The Not So Perfect Ten returns with a celebration of Strawberry Studios in Stockport
This year sees the fiftieth anniversary of the arrival of Strawberry Recording Studios. The story began a few yards from Strawberry’s location at the Inter-City Studios in 1967. This was above the Nield and Hardy Music Shop. It was used for recording demo tapes for local groups. The studio’s unique selling point was its location: there was nothing else of the like outside London. Hence the name Inter-City, because of Stockport being a stop on the (then recently electrified) Inter-City service to London Euston.
Among the users of the studio was Droylsden-born Eric Stewart. He was involved in The Mindbenders. He teamed up with Peter Tattersall in 1967 and changed the name from Inter-City Studios to Strawberry Studios on the 20 October. The name was taken from Eric Stewart’s favourite song, The Beatles’ Strawberry Fields Forever. With the original premises deemed a fire risk, they moved to their most famous site: Number 3, Waterloo Road. Designed by Stewart and Tattersall, Strawberry Recording Studios’ new base was fully operational in 1968.
Strawberry Studios, from 1968 to 1993, was a celebrated recording studios in its time. As well as its most famous users, 10cc, it played a part in the revival of Neil Sedaka’s fortunes. Joy Division’s first LP, Unknown Pleasures, was recorded there. Other acts associated with the studios included the Syd Lawrence Orchestra and St. Winifred’s School Choir. The studio’s investment was also funded by work on other projects, like their work for Kasenetz Katz orchestra in New York. Also helpings of homegrown bubblegum such as songs for Manchester City Football Club.
Today, Strawberry Studios is the base of Imagine FM, the Stockport and South Manchester based radio station. Since the studios closed, it had previously been a computer showrooms. In May 2007, a plaque was unveiled to commemorate the studios’ footnote in musical history. Present at the unveiling was Julien Bromley, the son of the building’s original owner, and Peter Tattersall, the man who kept the ball rolling fifty years ago.
Being as the creator of East of the M60 is also a 10cc fan, we have dedicated our first Not So Perfect Ten to this studios. That being the most iconic songs, albums, and other subjects associated with the facility.
- Neanderthal Man, The Hotlegs (1970);
- Space Hymns, Ramases (1971);
- The Tra-La Days Are Over, Neil Sedaka (1973);
- Sheet Music, 10cc (1974):
- The Gizmotron guitar attachment;
- I’m Not in Love, 10cc (1975);
- Consequences, Godley and Creme (1976);
- Factory Sample EPs;
- Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division (1979);
- There’s No-One Quite Like Grandma, St. Winifred’s School Choir (1980).
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1. Neanderthal Man, The Hotlegs
Strawberry Studios’ success was the meeting of four great minds whom in 1972 became 10cc, and Peter Tattersall. The group, later known as 10cc, recorded Neanderthal Man as Hotlegs. The novelty tune peaked at Number Two in 1970 and featured on the group’s only LP, Thinks: School Stinks.
2. Space Hymns, Ramases
The story of Ramases (the duo) falls outside the scope of this blog post. The group was Barrington Frost, a former central heating engineer and his wife, Dorothy Laflin (also known as Sel) Harvey Lisberg, also 10cc’s manager, signed them to Vertigo Records for their debut album, Space Hymns. With Messrs Gouldman, Godley, Creme and Stewart providing reinforcements, this made for an ethereal and well produced piece of psychedelia. (It wouldn’t have sounded out of place in The Dutch Experience several years on).
Recorded in Strawberry Studios, the album was also noted for Roger Dean’s cover art. The spaceship is the spire of St. George’s Church in Heaviley, on Wellington Road. Close to the church is a pub which inspired a present-day Stopfordian group, Blossoms.
3. The Tra-La Days Are Over, Neil Sedaka
The late 1960s to early 1970s were lean times for Neil Sedaka. Gigs were drying up in America, so he decided to find work in England. Back then, cabaret clubs and Working Mens’ Clubs were a main form of entertainment. There was the possibility of seeing Shirley Bassey at the Batley Varieties club; Bob Monkhouse in Barnsley; or Roy Orbison at the Golden Garter in Wythenshawe. Whilst working in England, he was impressed by Doctor Father’s Umbopo.
After a trip to Strawberry Studios, one of Stockport’s finest musical exports contributed to the singer’s upturn in fortunes. His first album at Strawberry was Solitaire, but the one that propelled him back to fame was The Tra-La Days Are Over. The album was a commercial success on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean with Standing on the Inside, Love Will Keep Us Together, and Our Last Song Together smash hit singles.
Impressed by the session musicians (yes, our friends Gouldman, Godley, Creme, and Stewart again), Neil encouraged them to become a group in their own right. The rest, as they say…
4. Sheet Music, 10cc
For many fans, Sheet Music is seen as the definitive 10cc album. There is a good mix of experimentation as well as pop sensitivities. It was also the last LP to be released on UK Records, Jonathan King’s label.
Sheet Music spawned hit singles The Wall Street Shuffle and Silly Love. The Worst Band in the World is a sheer delight as is Old Wild Men and Hotel. The third named song included the use of Godley and Creme’s latest musical device, the Gizmo.
