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Martin Hannett \ Biography by James Nice

The following text is an amended version of a sleevenote for Zero: A Martin Hannett Story, a compilation CD released by Ace Records (CDWIKD 270) in 2006.

Martin 'Zero' Hannett was born into a Catholic family in north Manchester in June 1948. Raised in Miles Platting, he completed a chemistry degree at Manchester Polytechnic (aka UMIST), and after graduating in 1970 took a job in a science lab. As an audience member he saw the Beatles and the Stones, and a hundred more besides, and would himself book bands as a member of the UMIST social committee. Always a music head ("he was forever rebuilding his hi-fi"), Hannett also found time to learn bass guitar, mix live sound, and work as a roadie. Eventually he would quit his day job to run Music Force with Tosh Ryan and others. A musicians' co-operative, Music Force booked gigs (favoured venues included the Band on the Wall and Rafters), arranged PA hire, and also operated a lucrative fly-posting business.

With the proceeds, Hannett and Ryan were able to purchase premises at 20 Cotton Lane, Withington, where Zero was able to realise his ambition of setting up a recording studio. One of his first commissions was incidental music for an agit-prop theatre group called Belt and Braces Roadshow in 1975, followed by the soundtrack for an animated science-fiction short, All Sorts of Heroes, composed by future Invisible Girl Steve Hopkins. Hannett also produced material for Greasy Bear, a project featuring C.P. Lee and Bruce Mitchell. At the beginning of 1977 Hannett, Ryan and Lawrence Beadle further expanded their burgeoning empire by setting up Rabid Records as a vehicle to promote Slaughter and the Dogs, a glam/punk hybrid from darkest Wythenshawe, who had already contributed a couple of tracks to the famous Live at the Roxy compilation.

C.P. Lee and John Scott later observed that: "Martin was a power freak, and opposed to dealing with uppity musos like Sad Café, punk bands presented him with raw materials that he could manoeuvre and mould. He and Tosh at Music Force were in the right place at the right time, and being of an age group closer to the emerging punk musicians Martin was able to establish closer relations with them."

As Martin Zero, Hannett's first professional production gig came at the invitation of a far better Manchester punk band, Buzzcocks, for whom he had already booked a couple of live shows through Music Force. The reason behind his recruitment was simple enough, as singer Howard Devoto recalls: "Martin was the only person we knew in Manchester that was known as, or called themselves, a producer."

Buzzcocks recorded their seminal Spiral Scratch EP as part of a rushed eight hour package session at Indigo Sound Studio on 28 December 1976, released with impressive speed on their own New Hormones imprint (ORG 1) in January 1977. As well as being only the third British punk record to reach the buying public, it represents the first independent, do-it-yourself, we-are-the-means-of-production release. Better still, it went to sell a miraculous 16,000 copies before being reissued through a major. Musically, too, the EP stands a landmark in its own right, all four songs sounding raw and energetic, yet far more artsy and sophisticated than most of their London counterparts. The highlight is surely Boredom, two minutes and fifty-two seconds of nihilistic ennui expressed through Devoto's arch lyrics, coupled with a three-note idiot savant guitar solo courtesy of Pete Shelley.

Spiral Scratch was light years ahead of the competition, for which Hannett must claim some of the credit, since a longer demo recorded two months earlier (and later released on the official bootleg Time's Up) doesn't quite measure up. That said, ORG 1 hardly qualifies as sonic architecture, for studio time was short, and the owners so contemptuous of Buzzcocks' raw punk noise that the multi-track was subsequently erased. As Hannett later observed: "When you play it [Spiral Scratch] loud it sounds exactly as if you're right in front of the stage at one of their gigs. I was very disappointed when the Sex Pistols album came out with seventeen guitar overdubs."

Sadly, just two weeks after Spiral Scratch hit the shops Devoto left the band to form the equally seminal Magazine. Buzzcocks moved on to work with another visionary Martin (Rushent), but later returned to collaborate with Hannett on the trio of undervalued singles issued by the group at the close of 1980: Are Everything, Strange Thing and What Do You Know). The same year, in fact, in which Devoto and Magazine would record their best work with Hannett, as we shall see. But already we're running ahead.

Four months later, in May 1977, Rabid issued Cranked Up Really High by Slaughter and the Dogs (TOSH 101). Fronted by Wythenshawe duo Wayne Barrett and Mike Rossi, the Dogs were an opportunist glam/punk collision hitching a ride on the coat-tails of punk. Cranked explores the joys of being high on amphetamines, but despite the speedy theme, and Hannett at the studio controls, it's hardly a masterpiece. Rabid subsequently signed the Dogs to Decca, but the band contrived to split a few days prior to the release of their first album (Do It Dog Style), and remain little more than a minor Manchester footnote. Incidently, a contribution of £200 towards the cost of recording and pressing TOSH 101 was stumped up by one Rob Gretton...

