I saw that the Shane Meadows’ Stone Roses documentary ‘Made of Stone’ has got a confirmed late spring / early summer 2013 release date and the thought of it took me back to being a newly wed in 1985 when I’d travel down to Manchester. It brought back all the memories I have of Martin Hannett, Tony Wilson, Lindsay Reade, Strawberry Studios; and even my son H and Martin’s little boy James.
So here goes, I’m going to just type away so please excuse the grammar and spelling.
In the March of 1985, I enrolled to study sound recording at John Breakell’s ‘School of Sound Recording’ (SSR) which, although sounded very professional, was based in a basement on Tariff Street in Manchester’s Northern Quarter. I hadn’t really spent much time in Manchester up until then, but I’d finished studying music at Huddersfield, married my girlfriend, and didn’t really fancy touring around all the time because I knew that would mean long spells away from home, which wasn’t for me.
SSR had only been established for a few months and I think the tuition fee was £40.00 per week. The lessons were on a Tuesday and Thursday; and the guy teaching the studio recording course was Tim Oliver. I only attended the lectures and then left straight away as I normally had to get to a gig. There always seemed to be more socialising than learning at SSR, and most of my fellow students seemed to know one another, somehow or another.
Tim Oliver looked about the same age as me, but was probably about twenty five at the time (maybe a bit older). Although relatively young, he was very good, with a great all round understanding of recording techniques and equipment. Tim went on to be a producer, engineer, songwriter, arranger and musician. Since those days, he’s worked on all kind of projects including Sinead O’Connor, Cara Dillon, Electric Soft Parade and Robert Plant.
Whilst at SSR, I’d heard that there might be an opening to do work with a guy called ‘Martin Hannett’. I immediately called him and he asked me what I had done so far. I told him about SSR, and some work I’d done in the past (which included lots of mix edits on a quarter inch reel to reel for a DJ, and a breakdance tape I’d produced and done well out of). He told me to go down and meet him in the Waterloo pub, opposite Strawberry studios in Stockport, for a chat and the date was set for when I was next in Manchester.
Before I met him, I thought I’d better try and find out a bit more about him, so I went to see one of the guys who worked in Disco Music Centre (my local record shop in Morecambe). He knew of Martin straight away and gave me an old article about him when he’d been voted ‘producer of the year’ by a music mag. After dropping out of a chemistry degree to pursue music, Martin made it as a talented Mancunian producer who owned part of Factory records; had produced Joy Division, New Order, Buzzcocks, Jilted John, U2 and Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark; had been the bass player with ‘Sad Cafe’ (I think that’s right, but now I’ve typed it, I’m not sure?) and had been John Cooper Clarke’s manager.
On the drive down the next day, I was a little worried that I wouldn’t be up to the job as a junior. Strawberry was a legendary studio for musicians. Everyone from the older acts like Neil Sedaka, 10cc and Paul Mc Cartney to newer bands like Joy Division and The Buzzcocks had recorded there. Even the Syd Lawrence Orchestra and St Winifred’s School Choir were amongst its mixed bag of clients.
On the first meeting with Martin – which lasted all of thirty seconds as he was drinking with friends in the very smokey Waterloo pub – he told me to meet him the ‘next’ afternoon across the road at the studio at 3pm. I arrived at the studio early and Martin was already there (which I think was the one and only time he was there before me). I’d driven for over an hour, I’d agreed to work for free (to gain some experience), the studio was amazing, but I was quite surprised at Martin’s reaction towards me.
Initially, Marin was tense! Although I realised within a couple of days that he was like it with everyone, in time, Martin was very nice to me and I think respected me because of my playing, although he was constantly on edge. I often saw another side to him with people. After been around a lot of heavy drinkers when I was young (which is why I’m a tea total) it was clear quickly that Martin liked a drink, and I think I had a fair knowledge of how to deal with him because of my childhood.
Martin had recorded a young Irish band called ‘Blue in Heaven’ and wanted to make some edits and cut the parts up to experiment with. It seemed a very high profile release to me, as the band was signed to Island Records and Martin told me that Bono [Martin had recorded U2’s second single ’11 O’clock Tick Tock’], had chosen them as one of his favourite. In 1985, ‘Blue in Heaven’ released their first LP ‘All The Gods Men’ which – apart from one track – was all produced by Martin. The album had a thick texture, heavy bass and strange vocal. I liked it, it was different.
