A review of Paul Hanley’s Leave The Capital in Association for Recorded Sound Collections Journal by Robert Iannapollo.
Worth the reader’s time and effort is a slim volume entitled Leave the Capital by Paul Hanley. Hanley was the drummer for The Fall, one of the finest bands to emerge from the post-punk scene, and which performed for 40 years under the stewardship of their volatile leader Mark E. Smith. The personnel was rarely stable for more than a few years and Hanley was there during one of the peak periods (1980–1985).
Hanley’s book, subtitled A History of Manchester Music in 13 Recordings, is an informed perspective written with intelligence and wit. Hanley frames his story around the creation of recording studios based in Manchester. Any band not based in London during this period would have to make the journey south to record in an ‘acceptable’ studio. Even the Beatles had to record in London (not Liverpool) throughout their career. Not until 1968–69 was a decent recording facility established in the third largest city in Britain. But Hanley starts his story further back than that.
The story starts with two British Invasion bands that would seem like small potatoes in the history of rock: Herman’s Hermits and Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders. The latter band was primarily known in the US for two hits (‘The Game of Love’ and the Wayne Fontana-less ‘Groovy Kind of Love’) but had a somewhat higher profile in the UK. In that group was a member critical to the story of Manchester-based music: rhythm guitarist and composer Eric Stewart. As the Mindbenders’ career wound down, Stewart was approached with some seed money to start a studio in Manchester, which was something he has always wanted to do. He, in turn, approached songwriter Graham Gouldman, who had written hits for some of Manchester’s finest – Hollies, Mindbenders, Hermits – and even for London-based bands such as the Yardbirds. Gouldman had been approached by US bubblegum producers Kasenetz and Katz to write some songs for their US label (Buddah). Stewart added Kevin Godley and Lol Crème to help round out the instrumentation and compositional chores. This turned into a production deal when they realized that the Manchester duo produced demos that were better than their US counterparts and soon these demos were being released under the monikers of the Ohio Express and other teeny-bop sensations.
All was going well with profits plowed back into the studio when an ‘accident’ happened. In the process of producing a recording where they were testing a new Ampex 4-track they had acquired, they kept experimenting, trying to acquire a certain percussive blend. Stewart happened to play it for a friend who was an A&R man at Phillips, to show him what they were doing in the studio and the A&R man said it could be released as it was and be a hit. They released a track titled ‘Neanderthal Man’ by a fictitious group called ‘Hotlegs’ and it proceeded to reach number two in the UK and the top 20 in the US, and to sell over two million copies worldwide. This posed a dilemma because the four had a number of recordings they’d been wanting to release, but surely not as Hotlegs. And so it was that the band 10cc was born, a group that was phenomenaly successful in Britain between 1972 and 1978 and had a few big hits in the US as well.
At the same time, their Manchester-based studio, now christened Strawberry Studios (after Stewart’s favorite Beatles song), began to take off and the band had a dual career as both a highly successful rock band and studio producers/engineers. The studio was highly regarded for the productions that emerged. Among the first of their successes was the re-igniting of Neil Sedaka’s career in 1972 with two very popular albums. To really hear what this studio was capable of, one need only listen to 10cc’s biggest hit, ‘I’m Not in Love’. Its fulsome sound, massed choir of voices, and otherworldly ambience shows just what could be done there. Subsequently, many other bands began recording there, including Joy Division, The Smiths, Paul McCartney, the Buzzcocks, New Order, Happy Mondays, and many others.
Going back to the Hermits, although Peter Noone (aka Herman) is perhaps the only one remembered today, two members had a more substantial impact on the development of Manchester’s music: rhythm guitarist Keith Hopwood and lead guitarist Derek Leckenby. Concurrent to Stewart’s early acquisition of the building to house Strawberry Studio, Hopwood was interested in starting his own studio and Stewart agreed that he could start a second studio in the same building on the second floor. Hopwood and Leckenby named it Pluto Studios. Leckenby eventually bailed when the Hermits reformed. Hopwood remained, but he built Pluto into the second viable option for recording in Manchester. The studio plodded along and succeeded in luring groups who preferred not to venture south to London to record. Pluto had its first number-one in 1977 with a song called ‘Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs’ by Brian & Michael. It was a distinctly English and distinctly Mancunian piece of work but was enormously popular and is still lauded today. The importance of both of these studios in developing quality recording facilities set the stage for the Manchester that produced such subsequent English stalwarts as the Smiths, the Stone Roses, and many others.
Hanley tells his story entertainingly and does it in a thorough, readable, unpretentious manner. Hanley’s witty prose is to be found even in the book’s copious footnotes. Well researched, Hanley provides some good, unique information about the British music scene that most probably do not know. At a little over 200 pages, it could have been a little bit longer, but even in its brevity, it is one of the best books I have read on a rock topic in years.