Still trading as Martin Zero, Hannett assumed the role of in-house producer at Rabid, overseeing a string of sometimes gimmicky punk releases by the likes of Ed Banger, Gyro and Jilted John. Many of these low budget sides are collected on a compilation CD released by Receiver Records, The Rabid/TJM Punk Singles Collection, towards which the curious are directed, although in truth there's little here to interest students of Hannett the producer. The best of these singles was Jilted John b/w Going Steady by Jilted John (TOSH 105), a pseudonym for Manchester University drama student Graham Fellows, whose snotty tale of teenage love and loss appeared in April 1978, and by August had risen to number 4 on the national chart after being taken up by EMI. An album (True Love Stories) followed in December, as well as cash-in response single credited to Gordon the Moron, again produced by Hannett. Fellows is today better known as John Shuttleworth, whose delightfully understated comedy continues to elevate BBC radio schedules. Hence it was a spoof which provided Hannett with his first hit single, selling over a quarter of a million copies, a feat not repeated until the posthumous release of Joy Division's immortal Love Will Tear Us Apart, which reached number 13 in June 1980. The contrast between the two records could hardly be greater.

Hannett also worked with the prolific Chris Sievey (aka The Freshies), producing their second vinyl outing Baiser, released on Rabid (TOSH 109) in 1979. Hannett first heard Sievey's songs on a session for BBC Radio Manchester, and advised Ryan to sign him to Rabid. Sievey returned the compliment, describing Hannett as "my favourite person to work with in the whole world." Despite this lavish praise, Sievey would move on to self-production, and his own Razz imprint within the Rabid empire. The Freshies are best remembered for their eleventh release, I'm In Love With The Girl on the Manchester Virgin Megastore Check-Out Desk, which charted in October 1980. Since then, Sievey has found fame of another kind as Frank Sidebottom.

Between Spiral Scratch in December 1976 and his first recording session with Joy Division in October 1978, the most notable work produced by Hannett was by Salford-born poet cum troubadour John Cooper Clarke. An unlikely punk fellow traveller, Clarke began his earliest poetry readings in the early 1970s, developing a visual image borrowed from Highway 61 Revisited-era Bob Dylan. His first EP for Rabid appeared late in 1977, and lead to a major deal with Epic the following year. Hannett produced several notable single sides for Clarke, including Psycle Sluts, Kung Fu International, Gimmix, Twat and I Married a Monster From Outer Space, as well as the albums Disguise In Love (1978) and Snap, Crackle and Bop (1980). Together with talented arranger and keyboard player Steve Hopkins, Hannett formed a bespoke backing band for Clarke, The Invisible Girls, who co-wrote most of Clarke's backing tracks. Indeed Hannett's involvement was a crucial factor in the poet obtaining a major deal - this despite the fact that the one-note guitar solo on Post War Glamour Girl took all of eight hours to record. He and Hopkins cloaked Clarke's wordplay in cool electric shuffles and computerized patterns, described as Eno-esque by several contemporary reviewers. Indeed it's through his work as an Invisible Girl that you'll hear most of Hannett the original composer.

Taken from the 1978 debut by JCC, witty I Don't Want To Be Nice features guest guitars from Pete Shelley and Bill Nelson, and illustrates well just how far the music had developed beyond the preceding singles. Parent album Disguise In Love was recorded at Arrow Studios in Deansgate, then mixed at Advision in London (whose delay lines Hannett much admired), and released in October 1978. As we shall see, The Invisible Girls would go on to back both Pauline Murray (ex-Penetration) and Nico (ex-Velvet Underground) on record, and also performed live on a short co-headlining tour by Murray and Clarke in October 1980.

Punk induced the birth of three significant labels in Manchester: New Hormones, Rabid, and latterly Factory. Hannett had already tangled with Factory founder Tony Wilson at a Slaughter and the Dogs gig at Wythenshawe Forum, and knew Joy Division manager Rob Gretton as a Rabid associate. The rising producer first worked with Joy Division on two tracks contributed by the band to the Factory Sample EP, recorded at Cargo in October 1978, then mixed at Strawberry, and released as a double 7" (Fac 2) early the following year. Hannett also co-produced the tracks by a formative version of The Durutti Column, although not those donated by comedian John Dowie, or Sheffield avant-gardists Cabaret Voltaire. Digital and Glass, the Joy Division tracks, represented a huge leap forward for group and producer alike - restraining, isolating and separating the sound of the band, elevating the raw post-punk power they produced onstage towards pure sonic architecture. Just two weeks earlier, Hannett had taken delivery of one of the very first AMS digital delay units, significantly shaping the new sound showcased on their Fac 2 tracks, as well as encouraging the band to embrace the synthesizer. Other favoured tricks in Zero's sonic arsenal included reverb, phasing, compression, repeat echoes, deliberate overload, and the Marshall time modulator - anything, indeed, that created space, weirdness and "sonic holograms".

Hannett later told writer Jon Savage: "When digital effects came in at the end of the 70s there was a quantum leap in ambience control. You had as many flavours as you could invent. You could whack it into little attention-grabbing things, into the ambient environment, just in case interest was flagging in the music."

However gadgets also had a downside, as Buzzcocks manager Richard Boon recalls: "Although Martin did have set ideas, it depended on the toys he had in the studio. And sometimes the gadgets eclipsed his interest in the music he was supposed to be producing."