On one of the days, he sent me to Alan Cheetham’s ‘Audio Services’ in Disley for 2″ tape – where a future friend called Tim Eastwood was working. Basically Martin owed ‘Audio Services’ money and they wouldn’t release anything until he’d paid up. When I got back to the studio I told him what they’d said and he told me to go back and tell them he wanted the tape. So, like a fool, I drove back to Disley to ask the guy for the tape. The guy must have thought I was an idiot! He told me where to go! (in a nice way). When I got back to the studio, Martin went mad. I think Martin was suffering a bit, he was often a little worse for wear.
When I got to know Martin a bit better, I found him to be a very talented, charming, proud and intelligent man… but who thought the World against him. Despite some unpleasant out-bursts, he was very fond of people like Steve Hopkins (his previous right hand man in the studio), Howard Jones (his partner in Thinline records), Lindsay Reade (who had left Factory earlier that year after her second stint there), Deborah Curtis (Ian Curtis’s wife), Julia Adamson (a young lady who’d done some work for him) and of course Wendy (his partner) and her daughter.
On the other side, he didn’t like The Hacienda Club and didn’t have a good word to say about anyone involved with it. The decision to build the Hacienda in 82 (I think) had clearly upset Martin as he wanted the money to be invested into a studio for the Factory roster, which sounded fair enough to me. I know that as soon as he found out about the opening of the club, he planned his exit, and I believe he planned legal proceedings against his former partners. By the time I met Martin, I think everything had been settled but it had clearly left a very bitter taste.
Whilst doing the ‘Blue in Heaven’ edits, I realised why Martin had asked me to go in and help. He had a hand tremble and was un-steady with the blade on the splicing block. In a sense, I felt a little sad and selfishly disappointed that the only reason he needed some help was due to his problems,…but I was happy to be there getting the experience and was warming to Martin, even though these were dark times for him.
Martin was always ‘going on’ about starting a label to rival to Factory and his manager friend (Howard Jones), who had been the boss at the Hacienda, but had left the club, called in to see Martin at Strawberry for a chat. Even though Howard had worked at the Hacienda, he’d left, so he was on ‘Martin’s team’, not ‘Factory’s team’. Martin said they’d decided to set up a label, although I think with hindsight that they had already decided to do it months ago.
Martin seemed more open with me than others – probably because I was naive, wasn’t living in Manchester, or in the Manchester crowd – and I was also willing to travel the three hour round trip to Stockport, for nothing more than experience. Martin had a demo cassette of Howard’s new band that he had started managing called ‘The Stone Roses’ and told me they rehearsed at the SSR rehearsal rooms, although I’d never seen them there. Martin somehow negotiated free studio time at Strawberry, so he decided to go ahead and record the band.
After the ‘Blue in Heaven’ edits, I’d been in touch a few times with Martin to see if there was anything else I could get involved with, but it was summer and I had loads of playing on, so it wasn’t a problem that he hadn’t. Martin got back to me in the August, to tell me that I could do some edits soon, but I think there was a couple of other yougsters doing some studio stuff for him too.
The first day back, Martin seemed to be shaking more, but I may have just been more aware of it by then. He started immediately moaning that the band hadn’t got enough material, so there wasn’t going to be as much for me to do as he’d said on the phone. By now, he was giving me a little bit of petrol money, which I was delighted with. Martin then dropped the bomb shell that we had to finish all the edits on the tracks within a matter of days; simply because Factory were releasing the debut single by the Happy Mondays (called Delightful) and Martin and Howard’s Thinline Records wanted to release their first single on the same day.
In all, I think Martin had recorded five tracks with The Stone Roses; but by the time it came to the editing, he had got it down to three. These were the two tracks that made it on to the release called ‘So young’ and ‘Tell me’ and the track that didn’t called ‘I Wanna Be Adored’.
The release was sold on the new label and the catalogue number was THIN001. The tracks were not the sound of what you think of the band in the 90’s. These tracks were more like a punky goth rock band (with lots of reverb and shouting). To be fair, I can slightly understand why the band later seemed to disown the single after having heard what they were capable of in their later careers.
I think Martin and Howard only shipped about twelve hundred copies, and Martin told me that the single had been a disaster commercially, so I’m not sure exactly how many were sold. It did well in the local Manchester record shops and got a few reviews in the local press. City Life said something like the release was “not very Manchester” (which could be good or bad) and Zigzag thought that Martin’s production was good, so I’m sure he was pleased with that. As I drove in to Manchester over the following weeks I saw quite a bit of Stone Roses stuff all over the place (mainly spray paint!).
