Tractor/The Way We Live interview by Kevin Rathert

February 1, 2013

Tractor is one of the best two piece bands ever to come out of the UK although the band did not start out as a duo. Beginning life as The Way We Live, the moniker under which the band recorded their first album, “A Candle For Judith.” The band caught the ear of BBC DJ John Peel, who took a liking to the band, purchased them gear and a PA, and suggested a name change to Tractor. Over the past 40 years the band has recorded numerous albums and singles, mostly on the Ozit/Morpheus Record label owned by band manager Chris Hewitt. Recently Tractor guitarist/vocalist Jim Milne, percussionist Steve Clayton, one time bassist Dave Addison and band manager Chris Hewitt, took time from their busy schedules to tell the tale of the 40 year journey of Tractor to “It’s Psychedelic Baby” contributor Kevin Rathert.

When and where did you guys grow up? Did music play a big part in the Milne and Clayton households? Were your parents and/or siblings involved in music?

Jim: I lived behind and above a sweet shop in Manchester Road Sudden Rochdale and had two brothers but neither were musical although my brother David, later a woodwork teacher, built a couple of guitars for me. Steve Clayton had an elder brother Phil a guitarist who Steve used to drum for and Phil also took Jim into the band and helped him master guitar

What were the first instruments you played?

Steve: I started banging drum beats on table tops when I was 9 or 10 years old. There is a headline about me banging drum beats on the table top when Tractor signed to Dandelion.

How old were you when you met each other and what were the circumstances that led to getting to know each other?

Jim: I formed a band at Rochdale Grammar School later known as Balderstone School. We were be 11 or 12 when we met at Balderstone school but I didn’t join a band until later when I was 14. Steve was in the same year as me in school but in different classes so we didn’t hang around together. Steve played drums in his brother Phil’s band The Vulcans and he didn’t come into my life until I saw them at a school sixth form concert and being a budding Hank Marvin back then I was knocked out by their music. They made me want to be in a band and eventually when someone left I joined and Phil taught me how to play. We did our first gig together in the same band (with Steve’s brother Phil still there) at Dearnley Methodist Church Littleborough as The Vulcans. Someone asked us to do a Beatles number that evening and that was the end of the Shadows numbers and we became a beat group.After a year or so gigging around North Manchester I was forced to leave by my dad to get schoolwork done. Unable to give it up I started jamming with Steve and bass player Michael Slim Batsch and The Way We Live was formed with encouragement from schoolfriends Alan Burgess, our vocalist who sang out of tune vocals for a short while and John Brierley and Sonny Ryan who both attempted to be managers. Sonny Ryan and Andy Burgoyne would come to gigs and sit in front of Steve’s bass drum to stop it moving.

Were either of you involved in professional bands before The Way We Live?

Jim and Steve: No.

Did you do any recording in any of the bands before The Way We Live?

Jim and Steve: No.

How and why did you name your band The Way We Live?

Jim: Steve read it. It was the title of an article in a women’s magazine Woman’s Own.

Was this always a two piece band?

Jim: No Alan Burgess was on vocals and Michael Slim Batsch on bass. Alan was sacked as he couldn’t sing except in the key of G .Slim eventually left to go away to University but the Way We Live was a three piece and gigged like that for a couple of years with Chris Sonny Ryan as roadie would be manager John Brierley acting as driver and live recording the three piece . (Alan Burgess later became the studio engineer when we built Tractor Sound Studios in 1973 in Heywood after John Brierley was sacked after the Tractor album in 1972. Alan Burgess also took the cover pictures for the Tractor album. When Slim left we became a two piece and concentrated on recording between 1970 and 1972 After 'A' levels, Slim went off to University and I went to Teacher training college. The band, in that form, was finished and we overcame our problems of distance and having no bass player by changing our emphasis from gigging to recording. I wrote songs at college whilst John and Steve built a small studio in John's bedroom and attic. We recorded during the college holidays, it was very primitive really, just two stereo reel-to-reels, a mixer made from a large sheet of hardboard, and about ten thousand controls, all of which John assured us did something. Steve and I would sit down in the bedroom and play, while John sat on high and twiddled. Despite the stone age technology, John made some amazing tapes. During the Easter break of 1970 we did our 'Album' . We were very impressed with what we'd done, patted each other on the back and went for a pint that was the demo version of “A Candle for Judith” which eventually would come out on the CD’s first “Original Masters” and later on “John Peel Bought us studio Gear and a PA.”

