Tuesday April 11, 2000
The career of the singer
and bass player Heinz Burt, who has died aged 57 after a courageous
battle against motor-neurone disease, is a cautionary tale rooted in
the pre-Beatles 1960s. Heinz, as he was billed, was a protégé of the
paranoid, and finally homicidal, record producer Joe Meek.
In 1962, the German-born 19-year-old, plucked from bacon slicing
in a Southampton grocery, was credited as one of Meek's studio band,
the Tornados, on Meek's five million-selling single, Telstar. A year
later, Heinz entered the top 20 as a Meek-created solo artist with
Just Like Eddie, a tribute disc to the dead American rock 'n' roller
Meek was Britain's first independent pop producer. He recorded in
a tiny flat in the Holloway Road, north London, and - in between
obsessions with the dead Buddy Holly, death in general, seances and
graveyards - had made a clutch of British hits, which displayed an
occasionally spectacular talent for electronic sound.
But it was a time when the salesmen of British pop culture, of
which Meek was one of the most driven, were almost entirely
parasitic on the United States. Thus did they attempt to clone
American-style teenage stars from wildly unsuitable domestic
material. Meek dispatched a series of Elvises, Buddy Hollys and
their ilk into the world, and the world remained largely
Meek fell in love with Heinz, and dismissed suggestions that the
teenager, who moved into the Holloway Road flat, might be an
indifferent singer or, indeed, bassist. Inspired by the movie
Village Of The Damned, in which the world is threatened by a brood
of blond, staring-eyed children, the producer prevailed upon the
youth to peroxide his hair. The theory may have been an image of the
cold teuton, the reality was rather bemused Hampshire.
Soon Heinz was separated from the Tornados to pursue his
Meek-directed solo career. Since his voice had displayed some
inadequacies, the producer doctored the tape on his debut single by
adding that of another singer. The record flopped.
Then Heinz was unwisely sent on tour with the American rock
singers Gene Vincent and Jerry Lee Lewis. Meek envisaged Heinz's
audience as teenage girls, but he was confronted with sceptical male
youth and booed on and off stage. In Birmingham, Heinz told Meek's
biographer John Repseh, the audience tried to attack him. The band
and singer were showered with beans.
The next single, Just Like Eddie, was Heinz's only hit. He played
a summer season at an end-of-the-pier show with the ancient comedian
Arthur Askey. But a week after Just Like Eddie entered the top 20
came the Beatles' She Loves You. The era in which herds of
tin-pan-alley-created pop singers could roam the lower reaches of
the charts was over, at least for the time being.
Meek was convicted on a homosexual soliciting charge; the records
he produced flopped; Heinz fell in love with a girl. He made other
records, but his brief moment was past. In 1967, Meek shot his
landlady, and himself, at the Holloway Road flat. In later years,
after a succession of manual jobs, Heinz reappeared on stage at
1960s pop revival shows. These included a 1992 Meek tribute concert,
where he concluded with Teenager In Love. No cans were hurled. The
audience sang along.
Both his marriages ended in divorce. His mother and his son
Heinz Burt, musician, born July 24 1942; died April 7 2000