5. The Gizmotron
Back when synthesizers were the preserve of progressive rock groups (enter stage left, Rick Wakeman), they were out of reach from amateur musicians. Not only in terms of the space they took up, but also the eye watering price points (around about 40 years at £9.99 a month in the Peter Craig catalogue in 1974 – before interest). Godley and Creme came up with an affordable alternative: the Gizmotron.
Being as guitars were more affordable, one of them and a Gizmotron at £40.00 was considerably more affordable than a MiniMoog (try carting one of them on the 192). Yet in 1976, £40.00 was £4.00 short of an entry level weekly wage at Daw Bank bus depot (the basic Greater Manchester Transport salary at the time).
The Gizmotron plugged into the bottom of an electric guitar’s six strings. There was plastic buttons that governed the pitch and sound effects that went beyond the realms of a ‘naked’ guitar. Sadly, the device did not sell in its expected numbers, and the type of plastic used didn’t wear too well. Thankfully, the Gizmotron (as version 2.0) is available for sale again. Only available online, it will set you back $399.99 (£328.78).
6. I’m Not in Love, 10cc
To refrain from mentioning I’m Not in Love in this feature is a dereliction of duty. Nearly 42 years old, I’m Not in Love still sounds futuristic in 2016. What makes the song so good? Its harmony made of tape loops – 624 voices of Messrs Creme, Godley and Gouldman themselves (with Stewart at the desk). If you’re familiar with BBC’s excellent documentary on 10cc, it is hard to believe how it would have sounded prior to this addition.
The second stroke of genius is the recording of Cathy Redfern’s voice. She was the receptionist of Strawberry Studios at the time. The “Be quiet, big boys don’t cry” was a telephone call to the studio from the reception that features one-third the way of the song.
It was a well deserved UK Number One single, hitting the top spot on the 28 June 1975. The song stayed there for two weeks and featured on their first album with Phonogram Records, The Original Soundtrack.
7. Consequences, Godley and Creme
With Kevin Godley and Lol Creme disillusioned with the group, they went on to pursue other projects. The most ambitious of which was a triple concept album entitled Consequences. Costing £11.00 – way above the price of LPs at the time, it included cameos from Peter Cook and jazz singer Sarah Vaughan. It was packaged with a glossy booklet.
Among the subjects it touched upon was global warming – years before the Greenhouse Effect and green issues were conversation topics. It was referred to as “the weather going nuts”. As well as being a concept album, it was a showcase for the Gizmotron.
8. Factory Sample EPs
Fantastic the Consequences album may be, music of this nature had no place in the era of punk and new wave music. Yet, Strawberry Studios’ part in the story of Factory Records is worth documenting. In 1978, enter young producer, Martin Hannett, who benefited from Tattersall’s and Stewart’s enterprise.
The early Factory Sample EPs were recorded in Strawberry Studios. Groups that made their way to Waterloo Road included Cabaret Voltaire, Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, The Durutti Column and, most famously, Joy Division. Before moving to Dindisc, OMD’s first demos of Electricity and its ‘B’ side, Almost, were recorded by Hannett.
In 1979, Joy Division’s landmark work would emerge.
9. Unknown Pleasures, Joy Division
June 1979 saw the UK release of Joy Division’s début album. Unknown Pleasures, a product of Hannett and Strawberry Studios. The sheer bleakness, coupled with Ian Curtis’ songwriting abilities made for a cold, slightly unsettling, yet listenable album. The echo and reverb of the drums sounds futuristic, even in 2016.
10. There’s No-One Quite Like Grandma, St. Winifred’s School Choir
For our final entry, we have radio legend Eamonn O’Neal to thank. A short distance away from Strawberry, one-time teacher Eamonn O’Neal and conductor Miss Terri Foley were involved in the school choir at St. Winifred’s R.C. Primary School in Heaton Mersey. After working with Brian and Michael on a previous Number One single (Matchstalk Men and Matchstalk Cats and Dogs), they had another crack at the charts. This time, the Christmas Number One spot.
The song, There’s No-One Quite Like Grandma, was written by Gordon Lorenz. Being a short distance from the school, Strawberry Studios was their natural choice of studio. On lead vocals was Dawn Ralph. Some of her peers went on to bigger and better things as Ms. Ralph wasn’t keen on the extra publicity. Sally Lindsay would be more famous as an actor in Coronation Street.
Against competition from Jona Lewie and the then-recently deceased John Lennon, St. Winifred’s School Choir was 1980’s Christmas Number One. A million-seller at that, solving many a child’s dilemma as to what to buy their grandma that year.
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Strawberry Studios represented a watershed moment in popular music. Prior to 1967, it was London or bust if you wanted to cut a single or album. After Strawberry’s arrival came Cargo Studios in Rochdale; also a number of smaller studios north of the capital, neatly timed for the arrival of punk and new wave.
Without its existence we would have been all the poorer. Neil Sedaka’s career was saved and he still performs today. The modern-day music video owes its existence to Godley and Creme being able to do wacky art projects with 10cc and the like. The studios’ part and the visions of Peter Tattersall and Eric Stewart also sent out one message: it was possible to cut an album or chart-topping single outside London.
On the 27 January 2017, the Stockport Story museum on 30/31 Market Place will be celebrating Strawberry Studios’ fiftieth birthday with a temporary exhibition. Entitled Strawberry Studios, I Am In Love, it will chronicle the iconic studios in photographic form. Definitely one to add to your diary.
S.V., 09 January 2017.