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'Strawberry Studios I am in Love' at Stockport Museum

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
Im a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. My debut poetry pamphlet is available at
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Strawberry Shakes
A mosaic at Stockport Museum's I am in Love exhibition includes Paul McCartney, Morrissey, Neil Sedaka, Ian Brown and 10cc. It's a testament to the importance of Strawberry Studios that Mark Kennedy's artwork only features a handful of the famous names who made music there.

The seed of Strawberry Studios was planted when Inter-City Studios opened above the Nield & Hardy music store in Stockport, in a twenty-foot-square room. This was 1967 - the year when The Beatles released Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The studios were owned by former roadie Peter Tattersall. Financial investment came from musicians Eric Stewart and Graham Gouldman and engineer and band manager Ric Dixon. The extra cash meant they could relocate to a larger, old warehouse building, in Stockport.

The name Strawberry Studios was chosen, in honour of Eric Stewart's favourite Beatles song - Strawberry Fields Forever. Graham Gouldman joined with Eric Stewart, as well as Lol Creme and Kevin Godley to form 10cc.

Prominently displayed in a glass case, at the exhibition, is the ES-335 Red Gibson guitar played by Eric Stewart on all four 10cc albums recorded at Strawberry Studios. The case he used to carry it in is displayed next to it and is in somewhat worse condition than the guitar.

10cc, Strawberry Studios, Stockport Museum, ES-335 Red Gibson guitar, Eric Stewart.
Eric Stewart's ES-335 Red Gibson guitar

If you are a fan of 10cc and particularly their number one hit I'm Not in Love, then you will need to set aside extra time as there is a good deal of audio and video recordings about the band. A prominence which is hardly surprising given their importance to pop music in general and Strawberry Studios in particular.

Recording equipment is a major part of the exhibition, including 10cc's Godley & Creme's 'Gizmo', which was clamped onto a guitar-bridge and vibrated the strings in an ear-catching way. It was later turned into a commercial product, with the marketing slogan: 'Double Your Bass'.

In other glass cases there is equipment used by producer Martin Hannett, including the first AMS (Advanced Music Systems) he owned, a Marshall Time Modulator and a signal processor - cosmically named the Ursa Major Space Station. These 'magic boxes' were used on recordings Hannett produced by Joy Division, and punk poet John Cooper Clarke, amongst others.

If, like me, you don't find the dials and switches of interest in themselves, these technological exhibits are more interesting as artefacts, which help, tell the story of how songs were turned into records. In Hannett's case, this meant interpreting the term recording studio very freely and placing microphones in cupboards, toilets and lifts.

Hannett, who died in 1991, also reportedly turned the air conditioning to zero in the mixing room to keep out any unwanted visitors and opinions.

Joy Division, Strawberry Studios, Stockport Museum
The 'Unknown Pouffeisures' piece by Bronwen Simpson and unseen photos, by Paul Slattery, of Joy Division outside Strawberry Studios.

The unpredictability of music makers was obviously a feature of life at the studios. Speaking in one of the oral history recordings, engineer John Pennington recalls Shaun Ryder firing blanks from a loaded gun in the control room. An incident, which, in the film 24 Hour Party People (2002), takes place in Manchester's Dry Bar - which was owned by the band New Order.

It wasn't just the musicians, however, who brought madness to Stockport. Speaking on another recording, Elaine Hughes and Jean Calcuni, who worked at the Waterloo pub (now closed), remember teenage fans of the Bay City Rollers trying to get into the pub to meet their idols.

Elaine and Jean also recall a 40-strong Welsh male voice choir spontaneously bursting into song. They describe Paul McCartney as a 'wonderful man' who nearly caused punters to faint when he appeared at the bar and paid for the drinks of people waiting beside him.

Strawberry Studios was bought by another Stockport based studio, Yellow 2, in 1986. Hits by Simply Red, The Housemartins and others were produced there. However, Strawberry's studio life ended in 1993. The building is now in use, as offices, housing consultancy firm CGA, radio station Imagine FM and also Mondiale Publishing - who get a 'shout-out' in the exhibition's roll call of people to thank.

