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Rochdale: Memphis of the north


In the annals of music history, the borough of Rochdale has both benefited and suffered for being a close neighbour of Manchester. A new campaign aims to give the borough the chance to shine in its own right, with the unveiling of two blue plaques commemorating two uniquely important recording studios that influenced rock and pop music locally, nationally and internationally. Rochdale is where OMD recorded pioneering electropop single Electricity, where Gang Of Four recorded the archetypal post-punk track Damaged Goods, where The Stone Roses fused dance and indie to create Elephant Stone and where Joy Division recorded Atmosphere. And that’s just the tip of a very big iceberg.

The blue plaques are a celebration of this extraordinary contribution to British music. The event highlights the borough’s links with the late John Peel, the Factory Records scene and the legendary Deeply Vale music festivals of the late ‘70s, recently described by Stuart Maconie as “the North West's Glastonbury.”

The first plaque is to be erected on the former Tractor Sound Studios in Heywood, where local prog rockers (and the first band signed to John Peel’s Dandelion Records) Tractor rehearsed from 1968. Peel’s Rochdale connection goes back to his pre-fame days – he lived in the town and worked at Townhead cotton mill (in the centre of Rochdale) in 1959 at the insistence of his Wirral-based, cotton broker father. It was his affection for the area that made him pay extra attention when Tractor’s demo arrived by post more than a decade later, and the relationship struck up between band and DJ led to Peel financing Tractor Sound Studios in 1973. “He was always drawn to bands from the north because he loved the north of England,” says Peel’s widow Sheila Ravenscroft.

The second plaque is set for the Kenion Street Music Building in Rochdale. The former home to a music shop, hire company and two successive studios – Cargo Studios and then Peter Hook’s Suite 16 Studios – the building was in continuous use until 2001 and featured in the 24 Hour Party People movie. From 1977 onwards, this building saw an endless stream of bands from Manchester, Liverpool and all over the British Isles pass through its doors. Joy Division recorded there from 1978 onwards and had their bass equipment custom built on the ground floor. Later, Manchester’s Hacienda was kitted out with a sound system built on Kenion Street.

Taking place on 23 September 2009, the grand unveiling will see a host of names stepping out to celebrate the influential institutions, including New Order’s Peter Hook, OMD’s Andy McCluskey, members of Autechre, The Inspiral Carpets’s Clint Boon, journalist Mick Middles, Mock Turtles singer Martin Coogan, journalist and Goldblade/Membranes singer John Robb and Dave Fielding of The Chameleons. There will also be a big screen message from Sheila Ravenscroft and John Peel’s family, plus footage of the myriad bands recording there.

As well as visiting both studios in the neighbouring towns, the unveiling event will take in a new exhibition at Heywood Library celebrating the region’s musical heritage, from the two studios to Deeply Vale, the celebrated ‘60s and ‘70s venue The Seven Stars and the now-defunct label Imaginary Records, which once received an application letter from a then-unknown Kurt Cobain.

The event will culminate in an afternoon reception at the Backdoor Music Project, followed by an evening of Hacienda/Factory music and young live bands, featuring performances from Peter Hook, Clint Boon, Martin Coogan and John Robb.

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