King Mod, the story of Peter Meaden, the Who and the birth of a British subculture

Here is the review by Chris Charlesworth of Steve Turner‘s most excellent book, King Mod, the story of Peter Meaden, The Who and the birth of a British subculture.

In July of 1963 Peter Meaden returned to the UK from a sojourn in Spain to discover that his erstwhile friend and sometimes business partner Andrew Oldham had become the manager of The Rolling Stones, a group rapidly in the ascendant in the wake of The Beatles. He wasn’t pleased. Although nothing had been formally agreed, Peter believed that any enterprise in which Oldham was involved would involve him too, but there was no role for him in the management of the Stones.

“Peter took his revenge by having 2,000 stickers made up offering the sexual services of an experienced madam,” writes Steve Turner in King Mod, his biography/appreciation of the man who turned The Who into High Numbers, “with Andrew’s business phone as the contact number, and posting them in central London public conveniences. This successfully tied up the office phone for three weeks.”

This is but one of many entertaining yarns in this unusual book. The first 133 pages of King Mod comprise a well-researched, eminently readable and heavily illustrated biography of Meaden, opening with his birth in 1941 and covering his entire life, with and without The Who, up to his death by his own hand in 1978. The next 80 pages are given over to an unabridged transcription of the series of notable interviews that Turner conducted with Meaden, beginning in May, 1975, initially for A Decade Of The Who, a songbook with additional editorial features published in 1977, though the interviews that appeared therein were drastically reduced. Further extracts from it were subsequently published in NME, then in A Sharper Word, an anthology of Mod writing that came out in 1999, and six years later in an NME Originals magazine on Mod.

The heart of the book, the interviews with Meaden, reveal him to be as garrulous as he was fascinating, and in King Mod they are published in their wild and wonderful entirety for the first time. They emphasise not just Meaden’s utter dedication to the Mod cause – and impeccable taste in all things Mod – but his chaotic nature, his inability to focus, how his enthusiasm invariably trumps reality. Extensive footnotes help make sense of it all, not least because some of what Meaden says seems well OTT to me – like 50,000 fans trying to get into a Who gig in Brighton in 1964?

Of all the characters that fell under The Who’s spell in the early sixties, none paid a higher price for their devotion than Meaden, King Mod to his admirers. You can read about him in the early pages of Who biographies, that period when under his influence they called themselves The High Numbers and recorded ‘I’m The Face’, their very first single, but after that he more or less disappears from the picture, ousted by Kit Lambert and Chris Stamp who gave him £500 to go away. The truth is he probably never had a written agreement to manage them anyway. He simply ‘advised’ them after an introduction via his hairdresser. He certainly wasn’t a businessman, as the book makes clear. But The Who, and Pete Townshend in particular, never forgot Meaden’s early contribution to their image and, along with later manager Bill Curbishley, did their best to help him in the mid-seventies, by which time drugs, notably LSD, had taken their toll on his already fragile psyche.

The High Numbers at the Scene Club in 1964; l to r: John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. Peter Meaden is behind Pete and facing right.

It’s an Icarus-like tale. Like a few other enlightened pioneers of the post-war generation, Meaden escaped his provincial, deathly colourless, family life but flew too close to the sun in his quest to discover its converse, influencing the zeitgeist as he travelled yet somehow losing the plot when confronted with everyday life.

The book closes with a heartfelt postscript that places Meaden’s accomplishments, such as they were, in context, not just in his lifetime but how Mod continues to influence popular music. The interview, Turner believes – and I agree with him – is a significant cultural document. “It gives an unprecedented look into the mind of a man who was the most influential mod in the early-to-mid Sixties,” he writes, “and who managed for the first time to forge a link between important British youth subculture and what was to become a major rock band.”

Essential reading if you really want to understand where The Who came from. And, by the way, Oldham must have forgiven him for that telephone number prank as he’s contributed a foreword to King Mod.

Chris Charlesworth
Follow Chris’s excellent rock’n’roll writings on Just Backdated

Peter Meaden in May 1975

by Steve Turner. Foreword by Andrew Loog Oldham
Hardback. 272 pages
ISBN 978 1 9127 3351 4
Published by Red Planet Books 2024

Purchase your copy of King Mod HERE

The author, Steve Turner, has written extensively about music for national press and music papers including: Melody Maker, NME and Rolling Stone. He has written many best-selling books including: A Hard Day’s Write: The Stories Behind Every Beatles Song; Van Morrison: Too Late to Stop Now; Jack Kerouac: Angelheaded Hipster; and Amazing Grace: John Newton, Slavery and the World’s Most Enduring Song.




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