What sort of music did you grow up listening to? Who were your major influences?

Jim: We listened a lot to The Nice, Hendrix, Zappa, Floyd, Tull and the Beatles. I always liked the Moody Blues as well. 'In Search of the Lost Chord' was a bit special to me as was Beck's 'Truth' album. Today I have more than a passing admiration for Joe Satriani and Steve Vai, they make me wish I'd practised more ( or had sold my guitar and bought a market stall ).

Did you always play original songs or did you start out performing cover songs. If so, what were some of the covers you did?

Jim: In the early days we played covers of Hendrix, Cream and Beatles

When did you start writing original material?

Jim: Around 1970.

What was the writing process like? Who did the writing and what were the first songs written by Tractor?

Jim: I did the writing of the basic words and tune and then with Steve I would work out the solos and arrangements and fine tune the songs.

Were these earliest songs ever recorded?

Jim: Yes almost all the late 60s and early 70s songs Steve and I wrote and arranged were recorded, most eventually made it on to albums.

How did you two come to record the demo versions of what would become "A Candle For Judith?" What studio were they recorded at?

Jim: The recordings were done in John Brierleys bedroom and attic studio with John as the producer.

Were you two the only musicians involved in these recordings?

Jim: Yes.

How did you guys get to know John Peel? How did the demos of "A Candle For Judith" find their way to Peelie?

Jim: The demos were sent by John Brierley to Elektra UK where Peel’s co director in Dandelion worked and so Clive Selwood and John Peel listened to the tapes and decided to sign the band for five albums for Dandelion. John Peel liked Rochdale as he had worked there in 1959 at Townhead Mill and lived in a bed and breakfast in Rochdale.

How long after submitting the demos to Peel did he offer you two a contract with his Dandelion Records?

Jim: A couple of weeks. We recorded the Dandelion version of “A Candle for Judith” in two days in the summer of 1970 at Spot Sound in London where Cream recorded Fresh Cream.

Were any other musicians involved or as it just the two of you?

Jim: Just the the two of us.

How long did it take to record the LP?

Jim: No more than two days for the Dandelion version.

When was the album released?

Jim: Winter 1971.

Were any singles released before the LP?

Jim: A track from the LP “King Dick II” appears on a Dandelion Sampler EP 7 inch with Siren, Stack Waddy and Principal Edwards prior to the album. The version recorded in Dandelion Studios Rochdale- ie John Brierleys bedroom and attic- of “A Candle for Judith” is better in some ways than the Dandelion version as we spent more time on it in our own studio environment” that version of the tracks appear on the cds “Original Masters” and “ John Peel bought us a studio.”