Strawberry Studios I am in Love, includes photographs, exhibits, new artwork (by Mark Kennedy and Eamonn Murphy), a quiz, videos, musical and spoken word archives. It is a reminder that any music which outlasts its own era will leave a lingering curiosity about where and how it was produced.

Strawberry Studios, Stockport Museum
The original blue historic plaque from the studios.

Strawberry Picks: Below is a selection of some notable Strawberry Studios recordings:

1) I'm Not in Love, 10cc

Released in the UK in May 1975 as the second single from the band's album The Original Soundtrack, it became 10cc's second UK number one. The song was inspired by Eric Stewart's wife, Gloria, asking him why he didn't say, "I love you" more often to her. The recording included three weeks of the phrase "Aaah" being captured onto a Dolby M16 A-type unit (on display at the exhibition) to mimic the sound of a multiplicity of voices. The track also features the voice of then secretary, Cathy Redfern, whispering: "Big boys don't cry". She comments: "I still love hearing [I'm Not in Love] now."

2) This Charming Man, The Smiths

This Morrissey & Marr song was recorded in Strawberry Studios in 1983. It only reached the chart position of 25, on its release. However, it resulted in a Top of the Pops performance, where Morrissey famously waved gladioli. Fellow Manchester musician, Noel Gallagher, described seeing the appearance as "life-changing."(Uncut magazine, March 2007). Former prime minister David Cameron mentioned the same Top of the Pops episode when he chose This Charming Man as one of his selections, when he was a guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs.

3) Love Will Tear us Apart, Joy Division

Recorded at Strawberry Studios in March 1980 and produced by Martin Hannett, the song was included in the films Donnie Darko (2001) and 24 Hour Party People (2002), amongst others.

It was originally recorded at Pennine Studios, Oldham in January 1980. However, Ian Curtis and Martin Hannett disliked this "Pennine version", and, as a consequence, the band reconvened at Strawberry Studios, to re-record it.

In an interview drummer Stephen Morris recalled the pleasures of working with Hannett, he said, "I went back to the flat, just got to sleep and the phone rings."Martin wants you to come back and do the snare drum". At four in the morning! I said, "What's wrong with the snare drum!?" So every time I hear "Love Will Tear Us Apart", I grit my teeth and remember myself shouting down the phone, "YOU BASTARD!"

(Gale, Lee (17 December 2010). "An Ideal for Reliving". GQ. New York City. Retrieved 1 June 2013.)

4) There's No One Quite Like Grandma, St Winifred's School Choir

St Winifred's School Choir were from a Roman Catholic Primary School Stockport. There's No One Quite Like Grandma, was the 1980 UK Christmas number one single. It demoted John Lennon's last single, (Just Like) Starting Over, to number two. One of the children who appeared on the 1980 recording was Sally Lindsay, who played Shelley Unwin in the ITV Soap opera Coronation Street. Last month she appeared in the BBC 1 show Let's Sing and Dance, in aid of Comic Relief. She performed the rock classic Cum On Feel The Noize by Slade.

Fellow choir member Jennifer Hennessy, has appeared in the BBC drama Doctor Who and the BBC comedy The Office. This year she appeared in the Channel 4 police drama No Offence.

Another choir member, Tara Daynes, is interviewed on one of the exhibition's oral history recordings. She says that the young hit-makers were "well looked after", with "a lot of Ribena drinks" provided to keep them going.

5) Stockport, Frankie Vaughan

In 1983, the Mail on Sunday ran a competition to write a spoof of a song celebrating a UK town in the same way that well-known songs celebrated cities in the USA. Frankie Vaughan apparently only accepted the offer to record the winning entry on condition that it be recorded in Stockport, in the town's Plaza entertainment venue, by engineers from Strawberry Studios.

Robin Stott, Strawberry Studios, Stockport Museum.
Strawberry Studios, Waterloo Road, August 2013. Photo by Robin Stott.
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Why? Learn how an old warehouse building in Stockport produced number one records
Phone: 0161 218 1460
Where: Stockport Museum SK1 1ES
Cost: Free
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