Although in real terms, I did very little to contribute to this release (apart from a steady pair of hands for cutting and splicing), I really liked Martin and he had some great stories about his days recording at Cargo, Arrow and Central Sound Studios, but I found him unpredictable.
After all the bad mouthing he did about the Hacienda and Factory gang, I was surprised when (just before the release of ‘So Young’) I heard the band were playing the Hacienda, and Martin was doing the live sound?! If I had as much bitterness as he showed for a place or the people who owned it, I’d have never gone near the place or the people. It was all a bit strange and it seemed a nice time for me to move on.
I rarely saw Martin after this. I occasionally – when working in Manchester – called at the studio and once called at his home in Chorlton. After I’d started Promenade Music in 1989, he came to see me, and I found him to be a very different man to how I remembered him only 4 years earlier. Maybe I was a bit older and wiser, maybe being out of the studio helped him, but whatever, he was much calmer.
Martin seemed like his family meant much more to him than I’d ever remembered or realised. He told me that Wendy and him had a little boy (he was very proud) and talked about how lovely his step daughter (Wendy’s daughter) was with his baby son. I told him my wife was pregnant, and he seemed so pleased for me. He clearly thought a lot about Deborah Curtis’ [Ian Curtis’ wife] little daughter (Natalie) who would have been too young to remember her dad, and how sad that was.
In 1989, Martin had put a lot of weight on since I remembered him in 1985/6 but so had I! He told me he was off drugs, and had made up with the Factory crowd (and had even started working with them again on a few projects including the Happy Mondays Bummed album).
He was very excited about working with a new bunch of people, including a young guy called John Pennington who he felt I should have known because (1) he had started doing a bit of recording at Strawberry around the time I was there, and (2) John had worked with some lads who had gone to our local Lancaster Grammar school called the Milltown Brothers.
Sadly, 1989 in Promenade Music was the last time I saw Martin. He died of heart failure a couple of months before my son Harrison was born in 1991. Martin didn’t have the same success in the mid 80’s as he’d had in the 70’s. Steve Hopkins, who seemed to be Martin’s closest friend, told me that Martin and Wendy’s son went to University years later (I hope his son knows how proud his dad was of him when I last saw him).
Howard Jones didn’t continue managing the Stone Roses for long after the single. I believe he didn’t have a contract, so they could walk away. Their next manager (Gareth Evans) was in his car with the band one day, and threw a load of the singles out of the car window, and reversed over them. Ironically, the single now sell for about £75 to collectors and the front cover was great, it was a smashed up old radio.
Although I never met any of The Stone Roses in 85 (all the recording was done before I helped edit), the band have occasionally cropped up in my life. My good friend, Paul Birch at Revolver put out their next single but he only put one single out as the band caused damage at his offices. Lindsay Reade who is an incredibly intelligent, articulate lady (her ex husband became a very dear friend and mentor) became their co manager with Gareth Evans. I didn’t like the way Lindsay was portrayed in the film ’24 hour party people’ (just saying).
Neil Claxton, my co-director in Faith & Hope, was the remix producer for the Sone Roses ‘Begging You’ single ‘Stone Corporation Vox’ mix that was released on Geffen Records ten years after the ‘So young’ single. In 98 Neil was asked to do a further re-mix for the Silvertone Records ‘The Stone Roses – The Remixes’ album. ‘Elephant Stone’ the ‘Mint Royale Remix’ appeared on the album and the same track later appeared on Neil’s own ‘Mint Royale’ album ‘Pop Is’ which was released on our record label.
Even though I didn’t meet Tony Wilson in 1985 (the founder of Factory records who Martin moaned about constantly), when I did get to know him a few years later, he wasn’t at all as Martin portrayed. He was one of the most supportive people I’ve come across who wanted all ‘Manchester’ businesses to do well. He would go out of his way to network for my success and he became a good friend and mentor before his death.
The Stone Roses went on to have great success with John Leckie, who won a ‘Best Producer’ award for his work with them. John also produced ‘Morning Runner’, one my Faith & Hope acts.
I don’t know if Howard and Martin ever put out another ‘Thinline records’ release but Strawberry Studios sadly closed down in 1993.
Written April 2013