As for Zero's studio regime, musicians were discouraged from entering the control room, or participating in mixing, and the air conditioning deliberately lowered to zero (!) if ever they dared. It helped that the wraparound layout of the Helios desk at Strawberry only allowed two pairs of hands on the faders: Hannett, and his engineer of choice, Chris Nagle. Nagle, who frequently found himself serving as a de facto mediator between Hannett and the bands, recalls: "Martin tended to tape everything, rehearsals and run-throughs included, and took delight in mistakes. None of the other engineers at Strawberry were willing to work with him. On our first day, I was informed that 'the first rule is that there are no rules.'"

Joy Division/New Order guitarist Bernard Sumner later recalled in NME: "Martin didn't give a fuck about making a pop record. All he wanted to do was experiment. His attitude was that you get loads of drugs, lock the door of the studio and stay in there all night and you see what you've got the next morning. And you keep doing that until it's done."

Hannett himself was unwilling - or unable - to define his trademark style, telling Orr: "A certain disorder in the treble range? I don't know, I can't tell you."

Soon afterwards Hannett moved from Rabid to Factory, dropping his 'Zero' appellation in the process, and in April 1979 recorded Joy Division's groundbreaking debut album Unknown Pleasures at Strawberry Studios in Stockport. Opened eleven years earlier, Strawberry was a state-of-the-art 24 track facility owned by 10cc, reckoned to be first major recording studio set up outside London. An expensive Westlake system imported from the States made it Hannett's studio of choice throughout this period. A few miles north in Rochdale, Cargo, owned by John Brierley, represented a cheaper alternative with only 16 tracks, but for all that remained a popular alternative. Arrow and Pennine, the other main studios in Greater Manchester at the time, were seldom used by the producer.

The cost of recording the monolithic Unknown Pleasures exceeded £10,000. Although singer Ian Curtis appreciated the radical studio transformation effected by Hannett, the surviving members of Joy Division - Peter Hook (bass), Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards) and Stephen Morris (drums) - were famously ambivalent. Sumner: "We played the album live loud and heavy. We felt that Martin toned it down, especially the guitars. The production inflicted his dark, doomy mood over the album; we'd drawn this picture in black and white, and Martin coloured it in for us. We resented it, but Rob loved it, Wilson loved it, the press loved it, and the public loved it. We were just the poor, stupid musicians who wrote it."

Adds Hook: "It was more Bernard and I that hated it, because we were used to standing in front of the amps and feeding off the power. Martin made it more subtle, and I think if anything at that age we weren't subtle. That was part of the education Martin gave you. If Bernard and I had made Unknown Pleasures it wouldn't have been as long lasting, or have the depth. Martin saw himself as a catalyst, he didn't always pretend to be a nice guy."

Without Hannett's vision, Joy Division would have sounded much like the shelved Warsaw album from early 1978, and the John Peel sessions recorded for BBC radio. Dynamic single Transmission was taped at Strawberry in August 1979, and rush-released as a 7" (Fac 13) to coincide with an extended tour supporting Buzzcocks through October and November. It's unarguably one of his finest productions, although oddly the single was a relative flop when first released, selling only 3,000 copies of the 10,000 pressed. Many around the band and Factory had predicted that the 'dance dance dance to the radio' refrain would guarantee airplay, and a proper chart hit.

Radio sessions aside, over the course of around eight separate recording sessions Hannett would produce every studio track released by Joy Division, including subsequent singles Atmosphere and Love Will Tear Us Apart, and their icy second album Closer, recorded in March 1980 at Britannia Row, the hi-tech London studio established by Pink Floyd. Hannett rated Closer as his most 'mysterious' production, but would elaborate no further. The untimely death of singer Ian Curtis in May 1980 hit him hard spiritually, and perhaps contributed to his subsequent decline. Be that as it may, the peerless Joy Division catalogue remains the body of work for which Martin Hannett is best remembered.

Orchestral Manouvres in the Dark released just one single on Factory before signing to Virgin subsidiary DinDisc, Electricity appearing as Fac 6 in May 1979. The single has a convoluted history, with no less than three different mixes used, only one of them helmed by Hannett. A quirky electronic duo from Liverpool, Lindsay Reade appreciated their obvious synth-pop appeal more than her then-husband Tony Wilson, who thought OMD too mainstream for his radical indie label. At first Andy McCluskey and Paul Humphreys tried recording Electricity and flipside Almost with Hannett at Cargo, but the triangular relationship between band, producer and label boss grew fraught with difficulty. OMD disagreed with Hannett's vision of Almost as a slow lament, and also disliked aspects of his mix of Electricity - another song some at Factory thought might crack the national chart. McCluskey rued: "Our version of Almost was really tight and poppy, but he'd laid it back and covered it in echo. It was a pop song and he turned it into this totally lethargic ballad."

"Hannett was weird and scared the hell out of us!" McCluskey elaborated in Scream City fanzine. "At one point he just climbed under the desk and went to sleep. We had a bass drum which was basically a synth tuned down, and he was putting it through all these graphics and we thought, 'this is taking bloody hours, what the hell's going on?' We hated both the versions that were done. As you might expect, it's very ambient and he'd selected certain of the tracks to be more important than others, and a completely different vision to the one we had. Almost was a very tight, kinda bouncy little organ-driven piece, and he added all this reverb and echo and made it much more ethereal. I have to say it took me months to get my head around it."