Steve: By the time we came to record A Candle for Judith Jim and I had been playing together for about five or six years. Even so the experience of putting our ideas down on tape in a studio situation was new to us. With the help of our producer and engineer John Brierley we began the learning process together, laying down tracks, building up sounds, listening, experimenting, creating music that we believed in. So that’s how it goes: one day you’re playing to hundreds, the next --- just one deaf psychopath and his incontinent dog. But that’s O.K. Jim and I have been in bands since we were thirteen. We’re used to it. And where else could you meet such a wide variety of lunatics. I love them all. Sonny Ryan our first roadie for the The Way We Live, who sat in front of the bass drum `till his ears bled. Countless vagrants who’d wander on stage, perform some mysterious ritual or other and then drop their trousers and walk into the P.A. But that’s what it was about. Tractor was never just a band, it was an organization, a movement, a society for people whose life was music. We opened a music shop that became home to every eccentric in the North West of England; a studio where bands could record practically for nothing. With Chris, our manager, Dave Addison our new bass player and the residents of the farmhouse on Oldham Road at Balderstone we started the Deeply Vale Free Festival that went on to attract thousands every year where we now as the first performers and founders, share the history books with other bands that started their careers at Deeply Vale or already had established careers ,Steve Hillage, The Fall featuring not just Mark E Smith but Mark Lard Riley of Radio One, Frantic Elevators featuring Mick Hucknall, Nik Turner of Hawkwind, Here and Now, The Ruts [The Ruts were formed in a tent at Deeply Vale in 1977]. John Brierley, our first engineer and producer, opened another studio that was the first to record such bands as, Joy Division, Dead or Alive, Teardrop Explodes The Chameleons, Demon[the list is endless]. In and around Rochdale there was a genuine feeling that music could change not just lives, but the World. O.K., so maybe we were naïve, but – and this is so unfashionable now – we really cared. The music we played wasn’t manufactured to please an ever more cynical and manipulative Record Industry, nor to pander to fashion and a record buying public made up of six year olds. And that’s why, in our own way, everybody who was seriously involved in the music scene then, is still just as enthusiastic now. And I see no reason to apologize for that. So – we continue to play.

Jim Milne in The Way We Live two years earlier.

As the title of your 2006 release suggests John Peel bought studio gear and a P.A. for The Way We Live. When did this occur? What kind of gear did Peel purchase for you? Was the gear a gift or were you required to repay Peel?

Jim: We were really Tractor by the time John Peel’s Dandelion Records started buying us equipment. It was instead of an advance against sales in cash for the album contract. The equipment was bought and the cost put on the debit side of our account with Peel and Selwood ie Dandelion Records- starting off with Ferrograph tape recorders and AKG microphones, then a small Allen and Heath mixing desk, multicore, HH power amps, some SAI PA columns more AKG microphones and then Revox B77 tape recorders.”

How long did you perform under the name The Way We Live?

Jim: A couple of years as Michael Slim Batsch left and so from about 1969 we concentrated on recording.

Can you talk about some of the earlier gigs performed as The Way We Live? Where were the gigs and who did you perform with?

Jim: We recorded a Way We Live gig live at the Heybrook School Theatre Workshop in Rochdale probably about 1969 we still have the tapes.

Why did you change the name of the band from The Way We Live to the more familiar Tractor?

Jim: Peel thought a shorter name would be more punchy and he saw a Tractor out of his house window at Peel Acres 1971/1972.

When and where was your first gig as Tractor?

Jim: Heywood Civic Hall 1972, just up the road from Tractor Sound Studios, The Seven stars and The Dressers Arms (see inside Townhead Mill sleeve)?

Were you opening for another band or were you headliners at this point?

Jim: We were on the same bill as a band called Silverwood.

When and where was the "Tractor" album recorded? Who produced it?

Jim: During 1971 Dandelion Studios Rochdale- John Brierley’s bedroom and attic.

Jim Milne

Steve Clayton

Did anyone besides you two play on it?

Jim: Judith, Steve’s girlfriend opened the lid on the musical box at the end. The biting guitar edge on the Tractor album came from the direct-injecting it into the mixer. I had an ancient Marshall fuzz pedal – should have kept it( now very sought after as they use germanium transistors) with two settings - 'Doberman' and 'Rotweiler' . The melody input was all mine, no-one ever said 'Try this tune' . All the others did was stop me overlaying too many harmonies and allowed overlayed acoustic guitars in moderation only! The 'Tractor' album songs were a natural successor to the demo tape of the 'Candle' album which had been recorded in Dandelion studios Rochdale ie John Brierley’s bedroom and attic. Peel/Dandelion had bought us some new recording gear in lieu of an advance and John Brierley built an even quieter mixer. I spent hours boring holes in a new piece of hardboard and helping solder 10,000 new pots onto it. Now I know they all did something! I'd finished college and come home for good. I'd got all the songs written in my little garret in Chester and, once the equipment was ready, we made a start. We finished it in about six months but redid it all when Alan Burgess asked "is the bass loud enough?" About six months later we emerged with the album done. I can remember one night, we were recording and we were ready to do a take. Steve and I sat 'hot to trot' waiting for the Christmas lights to come on - Dandelion had overlooked sending us a red indicator light. We waited and waited, but no music. Thinking that John was resetting something, we sat there for about ten minutes before Steve went up to see what was happening. He came back to tell me that John half way through his tea and would be ready when he'd finished his rice pudding. It rather took the edge off our creative juices that night. Another time, we had to wait while John's sister had a bath as the immersion heater caused interference on the desk. Family life really did bring us budding super-stars back to earth!

