IN the 1970s the Rochdale recording studio Cargo became a hotbed for Manchester’s young musical talent and the place to go if you wanted to get airtime on John Peel’s radio show.
One of the main men behind this musical phenomenon was John Brierley, who became one of the most important unsung musical heroes of his generation.
While working for Granada as a cameraman John moved to a house on Drake Street, where in 1974 he used two rooms on the first floor to found Cargo Recording Studios.
Three years later he moved to the top floor of Tractor Music’s new shop on Kenion Street and set up a 16-track recording studio there.
With producer Martin Hannett he worked with bands who became cult figures in the late 1970s such as Joy Division, The Fall and Durutti Column.
Joy Division recorded one of their most famous songs ‘Atmosphere’ there while The Fall believe they recorded some of their best music at Cargo. Other bands he worked with included The Gang of Four who became a major influence on big bands of today such as Franz Ferdinand, while Nico of the Velvet Underground was another who recorded at Cargo.
Many of the bands were on the new Manchester record label Factory run by Tony Wilson and their exploits at this time were immortalised in the film ‘24 Hour Party People’.
Legendary Radio One DJ John Peel was such a big fan of the studio’s sound he played many of its recordings and top young bands flocked there hoping to make it onto the show.
Liverpool duo Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark recorded their first single ‘Electricity’ there and the Icicle Works were another chart act who recorded with John and Martin.
John’s first experience of recording came when he worked with his schoolfriends who formed the band The Way We Live.
This was done on a pair of two-track tape recorders in the attic and bedrooms of John’s parents house on Edenfield Road, Rochdale. The demos were sent off to John Peel who liked them so much he offered The Way We Live a contract.
He even named the bedroom studio Dandelion Studios, Rochdale, to tie in with his Dandelion Records label.
John Peel said: “John Brierley was, we discovered, a BBC employee who had built a studio virtually from old washing machine parts in his bedroom and attic. If his mum and dad were up he used their bedroom for recording vocals as the acoustics were better.”
The Way We Live made their first album in 1971 before changing their name to Tractor and hitting the charts with another album.
John Peel had an affection for Rochdale having worked for a time at Townhead Mill. This combined with his regard for Jim Milne and Steve Clayton’s musicianship and John Brierley’s recording techniques helped to kick-start a Rochdale recording industry.
Julian Cope, who fronted The Teardrop Explodes before launching a successful solo career, underlined the studio's importance when he said: “Peel made great play of the fact that this Tractor sound had been created not in a regular recording studio, but in a Rochdale attic by the band’s old schoolfriend John Brierley, obviously the new Joe Meek with attitude enough to reach the moon!” Julian elaborates about his admiration for Tractor on his website Head Heritage and in fact came to Rochdale to record for that very reason
In 1985 John sold the studio to Chris Hewitt – manager of Tractor – and Joy Division and New Order bass player Peter Hook.
The studio was re-christened Suite Sixteen on the suggestion of Tony Wilson and still attracted young bands such as The Mock Turtles and the Diagram Brothers.
Local bands were still using Suite Sixteen to record demos until the studio closed a few years ago.