Mind The Watford Gap: ‘Leave the Capital’ reviewed

The story of music that couldn’t have been made anywhere else but Manchester.

“Leave The Capital explores the best bands that Manchester had to offer the world, and how that talent was grown and nurtured in the heart of the North West. Forget The Beatles and all of Epstein’s acts who never recorded anything further north of the Watford Gap. This book celebrates Mancunian bands in the city that made them.”

A tale of two key Northern studios, Strawberry Studios and Pluto Studios, it’s a book which inevitably takes in The Smiths, Joy Division, The Fall and The Stone Roses, but is equally the story of The Hollies’ Bus Stop and 10cc’s I’m Not in Love.  It’s the story of the Manchester attitude of home grown talent such as L.S. Lowry, by way of Brian and Michael, and how that attitude rubbed off on both The Clash and Neil Sedaka, whose biggest songwriting hit, Is This The Way to Amarillo?, was recorded by Tony Christie at Manchester’s Strawberry Studios.

Above all, it’s the story of music that couldn’t have been made anywhere else but Manchester.

Leave The Capital explores the best bands that Manchester had to offer the world, and how that talent was grown and nurtured in the heart of the North West. Forget The Beatles and all of Epstein’s acts who never recorded anything further north of the Watford Gap. This book celebrates Mancunian bands in the city that made them.

In the 1960s the majority of British music was recorded on Denmark Street and the surrounding Soho streets of London.  This book documents how two hundred and fifty miles North, Mancunians were bucking the trend of recording in the Capital and stealthily recording albums and singles that would become world renowned, putting their artists firmly on the global music map.

The book charts the Mancunian quiet revolution chronologically From The Hollies, The Mindbenders and Freddie and the Dreamers in the Sixties, and their local influence moving forward through to Buzzcocks, Joy Division and later Oasis and New Order into the new millennium.

The infamous Sex Pistols gig at the Lesser Free Trade Hall in Manchester was brought about by Buzzcocks, who were sick of travelling south to see their favourite band. Buzzcocks intended to support the Pistols but realised that they were nowhere near good enough to do so. However, that landmark gig in Manchester brought together the likes of Morrissey and Marr, Sumner, Hook, and Curtis and Mark E Smith and for that alone we will be truly grateful.

Joy Division formed out of that meeting, and later went on to record the seminal album Unknown Pleasures at Strawberry Studios, after cutting a divisive deal to record there.

In fact their classic anthem for the dissoluteLove Will Tear Us Apart, was influenced by Captain and Tennille’s Love Will Keep Us Together, the former being the absolute antithesis of the latter and ironically both recorded in the same studio space in Manchester.*

The Smiths also owe much of their early beginnings to both Pluto and Strawberry Studios; they recorded their first single at one and their first album at the other.  The harmonica on their first single, Hand in Glove, was a nod to the past (purposely echoing the harmonic strains of The Beatles’ Love Me Do) and yet at the same time a glimpse of the future. After just one radio play The Smiths managed to secure a much-coveted John Peel session.

Leave the Capital is best summed up in the words of that famous Mancunian, Mr Manchester himself, Tony Wilson who infamously said, “We do things differently here”.  Forever bucking the trend in music and the arts, the music scene which originates from the North West corner of England has given much to the world, and we are all the richer for it.

* To be precise, Captain & Tennille’s version of ‘Love Will Keep Us Together’ wasn’t recorded at Strawberry. It was the original Neil Sedaka version of the song that was recorded there.


Leave The Capital: A History of Manchester Music in 13 Recordings’ by Paul Hanley is out now from Route Publishing, RRP £9.99. 

Paul Hanley, the book’s author,  was the drummer in the Manchester band, The Fall from 1980-85 and he now plays with Brix & The Extricated. Click here to read our interview with the band.

Strawberry Studios in Stockport are holding a free entry exhibition until 29th January 2018

Ange Chan is a poet and novelist.  Her fourth poetry collection “Fame; What’s Your Name?” and her second novel “Baby, Can You Hear Me?” were both published in paperback and Kindle in 2016.   Her latest poetry collection “Songs of Sorrow and Heartbreak” was published in October 2017 and her  third novel “Champagne Flutes and Pixie Boots” will be published in 2018.  

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