At what point did Chris Hewitt become part of the Tractor family? What was his job title and what duties did he perform for the band?

Jim: Chris had been hanging around with Steve since 1971 when the Way We Live LP came out and at that time was promoting gigs at Rochdale College as he was social secretary of the student’s union there. Just as the Tractor album was coming out Steve and I were getting concerned as John Brierley wanted to be in charge of everything and has always been a bit childish when he didn’t get his own way. Things came to a head at a gig in Rugby where we were headlining at a college. John had insisted in cramming all the equipment into his estate car and going down there and setting it all up on his own, Chris had hired a Ford Transit van and travelled there with Steve with tons of room for the equipment but John refused to accept help or lose control and when Steve and I walked on stage to start our set without a soundcheck having been assured by John everything was miked up or DI’d through the PA and was working so no soundcheck was needed, nothing worked, no vocals, no guitar, no drum mics so I sacked John in the Dressers Arms later that week and Chris became our live production manager and he worked alongside Alan Burgess in the studio that Chris and Steve built in the attic of 58 Market St Heywood. We had to build Tractor Sound Studios Heywood as having sacked John Brierley we had nowhere to record our next Tractor album. As the years went by Alan Burgess went to live in the Seychelles so Chris Hewitt pretty much did everything, live gigs, recording, management even if we didn’t exist for a couple of years as a gigging or recording entity he would phone us up and breathe new life into Tractor to gig or record again.

Chris: Meeting Jim Milne and Steve Clayton of Tractor for the first time in 1971 was a strange experience. It happened in two halves, I met Steve first and then Jim. One of my teenage friends Bob Kershaw who would later become quite an accomplished guitarist, had shown me an album by a band that he said his sister used to go out with the drummer. The album was Tractor’s first LP The Way We Live’s ‘A Candle for Judith’ and on the back of the gatefold sleeve was a picture of the drummer, a medium height guy with extremely long hair in ringlets almost down to his waist (the ringlets came apparently from washing his hair in washing up liquid!). Standing next to him in the photo, dwarfing him somewhat, was Jim Milne. So one day whilst crossing the dual carriageway to Rochdale College, Malcolm Heyhoe and myself saw the drummer with the long hair off the back of the LP sleeve and asked him what The Way We Live were up to, as I had heard them played a lot on John Peel, Annie Nightingale and also on Kid Jensen on Radio Luxemburg. Steve Clayton told me he lived in the College Bank flats across from the college and to call around and see him as he was in most days. At this point Steve was living in Town Mill Brow, College Bank with his girlfriend (now his wife) Judith. Jim Milne was away at Chester College doing teacher training. The College Bank blocks of flats that towered over Rochdale’s town centre were known as the Seven Sisters- seven blocks in total. The Council had tried to encourage a slightly up market elite for these flats and in 1971/2 I know that Steve Butcher, Granada TV producer lived in one of the blocks, as did members of the folkband Saraband [ earlier they put albums out as The Honeydew], Scottish Ian Monaghan from the Blue Knights [ brother of Scottish/Rochdale DJ Ged Monaghan] and of course Steve Clayton. So one of my college lunch breaks I went up to visit Steve on the 15th floor and he was cross legged on his bed-sit floor typing out lyrics for Tractor songs which he and Jim had written recently. Steve’s bed-sit was a sit on the floor flat with scatter cushions and he sat there like a little gnome at his tiny portable typewriter. Credit where credit is due, those typed sheets of words are still in Jim’s song file today, 35 years later. Steve had a bohemian lifestyle. His girlfriend Judith worked in market research in Manchester and so whilst on his own during the day Monday to Friday, Steve would type out the words to Tractor songs or go up to Heywood where he kept his drum kit in his parents attic along with Jim’s Selmer Treble bass 50 amp and cabinet. He would do a bit of drumming and pop into the Dressers Arms (diagonally across the road from Steve’s mum and dad’s house). If Jim was back from Chester College in the evening they would jam in the Heywood attic working out material for recording and for forthcoming live shows. Steve has always been a really friendly guy and I was soon invited to go and watch an evening in Heywood jam session rehearsal and meet Jim. It surprised me how different Jim was to Steve. I was impressed even more after seeing their live rehearsal jams than I had been listening to their first Dandelion LP which was mind blowing, but their chemistry in a jam/rehearsal situation was amazing, and still is even now. Perhaps it is the chemistry of their different interests showing through in their music. Jim always interested in more power and more speakers got chatting to me about wanting an extra 2 x 12 cabinet for his Selmer 50 amp and I said I had four 12 inch speakers at home and I would sort him an extra cabinet out with two of them. We went across to the Dressers Arms, the hippy pub for most people from Rochdale, Heywood and Bury (Deeply Vale would he hatched in this pub four years later) and had a pint after the rehearsal and from that point on I was their equipment and production manager.”