As a result the first issue of Fac 6 featured the original demo version of Electricity produced by OMD's manager, Paul Collister (aka Chester Valentino), to be replaced by the Hannett mix when the single was reissued by DinDisc in September. Later still, a second edition on DinDisc substituted new versions of both tracks taken from their debut album, on which the Hannett versions were remixed by the band. Confused? Rest assured that the take on this compilation is the correct 'Cargo version', as OMD completists prefer to call it.

Other notable Hannett productions for Factory included The Durutti Column, whose debut album The Return of the Durutti Column was released in January 1980, with Hannett providing electronic backing for Vini Reilly's airy guitar sketches. Fact 14 was taped at Cargo during August 1979, and was deliberately minimalist, often with only one rhythm and one backing track behind Reilly's signature guitar. According to Tony Wilson: "Martin arrived with these great big black cardboard fronted machines, synthesizers. For two days, the Monday and Tuesday, Martin did nothing but create strange rhythm/noise tracks. Occasionally Vini would strap on the guitar and play some notes onto the tracks. But it was hard to get Martin to notice as he pored over the primitive electronics. By the second night Vini had had enough."

The resulting album was perfectly realised, correctly ambient and inventive music. Reilly told rock weekly Sounds: "Martin and I didn't sort of click together at first, but we worked as a team and I really liked him in the end. On the album he just played about with knobs, he's not at all technical [sic]. He got synthesized drums and things for me. Also, some of it was spontaneous. Sketch for Summer was made up in the studio because he's managed to get these bird noises on the synthesizer." To the NME Reilly explained: "Martin reproduces echoes, finds a rhythmic pattern on the synthesizer. I gave him twenty tracks and he selected the ones he could work with best. I didn't really hear the album from playing the pieces until the finished plastic."

The initial run of 2000 came in a Situationist sandpaper sleeve, and included a bonus 'test card' flexi disc featuring two Hannett solo pulses, First Aspect of the Same Thing and Second Aspect of the Same Thing. Between 1979 and 1981 most Factory artists found themselves paired with the label's house producer, including A Certain Ratio, Section 25, Minny Pops, The Names, ESG, Stockholm Monsters, John Dowie, Crispy Ambulance, Tunnelvision and the Royal Family And The Poor. Favoured studios remained Strawberry in Stockport and Britannia Row in London, and a trip to North America would take Hannett out of his comfort zone. Released in October 1980, the Flight EP by A Certain Ratio was another landmark Hannett production, accurately described as "cistine funk" by Tony Wilson. Even as it appeared, however, the recording of Ratio's debut album To Each... came to grief at East Orange in New Jersey, supposedly after the resident engineer at EARS accidently zeroed the desk settings. The reality was that Hannett disliked the studio, which lacked his beloved gadgets and delays, and was glad to seize any excuse to remove the tapes to Manchester and mix the album in the familiar surrounds of Strawberry. Sadly, this drawn-out process became a battle between band and producer, while Hannett's preference for recording each element of the drum kit separately hardly suited the propulsive rhythmic style of Donald Johnson. Guitarist Martin Moscrop also struggled with the infamous instruction to "play faster, but slower." A Factory newsletter from January 1981 described the stand-off thus: "Hannett vs. Ratio result = bitter draw."

Had Hannett produced other non-Factory bands - Ludus, the first Passage album - the results might have been spectacular. That said, beyond Joy Division his best work would be with another group from Manchester: Magazine. were already two albums into their career before former Buzzcock Howard Devoto recalled Hannett for their third, The Correct Use of Soap, released by Virgin in May 1980. By Hannett's own estimation Soap was his best technical production, with sessions spread across several London studios, as well as the band's own rehearsal space (with the aid of the Virgin 24 track mobile), before final mixing at Britannia Row. Stand-out tracks on this new wave masterpiece include Because You're Frightened, Stuck and the sublime A Song From Under the Floorboards, as well as a brittle cover of Sly Stone's Thank You. Having taken a critical drubbing for the perceived Pink Floyd-isms heard on Secondhand Daylight, Magazine decided to push forward John McGeogh's angular guitar, as well as mixing Dave Formula's virtuoso keyboards a little lower. Hannett's style suited this revised approach perfectly, and the sessions also generated a slew of non-album singles and b-sides. The song included here, The Light Pours Out of Me, is a re-tread of a key track from the first album, co-written in 1977 with Buzzcocks cohort Pete Shelley, hidden away on the flipside of the non-album single Upside Down, also released in May 1980. Of the Soap era singles, only Sweetheart Contract would manage to dent the charts.

