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“Bollocks to that, we’ll do it here.” The Fall’s Paul Hanley talks about his history of Manchester music

November 16, 2017 Bands & Gigs, Blogs, Music, Northern Electric Comments Off on “Bollocks to that, we’ll do it here.” The Fall’s Paul Hanley talks about his history of Manchester music
The Fall

Much-venerated Manchester band The Fall have had a whole host of different line-ups over the years, but during their early 80s glory days they were driven by a particularly notable rhythm section. Two young brothers, Paul and Steve Hanley, excelled on drums and bass respectively.

Today, they play together in The Extricated, fronted by Brix Smith Start. Back in 2014, Steve wrote a vivid, engrossing memoir of his Fall days, The Big Midweek, for Route Publishing. Now Route has published a book by his younger brother Paul, which surely qualifies the Hanleys as indie-rock’s answer to the Brontë Sisters (well, two of them, anyway).

Paul’s book, Leave the Capital, isn’t autobiographical. Instead, it’s an ambitious, engaging history of Manchester music. Parts of the story may already be familiar – looking at you, Factory Records – but Hanley really gets to grips with the entire tale, and relates it to the reader with clarity, skill, wisdom and wit. It’ll leave you with a deeper understanding of the subject and send you scurrying off to listen to those great records anew. All told, it might just be the definitive book on the subject.

Strawberry Studios, Waterloo RoadIn approach and scope, it offers something fresh and different to most of what’s gone before. In particular, Hanley looks back beyond a certain legendary gig at Manchester’s Lesser Free Trade Hall. Speaking exclusively to Northern Soul, he says: “The big thing I wanted to do was get away from the idea that it all started in 1976 with the Sex Pistols concert, which every single book and every single documentary seems to. I think the the story leading up to that is at least as interesting, if not more.”

Hanley zones in on a bunch of musicians who came through during the early 60s Beat boom – Graham Gouldman, Eric Stewart, Keith Hopwood, Derek ‘Lek’ Leckenby – and follows them from their formative days in bands, writing for and playing with popular bands including Herman’s Hermits, The Hollies and The Mindbenders. Having topped the proverbial pops, they went on to invest their earnings smartly and open top-class studio recording facilities; Gouldman and Stewart with Strawberry (with financial assistance from leading Manchester gig promoters Kennedy Street) and Hopwood with Pluto. Initially, Pluto was literally up the stairs from Strawberry, in the very same building on Waterloo Road in the beating heart of Stockport.

The significance of this was huge. As Hanley illustrates, up until then making a record involved a trip to London as there were no decent studios anywhere else in the country. The Beatles never recorded a single note in Liverpool, and the same is true of Gerry and the Pacemakers’ Ferry Cross the Mersey. But Strawberry and Pluto were examples of a key Mancunian urge, neatly summed up by Hanley as “bollocks to that, we’ll do it here”.

Hanley says: “For me, the big thing about Strawberry and Pluto is that they weren’t demo studios. There’s a million of them, there’s one everywhere, but Strawberry and Pluto were both state-of-the-art, continually being upgraded all the time. What’s important is that this happened in Manchester and not really anywhere else. I didn’t really realise that until I started researching the book. but until they built Strawberry, everything was recorded in London.” Graham Gouldman

Hanley is currently studying for an English degree with the Open University. A reportage assignment – in his case, a review of The Who playing the Red Wings’ sports stadium in Detroit – piqued his interest in writing. Subsequently, the review was published on John Robb’s Louder than War website which prompted Route Publishing to enquire whether Hanley was interested in writing a full book.

“I said ‘well, funny you should say that’. My idea was just to write a book about all the different Manchester studios. But the more I got into the research about Strawberry and Pluto I thought, you can tell the whole story with just those two. Everything in the book is either to do with one of those few people or recorded in their studios, so it’s got a beginning, a middle and an end. I’m conscious of the fact that most of the information about the studios is out there on the internet now. If you want to find out when they switched from 16-track to 24-track and where they bought the microphones and all that, it’s all there. You don’t need books to do that, so I wanted it to tell it in such a way that it became a story. That was the big thing, to have a plot and motivations for people.” 10 cc

That’s where the book really excels. A discussion of recording studios could risk being dry as you like, but the emphasis is on the people involved and the music they made rather than on faders and mixing desks. It’s a story told with a winning sense of passion and brought to life complete with well-drawn characters, be they heroes or villains. Hanley says: “It’s a history of Manchester music recording, it’s not the history of Manchester recording. But I think it’s got a decent theme running through it, which is what I wanted, really.”

One clear hero is Broughton’s own Graham Gouldman, who spent the 60s writing hit singles – For Your Love, No Milk Today, Bus Stop – for leading acts of the day, and then spent the 70s holed up at Strawberry Studios as a member of 10cc, co-creating the likes of Rubber Bullets, The Wall Street Shuffle and I’m Not in Love. His work may not have the cool caché of the Factory brigade, but that’s no reason not to celebrate it. That said, a fine exhibition about Strawberry has been at Stockport Museum all year and though the protagonists have given it their blessing, they’ve kept their distance from it.

