Although the vast majority of Mellotron owners have been respectable (-ish) musicians, there are a few celebrated cases of 'unusual' owners.
The most notorious is the late Princess Margaret, who, for a while in the '60s, had a MkII in her possession (I believe one of the six 'black and gold' models). By all accounts, she used to drive her then-husband, Anthony Armstrong-Jones, completely potty playing it badly on a regular basis. Hardly surprising they split up soon after... Apparently, in true royal fashion, her office rang Streetly Electronics, asked them to send a machine down, then tried to wriggle out of paying for it, citing 'royal privilege' or somesuch. Allegedly. Luckily, Streetly were more canny (and less subservient) than many other luckless firms, eventually repossessing when it became obvious that no payment was forthcoming. Must have taken months just to clean the fag ash and spilt gin out of it...
The princess' great friend Peter Sellers also owned a Mellotron; many thanks to my old friend Dave Etheridge for the following, taken from a book entitled Peter Sellers -the mask behind the mask (!), by Peter Evans, Frewin, 1968.
Perhaps the most legendary example of his private generosity (and perhaps too his grave sense of the inept) was what Spike Milligan calls The Case of the Mighty Melotrone Organ. Although Sellers was not notably musical (the only thing he ever mastered on the organ was 'Lover'), the electronic gadgetry proved overwhelmingly seductive to him. According to Milligan, a man with a graphic and imaginative talent for explaining the modus operandi of such things, "If you wanted the sound of marching feet in size ten boots accompanied by Chopin and a portrait of Salvador Dali shaving under water while whistling 'The Blue Bells Of Scotland' this was the machine you had to have".
When Sellers' enthusiasm for the versatile organ had run its natural course, he decided to give it to pianist Alan Clare, whose passing (but suspect) approval he had remembered. Unfortunately, the Melotrone is not a small instrument, and Mr Clare did not live in a large apartment. The combination of these extreme and inconvenient factors produced something of a storage crisis for Clare's wife, Bloom. A place for it was finally made in the bedroom. It was a mistake. After a while the Clares found it had created a strong, depressing atmosphere of cathedral-like calm which was to become the butt of much merriment among their more sacrilegious friends. "It was", Clare has reflected, "One of the more esoteric sights of London". Clare was on the point of selling it when Sellers asked whether he might have it back. A few days later a pantechnicon arrived and the organ was removed.
Some months afterward, Princess Margaret and Lord Snowdon (who did not have such pressing space problems) were persuaded by Sellers to acquire one. The shock, when confronted with it on a visit to Kensington Palace, was almost too much for Milligan, who had developed a weird fascination for it during its oppressive occupancy of the Clare's bedroom. With difficulty he managed not to laugh. "It seemed so bloody incongruous stuck in the middle of the royal front room. Then I realised that Pete had got the Snowdons on the gadget kick. Tony's having to take these tape recordings three times a day in tablet form now", he said.
But at least one connected closely with the Snowdon circles suspects that the mighty Melotrone was not too warmly welcomed by Tony. "Nothing in fact could have been more calculated to exacerbate feelings between Tony and Margaret" reckoned Robin Douglas-Home, the late writer, nightclub pianist, nephew of the Tory ex-prime minister - and finally heir to Sellers' own Melotrone. "She adored it; he positively loathed it, and was supremely bored whenever she went near it", he said.
Fantastic! Many thanks for that, Dave, although it rather buggers up the previous story... Who knows? 'Melotrone' folklore indeed...
|photo: Gary Knight|
Jim Davidson, British 'comedian', unlikely prog fan and all-round misanthrope (and not even in an amusing way), used an M400 live, up until at least the early '80s, as seen in the pic on the left. He apparently had it loaded with sound FX tapes (on at least one track of the three), used to illustrate his 'jokes'. I wasn't aware the FX tapes had sounds of racist and sexist abuse, but there you go.
I know of two celebrity Chamberlin owners: there's a two-minute video of Jerry Lewis goofing about on his MusicMaster 600, template for the MkII Mellotron, although the tapes are very noticably different. I've also seen a picture of a MusicMaster at Graceland, although, foolishly, I didn't save it and now can't find it again. Elvis at the Chamby?
Another 'celebrity' Mellotron owner was the recently departed King Hussein of Jordan. There's no record of what happened to the machine, but if it needs a good home I'll pay the shipping costs...
Possibly the most bizarre celebrity owner was L. Ron Hubbard (at the unidentified organ and Mellotron, right), the dodgy-science-fiction-author-turned-Scientology-guru. He died many years ago now, but Scientology UK HQ in Sussex, southern England is open to the public and, in his office, is his MkII in beautiful condition (cosmetically), obviously never moved since its delivery. When it was discovered by a crack team of Mellotron experts, its innards were in fairly bad shape, but I believe it's now been restored to full Mellotronic health. Shame it's shut away in a dusty museum to one of the less reputable cults, really (against stiff competition, too). Oh well...
It's (sort of) interesting to note that almost all the 'oddball' owners here owned MkII machines. Of course, the Mellotron's only real burst of publicity was when the MkII first appeared, although Streetly sold far more machines in the '70s. The MkII's chief advantage for the home market over its more portable successor was the left-hand manual rhythms, making it a perfectly feasible stand-alone instrument. The M400 really needs some sort of accompaniment for extended playing, but the MkII is entirely self-sufficient, in a rather cheesy sort of way.
I'm sure there's a few more famous faces with a murky Mellotronic background out there. All submissions to the usual address... Oh, to have a recording of Princess Margaret playing the Mellotron...