In September 1981 Devoto told a journalist from Dutch magazine Orr: "Martin moves in his own mysterious way. A lot of musicians find it hard to work with him, because he doesn't communicate very well. He sits like Buddha behind the mixing desk, untouchable." However, Devoto never experienced Hannett as a bullying autocrat, or anarchic fascist, and in fact Magazine called many of the shots while recording and mixing Soap. Perhaps this was because Virgin were footing the bill, whereas Hannett was a shareholding director at Factory, and therefore felt able to adopt the sometimes confrontational role of catalyst in relation to 'his' bands. Whatever the truth, Magazine and Hannett would again work together on their swansong album Murder, Magic and the Weather, when Devoto told the NME: "We lent on him a bit more with Soap, I think. Martin can have maybe too characteristic a sound. But with Magic he was left pretty much to do it himself, though I think he's improved even in a year."

By now Hannett was being hired by bands outside his immediate Manchester circle, although not always with conspicuous success. In late 1979 he recorded a version of Oh Lucinda (Love Becomes a Habit) with The Only Ones, the London-based new wave rock band lead by Peter Perrett. However the track remained unreleased, and their patchy swansong CBS album Baby's Got a Gun (1980) would instead be produced by Colin Thurston (who Magazine had employed before switching to Hannett). Since Perrett was an inveterate drug user, and Hannett now had a heroin habit of his own, it's hardly surprising that the sessions foundered. This superior version of Oh Lucinda remained on the shelf until it was included on the 1992 anthology The Immortal Story. The band cut three albums all told, and remain best known for their classic debut single Another Girl, Another Planet.

A recording session with Irish band U2 proved more successful. Their second single, 11 O'Clock Tick Tock, was produced by Hannett at Windmill Lane Studios in Dublin over Easter, and released by CBS in May 1980. At the time, the young Dublin band were cultivating an interest in darker atmospherics, with Bono citing Unknown Pleasures and Bowie's Low album as major influences. The group first met Hannett in London during sessions for Closer at Britannia Row, although - as in America - the producer was less comfortable at Windmill Lane, partly due to technical constraints, along with the malign influence of drugs. In their detailed 2006 retrospective U2 By U2, band and manager Paul McGuiness provided further insight into Hannett's working methods (and foibles):

The Edge: "We played Martin a demo of 11 O'Clock Tick Tock. He wasn't impressed with the demo, but he said he liked the song."

Bono: "Martin Hannett was a genius. He had worked with Joy Division, who were our favourite band at this time. He looked like Dr Who, and he was into technology. He had harmonizers and things we had never heard of."

Paul McGuinness: "He didn't think much of the facilities [at Windmill Lane], and there were some special pieces of equipment he made us rent from London and ship over."

Larry Mullen Jnr: "He was asking me to do a click track... I wasn't sure if I could play in time with one. I must really have done Martin's head in. He listened to the track over and over again, constantly playing it back. I think he was highly medicated and as the session went on he became more and more incoherent. Despite his condition, he did a great job.

Adam Clayton: "Martin was sort of like a big, cuddly garden gnome. He was very laid back but, with hindsight, I think he was probably out of it all the time - there was a fair amount of smoking of dope."

Paul McGuinness: "Martin was pretty moody. I remember him coming out of the bathroom in my flat with a bottle of some kind of cough medicine. He said: 'Is this stuff legal in Ireland?' and promptly drank the whole bottle."

The Edge: "The mix took a while, as he had his own trademark drum sound, which was made by putting the snare drum through a period effects unit called a time modulator. I remember he carefully turned all the settings down to zero after he'd finished so our engineer wouldn't see what he had done."

Bono: "The record sounded more like him than us in the end, but it's brilliant and better for it."

Paul McGuinness: "Martin Hannett would have produced the U2 album [Boy] but he was committed to mixing the live sound for Joy Division in America. Then Ian Curtis killed himself and the tour never took place."

The Edge: "I think he was devastated."

Thereafter the group decided to record with Steve Lillywhite, and neither of the Hannett-helmed tracks appeared on their debut album Boy, released in October 1980. Zero and U2 therefore remain an intriguing What If?

Indeed it seems that Hannett and CBS artists mixed like oil and water. After recording their eponymous debut album with Steve Lillywhite, the Psychedelic Furs cut four tracks with Hannett in May 1980 for a proposed EP: Soap Commercial, Susan's Strange, Dumb Waiters and So Run Down. All were recorded in London and mixed at Strawberry, albeit without the band present. Singer Richard Butler later told Jamming magazine: "We tried out Martin Hannett because I really liked the way that the John Cooper Clarke album sounded. But we didn't like it. It was too murky." And, it would seem, too close to Joy Division. Despite this, Soap Commercial and Susan's Strange were added to American pressings of the debut album, and used as b-sides in the UK. Ultimately, like U2, the Furs opted to work with rival Steve Lillywhite.

East London punk/psych rockers Wasted Youth hired Hannett for a one-off single, Rebecca's Room but disparaged the results as "too futurist." More productive was his relationship with Basement 5, an innovative post-punk combo fronted by polymath photographer Dennis Morris, whose politicized reggae-punk fusion allowed Hannett to indulge his love of echo, delay and guitar overload to the max. Signed to Island, the band also featured former 101-ers and Public Image Limited drummer Richard Dudanski. During 1980 Basement 5 recorded a full album, 1965-1980, as well as mini-album In Dub and festive single Last White Christmas, all later compiled on a retrospective CD.

