Glenda Collins was independent producer Joe Meek’s primary female singer. Between 1963 and 1966 she released a string of singles she’d recorded with him – including the cult gems I lost my heart at the fairground and Something I’ve got to tell you – before his untimely death cut short her career.
Glenda Collins was born in London on 16 December 1943 to parents who encouraged her in her love of singing. At the age of 12 she passed an audition to appear in the Carroll Levis discovery show, a talent show for children broadcast by the BBC, which led to further radio, TV and theatre appearances.
Four years later, in 1960, her father helped her to record a couple of demos and arranged an audition with the Decca label. She was snapped up and two singles were issued in quick succession, the surprisingly adult Take a chance and Oh how I miss you tonight.
Both sides of her third single, Head over heels in love and Find another fool, issued in 1961, were aimed squarely at the buyers of fellow teenager Helen Shapiro’s records.
However, none of the three releases were successes and Decca quietly dropped Glenda.
Her father took over the management of her career and arranged an audition with unorthodox independent producer Joe Meek. He recorded in his maisonette above a leather goods shop on north London’s Holloway Road and had just enjoyed a huge hit with The Tornados’ instrumental, Telstar.
Glenda was pleased when Meek signed her up. She has said that his enthusiasm and unusual approach inspired her in a way that she hadn’t felt during her time at Decca.
Meek roped in The Tornados to provide the backing on her first record to be issued through the HMV Pop label. The song, I lost my heart at the fairground, came with carousel sound effects, and has become a cult favourite. Sadly, this Meek composition fell just short of the charts upon its release in May 1963, having become lost in the clamour for the new Merseybeat sound.
Adapting his sound to the current tastes, Meek teamed Glenda with The Outlaws for the beatier If you've got to pick a baby, released in November that year. She was all set to storm up the charts following an appearance on Ready steady go! and having been voted a hit on Juke box jury, when a lack of available copies – thanks to the Christmas shutdown – put paid to her hopes.
She issued the downbeat Baby it hurts in 1964 before taking a foray into a twilight land somewhere between pop and novelty with her next single, Lollipop, issued later that year. The song was a reworking of a 1958 US hit for The Chordettes and UK hit for The Mudlarks. Glenda had had a hand in picking it, but it was distinctly passé and was snubbed by record buyers.
The Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil-penned Johnny loves me, issued in 1965, proved a return to form.
Its follow up, Thou shalt not steal, featured some great guitar work from Richie Blackmore. (Blackmore, as a member of in-house band The Outlaws, and later of Deep Purple and Rainbow, played on a number of Glenda’s recordings.)
However, when it, too, failed to chart, Glenda was dropped by HMV Pop.
She continued to work, performing cabaret and end-of-pier summer seasons. Importantly, she opted to stick with Meek – and he returned her faith in him by securing her a contract with the Pye label in early 1966.
It has also been suggested that the pair considered getting married. Although they got on well, they weren’t in love – not least because Meek was gay, presumably. Wisely, they dropped the idea.
For Glenda’s first release on the new label, Meek raided The Honeycombs’ back catalogue for the highly commercial Something I’ve got to tell you, which had been a track on the group’s album. The story of infidelity – with lyrics by Ken Howard and Alan Blaikley – was a corker. “There’s something I’ve got to tell you baby, something’s giving me hell baby, when I'm near you I’m strong, but when you’re gone and I’m alone, I’m not alone so very long,” Glenda confesses to her beau. “I'm sorry, sorry I’m not worthy of you,” she blubs.
The song should have seen the singer score a huge hit. The problem was that Meek was so out of favour with radio stations by this time that they weren’t interested in his records, no matter how good.
This goes some way to explaining why It’s hard to believe it, a protest song penned by Meek, which warned of nuclear missiles, er, bombed. Complete with appropriate sound effects, the single was issued in the summer of 1966. The song has gone on to achieve cult status and a decent copy of the original record now sells for at least £100.
Meek also teamed her with Mod favourites The Riot Squad, recording vocals on the songs You’re gonna get your way and Yeah, yeah, yeah.
By this time, Meek was suffering from spiralling debts, lawsuits and personal issues over his homosexuality (which was still illegal in Britain at the time). When he shot himself – and his landlady – in February 1967, Glenda’s career effectively died too.
She took an office job and only returned to singing in cabaret and at weddings.