“They don’t seem to get involved in the mythology of Strawberry so much,” Hanley says. “I suppose I can sort of see why. They both want to be remembered as musicians rather than studio owners, but I think it’s as least as important that they did that. I mean, they didn’t have to do. I’m sure Graham Gouldman didn’t have to invest his money in a bloody studio. But it’s a fantastic legacy, I think. The editor at Route said that Gouldman comes out as the hero of the book, which I didn’t really realise ’til I went back and read . But he is just like a thread running through it. The really sad thing is that the two of them [Gouldman and Eric Stewart] can’t be in the same room now. They’re another Morrissey and Marr. Well, not Morrissey and Marr so much, but maybe [New Order’s] Barney and Hooky.”

For Hanley, later epochal events in the story – that Sex Pistols gig, Buzzcocks releasing their Spiral Scratch EP independently, Factory’s Tony Wilson building his own music empire – didn’t come entirely out of the blue, but rather they’re echoes of the attitude and approach of Gouldman and co. Perhaps that busy bee self-determination is just part of the Mancunian character but, in the event, Factory Records used Strawberry to record many of their finest bands.

“That was the thing, there was an infrastructure there, if you like. It’s that old line about standing on the shoulders of giants, which Tony Wilson did admit. He did give credit to Strawberry. Then there’s this whole idea that it all started at the Sex Pistols concert, but actually, that Sex Pistols concert was unique. They didn’t just play anywhere. Howard Devoto and Pete Shelley went and brought them to Manchester, which is a sort of like how it was with Strawberry: ‘don’t go to London, bring it back up here’. If you look at the history, there’s no parallel to that thing of the Sex Pistols playing Manchester and then everyone in the audience forming a band. It didn’t happen anywhere else. When they played that benefit gig in Huddersfield [for striking firemen and their families on Christmas Day 1977], it didn’t happen. Though it would have been great it it had.” Strawberry

Subsequent chapters in the book detail the whole array of records made at Strawberry and Pluto, from era-defining debut albums (or initially attempts at them) by Joy Division, The Smiths and The Stone Roses, to Buzzcocks’ Everybody’s Happy Nowadays, The Clash’s Bankrobber and – yes! – Brian & Michael’s 1978 chart-topper Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs.

The book ends in the early 90s, as advancements in technology meant that professional, costly recording studios were becoming outmoded and Strawberry and Pluto shut their doors (though the latter has been reincarnated on a more modest scale in Tarporley by Keith Hopwood).

“That’s the thing, it’s gone,” Hanley says. “Studios are far less important than they used to be. So that’s when the book is set. It goes from when they become important to when they – well, you can record pretty much anywhere now, can’t you? People still talk about studios like Strawberry or Abbey Road, which is still going, but I don’t think they’re as iconic or as important.” He laughs and adds: “For the purposes of this book I don’t, anyway.”

The book is admirably no-nonsense and concise, though it does boast some of the sarkiest footnotes committed to print. Some areas – recordings by James or A Certain Ratio, or the output of Rochdale’s Cargo studios – weren’t covered in the event. It does include a fine chapter on The Fall’s 1983 album Perverted by Language, though as it happens Hanley took some persuading to include it.

“I didn’t want it to be like…’and then I came along’. I was glad I did it in the end, but in terms of writing it, that was least enjoyable chapter in the whole book for me. I was conscious that I didn’t it to be like a biography, because it would have really jarred with the rest of the book. But then, I didn’t want to do it as if I wasn’t there either, so it was kind of a difficult process, juggling it. But I think it works alright.”

The title of the book is another Fall reference, as Hanley played on the band’s 1981 song Leave the Capitol, though he seriously considered trying to think of something else.

“I did wonder about that. I thought of the title and then I thought, can I use that? [The Fall’s] Mark Smith’ll see that. But then, if you worried about him seeing it, you would never do anything. I did go back and forth about it a few times but I couldn’t think of a better one. Leave the Capitol wasn’t recorded at Strawberry or Pluto, but I thought we couldn’t get a more appropriate title and I’m on that record, so I’m having that.”

The minor tweak in spelling has thrown some observers. “I’ve spelt it properly, basically. People have said to me ‘why have you called it capital with an ‘a’?’. Is it because of the fight against capitalism? ‘No, it’s because that’s how you spell capital.’”The Fall

The book was launched at an event at Manchester’s Portico Library, with Hanley in conversation with CP Lee, himself the author of a fine, pioneering book on Manchester music history, Shake Rattle and Rain. On the night, Lee led Hanley through the chronology of Leave the Capital, at one point inadvertently skipping past the Perverted by Language chapter.

“We almost missed The Fall”, said Lee, to which Hanley, without skipping a beat, replied “well, I don’t”. Sure enough, his achievements here as chronicler of the city’s music scene might end up outshining his rhythm section legacy.

By Andy Murray

 

Leave the Capital is available now from all good bookshops or direct from Route Publishing. Click here for details. 

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