According to Hannett, these sessions with Basement 5 marked his first time working with total strangers. Of main album 1965-1980 he later told Oor magazine: "You have to play it very loud to enjoy it fully. It was the most difficult production, I must say, the heaviest. It was eighteen degrees in the shade, the end of August. As I recall it has been the most physical album that I've ever done. Made me feel like I'd been carrying bricks around. Heavy work. Putting the bass lines in the right place. But it was good."

In 1980 Hannett also worked with Pauline Murray, whose previous vehicle, County Durham punk band Penetration, had split in October 1979 after two albums for Virgin. Murray first approached Hannett at the beginning of 1980, impressed by his work with Buzzcocks and John Cooper Clarke. Together with former Penetration bassist Robert Blamire she went on to record an album and three singles with Hannett and Steve Hopkins co-producing. Bouyant single Dream Sequence appeared in July, and climbed to #67 in the UK; album Pauline Murray and the Invisible Girls followed in October 1980 and reached #25, having been effectively promoted by RSO. For the album sessions the Invisible Girls included Hannett and Hopkins as well as Vini Reilly (The Durutti Column), John Maher (Buzzcocks) and honorary IG Robert Blamire. It's a complex album, and one not always given a fair hearing at the time by punk purists and Penetration die-hards. Instead the all-star cast of Invisible modernists sculped a very different sound over four weeks at Strawberry: light, airy, modern dance pop, yet with a dark, angular underside. Mr X in particular nods towards the kind of brittle electro-disco that Hannett would start recording with New Order only a few months later, although overall the album was probably too pop for an alternative audience, yet too edgy to crossover into the mainstream.

Interviewed by NME during album sessions in July 1980, Murray revealed: "He just seemed to have the knack of putting everything in the right setting. He works in a totally different way to any other producer we've recorded with. He doesn't even re-play the songs on the tape very much. He has it all in his head. He's a weird bloke but we work really well with him. I had been stuck in a rut and I needed someone like that to show me some sort of light. Martin was just the right person."

The Invisible Girls (including Hannett, Hopkins, Maher and Reilly) even risked spoiling their studio tans to back Murray and John Cooper Clarke on a joint UK tour in October 1980. Hannett performed only with Clarke, a Sounds reviewer present at the Newcastle show noting that Zero was "seemingly making up guitar fills on the spot like a degenerate, seated, chain-smoking Segovia." Never entirely comfortable onstage, Hannett found that he was unable to stand up and play bass at the same time, and therefore performed sitting down.

Hannett retained his role as in-house producer at Factory throughout 1980 and early 1981. From Brussels, The Names would enjoy a lengthy working relationship with Hannett over three singles and an album between 1980 and 1982. Indeed this would continue even after Factory's heavy financial investment in The Haçienda club soured relations between label and producer. Dark and brooding, Nightshift was recorded at Strawberry in August 1980, appearing as a 7" single (Fac 29) in November. Hannett, a bassist himself, lent Michel Sordinia his own metal-necked instrument for the session, and made good use of a toy xylophone provided by guitarist Marc Deprez. For keyboard player Christophe den Tandt, the abiding impression was of a visionary producer who valued ideas over virtuosity, and sounds over technique. On one track, Hannett physically shook Deprez's guitar as he played. Subsequently, the band would write and select songs for their 1982 album Swimming on the basis of how Hannett might treat the material in the studio, rather than the merits of the songs themselves. Consequently the album featured relatively few uptempo tracks, and sounded more like a second album than a debut. Incidently, the CD issue of Swimming on LTM includes both the issued version of Fac 29 flipside I Wish I Could Speak Your Language and a pre-mix version which the band took away from Strawberry, the pair offering a unique insight into the way in which Hannett could transform a track in the mix.

Released on Factory Records (Fact 45) in August 1981, Always Now by Section 25 came wrapped in an extravagant (and costly) Peter Saville sleeve consisting of a waxed pochette envelope, marbled inner bag and I-Ching sticker. A three piece from Blackpool, Section 25 comprised brothers Larry and Vin Cassidy on bass and drums, together with guitarist Paul Wiggin, the trio tending to alternate between strident, dirty disco redolent of Krautrock and Metal Box-era Public Image, and bold forays into spaced-out improv. Friendly Fires combines the best of both genres with an unsettling lyric about area bombing in Cambodia, while C.P. (aka Collective Project) marks a full colloboration to which Hannett contributed keyboards and effects. Like Closer by Joy Division, Always Now was recorded at Britannia Row, and occasionally flirts with Floydian psychedelia. "Hannett has managed to drape exactly the right wrapping of echoes and effects around the few, unsteady doubtful notes which the group produces" proposed Dutch magazine Vinyl, not entirely fairly.

"He made you sweat," recalled Larry Cassidy of Hannett. "But he was dead good, streets ahead. Even if I was playing a cheap bass in an expensive London studio." Adds younger brother Vin: "He encouraged us to expand on what we originally thought we were going to do in the studio. And he told me the most important sound to him was the sound of the snare drum."