What singles were released by Tractor in those early years? How were sales of the 45s?

Chris: Stoney Glory on Dandelion, Roll the Dice on UK and No More rock N Roll on Cargo. Sales figures are unknown.

What were sales of "Tractor" like?

Chris: Sales of Tractor Tractor LP were good it got to 18 in the Kid Jensens Radio Luxembourg top 20 albums and was in the Virgin records top 30 best selling albums in their shops.

How many live shows were you performing at this time?

Jim: Quite a few, but none outside the UK.

Can you name some of the venues you played

Chris: Electric Circus ,Manchester, Manchester University 1973 with Bon Scott (he was in Australian band Fraternity), Bolton Institute of Technology, Bolton Albert Halls with Trapeze, Rivington Pike Free Festival 1977, York University, Quaintways Chester, Rochdale College Rochdale, Champness Hall Rochdale with Mike Heron from Incredible String Band Grange Arts Centre Oldham, Tower Club Oldham, Staging Post Leeds, Brown Cow Helsby, Seven Stars Heywood, Phoenix Oxford Road Manchester, Tunbridge Wells Cricket Club, the Front Page Carlisle, Penny Farthing, Ulverston.

How long was Tractor a full time recording and touring band?

Jim: Never really full time we always all had other projects Jim his teaching, Steve his painting and drawings and later his novels , Chris his PAs and production for other bands and his music shop and festival stages business.

How long did you remain on Peel's Dandelion label? How and why did you decide to leave the label? What label(s) were involved?

Chris: Dandelion pretty much folded by 1973. They financed us going into Chipping Norton studios to record some of the Peterloo tracks that appear on “Worst Enemies” cd and the 2011 “Peterloo” cd. We did an audition for former Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham and Dan Loggins (brother of Kenny)which was to try and get us a deal and we did one day in CBS Studios London recording another Peterloo track “We Three Country Gentleman” but nothing much came of any of that so we went back and carried on recording at 58 Market St/2 Dawson Street Heywood Tractor Sound Studios.

Tractor in studio 1973

How did the Deeply Vale Festival come about?

Jim: Tractor continued to drink at the the Dressers Arms in Heywood and the Seven Stars in Heywood Chris had come back from London in early 1976 having worked down their doing production with Ian Dury in Kilburn and the High Roads and Carol Grimes and the London Boogie Band. Chris had opened Tractor Music shop and rehearsal room at 115 Oldham Road Rochdale and Dave Addison had joined Tractor on bass guitar. Dave Smith who lived further up Oldham Road in Rochdale and drank in the Seven Stars and Dressers in Heywood (with Steve Clayton Dave Addison and Chris Hewitt) had had the idea of a festival and came to see Chris about sorting some bands and a PA for a small event in Deeply Vale in 1976. By 1978 20,000 were attending the week long event Chris was now booking over 50 bands for the festival and his PA was now doing other large festivals as it had grown in size in just three years., The Tory government pretty much killed free festivals.

