Early evening, and the place is teeming with the city’s young and trendy. Meticulously pruned blokes sporting designer stubble stand proud sipping premium lager, simultaneously casting tactical stares upon the professional, pencil skirted contingent glossed in the opulent teachings of accountancy degrees, fooled by the synthetic promises of Vogue covers. Meanwhile, the venues’ front of house sound system defiantly tries to bring some kind of order to proceedings by boldly dishing out doses of the Velvet Underground. Yet musical excellence wasn’t on the menu for most punters at the bar, for that we have to slip into the back where, thanks to the fervent endeavour of organiser Chris Hewitt, in a room set up to replicate the industrial recording studios of Mancunian yesteryear, a celebration of one man’s ingenious, immensely important life was happening…
… A celebration it was as scores of kindred spirits gathered together to pay tribute to the enigmatic bastion of production and the man revered by almost anyone that matters to be the architect of the ‘Manchester’ sound, Martin Hannett.
Although it goes without saying, just to make sure we’re all on the same wavelength, here’s a brief bit of history: Hannett is widely known as being fundamental in creating the unique sounds of Joy Division and Factory Records artists Durutti Column, A Certain Ratio and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark to name but a few, also dabbling with U2 and producing UK punks Buzzcocks debut EP ‘Spiral Scratch’ before applying his wicked talent on two Magazine records amongst countless other projects.
On that note, It must be said that the night itself was just as much a history lesson (for the younger contingent such as I) as it was a celebration (wake seems inappropriate on this occasion): A who’s who of characters connected with Hannett’s life, career and colourful past could be seen performing for their old, much-loved friend as acting mc Alan Wise, Victor Brox – accompanied by his blues beaten band took to the stage with the likes of 10cc and Invisible Girls drummer Paul Burgess, Steve Hopkins, George Borowski and CP Lee, the latter providing a delightful anecdote detailing the occasion he and Hannett fist met on the UMIST roof, high as kites and captivated by Arthur Lee’s LOVE. A poignant rendition of ‘Alone Again Or’ soon followed.
In between memoirs and jams there was enough time to be told Strawberry Studios’ story, the iconic studio in Stockport where Hannett deployed his quirky recording techniques to Curtis and co’s seminal debut ‘Unknown Pleasures’ (famously making Stephen Morris drum in the lift shaft of the building) as there was too for Dave Formula, former Magazine and New Romantic ensemble Visage keyboardist, to whip out a vintage ARP synth programmed with one of Hannett’s early compositions to play along with. Captivating amounts of Hannett related memorabilia, including everything from old equipment, posters and cigarettes where on display too but, come to think of it, maybe ‘display’ is the wrong word; the set up was more shrine than museum – that was the feeling anyway. Personal messages from Salford’s legendary wordsmith John Cooper Clarke and Hannett’s siblings daubed the occasion in yet more sentiment.
Walking back down a moonlit Princess Street and passed the old Factory offices it hit me, some 23 years after his premature and somewhat tragic demise; Martin Hannett is still very much alive. Undeniably, old Manchester shaped the way Hannett made and produced music, but if you look and listen closely it becomes glaringly obvious the relationship was reciprocal.
All photos by Melanie Smith @ www.mudkissphotography.co.uk