Manchester quartet Crispy Ambulance had already issued a 10" on Factory before graduating to record with Hannett in January 1981, who produced two extended tracks for a 12" released on Factory Benelux (FBN 4) in June. Both The Presence and Concorde Square were recorded at Cargo, and are archetypical Hannett productions with dazzlingly bright guitar and snare. Contrary to popular myth the band sound nothing like Joy Division; indeed Rob Gretton disliked the long 'Gregorian chant' outro attached to Concorde Square so much that the group found itself exiled to sister label Factory Benelux. Singer Alan Hempsall had already seen Hannett at work in the studio when Joy Division recorded Love Will Tear Us Apart at Pennine a year earlier. Of their own session at Cargo, he recalls that Hannett showed little interest in the recording itself, and was reluctant to allow anyone from the band to attend the mix at Britannia Row.

Hempsall alone made the trip to London. "We had to fight tooth and nail to have a presence in there at all. The drone at the end of Concorde Square was something I'd dreamt up, as I was listening to a lot of choral music at the time. The voices were very pure voices, and I'd done about six or seven overdubs in different tones over a full octave. To my horror, when we got to the mixdown at Britannia Row Hannett said he wasn't too sure, and pulled out this ARP 2600. It looked like a telephone exchange, and he was plugging in wires and plugging them out, feeding the signal, all for about two hours. By the end the thing was so twisted it sounded completely different. Do you follow the politics and say nothing? In my mind, at the time, I was horrified."

Like A Certain Ratio's debut album To Each..., and the sole 7" ESG recorded for Factory, the first single by New Order was taped at Eastern Artists Recording Studio in New Jersey. Both Ceremony and In A Lonely Place were latterday Joy Division songs, performed unchanged by the surviving trio of Peter Hook, Stephen Morris and Bernard Sumner; Gillian Gilbert would join a few weeks later on additional keyboards and guitar. As such both tracks represented an end as much as a beginning, and stand as timeless classics, even if - like To Each... - they might have benefitted from being recorded at Strawberry or Britannia Row. The single appeared on 7" (Fac 33) in January 1981, followed by a 12" in March, and later a second 12" with a re-recorded version of Ceremony, with Hannett still occupying the producer's chair.

Hannett went on to produce New Order's first album, Movement, at Strawberry in 1981, together with the powerful non-album singles Procession and Everything's Gone Green - the latter marking their first deliberate foray into electro-disco. Taken as a whole, these sessions generated some excellent material, with Everything's Gone Green pointing the way towards Blue Monday, although the lengthy schedule did rob several songs of their spark, notably Chosen Time and Senses. Moreover New Order were fast losing patience with Hannett's chronic predilection for re-takes, and hard drugs. As a result band and producer parted company, New Order recording their next single Temptation (issued in May 1982) themselves.

Hook told The Face in 1983: "He taught us what to do very early on. We learnt the actual physics of recording from him, although we could have learned it from anybody. But in the end there was too much compromise from both sides." To this Sumner added: "Producing ourselves we get much more satisfaction. We know what we want and we can do it. With Martin the songs often turned out different. Sometimes better, sometimes not."

Following ACR and Durutti Column, New Order were the third major Factory band to drop Hannett in favour of self-production, and this collective rejection inevitably hurt. The situation was further complicated in that most of his fellow Factory directors - Gretton, Wilson and Alan Erasmus - managed these same artists, and opted to side with their bands. However, the final straw proved to be The Haçienda. During 1981 Rob Gretton and Tony Wilson began to formulate plans for a New York-style club/venue in Manchester, which would eventually open in May 1982 in a converted boat showroom on Whitworth Street. The initial build cost of high-tech Fac 51 was in the region of half a million pounds, supplied in roughly equal shares by New Order and Factory - money which Hannett felt should have been invested instead in state of the art recording studio, including a Fairlight sampling keyboard.

A studio might have given Hannett a new role at Factory. "Near the outset," says Steve Hopkins, "when Factory-life smelt only of roses, Martin as co-director rightly expected the freedom and budget to do A&R for his own projects. These included The Invisible Girls, envisaged as a sub-label which would be more poppy than the usual Factory output." Unfortunately Fac 51 became Fac 61, a lawsuit issued by Hannett in April 1982 and subsequently assigned a unique Factory catalogue number. His attempt to wind down the company would drag on for almost two years, causing a bitter schism and almost closing the label, as well as depriving Hannett of royalty-derived income and new work. Eventually Fac 61 was settled in January 1984, after Zero ran out of money.

Later, Wilson would claim that the decision not to fund a Fairlight robbed Hannett of the chance to pre-empt the runaway chart success of Trevor Horn. While this theory seems highly dubious, it's undoubtedly true that Hannett's career embarked on a downward trajectory after 1982. His last Factory-related production - at least for the time being - was the final Names single, The Astronaut, recorded in Brussels in October, and released on Les Disques du Crépuscule. For the rest, his production work covered a disparate array of minor records, including singles by original bass n' drum duo Urban Shakedown, art-nerds Kissing the Pink and (far better) a fine re-tread of All Tomorrow's Parties by Nico and the Invisible Girls, with the former Velvet Underground icon by then living in Whalley Range and nursing a heroin habit. Most of her regular backing band, incidently, were drawn from Fall splinter group The Blue Orchids. Sadly, by this time Hannett's own drug habit was out of control, resulting in five years of narcotic exile. I met Hannett for the first and last time in 1983, when my then tape editor (Jon Hurst) would rent his Revox tape machine for a fiver a day. Hannett was a mess - unkempt, overweight, and trapped in a chemical stupor at ten in the morning. The next five years saw Zero at his lowest ebb. Legend holds that Hannett had long wanted to own a pet monkey; the closest he got was a monkey on his back.