How long and what years did the festival take place?

Chris: The festivals in Deeply Vale ran 1976/77/78/79

Here and Now onstage at Deeply Vale Free Festival 1978 © Craig Mitchell

Dave Addison: I met Jim at our first rehearsal in September 1976. The first thing he played was 'Shubunkin' and I was amazed at the sound coming out of the amp. It's true to say I had never heard anything like it from the guitar. Jim's control over the sound was amazing. That rehearsal was the last for a few years, we did our first gig together the following week though playing at the Deeply Vale Festival September 1976. I'd been at the festival for three days before we played and I can remember being absolutely freezing. I was very nervous before we went on - lack of sleep and too much dope had helped me to forget how the songs went!. We went on at dusk and launched into the first song which I think was 'The Jester'. Halfway through the song I was startled by the front of the stage exploding into flames. I looked at Jim but he was playing like nothing had happened. There was another burst of flames and it was then that I saw that there was a fire eater at the front of the stage. He was dancing in time to the music and blowing great clouds of flames into the darkness. In my 'altered' state of mind I thought this was magical.”

Jim: In 1976 we recruited Dave Addison. Dave was your typical bass player, rarely spoke, liked pints and Hollands Pies and was far more talented than he wanted you too see. We got an old van and hit the road. crazy days but unforgettable. We felt that the Rochdale and Heywood area had a lot to offer in the late 60’s early 70’s. In the 1970s we were a group of people in our teens to mid twenties and we thought how can we express ourselves. We were all children of….. victims of…. the 1960s. We loved anything that smacked of Haight Ashbury. Even today Deeply Vale has always kept it’s alternative roots. We hoped that you would know somebody or could find somebody that could share that kind of spirit. I had a miniature Les Paul style guitar I used to use for slide, It had a terrible action and I threw it up in the air at a gig in Accrington hoping to catch it and I didn’t, it smashed into pieces. Between 1981 and 2001 Steve and I were out of touch for almost 20 years although we both separately worked with Chris during that period and our albums continued to be repackaged. In December 2001 I met Steve at the Limelight in Crewe at a gig Chris had arranged and 30 minutes after meeting Steve we were on stage playing together again, good job we had 30 minutes rehearsal.

Chris: In an interview on Tractor in the 1990s when Dave Addison was asked on ITV television was he looking forward to a big album success he simply said “I am looking forward to a big dinner tonight.”

Following the release of "Tractor" the history of the band became blurry, at least to those of us in the United States. Releases became sporadic and many believed the band ceased to exist. Would you please discuss the life of Tractor post-1972. How often did the band gig and how frequent were single and album releases? How did Ozit Records become involved with Tractor?

Jim: Ozit Records was formed in 1996 by Chris Hewitt and bought all the Tractor Way We Live Dandelion Recordings off Dandelion and in late 2001 talked Jim Milne and Steve Clayton to start gigging and recording again leading to Glastonbury and Canterbury Festivals and many dates with Space Ritual. They have sporadically been recording a new album for the pat ten years since 2003.

2006 brought the release of "John Peel Bought Us Studio Gear And A P.A." This contained the demo versions of "A Candle For Judith" as well as a and b sides of singles released over the years. With such an intriguing title, did this release rekindle interest in Tractor?

Jim: It caused the BBC to make a short documentary and eventually led to the blue plaques on Tractor Music/ Cargo Studios and Tractor Sound Studios.

2012 brought the 2 LP retrospective “The Road From Townhead Mill Rochdale: A 40th Anniversary Celebration” a Chris Hewitt Archive Presentation released on Dandelion Records. So, the story of Tractor continues, now more than 40 years after recording their first album and catching the ear and eye of John Peel. Stay tuned as the saga continues.

Many thanks to Jim, Steve and Dave for their participation in this interview and special thanks to Chris Hewitt for helping coordinate the project and supplying the discography.