Stockport’s Strawberry Recording Studios

 

 2017 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Strawberry Recording Studios in Stockport.  As the first major professional recording studios in the UK outside London, they would play an important role in the history of music, locally, nationally and internationally.

 When I was a child growing up near Stockport, Strawberry was at the height of its fame and influence.  My Grandparents lived around the corner and we would be in awe of the Strawberry mystique when my Dad’s car had to wait at the traffic lights outside.  Every time we bought a record – every kid in Stockport flipped it over on the way home on the bus to read the small print to see where it had been recorded – an affliction I still have today.  Often the answer was Strawberry.

The studios were set up in 1967 by Peter Tattersall a music industry man who had previously worked for Brian Epstein.  Initially, they operated, as Intercity Studios, in a small space above Neild and Hardy’s music shop in Stockport’s shopping centre.  When that lease ended he found larger premises at 3 Waterloo Road, which became their permanent home.  He approached local musicians Eric Stewart of The Mindbenders and songwriter Graham Gouldman, who had penned hits for The Yardbirds, The Hollies and Herman’s Hermits, to invest in his venture.  They were joined by art students Lol Creme and Kevin Godley.  These four would go on to become the band 10cc and record four highly successful albums at the new studios.  With a new home came the new name, Strawberry, chosen by Eric Stewart in response to the Beatles Apple.

 Initially attracting local bands, the reputation of the well equipped facilities, aided by the industry connections of the partners, began to bring famous national and international stars from many musical genres to Stockport.  These included The Syd Lawrence Orchestra, Eartha Kitt and The Ramones.  Neil Sedaka recorded his comeback albums at Strawberry in 1972 and 1973, with the fledgling, but as yet unnamed, 10cc as his backing band.  There were screaming teenage girls, dressed in tartan, outside when The Bay City Rollers recorded Bye Bye Baby there.  Strawberry received Paul McCartney’s seal of approval when he recorded there with his brother Mike, for Mike’s 1974 album McGear.  Several football teams recorded songs in Strawberry and it became the studio of choice for local primary school St Winifred’s whose choir scored a huge chart success with There’s No One Quite Like Grandma.  Perhaps the best known song record there was 10cc’s worldwide hit I’m Not in Love, a track from their 1975 album The Original Soundtrack.

Most Manchester bands during the 1970s and 1980s would have recorded in Strawberry at some point including Sad Cafe and prog rock band Barclay James Harvest.  With the advent of punk, the likes of The Buzzcocks and Magazine recorded there. In the early 80s Strawberry became the favourite studio for the genius young producer Martin Hannett who worked with artists from Anthony H Wilson’s Factory Records label.  Perhaps most famously from this era, Joy Division recorded Unknown Pleasures with Hannett at Strawberry.  They were followed by New Order, The Stone Roses, The Smiths, James, Simply Red and many more.

 At the height of its success artists were queuing to use Strawberry and it was booked for months in advance.  Even 10cc began to find it difficult to use their own studios.  As a result, a sister studio called Strawberry South was established in an old cinema in Dorking.

Godley and Creme left 10cc after the fourth album to focus on developing a gadget they had invented which they called the Gizmo.  It worked by rubbing against the strings of a guitar sustaining the note being played, creating the possibility for musicians to make new sounds.  Not being experts in engineering they enlisted help from the University of Manchester, but were not able to make it function reliably enough to be a commercial success.  They worked at Strawberry and created an experimental album called Consequences which showcased the Gizmo.  The grandiose triple album failed to sell, being released at the moment when punk had arrived to take over the charts.  Now, in 2017, an American company have revived the Gizmo project with some input from Kevin Godley.  They have renamed their improved version as the Gizmotron and it is now available commercially.  A search for ‘Gizmotron’ on Youtube will produce many results illustrating both the Gizmotron and it’s predecessor.

As the 80s moved into the 90s recording became relatively less expensive and more accessible.  Accordingly, the number of studios multiplied rapidly.  Peter Tattersall had left in 1986, selling Strawberry to its local rival Yellow 2 Studios who retained the Strawberry name.  Throughout its history, Strawberry had also been used for commercial recording of music and jingles for advertising.  This continued until Strawberry closed in 1993.

 

Today the building is owned by Mondiale Publishing.  It houses their offices and the local radio station, Imagine FM.  There is a Blue Plaque outside commemorating the building’s historic past.  The current owners have also honoured this by reinstating the Strawberry name and logo outside.  The cultural influence and town pride in Strawberry Recording Studios continues to the present day.  Current young Stockport musical chart heroes, Blossoms, have been photographed outside.  There is certainly a healthy music scene in Stockport today, with promising bands representing a variety of genres.  These include Federal Charm, Kashmere, The Mantells, Ist Ist and The Nix.

Three years ago when Stockport Council and Manchester Histories invited people to take part in an oral history project, I interviewed a number of people who had recorded at the studios in different capacities.  The response to appeals in the press and local and regional radio and TV news for people to share their memories was impressive, indicating an ongoing pride in this aspect of the town’s history.  The project was the beginning of preparations for the approaching anniversary.

In this fiftieth anniversary year Stockport Council has found funding for a celebratory exhibition titled Strawberry Studios: I Am In Love.  This includes many artefacts from Strawberry Studios and its musical output.  There are also opportunities to listen to interviews with people connected to the studios and to watch video from TV documentaries.  Extracts from some of the oral history interviews from the earlier project are included.  The material has been collected by, or loaned to the museum for the duration of the exhibition.  The exhibition has been very well received with excellent reviews and a vast increase in visitor numbers.  Aside from large numbers of local people there have been international visitors.  The exhibition runs throughout 2017 and until 29 January 2018.

 

Claire Robinson has interviewed the Strawberry Studios: I Am In Love fiftieth anniversary exhibition curator Peter Wadsworth and also Sad Cafe’s Ian Wilson and Sue Wilson Quin for FCUM Radio.  You can hear the interviews and some of the music recorded at Strawberry Studios here:

https://www.mixcloud.com/McrWildCard/the-wildcard-88-fcum-radio-27-may-2017/

See the Strawberry Fifty exhibition website at www.strawberry50.com and  www.strawberrynorth.co.uk  to find current news about the exhibition, related live music events and some special events taking place on the Heritage Open Days on 9 and 10 September 2017.

Join the discussion on Facebook:  https://www.facebook.com/StrawberryRecordingStudios/

Twitter:  @StrawberryNorth and @StrawberryFifty

Special thanks to Dr Peter Wadsworth for providing information about Strawberry Studios and for permission to reproduce the photographs.