The most notable Hannett production during this dark period was the debut single by The Stone Roses. Released as a two track 12" single on the Thin Line label in September 1983, So Young and Tell Me were plucked from a total of 13 songs recorded at Strawberry; quasi bootleg album Garage Flower also includes raw early versions of I Wanna Be Adored, Here It Comes and This Is the One. It seems the band were less than enamoured with the results, singer Ian Brown later telling journalist Nick Kent: "We went with him in 1985 and he produced the first version of I Wanna Be Adored, and a bunch of other stuff. Riffs that weren't songs. It was a disaster. He was only half there." Indeed on at least one occasion Hannett walked out of the sessions, and it would be another four years until the Roses broke through.

For Hannett, the only full album projects during this period were for French singer Armande Altai in 1983, and a respectable set for Island pop hopefuls Blue In Heaven two years later. More intriguing, perhaps, was Stations, an unreleased project featuring Steve Albini recorded in Nashville in 1983. And what if Hannett had gone into the studio with The Smiths?

Thankfully his collaboration with the Happy Mondays during 1988 and 1989 triggered a late return to form. Previous Mondays records had been produced by John Cale, Mike Pickering and Bernard Sumner, but it was loping single Wrote For Luck which paved the way for the Madchester chart breakthrough the following year. Released in October 1988 as Fac 217, WFL preceded parent album Bummed, all recorded at a remote studio in Driffield called Slaughterhouse, before the final mixdown at Strawberry. "They're something different," Hannett told Jon Savage. "The music is harmonically interesting rather than linearly interesting. It's built onto something that I enjoy very much, which is the dead solid groove that they get. Sometimes they're into that groove within 30 seconds of getting onstage. A perfect opportunity for a wall-of-sound merchant."

By now Hannett had kicked heroin, but was drinking heavily. According to Shaun Ryder, the Mondays fed him copious amounts of 'disco biscuits' (ie ecstasy) in an effort to keep him dry. Factory accepted the band's new producer of choice, although past animosities remained. Steve Hopkins contributed piano.

Hannett went on to produce the celebrated Madchester Rave On EP, which - thanks to fresh dance remixes - rose to #19 on the UK national chart in November 1989. The success of his stint with the Mondays saw a cleaned-up Zero once more in demand, resulting in a flurry of production work that included Stones cover She's a Rainbow for World of Twist, a kitsch pop unit lead by the late Tony Ogden, and Get Better for New Fast Automatic Daffodils, both judged late arrivals for the Madchester trend in 1990. During this period Hannett also produced several sides for two undervalued acts on the One Little Indian label, namely the single Quick As Rainbows by Kitchens of Distinction and several mixes for The Heart Throbs. His final production job was for The High, the band featuring former Stone Rose Andy Couzens. None of these sessions scaled the heights reached at Cargo, Strawberry and Britannia Row during his heyday a decade earlier, but it was solid work nonetheless.

Martin Hannett died at home in Manchester in April 1991. He was 41. Despite having overcome his heroin habit he was drinking to excess, a development which served only to accelerate his declining health. As a musician, he left behind little true solo work aside from the Test Card flexi disc distributed with Fact 14, and The Music Room, a lone instrumental piece from 1978 included on the Crépuscule cassette package From Brussels With Love. It's a shame that his skills as a musician and writer remain largely unheard, although the belated release of several Invisible Girls 'mood's in 2015 helped to redress this balance.

As a producer, Martin Hannett's dazzling golden age was all too brief, lasting from the autumn of 1978 to the middle of 1981. Too leftfield and obsessive to sustain a mainstream career, and tied to his home city for long periods by drug dependence, Zero was never likely to have eclipsed Steve Lillywhite or Trevor Horn in terms of chart positions. In describing Hannett as a genius, however, his nemesis Tony Wilson exaggerates not a jot.

James Nice

This essay would have been harder to write without the aid of the splendid Hannett online resource maintained by William Alberque and Anna Brykman. I conducted a number of specific interviews for the DVD and book Shadowplayers, including Richard Boon, Vin and Larry Cassidy, Howard Devoto, Alan Hempsall, Peter Hook, Martin Moscrop, Chris Nagle, Vini Reilly, Michel Sordinia, Christophe Den Tandt, Simon Topping, Anthony H. Wilson. Jon Savage and Colin Sharp also filled in several gaps in my knowledge. Thanks also to John Cooper of Cerysmatic, and Tony Rounce at Ace.

Martin Hannett

"He was a genius. It's a word that's used too often, but there's no way it's overused for Martin." Anthony H. Wilson