A host of names stepped out last week to celebrate the unveiling of blue plaques on two seminal recording studios in Rochdale. On Wednesday 23rd September New Order’s Peter Hook, OMD’s Andy McCluskey, members of Autechre, The Inspiral Carpets’ Clint Boon, journalist Mick Middles, Mock Turtles singer Martin Coogan, journalist and Goldblade/Membranes singer John Robb and Dave Fielding of The Chameleons came together to show support to a campaign giving the borough of Rochdale the chance to shine in its own right as part of the North's musical history.
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, issued by Peter Hook, Chris Hewitt and the Back Door Music Project as supported by Rochdale Borough Council, Link4Life, Rochdale Development Agency and various sponsors, were presented to celebrate this extraordinary contribution to British music. The event highlighted 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 was 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 and was also a big screen message from Sheila Ravenscroft and John Peel’s family. 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 was unveiled on 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.
An exhibition at Heywood Library also celebrated 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 culminated in an afternoon reception at the Backdoor Music Project, followed by an evening of Hacienda/Factory music and young live bands, including a special one-off show with Peter Hook & Section 25 playing Joy Division numbers to an enthusiastic crowd. Hookie only played Rochdale once in 1980 despite recording there for years so it was a real special show centred on the music made in the era of Cargo and Suite 16 with Clint Boon, Martin Coogan and John Robb on DJ duties.