Forever synonymous for his production work with Manchester post punk icons Joy Division, Martin Hannett played a pivotal role in shaping the sounds emanating from the north west of England back in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. Though he was credited as an original partner and director with the now legendary Factory Records and has worked with a wide range of artists, including the likes of New Order, Durutti Column, Magazine, John Cooper Clarke and Happy Mondays, the two records to which he is most inextricably bound are Joy Divisions only two studio albums Unknown Pleasures (1979) and Closer (1980).
If the combination of frontman Ian Curtis’ haunting baritone, bassist Peter Hook’s impossibly melodic basslines, guitarist Bernard Sumner’s discordant textures and drummer Stephen Morris’ metronomic pounding beats weren’t enough to mark Joy Division out as something unlike any other band around the time, the impact of Hannett’s otherworldly production style was enough to rocket them light years ahead of anyone else in the game. Whereas most punk bands sought merely to try and recreate their live sound on record, Hannett’s unique ability to hear beyond the sound of four blokes playing in a pub resulted in two records that, to this day, sound like no album made before or since.
Tragically, Hannett passed away on April 18 1991 as a result of heart failure, following years of drug and alcohol abuse.
To find out more about Hannett’s revolutionary work in the studio, PSNEurope caught up with Joy Division and New Order bassist Peter Hook for an insight into what it was like to work with a true audio genius…
What were your first impressions of Martin when you first started working with him?
He seemed much older and very knowledgeable. We were completely in awe at Cargo Recording Studios when we first met to do Digital and Glass for Factory Records. We did not know anything…so basically he had carte blanche to do what he liked. I must say he did a great job. But some credit must go to his studio engineer and owner of Cargo Studios, John Brierley, who was a fantastic engineer and great punk music fan who know the studio inside out. This enabled Martin to go ‘MAD’ trying any trick or idea he could come up with.
Was it immediately apparent you were working with someone who would later be credited with pioneering studio production techniques?
No. His thirst for knowledge and imagination knew no bounds – the sign of a true maverick. All great producers, in my opinion, don’t know what they are doing...they just do it! Arthur Baker is another great example.
How crucial was his input to the longevity of the work you produced with him?
He did without doubt put the icing on the cake that was Joy Division. He made the LPs sound slick, professional and very grown up. Giving them lasting appeal, and the proof is the absolute high regard those records are held in, even now in 2017. By the time we got to New Order, the very chemistry that drove him, drove him to drugs and drink and his inevitable downfall. Very sad.
Are there any particular memories of working with Martin that really stand out for you?
He was a slave driver, obnoxious, sarcastic, obtuse, never satisfied. Arrogant, driven, always knew you were wrong, difficult to work with. Perfect for a Genius!
What was it that made his such a visionary producer? Do you remember any unusual techniques he employed in the studio?
His attitude, and the great songs we gave him to work with. Without them he would have been nothing. Well that’s what I think anyway! Me and Barney [Bernard Sumner] learnt absolutely tonnes from him and the things we saw him do, things I use even now when I produce. And no I am NOT telling you the secrets!