we desperately need a new [guitar/bass guitar/drum kit/PA amplifier]”. There was a long list. Everything that was asked for materialized within a few days. Although Dave Wood supplied the band’s amplification, the personal instruments were purchased from local music shops. We all assumed because of his apparent wealth that Michael Meade was settling the bills once the instruments were delivered.
As it turns out we were a bit naive and far too trusting as far as Michael Meade was concerned. Sneeze and Michael Meade drifted apart and finally parted company towards the end of 1969. Bassist, Tom Hill had left the band to form a new outfit called Blondie. Guitarist Ray Coulson left at the same time. Meade became engrossed in Tom Hill’s band and placed Sneeze on the back burner. He had also poached Sneeze’s road manager, a guy called Dave Foster whose sideline was as a disc jockey. Dave had been running a fairly successful mobile discotheque under the name of Kaboobie (named after the TV cartoon character). Michael Meade teamed up with Kaboobie and began heavily promoting the disco. The Blondie/Kaboobie combination caused a rift that ended Sneeze’s business and personal relationship with Michael Meade. The downside was that Meade recovered some of the equipment that he had supplied to the band. We also found out that Dave Wood had not been paid for any of the speaker cabinets that Meade had ordered. Dave Wood began pursuing Sneeze relentlessly for the outstanding payments.
One significant thing that I should mention because it may have had a bearing on Michael Meade’s subsequent fate is this: Some time in the late summer or autumn of 1969 Michael Meade “disappeared” for a few weeks. When he returned to the fold a large patch of his head had been shaved and he was heavily bandaged. He had undergone brain surgery to remove an aggressive tumor.
The Rise And Fall Of Michael Meade
Michael Alan Meade was born on 21st April 1949 in Newcastle. His father, Hugh Meade who came from the Sunderland area was fairly wealthy. He was the managing director of a marine engineering company. Michael Meade was educated at a private school in Carlisle. While he was there he acquired some knowledge and experience of sound recording. On leaving school at the age of seventeen he returned to Newcastle and began working in his father’s company. At the same time he obtained a loan from his grandmother and set up the Torino Sound Studio in Sunderland, which subsequently moved to Newcastle and became ‘Studio 1’.
A reporter from the Newcastle Evening Chronicle interviewed Michael Meade in March 1970. An article appeared in the Chronicle on 11th March 1970 in which he boasted of the money he was making. He talked about his various businesses and his ambition to become the manager of a successful pop group. He also told of the success he was having with the Kaboobie disco outfit. The disc business went under the name of ‘Nationwide’ and eventually this name was used for his studio business.
Later in 1970 things must have become strained between Michael Meade and Blondie. Some time that year he took one of the Blondie band members, keyboard player Pierre Pedersen, to Court in an attempt to recover a substantial sum of money for unpaid rehearsal time spent by Blondie in his studio. In his defence Pierre produced in Court the Chronicle newspaper article in which Michael Meade had clearly stated that he “managed a couple of groups – Blondie and The Sneeze”. Pierre’s argument being that as Meade was Blondie’s manager he shouldn’t be charging the band for rehearsal time in his studio. Unfortunately under English law, evidence has to be submitted in advance of the hearing so Pierre’s ruse was unsuccessful.
Michael Meade continued with his recording and mobile disc businesses for a few years after which his role in the northeast music scene declined.
Sometime in 1971 Michael Meade met a divorced woman at a local petrol filling station where she worked. The couple began a long-term relationship and eventually married in December 1973. They moved into Meade’s father’s address at Beatrice Road, Heaton, Newcastle. At this time Michael Meade was describing himself as a car dealer, which was probably just one of many money making ventures in which he wheeled and dealed. The marriage was fairly short lived. It would emerge at a later date that his wife suffered physical and mental abuse at the hands of Michael Meade. She would eventually flee to Spain to escape his violence.
On 10th August 1989 a short article appeared in the Newcastle Evening Chronicle following the discovery of a body in a shallow grave a day earlier.
A man who regularly dug for coke alongside a disused railway line in Cold Hesledon was surprised one day to find that one of the holes he had previously dug for this purpose had been filled in. In the process of redigging the hole he was shocked to discover a corpse which was later identified as that of MIchael Meade.
Over the next few weeks the Newcastle Evening Chronicle reported the events of the police court proceedings, which took place at Peterlee Magistrate’s Court, the nearest Court to the place where Michael Meade’s body had been found. The case was transferred to Sunderland Magistrate’s Court on 25th of August 1989. During the court proceedings it emerged that for ten years Michael Meade had been physically, sexually and mentally abusing his partner Susan Harrison. She had eventually reached the end of her tether and paid two men £14,000 to kill Meade. It was revealed in court that death was by asphyxiation.
Four people were charged in connection with Michael Meade’s murder; Susan Harrison his common-law wife; Daniel Boyes a pub doorman; Stanley Britton and a lady who was said to be responsible for brokering the deal between Harrison and the two men. Charges against this lady were subsequently dropped. On 13th October 1989 the case was committed for trial at Newcastle Crown Court. It wasn’t until the trial of the three accused at Newcastle Crown Court the following May that the horrific nature of the murder was revealed. The daily tabloids went to town and force-fed the nation with the gruesome details of the Meade murder.
It emerged throughout the trial that for many years Michael Meade had been virtually torturing Susan Harrison. In addition he was cruel and abusive towards their two daughters. Due to death threats against her and the children, Harrison wasn’t in a position to leave Meade and instead came up with a plan to pay someone to murder him. A deal was brokered through a friend and the plot to get rid of Michael Meade for good was hatched.
Lots of facts came out about Michael Meade’s life and character in the trial. He was portrayed alternately between a generous, charming man and an evil abusing monster. After he met Susan Harrison in 1979 he had a variety of jobs such as a car dealer, disc jockey and gambler but nothing measuring up to the boasts he made to the Evening Chronicle in 1970 as a “young tycoon”. He also worked for spell on Scandinavian Ferries. It was stated in Court that that Michael Meade was a small-time crook involved in various frauds including some against finance companies.
The actual killing took place at the beginning of August 1989 after Michael Meade and Susan Harrison had been on a night out to an Indian restaurant in Sunderland. One or other of the couple suggested that after their meal they should retire to a spot on the banks of the River Wear for a session of al fresco lovemaking.
Susan Harrison managed to tip off her hired killers who ambushed the pair with a shotgun, ordering Meade into a car. He was driven to a spot further up the river where he was murdered with a garrote consisting of a wire with a wooden handle at each end. Two different stories emerged during the trial. Susan Harrison alleged that she sat in the car while Daniel Boyes committed the murder. She said she could hear gagging and gurgling noises coming from Meade. On the other hand Daniel Boyes stated that he had started to strangle Michael Meade with the garrote but that he couldn’t go through it. He blamed Susan Harrison for finishing the job that he had started. The body remained in the boot of Susan Harrison’s car for a fairly lengthy period after which she paid two other men to take it away and dispose of it.
Susan Harrison and Daniel Boyes were both convicted of offences relating to Michael Meade’s death; Susan Harrison for manslaughter and Daniel Boyes for attempted murder. Both received custodial sentences. The second man, Stanley Britton was acquitted. The two men responsible for burying the body were never traced.
No matter who actually strangled the life out of Michael Meade it was a sorry end for a man who had shown such promise in his teens and early 20s.