Martin Hannett, His
Equipment and Strawberry Studios
January 11, 2017
PLAQUE FOR STRAWBERRY RECORDING STUDIOS, WATERLOO ROAD
was a studios like no other. Situated in an unglamorous quarter of
deadening Stockport and instigated at the moment when local heroes, The
Mindbenders were morphing through the bizarre interlude of pre-10cc
Hotlegs, it offered northern musicians of note a simple solution. It
was an alternative to the infernal trip to the Smoke in order to tangle
with recording equipment deemed essential to producing hit-quality
material. It also served to keep musicians and managers aloof from
overt record company interference.
This would later echo down
the years before settling on the formation of Factory Records and, in
particular, Joy Division manager Rob Gretton who persuaded his charges
to remain in Manchester so they, in Rob’s words, “…didn’t have to deal
And so they didn’t, (although thy did go to
Britannia Row to record ‘Closer’, but we will gloss over that).All of
which might place the opening of Strawberry as the hinge event in the
history of Manchester music. For it would successfully stride pre and
post punk, building on 10cc, Neil Sedaka, Paul McCartney with
Division, Stone Roses, Smiths, Sisters of Mercy, Happy Mondays and many
others. (All of which will be celebrated in the Strawberry Studios 50th
anniversary exhibition at Stockport Museum. Opening on January 28,
There really was a magic to Strawberry,too. In a purely
non-technical sense, it seemed to offer a door carrying you from
Stockport’s prevailing greyness into the intoxicating glamour of the
music business. The red-themed interior – very sixties as well as very
Strawberry – welcomed you to its warm heart. The receptionist seemed
equally welcoming, as did the familiar angled studio console. It didn’t
come as a surprise to discover that 10cc’s ground-breaking ‘I’m Not In
Love’ had been recorded in this space, with the assistance of band
members engineers and manager Ric Dixon standing around the room
holding vertical screwdrivers around which ran the recording tape.
Moments of legend are built from such instances. And that, I am afraid
to acknowledge, is where my own technical expertise begins to rapidly
fade. How wonderful, therefore, to see Chris Hewitt’s A4 size
compendium, pick up the technical angle from this point, guiding us
through the equipment in and around Strawberry and mostly used to
legendary effect by ‘genius’ producer, Martin Hannett.
Hewitt, by his own admission, would not claim to be ‘a writer’. He is,
however, arguably the major north west music archivist of the past
fifty years. Just a visit to his house where, depending on the time,
you might be clambering over amps, guitars, books, posters and stacks
of photographs and magazines. It is a lifetime’s work, augmented by his
staging of, it seems, thousands of events including the six Deeply Vale
Festivals – see ‘Deeply Dippy’ feature, on these pages).
Hannett; his Equipment and Strawberry Studios’ is a most welcome
upgrade from Hewitt’s previous tome, ‘Martin Hannett, Pleasures of the
Unknown’. However, whereas that particular books had employed a more
holistic take, this new outing funnels down to the use of vintage
recording equipment, establishing a link between these chunky artifacts
and the hot-wired brain of the producer himself.
As such we find
a unique book that, in a sense, sees the Hewitt archive – or its
relevant aspects – splurge gloriously across the pages. It is an
extremely honest book in this respect as the author stands mostly away
from opinion or description. This gives the text a curious existential
quality. Any Joy Division fan wishing to unearth the sonic realities
behind their recordings need look no further. In no other Joy Division
book will you fund this level of technical depth.
Much of the
text is derived from sound technician trade magazines of the seventies
and, as such, are utterly impenetrable for anyone not schooled in this
narrow area. However, even a Luddite such as I can’t help but glean a
curious pleasure from paragraphs like this:
“The 5C was claimed
to deliver an ‘audible response’ of 50 Hz to 15kHz, qualified by a
rather more meaningful specification of 200Hz to 12.5kHz with slightly
curious tolerance range of 3.5dB. The power rating was 30W RMS and 60W
peak, with a nominal independence of 8Q and a sensitivity of 89dB/W/m.”
absolutely. If nothing else, I am glad that is finally cleared up. I am
being unfair here but wanted to present the view from a
non-technical (in the vintage sense) Hannett aficionado. In due course
I shall pass the book over to our tech-wiz-head Paul Ripley to dissect
within the pages of ‘Blowin’.
But there is still much to enjoy.
The latter pages are filled with random snapshots of Rabid Records
stalwarts Tosh Ryan, John Cooper Clarke, Chris Sievey, Lawrence Beedle
and Hannett himself. This provides a unique peak into the chaotic
regime of the ungainly Rabid crew, with Ryan perfecting the look of a
down-at-heal Reliant Robin salesman from Tadcaster. But, in Manchester,
if not elsewhere, these were the days of headstrong chancers and
wayward off-kilter artisans. It now seems like a universe apart.
Despite that, one is left wondering what would have happened to
Manchester’s second golden age of music had the visionaries of
Strawberry failed to deliver in terms of technical endeavor, artistic
brilliance and, unlike Factory Records, steely business acumen.
This is a strangely beautiful book.
Hannett, His equipment and Strawberry Studios written and compiled by
Chris Hewitt is published by Dandelion Records, CDs and DVDs.